In doing the morning garden rounds yesterday, we noticed the little cedar tree over by the beehives looked a bit odd – and as we got closer, we realized, Holey Moley! a swarm of bees was almost completely covering it! And I do mean a zillion bees, clustered together in something that looked from afar like a fuzzy moss wrapping of some sort, only slightly pulsating.
This is perhaps one of the most amazing natural wonders I have seen in my lifetime (short of childbirth) – and I have to admit, I feel rather blessed (in both events!).
We purchased our first package of bees just last year, and unfortunately, it did not make it. They dwindled off before winter, and I believe their colony grew very quickly, they decided to split, and the ones remaining lost their Queen.
The saving grace was that we managed to pick up a little swarm that July (for a beginner beek like myself, it was the perfect swarm to collect – it was hanging on a friend’s birdhouse in her backyard). The colony struggled for awhile, and I thought sure we were going to lose them, but to their credit, they have become quite strong. This spring, we added an extra box to their hive. We also decided to try again with packaged bees, and bought a 3-lb package of Carniolans instead of a 4. (Maybe 4 full pounds was too many for the Warre style of hive?) We installed them a couple of weeks ago, and so far, they seem to be doing quite well.
We wanted to be prepared this year in the event of another swarm event, so Jeff made a couple of swarm boxes (yes! he’ll make YOU one, too! Contact us!). The neat thing about the swarm box is that the bottom is like a drawer that pulls out. It fits perfectly atop the Warre hive, so to install a captured swarm, it’s a simple matter of setting it atop a hive box and pulling out the bottom. A few days ago, we hung one about 8 feet up in a big fir tree near the hives. I put a few drops of lemongrass oil inside.
Such Perfect Timing!
Who would have guessed we would get a swarm so early in the year! At least, other folks I talk with think it’s early – so maybe it’s a weird year or maybe a sign of the times, but I’d say Swarm Season has officially begun!
The question is – are these “my” bees? Did my new Carniolans, reputed to be prone to swarming, decide they didn’t like their new home after all? Do they – or the colony from last year, despite the added box – think they are going to run out of room?
I don’t know for sure, but both hives seem to have a lot of bees coming and going just like normal, and many are loaded with pollen. The newly purchased bees are still feeding from the syrup jars inside the hive, and peering inside, without taking it apart, they seem to be humming right along.
Either way, this swarm is a gift! Ahhh! I give heartfelt thanks!
I can’t help but notice that the bees clinging in the cedar are almost touching the ground! We planted this cedar about 3 years ago as a seedling. It only stands about 3 feet tall at most. So – if you are wondering how high to hang your swarm boxes, I would think the height is less important than the location. They don’t need to be up high, and no use risking your neck on a ladder!
But where would they eventually live?
The swarm box is nice, but it’s just temporary housing. Several bees were checking it out, but logically, I knew it would be easier if they moved into a more permanent abode right from the get-go.
I scurried around and put together 2 boxes, a quilt, and a roof from the old hive that didn’t make it. I set it up on a couple of concrete blocks near the swarm. I painted the inside with a bit of sugar syrup that has lemongrass and spearmint oils mixed in, the same stuff I add to the syrup feeders. If they were from our other hives, they would definitely recognize it. If they were new bees, they would still like it. Some immediately came over to check it out.
I waited with anticipation all afternoon. How to encourage them? I didn’t want to cut down my litte tree to “install” them into the hive. It would be better if they just moved in on their own.
They still clung even more tightly together on the tree. They were quietly hunkering down. Ok. This must be what bees do. I am entering their world, after all, not the other way around. I walked away.
This morning, thankfully, they are still here! Hooray!
In the morning sun, bees are checking out – and going inside – BOTH places, the swarm box AND the new hive.
Hmmm. One more attempt to persuade them.
I put together an in-hive feeder setup, which allows 2 pint or quart jars to be elevated over the top bars inside an empty hive box. They set on a piece of wood with cut-outs for the jar lids. The rest of the area is screened off so the bees don’t get inside and build comb in the empty box. I filled the jars with syrup, added my homemade Bee-Healthy combo, and dabbed a few extra drops of lemongrass oil around in the hive.
I am currently sitting in the morning sun with a cup of coffee, watching lots of them dance around the hive and going in and out. I do think they like it! There are also some checking out the swarm box. The majority of the cluster (and the Queen) is still on the little cedar. I would love to watch them move!
Which way will they go? What will they choose?