I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember it like it was last week. Also, I remember it like it was last year. And every year for three years before that. Yes, I am talking about bees and their unpredictable (but c’mon now, we’ve been at this apiary shit for 3 years, we should know better) tendency to swarm. Our beloved friend and Farm 51 co-founder, Sarah Loomis posted on this very blog three years ago of her fascination and adoration for the buzzing bee. She titled it “A is for Apiary.” As I type with swollen fingers and hands the size of baseball mitts, I title this post “B is for B Swarm.”
But let me start from the beginning: Bee swarming is natural phenomenon, where bees break off to form a new colony. For us, it usually happens when the weather peaks during the first few nice, sunny, warm days of spring. It’s a terrifying sight: A hot spring day, people walking about and sitting on their porches, while thousands upon thousands of bees buzzing overhead in our Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood looking for a nearby branch or tree to settle into. It takes anywhere from a half hour to an hour for them to settle down, and when they do settle, we are there to retrieve them. The colony usually lands within a block from the hive it’s left. From there, some worker bees leave to find a new, more permanent home. We’d like to think of ourselves as good beekeepers and let everyone know that this is when they’re least likely to be aggressive, as they’re too busy gorging on honey and looking for a new home. But it’s a tough crowd. And sometimes we make mistakes.
Yes we have the bee suit. It’s hard to see what branch to cut when we’re up in a tree retrieving the bees. But all in all, we have and always gotten them back. And with some mistakes made, there are lessons learned which is why I’d like to provide myself a ten step list of what works for us on capturing a honey bee swarm in an urban area. (Mostly for future reference and general knowledge to our friends and neighbors and to prevent us from looking like idiots/Sloth from the goonies.)
How to Catch a Bee Swarm in an Urban Area
for future Farm51 reference
1. If you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t retrieve the bees. Call a professional beekeeper.
2. Don’t panic. Secure the area, and alert and calmly tell other people not to panic.
3. Locate the swarm. You may be lucky enough that your neighbors call you or bang on your door already knowing where they went.
4. Assess the situation. Do you need a ladder? Do you need to go in someone’s backyard? Sometimes you get lucky, other times it can get real complicated. Use common sense and proper judgement.
5. Retrieve the following materials: Protective clothing, a pruning saw, an empty nuc (nucleus) hive with frames and lid, ladder, bucket with lid, antihistamine in case of stings.
6. Carefully snip/saw the branch and lower the bees over the empty hive.
7. Shake vigorously into the empty hive.
8. Sometimes you may miss a queen, so scoop any clusters gently into the box.
9. Close the lid and let the stragglers find their way. Leave the box in this location for a while.
10. Relocate the bees.
Going through this makes the honey that much sweeter. Consider buying some at the next farmstand?
Some of the swarm capture photos above by dear friend of Farm 51: Kim Giannone.