My family and I have been keeping bees since 2014. It has been an amazing experience that we are expanding on constantly. We thought that we would have to buy new bees each time we wanted to start another hive. Then we discovered the magic that is the wild bee swarm.
We receive phone calls periodically from home and business owners who have swarms on their property that they need moved. My husband goes out, moves them into a box, and relocates them to a hive in our yard. It is a very cool process and it brings us lots of yummy & local (as local as you can get) honey!
Basic Overview of How to Catch a Wild Bee Swarm
Know what is happening
If you want to catch a wild swarm and properly relocate it, then you need to understand what is happening within the colony.
Bees swarm when a hive has become so overpopulated that a group of the worker bees do not have access to the queen so, to them, she is non-existent. This group then raises a new queen and she leaves with half (or more) of the workers. The entire swarm stays as close to the queen as possible. When she needs a break from flying, they all land in a tree, on a fence post, or whatever seems suitable at the time. While they rest, scout bees (the real estate agents of the colony) move out in search of a new home.
At this point, the bees aren’t looking to sting you because they don’t have a home to protect. However, if you plan to get close enough for them to feel threatened then you will definitely want to take some precautions.
Take the proper steps for your safety!
You will need to be sure to wear your Bee Suit. That sounds like pretty standard information, but you would be surprised at the number of beekeepers who think they are buddies with the bees and go in without so much as a pair of gloves. Bad idea.
Here my husband is wearing just the hood, gloves, and top with tight elastic around the waist to prevent bees from getting in. We have since purchased a full suit with hood, pants, and top that attach plus the gloves. DO NOT get cocky here. Just because the bees are in real estate mode instead of protective mode doesn’t ensure that they won’t sting you when you get close to the queen. Better safe than sorry.
A smoker is also a good idea. Smoking bees is a necessity when you are checking on them while in the hive as it helps to keep them calm. It is not a bad idea to have the smoker on hand when you are trying to relocate them.
Have a Suitable Box to Move the Swarm Into
You can use a hive box, a nuc box, or a plain cardboard box for this. We always use a hive box when we have one available because we want to disturb them as little as possible. If we don’t have an extra hive box handy, then we use one of the other options. You will need a secure lid no matter which box you choose.
Making the Move
There are a few different strategies for this. I will focus on the two that we prefer for today’s post.
1. Spray & Shake
This method is pretty simple. Spray the clumped swarm with a little sugar water. Sugar water doesn’t hurt them, but it makes it difficult for them to fly off for a few minutes. As soon as you have given them a little mist, shake them off into your box, brush them with a bee brush, or pick them up with gloved hands. Put the lid on the box and move on.
2.Letting the bees do the work
We usually opt for this method. Just set your hive box with frames near the swarm, put sugar water in and/or on it and wait for the scout bees and queen to start moving in.It is VITAL here that the queen moves into the box. If the queen stays back then the whole colony will leave the box that you just got them into so they can get to her.
You need to be sure that your box has some type of ventilation during the transport. You can poke small holes in the box, place a mesh piece over the top, or whatever works to keep air flowing to the bees. The last thing that you want to do is kill the bees that you have just worked to collect. Those girls are super important for our environment and they will give you some pretty sweet honey if you treat them right.
You can transport them in a truck bed if you have that luxury, but we aren’t that cool so we use our minivan 😉
Starting Your Hive
Once you get them to the new location you need to hive them. This is unless you placed them in a hive box from the start. A nucleus box is okay to leave them in for a while. Just place some frames in it so that they can start building the comb. This hive needs to stay closed for 1-2 days so they forget about the old home on the fence post or bird feeder. After that time, you can open the entrance hole on the hive. Give them a little sugar water to get them started and then watch them as the start to pollinate your yard, garden, and everything else within a 2-5 miles radius.
We are so blessed to have the opportunity to keep bees! They are amazing creatures that work so meticulously to achieve very specific tasks. I will definitely be posting more as we add new hives and extract honey.