Here in Florida, everyone who keeps bees is supposed to register with The Man. Not everyone does, of course, sometimes because they just don’t know they’re supposed to, and sometimes because they’re some anti-government whackadoodle who doesn’t think it’s any of the government’s beeswax. They should, however: one of the jobs of the apiary inspector is to look for instances of American foulbrood, which is a very nasty business. If foulbrood is found in a hive, the hive has to be destroyed – by burning. That’s how bad it is. I asked bee man how often he sees it, and he says just once or twice a year. Remarkable: consider that this guy and another spend literally almost all their time driving around doing inspections, in beeyards with one hive or a thousands. Finding foulbrood that rarely out of that many hives says that the bees are doing well and that the beekeepers are, too.
I had thought two hives had gone queenless, as they were not ramping up from the splits I had made previously, and I hadn’t found good brood patterns in them. I’ve also not really gone into the hives except to pop the cover and listen for pissed-off bees in about a month-ish, except for one hive from which I made the newest split (that I am not sure actually hatched a queen that mated; there is definitely no brood in there). BUT! Upon inspection, both of the hives I thought might not make it have brood in them. Score! This means they are well on their way to earning their keep here at the ranch.
As some people know, we had a swarm earlier this week – that originated from the hive from which I had made a split trying to forestall that swarming – and the swarm landed in one of the very tall pine trees, about 50 feet off the ground. That was not a swarm that I could safely attempt to retrieve, so I wished them well and just kept checking them every day. I also put out the swarm lure in a nearby tree, to try to coax them into it as a suitable landing place. One day as I was heading out to replace a couple of feeders, a clump of bees fell off the swarm. When I checked later, they had formed a smaller ball on the end of the same branch the original ball was on – but again, in a place it would not be safe to try to capture them.
Today, while waiting for bee man, I went out to replace some feeders and check on the swarm. As I was heading into the bee yard, I looked up, and finally, after five days, no bees way up in the tree. I figured the scouts had finally found a suitable space and everyone had taken off. This was not the case. As I shifted my gaze downward, what did I spy but the swarm, reformed about five feet off the ground in one of the hardwood trees nearby. An excellent prospect for capture.
We have attempted swarm captures before here at the ranch, with no success. Between then and now, though, I’ve done a lot more research, and picked up some pointers on how to get them in the box without them immediately flying right back up to where they were. With those tips in mind, I pulled out four frames we were storing from the last honey extraction and put them into an empty hive body box. Directly under the swarm, I laid down a couple of white sheets, then put the hive box (with bottom board) on those. The next step is the one that is terrifying to some people: using a hive tool, or brush, or just your hand to run along the tree limb, breaking the ball’s hold on the branch, causing them to fall into the box in a giant clump. This also results in a bunch of disturbed bees flying around. When they’re swarming, they are not really aggressive most of the time, because they’re all full of honey. But, if the swarm has been out of the hive for a few days, some of the bees may no longer be so full of honey, and may think your head is a terrific place to target with their asses, where their stinger resides. Luckily, I was completely suited up, and was not stung at all. Some of the bees, disturbed into flying, flew right back to the branch, so it took a couple of tries to get enough bees in the box for everyone to recognize that was a viable home.
With a bunch of bees in the box, I put on the inner cover (which has a slot in it) and then the outer cover, propping the edge of the outer cover up with a piece of a branch. This allows the bees to enter from the side as well as the front, and is a good thing, as there were quite a lot of bees on the side of the hive body. With the outer cover propped open in this manner, and with a little luck, the bees will march right into the hive. And that is exactly what they did.
By the time the bee man made it here (about 4:30), the branch was empty of bees, and the box was full of them. In just a bit, I’ll head out to remove the branch prop and close the cover. Tomorrow, I hope they will still be in the box, and if they are still there by Saturday, I and my bro Chris Abbey will be able to move the box back to the hive stand, and I can stick a feeder on them. If all works as planned, this will be our first successful capture of a swarm!