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Honey Bee Swarm Captured!

The swarm, which I am now calling the Westover Swarm, is finally back in Varina, Virginia! It was a bumpy ride, but it appears to be 1 in the Win column for me.

When I last signed off, I had a bunch of bees outside of the Deep that I had laid down beside the swarm. The next morning, I arrived early to move the hive and place it right next to the remaining clump. I brought along an extra, empty deep and some swarm pheromone in case I needed to try something else. As it turned out, I did. The minute that I put the box down next to the small clump on the ground, several bees came out of the box and stopped on the landing board to fan INTO the box! I am clueless, but I am pretty sure this indicated that the Queen was in the clump outside (and the bees inside had lost some of that queen scent.) In seconds, the bees started  pouring out of the box like mad!

Bees Fanning Scent

Bee Fanning Scent

As mentioned, in retrospect I think they were rushing to join their queen (which they had lost during the night.) But, at the time, I pretty much freaked out, thinking that a scout had returned with a good location and they were getting ready to swarm. There was no way that I could follow these gals, as they could go over the James River or Herring Creek, two nearby obstacles that could not be traversed on foot. Without any idea what to do, I grabbed my empty Deep and planted it square on top of the bees remaining inside. I then detached my Deep, with half of the feral bees in it, from the bottom board and placed it on top of the empty deep. Most folks reading this probably think I’m crazy, but I had no idea what to do and just acted on instinct. Maybe they would climb up into the top deep and I could get them that way. At any rate, I returned to Varina to do some gardening.

A little after lunch (some 4 hours later), I returned to check on things. The bottom line is that I could not transport them like this (with no bottom) and I was hoping most would be in the top deep and I could reattach the bottom board and wait for evening when all of the scouts would have returned. This was not the case at all. A large percent of the bees on the ground had moved up onto the side and corners of the empty deep. They really looked more like a swarm now, but in my daggone empty deep! After a moment’s thought, I removed the top Deep (with the frames of foundation and one of honey – assuming they hadn’t simply eaten the honey) from the empty and placed it back on the bottom board. There were still a few bees in here.

Then, I opened up the top of the Deep with frames and pulled 4 frames from it. Holding the empty above it, I shook down hard and most of the bees simply plopped into my hive! They didn’t really fly around much. They just plopped into the hive like a pancake in the frying pan. I was very nervous and put the top back on before getting the frames back in. This caused some bad words to come out of my mouth and I pulled the top off again and gently pushed the frames back into the hive (the queen may be in that mass and I was worried I would squish the old gal.)

Now, I had 90% of the bees in my hive. But, there was still a small mass outside that had not come up onto the side of the empty deep. There was what appeared to be a ball of bees – it could very well be the queen. This mass of bees was starting to annoy me. I went back to Mrs. Fifer’s method and placed this nearly full hive right up next to the small mass.

Amazingly enough, a bunch ran out on the landing area and fanned right towards the ball! In seconds, this small mass finally started to move towards the hive. I watched for a bit as nearly all were in. At this point, I was feeling great!

So, Sunday evening (24 hours after this adventure began!) I headed out to Charles City. I stopped off at a Swarm Trap that I am trying near Sherewood Forest Plantation to put some Swarm Lure that I had purchased into it. It smelled like Lemon Pledge. Supposedly, Bees love this smell (I need to test it with my bees sometime.) After that, I went to my swarm to check her out. On the way, I called Fred and Muschi Fisher to let them know that I was coming by (it was about 8:10 PM) to get the bees. For some reason, I hit a rough spot in cell coverage and I could barely hear Muschi. What I thought I heard was, ‘you’re too late, they flew away’, then the call dropped. You want to talk about deflation? I was devastated. Regardless, I pushed on and tried to keep a positive outlook.

When I arrived, I literally ran over to the hive, flashlight in hand. I could see no bees on the ground, but all seemed dead. Had I missed my chance?! I knelt down and put my ear to the hive. ‘Bzzzzzzzzzzz’ A low drone of buzzing! I had ’em! YES!!

I taped up the entrance with hardware cloth and duct tape (the very same hardware cloth that Tom Fifer used to seal up my first hive when I picked up the Nuc from him.) I then used my ratcheted strap and secured the top, bottom and deep together. Finally, I moved them to the car (this was a harrowing journey in the dark – of course the Westover grounds were flat, but I was so paranoid about dropping these things that my heart was going a mile a minute!) Once in the car, I listened for the sweet sound of buzzing once more before heading back to Varina!

I set them up and removed the tap and strap. These I set facing to the Southeast in an area that received a great windbreak from some ancient burford hollies. During this past Winter (with the many snows), I kept a sharp eye out for the locations where the snow melted first. This was always first, sometimes by a week or more. I placed them on a stand where I will also place my Nuc’s later this month.

Honey Bees Returning Home

Honey Bees Returning Home

Today, I checked them in the mourning. It was in the 40’s and not a bit of movement or even noise… My other hives had a few bees moving about. I was not worried, but it was not the best sign in my mind. So, I had to come home at lunch to check again. This time, bees were all over the place. It appeared like a massive Orientation Flight (I call it a training flight when it is young bees, but I am guessing a lot of these bees are old pro’s at scavenging.)

This evening, I returned home (left work a tad early and made it home by about 5:15 PM) and checked again. Less bees doing orientation flight and a few were bringing in pollen! Clearly, some believed this could be the new home (I have no experience with swarms, but I have read where some folks lose them after catching them – although this may be more of a problem down south, where the absconding african bee gene is more prominently in the gene pool.) I open the top quickly to straighten out the frames and put a top feeder on. Bees were on the inner cover by the hundreds. I hope this doesn’t mean they need more space.

Now, the plan is to check the feeder again tomorrow just to see if they are taking it (this is more of a check for me then anything else.) The real schedule will be to check the syrup again in 3 days or so (and add it if needed) and then look for eggs next Sunday. The syrup is to help them build out the comb if they need it. If they don’t take it, nothing lost (well, a gallon of sugar syrup will be lost.)

It should be noted that the bees were not very aggressive. A few checked me out and landed on me, but none tried to sting me (of course, I was not breaking out frames).

Finally, one interesting thing to note is that these bees may be distantly related to my bees. Tom Fifer used to keep 8 hives at Westover Plantation (something that Fred and Muschi said that I could do now!). So, these bees may be distant offspring from a swarm that one of his hives cast! Pretty cool.

2 comments to Honey Bee Swarm Captured!

  • David Stover

    Hey Jones,

    Great swarm story! I was anxious the whole time waiting to hear what would happen. Hope to see you next Tuesday.


  • That whole adventure was a blast. I learned a ton and have a hive that is going gang busters even today. They are a bit cranky, but they work their little tails off! You’ll see me Tuesday for sure (the only thing that would stop me from making a bee meeting would be something related to my wife’s pregnancy!)

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