Swarm Day

I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them.  Tens of thousands of them way up high.  I shielded my eyes with my hand and searched the branches for the tell-tale clump.

” A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.”  -mid 17th century beekeeper’s proverb

Well it was May and half my bees were twenty-five feet up in a tree.

My neighbor had come over with a startled look in his eyes.  “Um, do you have a bee suit?  Because there’s, like, thousands of bees up in my tree.”  Good golly.

“I’ll suit up.”

Somehow I said it like I capture large rebel clumps of stinging insects all the time.  By the time I’d donned my veil and jacket the bees had absconded.  I could still hear them, but where?

The sky was full of them, buzzing to beat the band; I’d never heard them so chatty.  There was a tornado of them above my head, gradually touching down on a blessedly low holly tree in my yard.  I approached with a box at the ready and a rake.

By now the plumbing company next door was forming a small crowd of tough guys gawking uneasily as I approached the noisy mob.  I had studied swarm collection.  In a book.  Don’t you just love when written words need to be fleshed out in real life movements?

I put the box below them and gently began knocking the clump down into the box.  The air erupted with humming inquietude.  I have never felt so mesmerized in my life, seeing the writhing many-membered mass flowing like water up the sides of the box, coating it like a blanket.  When I had the clump into the box, minus the ones filling the air around me, I taped it shut; a maneuver made quite complex by the fact that I’d brought along heavy duty packing tape which would not rip off.  I had to bite it to break it, meaning I had to leave my bee veil open a bit to access my teeth.  This earned me a very confused bee in my veil!

I lifted the heavy humming box to the other side of the yard and watched the airborne swarm.  They settled on the same spot on the holly tree and formed another sizable mass.  I needed to make sure I got the queen they fled with, so I got another box and repeated the operation again.  Oh how the air hummed.

Meanwhile calls were being made to my beekeeping mentor Tim.  Desperate calls about a used hive or nuc that we could buy tonight.  You see, bees don’t keep long in boxes and they deserved better than that.  Tim had one hive left, Dustin sped off for it, an admiration for my mad swarm-catching skills lighting his eyes.

As soon as the new hive arrived I started up my smoker and headed out to my downsized original hive where the ladies were enjoying a bit more elbow room.  I took three heavy frames of honey/pollen/capped brood out to put into the new hive to make it more enticing for the swarm, swapping in new frames from the new hive for the ladies to fill.

Then it was time to attempt resettlement.  I poured the boxes of bees into the new hive and they looked like so much writhing chocolate frosting blobbed generously atop a cupcake.  “How do we get them all in?”, asked my husband, nervously.  “I…I…I don’t know.  I’ll try brushing them down into the frames.”

I swept the mass up the sides and in, adding a puff of smoke over top to stimulate them to chow down on honey and call the place hive sweet hive.  I got the inner cover and the telescoping roof on, parking the bee-coated boxes right up to the front ramp.

We watched in amazement as they began a slow but steady advancement into the hive.  JOY!  Hundreds of dollars worth of beautiful bees were marching happily into their new home.  We laughed and rode the afterglow of the huge adrenaline rush from shepherding the swarm in.

By nightfall they were all tucked into the hive.  This morning they were taking their bearings, flying in looping circles in front of the hive.  This afternoon they were busy drawing out comb and sipping at the rain water puddled on their front porch.  This evening they were coming home with pollen.  Glory.



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