Capturing A Honeybee Swarm

Spring time is swarm time.  Swarms are great ways to save money for a budding beekeeper or even an experienced one because swarms are free…after you catch them!

honeybees swarm for a number of reasons.  Sometimes a queen gets old and isn’t laying consistently, so the other bees kick her out (with ~10,000 of her closest supporters) and raise up a new queen.  Other times, the colony simply grows too large in the spring and the bees feel cramped so they split the hive up by swarming.  There are other reasons, but I don’t want to get bogged down in that at the moment.

Swarms are nothing to be afraid of.  They are a mass of bees relaxing, while the scouts are out looking for a new permanent home.  They generally form a tight ball around the queen.

A swarm attached to a branch on an oak tree.

A swarm attached to a branch on an oak tree.

Like I said, swarms are not something to be scared of, but if you go to capture one you should still wear a suit.  They don’t have a colony to protect so they are much more docile than your average grouping of thousands of bees, but I would bet a few are still looking for a fight.

Hi!  I hate being stung!

Hi! I hate being stung!

Basically, to capture a swarm you just want to get that clump into some sort of container.  A bucket works great to capture the initial swarm.  You can either cut the branch or just hold the bucket under the clump and shake the hell out of it.  Your main goal is the get the queen into the bucket.  She will be in the middle of the clump, so if the bees on the edge don’t fall into the bucket it’s not a big deal.

Shake 'em like a polaroid picture, but with stingers, wings and danger.

Shake ’em like a polaroid picture, but with stingers, wings and danger.

Now, bees don’t want to live in that bucket.  We’re not talking about lightening bugs or caterpillars here.  When capturing a swarm, its important to have a deep hive body on hand.  Once you are confident you got the queen, just dump the bucket ‘o bees into the hive body.

Welcome to your new home.

Welcome to your new home.

Lots of bees will be flying around at this point.  That’s normal.  Once you dump the bees into the hive body, put the inner and outer lid on it.  At this point, you watch the entrance.  When you see bees lining up there and sticking their butts towards the outside world while fanning their wings, you know the queen is inside.  What these bees are doing is spreading the scent of the queen out into the world so all those bees that are flying around know where she is.

You can see the bees inside the circle fanning towards the outside.

You can see the bees inside the circle fanning towards the outside.

Once the fanning is apparent, pat yourself on the back, you just captured a swarm.  It is nice to be able to leave that hive body in that location over night.  This allows as many stragglers who were off scouting to make it back.  Sometimes these swarms form in a suburban backyard and the homeowner wants them gone immediately, that’s not a huge deal either.  Try to stall the homeowner for twenty minutes or so while more stragglers come in.  When you are ready to move the colony, shoo the bees off the “front porch” and inside the hive, then tape a piece of wood to block the entrance.  Move as you see fit.  Hooray!

Soon they will be making sweet sweet honey!

Soon they will be making sweet sweet honey!

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