THE SWARM

Bees carpeting the ground in my back yard. Notice the clumps of tree limbs underneath. They must have been on a tree branch that broke during the storm.

Sunday morning, I’m talking to my mom on the phone when I walk outside and immediate notice a carpet of bees on the front corner of my yard. Something had gone terribly wrong! “Mom, I got to go. My bees are swarming. CLICK.” Add that to my list of famous last words, and my mom was probably imagining me in a cloud of angry bees.

Me though, I just instantly knew that I had done something terribly wrong. Now, I had not inspected either hive in over a month. I checked them about three weeks ago when I stole some honey and they seemed fine. I have now seen the error in my ways.

Although the word swarm brings up vivid images of those killer bee movies, a swarm of bees is actually quite placid. In preparation for a swarm, bees eat a lot of honey like packing their bags for a long voyage and since they have no home, they are less protective. So this swarm was just in a pile of bees on the ground with no particular place to go.

I called JP the Bee Man, my bee mentor Jeff, as soon as I got off the phone with my mom. He came right over to assist and with him he brought a nuke hive, which is a small one box wooden hive with only five frames and a queen catcher which looks exactly like a hair clip (the kind that has the two levers and the cage-like teeth).

Nuke, five frame hive. Knocking bees into the hive to capture swarm.

At this point I realized that under the carpet of bees there was some freshly broken tree branches from my oak tree. This, I believe, means that the bees must have swarmed a few days ago and probably fell from the tree in one of these giant storms we have been having. So we picked up the tree branches that were all covered in bees and we shook them off into the nuke hive, all the while, we kept our eye out for the queen. After we shook off three or four branches, JP spotted her! The new queen.

Bees in the nuke hive. Feeder is full of sugar water. Queen is on top in the cage.

We quickly snapped her and some of her attendants up in the queen clip and put her on top of the new hive. The point of this clip and catching the queen from what I can tell is two fold. One, we know where she is, so she won’t get lost in the shuffle or hurt somehow. Two, the bees have time to accept her has their queen.

Slowly, the bees started to move toward the queen and into the hive. Then more and more bees took flight and started to circle the hive. In about ten minutes all the bees on the ground began a mass exodus in to the hive. It was crazy to see, almost like water flowing down hill, and it was fast. In a matter of minutes, all the bees except a few hundred hold outs were in, on, or near the hive. It looked like Walmart at Christmas.

Then, on the ground in front of the hive I noticed a bee carrying another, apparently dead, bee. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the dead bee was actually another queen, so maybe there were two queens that lead this swarm and then they had a battle to the death. JP says that this queen had been dead for at least a day by his guess.

Apparently bees swarm when their hive is over crowded or they run out of room to store honey and lay brood. When they decide to swarm, they start planning. First they create a queen cell in which the queen lays an egg (apparently she is tricked into laying an egg, because if she knew what those ladies were planning she would destroy the new queen). Then the workers feed the new queen larvae “royal jelly”. So all it takes to make a queen is a regular egg and some royal jelly, an especially nutrient substance (more on that later).

All along, JP told me that the swarm was not necessarily from my hive, although I was skeptical. Following the successful capture of the swarm, JP and I inspected LaDonna and Delilah to assess their condition.

One of many queen cells found in LaDonna's Domain.

Upon inspection of LaDonna, it was evident that the swarm had come from this hive. It seemed like every frame we pulled out had swarm or queen cells on it. Some had four or five. One had a live queen that was almost ready to hatch. So here is what I had done wrong: LaDonna had grown at a rapid pace considering I had started her so late in the season. After I added the second box, I really didn’t consider that she would need much more room. MISTAKE #5: Although I added a third box to LaDonna, I had done so too late. LaDonna had become “honey bound” which means that the bees had stored all the honey and pollen that they had collected and they ran out of room for laying more eggs. By the time I had added the extra box, it was too late. The effort it would have taken to draw out all the new frames was too much and they needed the room NOW (yesterday even). They were already in the planning stages of a swarm as shown by the number of queen cells they had created. there must have been 15 or more.

Delilah’s inspection was a bit rushed because by this time it was 1:00 and I was about 2 hours late to my sewing class. It was like a HOBBY COLLISION.

Having a swarm is not the worst thing that can happen especially when you capture it and it isn’t in your neighbor’s back yard! Now I have a free hive, and my other two hives are still strong. I always said three hives was my max…

About bonbeelog

20 something in New Orleans, interested in urban farming, bees, and food.
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2 Responses to THE SWARM

  1. David Garrigan says:

    I still find this whole thing so amazing. After you told me about this, I went to Youtube and looked at some videos on swarms. Its amazing what these bees do. Now to stop this in the future, do you take more honey from them or do you keep increasing the size of the box? When I see videos of hives they never seem to get that big so it must be just a honey management process that keeps the hive at a stable size. One thing you can say about these hives, the are sure going to make NOLA a pretty place in the years to come will all that pollenation they are doing. You go girl!

  2. Mom says:

    Great pics!

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