A Swarm Wrangling Adventure

(It's hard to get perspective from this photo - there's a bunch of bees up there a little bigger than a football.)

The weather was much too lovely to be sitting inside doing office work yesterday, so I was thrilled when my e-mail chimed with a swarm call on the new Maine State Beekeepers’ new swarm hotline.  A woman in Lewiston had been nervously watching a big bunch of bees in the tree in front of her house and called Maine Animal Damage Control.  Richard Burton, who removes unwanted animals humanely, doesn’t deal with bees but he didn’t want to see them exterminated, so he called The Swarm Team.

I drove about an hour to Lewiston and along the way I tried to shake my friends Patrick and Teague from their workplaces to come along for moral support and photography.  Sadly, their schedules were not as flexible as mine so I was resigned to working solo.  When I arrived, Mr. Burton came shortly after.  He had offered the loan of his ladder but had to finish grappling with a raccoon first.

We laid down a sheet under the bees and Richard helped me set the ladder near the swarm.  I am no great fan of ladders; it’s not so much I’m afraid of heights but I’m afraid of falling painfully to the ground.  It was comforting to have a guy who faces off with angry mammals and snakes tell me the ladder was secure.

(The swarm was about as high as the top of the house; I wouldn't like to go up there either.)

I went up and sprayed the swarm with a little sugar syrup to calm them down and distract them while I took my Bee Brief (the most useful piece of beekeeping equipment I have purchased in four years) and banged it up against the branch where the bees were hanging.  About 90% of the bees fell into the Brief and I brought it down to the sheet.

The bees started fanning Nasonov pheromone at the entrance to the Brief to signal to the rest of the swarm that this was their new gathering place.  The wind was so blustery they weren’t really able to communicate with scent and the process was going very slowly.  So I went back up the ladder with a jar and tried my best to scoop the remaining bees.  I ended up with about another cup of bees and put that with the rest.

After about an hour or so of waiting around for the stragglers to gather, I closed the entrance to the Brief, wrapped the sheet around it and put it in the back of the car.

Back in South Portland we assembled the gear we needed and brought it over to the struggling hive I mentioned in my last essay.

I was joined by Paul, who had just gotten home from work, and my lovely wife and intrepid photographer, Meghan.

We opened up the struggling hive, sprayed them with a little syrup, put a piece of newspaper over the top, and cut some slits in the paper.  If we put the swarm straight into a hive the bees would start a war between the colonies.  Instead, while they slowly chew through the paper they will become accustomed to the smell of the other colony and consider their presence normal.  We also added a queen excluder between the hive bodies.

The hive below is in the process of making a new queen.  She will be the offspring of hardy Russian stock and we hope she’ll mate with some of the great drones in the neighborhood and start laying soon.  By adding the queen excluder we prevent the queen from the swarm (who we didn’t spot, but have reason to believe is in the top) from fighting with the queen in the bottom.  Once the swarm queen has gotten the broodnest back to thriving we will take her out and find her a good home.

We added a new hive body with some drawn comb frames and unwrapped the briefcase full of bees.

(bees chaining from a wired, empty frame - this is the way they were hanging off one another in the tree and the way they will build wax comb)

I had put two frames in the brief to give the bees somewhere to hang out.  We moved those two frames into the hive and added some new wired frames where they’ll build some foundationless, natural cell comb.

We dumped in the stragglers that were hanging out in the brief and put an empty super on top to guard a pint jar syrup feeder.  We’ll leave them alone for a few days and let the hives combine before we check to see how the comb building is going.


About inthebeeloudglade

An unlikely beekeeper who runs The Honey Exchange, a hive and honey store in Portland, Maine.
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3 Responses to A Swarm Wrangling Adventure

  1. D says:

    I wish they made “The Bee Brief” in “medium” size.

  2. LGG says:

    Life takes such odd turns — who knew I’d end up as a bee-wrangler’s mom?

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