One of my daily routines is to walk around the farm and just observe. I usually do this after lunch and it is a way for me to check up on things and to take some time to reflect and relax. I love seeing what has germinated, or started to fruit or set new leaves, it’s extremely peaceful, grounding, and puts everything into perspective.
It also alerts me to anything that might be wrong, and boy, did I discover something wrong the other day! I was checking on our Jerusalem Artichoke patch and I noticed a lot of bees buzzing around, more than I thought was normal, so I took a few steps forward and saw that there was a swarm of bees in one of our smaller apple trees. Considering that this tree was only 50 feet or so from our hives, I had to make the unfortunate assumption that they were our bees.
Bees swarm in the spring. Basically what happens is that a hive, for a number of reasons, not enough food and overcrowding being the main ones, decides that there are too many bees in the colony, and they make a new queen. This queen will take about 60 percent of the bees and create a new colony somewhere else. They do this for the health of the original hive. The rest of the bees will remain behind and get to work rebuilding the colony now that they have a ton of space.
Our situation was unique because we had only had these bees for about a month, and usually a colony doesn't get so big in such a short time that they decided to swarm, so we must have some very healthy bees!
But I did not know this at the time and I was seriously freaking out and trying to figure out what to do. Luckily I have some friends here that know about bees and got some solid advice from them. Catch the swarm, was they all said, and that way you will go from having two hives to having three!
Bee swarms are actually really docile, although they look a little frightening, with thousands of bees huddled together in a big clump on a branch of a tree. The reason they are so docile is because they are protecting their new queen. This queen was just born and isn't that strong yet nor can fly very well. That is why a swarm will always be rather close to the original hive, and it will remain there for a day or so while the queen gets stronger.
All you have to do to catch the swarm is to gently cut the branch on which all the bees are hanging on, take to it to a box or empty hive body, and shake all the bees into it. Hopefully the queen will be in the box, and all the other bees will stay with her, any bees that are loose and flying around will eventually make it into the box as well.
All I had was an old cardboard box, so this was what put the bees in while I went to a friends house to get a cardboard bee box that would hold some frames. I transferred the swarm to this new box and left them in there for a day to let them settle down and start building comb on the new frames.
The next day I got a new hive set up and transferred the swarm, which is now my new colony of bees, to their new home. As of today they re doing great, and we have three happy and healthy hives helping us pollinate everything we are growing and creating delicious honey for themselves and us.
This really was a crash course in bee keeping, and although it was rather stressful and exhausting, it was also really exciting. I did get stung once, and right in the belly button at that! I wouldn’t recommend it…..