Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hiving a Swarm

Just before dinner, David got a call from the Boeing plant in Renton. A swarm of bees was hanging out on one of their signs. Could he come get it?

We are on a swarm list provided by the Puget Sound Beekeepers http://pugetsoundbees.org/, We are not only willing but hoping to capture bee swarms. It's a win/win - the caller gets the pesky ball of bees removed, we get another potential hive. By collecting bees from swarms, we hope to capture bees from colonies that have successfully overwintered, and may pass on good survival genes to future hives.

Most people love and respect bees, but there are certainly places where they don't want them living.
They weren't really giant bees, but we loved the illusion in this picture of them roaming over a sign. If they were really that size we would have driven away as soon as we saw them!

A swarm is what a hive does when it is so full of honey, workers and brood that it has no room left to grow. It raises a second queen, and then the old queen takes a band of workers off in search of a new place to live.

When bees swarm, it looks terrifying but is really one of the safer ways to encounter that many bees. The bees are full of honey, and they have the queen with them. They are not looking for a fight, and will avoid stinging at all costs.

 What isn't always safe, though, is the rest of the situation. Bees prefer high places. A keeper who fears heights need not go on swarm calls.

In this case, the sign was only accessible by lift.

David brought along a box with some comb in it, and scooped as much of the swarm as possible into it. The queen is in the densest bunch of bees. Once she's been boxed up, the other bees are attracted to her scent and become easier to capture.


 Sugar syrup is a great beekeeping tool. It is sprayed or drenched over the bees, who pause to clean themselves and are distracted from flying or stinging. It can perk up starving bees, settle down agitated ones, and make swarms more manageable. Here David is sweetening their spirits.

 Soon the majority of the bees were in the box. But in this situation, "most" wasn't good enough. 

Bees produce a chemical called Nasonov Pheromone which is an attractant used to orient other bees. These bees are fanning their abdomens to waft the scent out. This will signal any workers left at the site of the so they can collect into a new, smaller cluster.

David kept collecting, and returned in the evening for any stragglers.

What next? Well, we always have room for a hive of bees. We got our swarm settled into a hive, where it can build itself up before winter. Our Boeing bees are carrying on the tradition of flight, and can now be seen coming in for a landing in their snazzy new Warre hive. Let the bees live long and prosper.

Photo credits: Noah Darwin Feinberg
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