The grass is growing, the bees are flying, the trees are budding, the spring chinook are in the river, and that all spells one thing to this beekeeper. Swarm season! I plan to stash a couple of swarm traps out at the little farm-to-be this week (which is late! I should have them up already!). The earliest swarm I have heard of around here was on Easter Sunday, and that is next weekend!
For those of you new to beekeeping, swarm catching is a great way to expand your apiary. It is also good to know how to catch your own bees if/when they swarm. If you have never done it before, go with an experienced beekeeper once or twice to see how it is done. I often teach a swarm catching class this time of year, but thought I would post for the world at large my swarm kit and some good basic recommendations for the would bee swarm catcher. All of this is common sense information, but good to refer to when bee fever is in full swing. A few good questions at the start can save you a lot of time and gas money.
BE AN AMBASSADOR FOR THE BEES
- Be courteous, calm, confident, and prepared to answer a lot of questions about bees.
- Don’t get in over your head.
- Don’t commit to removing the bees unless you are absolutely sure you can, and don’t feel obligated to put yourself in unnecessary danger. You are a volunteer, not a superhero. Tell people you will do your best, but make sure they know that you can’t fly, for example, and that those bees 40 feet up in a tree really pose no threat to anyone. Use phrases like “I will check it out and remove them if I can” instead of “I will take care of those bees for you”.
- Save yourself a lot of unnecessary driving around by asking a lot of questions before you go (see below). Ask the property owner to call you if the bees leave before you arrive.
- Make sure the relationship is clear. There are some kooks out there that want to charge You for removing their bees for them. If people offer money I often suggest they make a donation to Zenger Farm or the Xerces Society if they want to help bees. Or you can accept it to cover some of your costs….
- Carry some printed information to hand out to people if they want it. Make sure your contact info is on there, as other swarms may occur in the same area (or you might have left something behind!).
- Ventilated cardboard box or spare hive body. Make sure it has a bottom, lid, and an entrance/exit that you can seal up for transport! I use #8 (1/8th inch) hardware cloth and duct tape to seal the entrance….make sure the bees get plenty of air!
- Protective clothing: I use a Tyvek suit tucked into boots, gloves, and veil.
- 1/1 sugar syrup spray in a spray bottle. Mine usually has a few drops of lemongrass and mint essential oil.
- White sheet (lay this under the swarm and the swarm box to prevent bees from getting lost in the grass and stepped on)
- Time. The process can take an hour or two, not including travel.
- Bee Brush, dust pan, sheetrock knife (this is less annoying to the bees than a brush if used gently).
- Duct tape (for sealing up box/hive body for transport).
Swarm in my apple tree
Non essentials that are nice to have:
9. Benadryl and Epinephrine just in case….
10. Loppers/pruners/pruning saw.
11. Long handled broom.
12. Bait for the box: lemongrass essential oil, old brood comb.
13. Assistant (if possible).
14. Referral Cards and Information handouts, these bees may swarm again!
15. Cell phone.
16. Bee Vac/extension pole with bucket or net/other tricky high swarm gear
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU GO
- Sure they are honeybees? (not wasps, not bumblebees?)
- Sure they are swarming? (in a clump in a tree or on a fence etc, not an established colony in some cavity).
- How large is the swarm clump? (if they are the size of a lemon, it may not be worth your time, if they are the size of a soccer ball then…Bonanza!).
- How far off the ground? (people are terrible at judging this, but if it sounds like you need wings then don’t go unless they have a cherry picker to loan you).
- How long have they been there? Minutes? Hours? Days? (This question will often sort out the swarms from the structural removals and established colonies in bee trees)
- Location: Street address, contact person’s phone number, description of exact location (“in the apple tree in the front yard right at eye level”) if the property owner cannot meet you there.
Don’t forget to ask that they call you back if the bees leave before you get there!
This information is only partial, I would take a class or at least have a good handle on bee behavior and the biology behind swarming, and go with someone who has experience a few times if possible. I am currently reading the book Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley, which I would say is a must read for anyone wanting to set up swarm traps or bait hives. Here is another excellent reference on catching swarms (and I think Matt has now caught more than anyone I know!) from the Beethinking Website.
And finally, of course, you must be fashionable when catching swarms. Diamonds are perhaps a bit much, but pearls (and cowgirl boots!) go with any occasion.
In other news: the cart is finished, it turned out great and is currently being tested out at Square Peg Farm. I will post about that soon…like when I relocate my camera. Also, we got our first batch of baby bunnies last week! So far I have counted seven, but they should be out and hopping about in a few days. Happy bee chasing!