More on Bees for (almost) Free

A honeybee colony is considered to be a super-organism and swarming is the way that they reproduce. When a colony swarms the existing queen flies off with about 60% of the workers to find a new home, leaving the existing hive to raise a new queen. When this happens the existing colony has so few bees that they will not store any surplus honey for the beekeeper to harvest.It seems to me that the bees can sense a new nectar flow and start making swarm preparations prior to the flow by constructing queen cells in which they raise the new queen that will take over the colony after the swarm.

Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, we have two major nectar flows that produce a honey crop – the first one being “wildflower” and the second being Sourwood. Wildflower is what I call a “bees blend” of everything that blooms during April through June. The Sourwood tree blooms in July and produces the world famous premium Sourwood honey. Last year immediately before the Sourwood trees bloomed around the first of July most of my strongest colonies decided it was time to swarm and did. Invariably the swarms flew off into the top of a inaccessible tree and then into the surrounding forest never to be seen again. This year since I was now living at our new home in the mountains right next to our bee yard, I was determined to try to prevent the swarming of my colonies or if they swarmed to be able to somehow lure them into a trap.

One of my goals this spring was to grow the size of my apiary. So I developed a two pronged strategy to do this and still produce honey – especially the Sourwood honey. The first prong was to inspect the hives on a frequent basis during the spring wildflower flow looking for queen swarm cells. When found, I removed the existing queen along with four or five frames of brood (baby bees), nurse bees, pollen and nectar and put them into a new hive in a different part of the beeyard, leaving the “parent” hive in its existing location to raise a new queen. In essence I was creating an artificial swarm – but the main difference was that it was controlled and I didn’t lose the swarm to the forest.  Since the queenless colony remained in its existing location, all the forages returned to it keeping its total population very high. During the course of the spring, I ended up making eight splits this way – even splitting one hive three times! All eight of these colonies were strong enough by July to actually make Sourwood honey.

The second prong was to make swarm traps in which to catch any swarms should I miss finding a queen cell during my inspections. I was inspired by a March 2015 article in the American Bee Journal entitled “A Swarm Trap in Every Tree” written by Dr. Leo Sharashkin. In the article he presents the plans for his trap design, why it is so effective and how to set it up. Here is a link to his website where you will find much of the same information.  In June of this year I constructed eight traps of his design, and hung two of them in the vicinity of my bee yard. The traps were baited with one frame of old dark comb and lemon grass oil. The remaining five frames in the trap were foundationless frames.



Then on June 26th I happened to be in my back yard when a swarm emerged from one of my hives. As I stood there and watched, the swarm landed on an inaccessible  tree limb approximately 35 feet  off the ground. I knew that this was most likely a temporary “roost” site and hoped that they would decide to move on to one of my traps.

Sure enough, the next day this is what I found!

Early the next morning I closed up the trap and brought it to the bee yard. Opening up the trap, I was amazed at how many bees were in it and how quickly they had drawn comb on the foundationless frames..

This is the old comb that was used as a lure.

So, I consider my trapping efforts to be extremely successful catching four swarms near my beeyard and two in another location. Six traps were  set and six swarms were caught in three of the traps. Of the four swarms caught near my beeyard, two were from my hives with marked queens. The other two I am not sure where they came from. The two traps that were set remote from my bees were definitely feral colonies.

The bottom line is I added twelve colonies to my operation at essentially no cost other than the materials for the traps and my time. Contrast that with purchasing twelve nuc colonies at a cost of $150 each which amounts to $1,800. My plans are to continue this strategy of growth and hopefully will never have to purchase bees again.

A Swarm – or Bees for Free (almost)

I received a call on Thursday afternoon from Deb Schmalshof up in Cumming, GA who said she had a swarm of bees on the side of an old abandoned house about 8 feet off the ground and wanted to know if I was interested in capturing it.  She further explained that a colony had been living in this house for at least 4 years and this was not the first time she had seen the colony swarm. My initial thought was that if in fact it was a swarm, that it would probably not be there long before flying off to a new location. The fact that she said the colony had been there for 4 years intrigued  me as I would like to include “survivor” colonies into my operation, so I said I would come to take a look.

After a 30 minute drive to Cumming we arrived to find that the “swarm” had gone back into the house. There were still a lot of bees on the outside, but it definitely did not look like a swarm. Their behavior though was very gentile and there was absolutely no aggressiveness displayed- which is one of the characteristics of a swarm.

Deb said that the house was scheduled to be demolished and would not mind if I tore into the siding to see if I could capture the bees. In fact, the bees needed to be rescued before the house was torn down.  She offered me a crow bar, hammer and eventually a power reciprocating saw to access the bee colony. And here is what we found:

The comb filled the wall cavity between the studs and was over three feet long. It had definitely been there for a while- but was in remarkably good condition. While removing it I could find no brood or honey, but there was a LOT of bees. I finally concluded that there had definitely been a swarm, but rather than coming from the house, they were actually entering it to take over the comb that another colony had constructed. I had brought a cardboard nuc with me with a couple of frames of drawn comb with honey and pollen. After spraying the bees with sugar water with a spray bottle, I proceeded to gather bees on the remaining comb and bee brush and shake them into the nuc box. This went on for some time until I had a lot of the bees in it. There was absolutely no way to see if we had the queen in the box and the bees were not acting like we did. Normally if you capture a swarm queen all the bees will follow her into the nuc or hive or clump up around her where ever she is. We had a few remaining clumps of bees that I brushed into the box.

After transferring most of the bees I could into the nuc, I decided to leave the nuc there in the opening overnight, hoping that the drawn comb and honey and bees we had in the box would attract the queen (if we didn’t already have her) and remaining bees. I propped it up with a handy push broom and step stool.

I returned the next morning to retrieve the box to find almost no bees outside it. After arriving home, I proceeded to install the nuc into a full 10 frame hive body. I installed a couple of drawn frames containing pollen and honey from another hive at the house and 3 more frames of foundation. When I opened up the nuc box I was greeted with bees looking at me from between all 5 frames and the inside cover full of bees. After applying a little smoke I transferred  each frame from the nuc to the full sized hive body after checking it for the queen.

And lo-and-behold, there she was on the frame of partially drawn comb! The swarm has got to be happy in their new furnished  home, complete with a stocked pantry.

Thanks to Deb for the pictures and concern for the bees.