Swarm forming on branch
As a new contributor to Keeping Backyard Bees, I have lots of swarm stories from 20 years of beekeeping. Averaging between 2 and 4 hives each season, I have certainly seen my share of mass exodus of carefully tended bees that decide to look for a new home. I will never forget my first swarm; I was very offended that they decided to leave and took it personally as a slap to my bee management skills. But after about my tenth swarm, I realized that this is usually out of your control. No matter how much room I think the bees have, and reversing of hive bodies as the bees move up the column of boxes, hives will swarm and it is my job to catch them to make a new colony. (Check out my video below.)
Knocking a swarm into a hive body requires coordination and timing
For management of bees to prevent swarms, I recommend Swarming Control. One of the best informational articles on swarming, I always read this every spring to remind me of ways to prevent swarms, because I really don’t want to lose out on honey production. But sometimes, the best laid plans…….. and being busy as a landscape designer in the spring gets in the way of being on top of my bee duties! So, I have learned the best techniques to capture my swarms to make a new hive so at least it isn’t a total loss.
Eye on the prize! Yes, that is me getting ready to use a pole pruner and bucket to catch a high swarm
Normally your bees will swarm within sight of the mother hive and I have some small trees near my hives as well as taller ones. When they go to a smaller tree, my job is easy. I wait for them to settle and swoop in and knock them into an empty hive body with frames. Getting the queen in the hive body is the key to success. If you leave her behind, the bees will return to her and you start all over again. I have learned to forcefully knock the writhing bee ball with all my strength to increase my chances of hiving the queen.
A swarm successfully captured into a new hive body
When the bees settle higher up, my chances of capture diminish. One recent swarm settled on a tree about 25 feet high. Waving goodbye and wishing them luck was all I could do! And realizing this is half the battle. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the hassle. Mother nature has a mind of its own and you aren’t going to win that contest.