This afternoon we got a call about some bees that were swarming in a residential neighborhood near us. We had caught a swarm the other day and that was a very good thing, as both of the colonies in our Apiary #1 had died out in the last few weeks. The first swarm went into our Green hive and earlier today they appeared to be settling in nicely, making orientation flights. They were a decently sized swarm, filling up about 10 cm in a 5-gallon bucket and, as long as they have a queen that gets herself mated they should do fine.
That swarm was in a tree, requiring the use of the swarm-catching-bucket-on-a-long-pole that Alex rigged up.
Once the bucket was in place under the swarm Alex gave it a good thump to knock the bees off the cluster. Given the density of the foliage it wasn’t possible to get all the bees to fall into the bucket, so he left the bucket perched nearby. If the queen had fallen with the first clump into the bucket, the rest of the swarm should follow her scent and join her.
Which they did. And now they live in our Green hive.
Today’s swarm was very different. These bees had just started gathering on the ground near a fire hydrant, and lots of bees were still in the air. They had formed a large patch on the ground. The resident of the house where the swarm was said the bees had been in a cluster hanging from the tree by the curb. This is typical swarm behavior. However, sometimes the queen falls from the cluster and ends up on the ground; because she’s a weak flyer she usually stays there, and of course all of the workers eventually end up where she is.
Knowing that the queen was somewhere in that mass of bees on the ground, Alex’s strategy was to find her and catch her in that little trap. The workers will follow the scent of their mother (or sister), so if we place the trapped queen where we want the bees to go, chances are we can persuade them to follow her.
It turned out that there were two queens in the swarm, which can happen. When a colony is preparing to throw its first swarm of the season, the workers will make some queen cells in the old hive. That way, when they depart and drag the old queen with them, the hive won’t be left queenless. Sometimes one of the new queens emerges just as the swarm is taking off and gets caught up in the melee.
Alex found two queens on the ground. One he caught in the little trap, and one he caught by hand and set in the bucket. Without the security of a second trap the queen in the bucket was ‘balled’–the bees literally killed her either accidentally (i.e., by smothering her) or deliberately (because they didn’t like her for some reason). Anyway, when all was said and done the swarm was left with a single queen.
And it works!
Eventually most of the bees were in the box. Alex released the queen from her little cage and prodded her to go down. The last thing we wanted to see was her taking off into the air again! She eventually crawled down, and the bees did exactly what they were supposed to do.
Once most of the bees had made their way into the box, Alex closed it up. We’ll let it sit there until evening, when the last of the stragglers should head inside. Then we can bring them home and install them in our Rose hive.