And then there were three

It was 12:45 pm on March 27th, and we were doing a little kitchen remodeling when it became apparent that there was some unusual (but distressingly familiar) bee activity in the backyard. Once you see this, you never forget it. Click on this link to watch:

Given our long Winter and cool Spring, I didn’t think we would have a swarm this early, so I hadn’t bothered to set up my bait hives. Too late now, as the bees have probably already scouted out a new location. I did have a few empty hive boxes in the yard, but swarms usually prefer to set up shop farther away from the parent hive. My only hope was that the swarm would land in a place where it could be captured.

Initially, there were two swarm clusters, one about 40 feet up a tree, and another about 12 feet up. Fortunately for me, they coalesced into the lower cluster. Here’s how it looked about two hours after the departure from the hive.

Backyard swarm, about 18 inches in diameter.

I wish I had not left that 12 foot stepladder in Auburn.

The simplest way to capture a swarm like this is to shake or cut the branch into a box. The bees often drop right in and can be transported without further ado. However, this was a big swarm, and it was just a little too high for my ladder, so when I cut the branch, I dropped the box (and the bees) on the ground. Bees went everywhere, and I retreated for until they settled down. Fortunately, most of the bees settled back into the box, and later that afternoon I shook them into a new hive. A branch that also held a fair number of bees was also deposited above the frames.

Top of the hive 24 hours after the swarm was deposited.

New hive 24 hours after the swarm was installed. I had inserted a queen excluder above the bottom board to keep the queen from flying off.

Two days after the swarm install. I removed the branch, shook the bees off the outer cover, and removed the extra hive box.

The bees were already starting to draw out comb in the brood box – a good sign.

A small clump of bees remained in the tree two days after the swarm was removed. I cut off this branch and placed it in front of the new hive.

The bees obediently marched off the branch into the hive.

This swarm is now doing well as my third hive. This queen, the original from last year’s package installation, has swarmed twice, and the resulting hives are both doing well. Although one might argue that keeping such a queen is selecting for the tendency to swarm, I think in both instances the hives just blossomed quickly without adequate room for expansion. I have learned that one must be ready for swarming by March 1st. Bait boxes up; additional boxes ready to add to the hives; a bee vac to suck up otherwise inaccessible swarms and cutouts; and a taller step ladder.

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