Bee Syndicate S2 E9 06/01/2016 Something Strange Happened on the Toilet the Other Day, or Swarm Season.
I live in a modest two-story house. The second-floor has only three rooms a bedroom a smaller bedroom that we use as a closet and a very small bathroom. It was in this bathroom that I was sitting and doing what people do when sitting in the bathroom looking out the window over the flat roof of my computer room that also holds my rooftop vegetable garden as I often do when I do that thing that people often do in the bathroom. Its just what I do. Now that there are bees in the backyard I always look to see them zip by Its not often I am able to see them from this window but occasionally I see a tiny distant dot zip by. Its the simple things about bees that make me happy. But on this day I saw something different there were a number of bees buzzing around the crab cherry tree that stands about 25 feet off my roof putting it about 50 feet from my window. "That's odd." the bees have never seemed interested in that tree even when it was filled with a million bright pink blooms. So what was this sudden interest in the tree? "Have drones established a new drone congregation area?" (or office as you may recall from Season 1 Ep 5 ) No that didn't make any sense drone congregation areas are far away from the hive and are much higher up in the air. You usually find them 100 feet away and above a high landmark like a church steeple or a rocky outcrop on a mountain not up in a tree 50 feet from the ground. Then, I saw it … (PLOP) “Oh shit.”
I hurriedly concluded the thing that I had been doing and attended to the necessary required things that must be done after completing such bathroom activities and ran for the window in the hall way to get a slightly better look. Yes I was sure of what I was seeing a swarm of honey bees was clumped on one of the top branches of the tree. I was excited to say the least. I ran to tell everyone that I thought might be interested and started to devise a plan of action. I was pretty sure that that they were my bees but I was hoping that it was a feral swarm and that I would be able to increase the number of my bees or add a third hive. If they were my bees I’d want to retain as many of my bees as I could. Either way I knew I wanted to catch this swarm.
I had never actually seen a swarm before. I had of course read about them and the methods of capture and seen countless JP the bee man swarm rescue videos. I hadn't expected to have a chance to catch a swarm until my second season of beekeeping but here I was about six weeks into my first season now in the backyard staring up at the thin unclimbable branches branches 50 or so feet above my head and daylight quickly fading. I needed to come up with my plan quickly.
Once the spring Nectar flow begins an established colony of honeybees usually thinks about swarming especially if the nest has become crowded and resources are at least somewhat plentiful. The workers will build Swarm Queen Cells according to Stephen Repasky ( President of Burgh Bees, Certified Master Beekeeper, and author of Swarm Escentuals) beekeepers will often find that bee build Swarm cells along the bottoms of hive frames. After the cells are stocked with royal jelly and an egg deposited a short time later the cell will be capped so that the new queen can finish development during this time the existing queen will leave the hive with approximately half the population of the colony. They Swarm out of the hive and land nearby. Scout bees then leave the swarm in search of a new place for the swarm to live. Swarming is how colonies divide and can be looked at as a part of the overall reproductive process of the honey bee.
With a small audience of family and neighbors and family I began to devise my plan.
Step 1. Climb tree.
Step 2. Cut branch containing swarm.
Step 3. Profit
Step 4. Put most of the bees into an empty nuc box.
Step 5. Pick up in the morning
Ok not much of a plan but it's what I had. I needed to move quickly the swarm could take off at any time as long as there was light in the sky. With strong urging from my family I was encouraged to call someone for some advice. So with that I gave Steve a call. After a quick chat with the bee master He confirmed what I thought that despite it being the first season for my bees they had swarmed and that he would bet his hives that it was not a feral swarm. He agreed that my plan for cutting down the branch that they were on was a good plan.
By now it was to dark and I had a hard time seeing the swarm from inside the tree so I would have to wait till morning after all . The good news is without the sun in the sky the bees can not navigate so they won't fly
6:00 am and I’m dragging my butt out of bed I hardly slept with all the excitement downstairs to the basement and put on my bee suit. I reassemble my pole trimmer without having to even knock on his door my neighbor arrived to assist me. Thank god because without him this task would have taken even longer than wound up taking. Switching back and forth between a manual and an electric pole trimmer and him being able to fix the chain on my chainsaw for me man that would have meant a lot of trips up the tree.
Now it must be said that I got a great deal on my pole trimmer I bought it last year open box from a big box hardware store. It is a combo pole trimmer / electric chainsaw and I had purchased it mainly for the chainsaw. The house on the other side of me had a plum tree fall and the elderly resident was incapable of dealing with the mess. After sufficiently dulling the chain cutting apart an entire tree with this tiny saw meant for trimming branches It remained tucked away in my basement next to the server rack basically until now. Of core now when I needed it in a hurry it was going to take forever to cut through anything. Two hours had passed and I had finally cut away enough of the branches to allow the branch supporting the swarm to fall when I cut it instead of just remaining suspended by the other numerous meandering branches I wanted to clear away more but working with above my head with what basically amounted to big weight on a flimsy pole for 2 hours while balancing on untrustworthy footing was taking its toll on me and the temperature was beginning to climb. A good Bee suit like mine is made from a heavy canvas and let me tell you heavy canvas is not a breathable material. So it goes without saying I was getting a bit swampy. This swarm needed to come down now.
I let my trusty assistant know I was about to cut the swarm down and he moved to a safe observation location and I began to cut the branch holding the swarm. After about what seemed like an hour went by and I was still not through the branch the chain on my saw was so dull I just wasn't getting all the way through the final branch. I reached for the manual pole trimmer and grabbed a hold of it with the hook and yanked… Snap the branch broke at once and i maneuvered quickly to keep from falling out of the tree. The branch and swarm fell about 15 feet and hit a cluster of branches in front of me about half the bees fell the rest of the way to the ground onto the tarps I had spread out the other 35,000 or so erupted into a torrent of startled confused bees in the tree all around me. I have to say it was pretty awesome.
I grabbed the branch wit a few remaining bees on it and took it to the ground and set it next to my waiting nuc I scooped a few handfuls of bees up with my hands and threw them into the nuc. A short time later I saw a couple of the bees had perched at the top of the box and began to fan. I drew a sigh of relief I knew now that rescue was a success
When bees move to a new home some of the bees will raise her posterior in the air and “Fan”
Beating their wings to disperse the orientation pheromone (It smells like lemon grass) this signals to the other bees that this is the new location to call home.
The sky in the backyard was filled with bees for about an hour in a half until the bees finally settled into the nuc . A few hours later I would combine the bees back into the main hive.