Meghan and I had planned a leisurely Saturday morning drive out to Lebanon, Maine to pick up a few hive parts we needed to set up an Urban Guerrilla Beekeeping Adventure I will be reporting on very soon. Peggy and Brian Pride run a wonderful beekeeping shop on their farm – Click this link to check out their store site. Peggy greeted us and welcomed us with a tour of her bee yard.
We had walked past their full hives and were looking at the nucleus colonies when Brian came up behind us and said, “Hey, did you notice this hive? I think they might be swarming.” And indeed, as we looked back we saw honeybees pouring out of the hive we had just walked past.
Within minutes the air around us alive with a whirlwind of tens of thousands of bees. The sound was amazing.
Honeybees gorge themselves on food in preparation for swarming and the air was redolent with ripe honey. Though I have collected a few swarms after they had alighted on trees, we had never witnessed a swarm departing. It was a feast for the senses.
For about another ten minutes the air stayed filled with a riot of bees. They were searching for where the swarm would begin to alight – usually on a tree branch – where they would bivouac while scout bees searched for a new home. We hoped they would chose a place where we could get to them.
Meghan noticed a small cluster developing on a branch about 10 feet up in the nearby Mulberry tree and over the next several minutes we watched the cluster grow before our eyes. The weight of bees hanging from other bees probably reached three or four pounds; we could see the branch slowly bend downward.
After about twenty minutes the buzzing in the air calmed dramatically. The swarm had mostly finished gathering and now scout bees were out looking for a new home. We wanted to help them with the decision and be sure they had a nice cozy hive. Peggy and Brian had been scurrying around collecting the necessary equipment and an empty hive body, frames, bottom, and cover. While I held the hive body, Brian misted the swarm with a little sugar syrup and shook the branch; most of the bees dropped into the box. A lot of them started flying again.
Brian brought the hive down, placed it on a stand. He added a frame of brood from the parent hive and put a cover on. Generally, a swarm will stay put if they are in the presence of brood. They don’t want to leave the babies. Almost immediately the bees began fanning at the entrance and on the front. This is how they signal to their sisters the swarm has moved. The scent says “gather here.”
Many of the bees that had begun flying when we shook the swarm, and the returning scout bees returned to the original site. Left to their own devices they probably would have found the rest of the team in the hive eventually. We were eager to help them along, so Brian went back up and misted and shook the stragglers into a bucket.
Then he put the bucket at the entrance to the hive. By letting them march in and finish the job they’d started, we believe they’ll settle in to the hive naturally. Brian put a syrup feeder on the hive and the swarm had a perfect new home.