In the past week, we’ve had a swarm in our garden, so I thought it was a good time to write a post about catching a swarm.
What Is A Swarm Of Bees?
The term swarm usually refers to a large group of flying insects moving together, in this case, bees. It’s actually a term that refers to a specific biological event the bees use to ensure the future of their species.
Around spring, there is abundant flowering flora providing plentiful nectar and pollen for the bees and other pollinators to access. The queen bee produces more offspring because of the favorable conditions.
This can result in the hive becoming overcrowded with bees, brood and honey and the colony prepares to swarm. A swarm consists of the original queen, several hundred to several thousand worker bees, and a few drones. The size of the swarm depends on the size of the original hive.
Usually, the swarm first lands approximately fifty to a hundred meters from the hive, where it forms a cluster around the queen, often on the branch of a tree. From here, scout bees are sent out to find a suitable new home.
Whenever the scout bees find a suitable home they swarm will leave, so it’s best to act quickly and house them in a hive. Sometimes their new home may be a wall cavity in a building or home and we don’t want them to choose that option!
Before a swarm leaves the original hive, they gorge themselves on honey because they don’t know when they will find their new home or where it will be. Usually, although a swarm of bees may look daunting, they are calm generally because they have no home, no brood, or honey to defend.
The swarm doesn’t travel far initially because the queen cannot fly well. In fact, the workers prepare the queen by starving her a little so she is not too heavy to fly.
Once the bees have stayed in one location for a week, they’re no longer referred to as a swarm and are then known as a hive or colony. This is because a week is long enough for the workers to build comb and for the queen to start laying eggs.
Where Should You Put Your Swarm Of Bees?
When catching a swarm it’s best to choose a container that suits the size of the swarm, and its location.
Swarms need to be caught quickly before they start to build comb and the queen starts to lay.
Swarms vary in size, anywhere from as small as a baseball to a basketball. They may land high up in a tree branch or a pole or under the eave of a house where a ladder is necessary to collect them. Lower, dense bushes, the side of a planting box, in a compost bin, or under the lid of a barbecue are other more accessible possibilities.
Various sized cardboard boxes will do temporarily and are light in weight. Buckets too are suitable. If the swarm is located high up and you need a ladder you want something that is light and easy to carry. I cut the branch if I can and drop it into the box, bees and all. Otherwise, I give it a good firm shake to get in as many bees as possible the first time.
Recruit a family member or friend to hold the ladder for you if they are willing. Just make sure they have some gloves and a netted hat to wear!
If the bees are close to the ground I will position some frames in an empty hive underneath and shake them directly into it. This saves the bees from having to be moved twice. If I have one, I’ll put a frame of brood into the box as well. This gives the queen drawn comb to lay in immediately and the brood will be looked after by the nurse bees.
From the container, I shake the swarm directly into the hive with the frames inside. If the bees are clustering on a small branch that will fit in, I’ll put them in the box branch and all. The frames are already in place.
Just remember when you catch a swarm in a container you have to get them into their home as soon as possible.
How To House Your Swarm Of Bees
The aim is to get as many bees as you can into your box on the first go. The queen will be at the center of the cluster, so if you can get most of the bees into the box the first time around she will be among them most likely. The other bees will follow her in.
Lowering Them In
The best way to get the swarm into the box will be to clip the branch they are on and lower them into the hive, assuming the branch will fit. Some or all of your waxed (or drawn) frames will already be in place. Just leave a gap in the center for the branch.
If the branch is too big, just place it on top of the box of frames and the bees will run down the frames into the box. Have the frames in place first because you will squash too many bees trying to put them in afterward.
This method of clipping the branch and lowering it means the swarm keeps its cluster intact with only a few bees flying around.
Shaking Them In
If the branch is too high or too thick for it to be cut off, then you will have to shake the swarm into your box. A quick sharp shake releases most bees and a majority of them will land in the box. However many will fall or fly around which takes longer to gather them up.
You should have to wait for them to settle before scooping them gently into the box. I use a soft bee brush and a small plastic shovel to scoop them. Wait to see if the queen landed in the box. If she did so, then over time the rest will follow her in. You will just have to wait.
What To Do After Catching A Swarm Of Bees
Now you have the majority of bees in the box, make sure you leave the hive or box in position as close to the site of the swarm as you can to allow the remaining bees to go into the box. The remaining flying bees will return to the swarm site first so it’s important to position the box close to where the swarm was when you found it
It’s best to wait until dusk if you can to be sure all the foraging bees have returned before you secure the box and move the bees away. Then you can be sure you have left no bees behind.
Leave Them Alone
After catching your swarm, leave them alone for a week. This will allow them time to build comb and for the queen to start laying eggs.
If you disturb them before the week is up, they will likely leave. After all, they won’t have had time to make comb or for the queen to lay eggs and so have nothing to lose. If you have a frame of brood comb or even drawn comb placed in the hive this can help them to stay as they have a reason to remain there.
Catching a swarm is a very rewarding experience and it is a fairly straightforward one. If you are a member of a bee club ask if you can help catch swarms in your area if you have the time.
You will gain a lot of confidence from the experience and I really recommend it.
It will help also you deal with your own swarm effectively should it happen in your own backyard.