You lose some, you win some-Part 1

This is the “lose some” portion of the story.

I went out into the yard on Thursday and was investigated by several bees. I didn’t think anything of it, just thought they were looking for flowers as the afternoon was sunny though very cool. And it had been raining for a couple of days.

Friday turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day. After I came home from work, I took a stroll down to the bees to watch them zip around (as I love to do on sunny days) and immediately noted that the Pink hive had a lot less traffic than normal and slightly less than the other hives. My brain immediately went to the fact that it was a sunny day after days of rain and such days are prime swarm days.

I looked around the yard and lo and behold, there they were, clustered at least 15′ high on my neighbor’s peach tree. I got my husband and we moved into “swarm-gear.” Which essentially consisted of me recalling every swarm account or video I have ever read/watched, trying to quickly educate my husband and searching for a hive to drop them into. I was so unprepared.

Nice and high.
Nice and high.

Got a plastic tarp (next time use cloth as the plastic was too slippery), our only ladder (not tall enough and yard is heavily sloped), a wooden hive body with a cobbled-together bottom and a tree-saw on a pole. My husband was all for cutting the branch and letting it fall. I wanted to shake the branch. The problem with both methods was this: the hive body was too heavy to hold at an angle under the swarm for shaking and so it had to be on the ground. But cutting the branch and letting it drop would result in lots of bees dying on impact, the cluster reforming on a potentially higher branch and possibly injuring the queen. The step-ladder on the incline was the main hindrance and I had to put a branch behind me and hold onto it to avoid falling off the ladder while I stretched my right arm as far as I could under the swarm. It just didn’t work.

The bees were shaken, a large mass dropped (and FYI, they drop really easily) and landed to the side of the hive body. I had added some lemongrass oil and honey frames to the box. They flew back to the branch. I kept trying to see the queen but I did not see any marked queen and mine was just marked a few weeks ago.

Missed!
Missed!

We shook several times with them all returning to the branch. Then we cut it, but because of the slope and the poor ladder reach, the branch dropped. It looked like the bees were marching into the hive body for a few minutes, but if you watched them you saw them eating the honey and then returning to the tree.

Swarm 2

I tried trapping what bees I could and keeping them in the box. The night was pretty cold and the next day, the swarm was still there. I tried to collect more of them while they were in their “chill coma” but a stubborn number of them remained on the branch. Later, I went through the hives and stole some frames, including one with larvae, in an effort to keep the swarm bees “anchored.” They were festooning in the box like they do in packages. I opened the entrance which had been closed since I caught them. The Pink hive had opened swarm cell cups and others that were still capped. The capped ones were not killed so I wonder if afterswarms were/are planned. I cut out a couple of capped swarm cells and added those to the nuc as well. I noticed the swarm got bigger after I opened the swarm box entrance: likely because the trapped bees rejoined their group and by the mid-afternoon, the swarm was gone. The Pink hive and the nuc have queen cells, at least one should end up with a queen. If one ends up queenless, I’ll combine them; if they both have queens, I may offer the nuc for sale but if no one wants it, I have no problem keeping it.

Just a few of the numerous swarm cells I found in the Pink hive
Just a few of the many swarm cells I found in the Pink hive

Though my first swarm catching attempt failed, I learned a few things.
1. I’m quite sure the bees swarmed on Thursday, the day I thought I was being investigated as a potential flower. I think the swarm had already alighted on the tree and I was just so dunce that I never looked up! Ack. Next time, if I notice unusual behavior, I’ll look up.
2. Cardboard nucs are extremely useful and light, very easy to hold up even at an extended arm reach, so have one at the ready at all times. For what it’s worth, I have FIVE of them and not one was assembled!
3. Use a cotton sheet or cloth tarp to place in the “drop zone,” plastic provides no traction for the bees and is harder for them to maneuver upon. Also, you can place the ladder on it if needed.
4. A tall, straight ladder is useful to have. A step ladder is very challenging and unstable on an incline.
5. Have a bait hive set up. I do now, about 30′ away from the hives, but I may move it farther away. Just don’t know where.

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