Large honey bee swarm. Photo: Jeff Lee

A massive swarm reminds us swarm season is here again

It is swarm season again, but this time with a twist. The early spring is wreaking havoc for beekeepers, who are finding overwintered colonies exceptionally strong.

The mild winter, I think, has lulled some beekeepers into not realizing their hives are bigger, stronger and hence, more prone to swarm earlier than usual. The general rule is colonies are most prone to swarm in May and June. But go tell that to bees now who find themselves crowded and wanting to hit out for better digs.

It is no wonder, then, that we’ve been fielding calls from homeowners and businesses who  report having swarms land in trees, on fence posts and even on buildings. Most people don’t know want to do when they see a cyclonic swarm of bees alight, growing rapidly into a ball or tear-shaped brown mass. Swarm removal in Metro Vancouver

We’re well prepared to deal with these calls; we have put a special swarm kit in our vehicles so that we can rapidly respond to folks who call.

Bare-handed cutting away of small branches to get at this massive swarm. Photo: Amanda Goodman Lee

Bare-handed cutting away of small branches to get at this massive swarm. Photo: Amanda Goodman Lee

But I have to tell you this week, we collected the mother of all swarms, a mass approaching nearly eight pounds. Most swarms are between two and five pounds, representing perhaps a third or half of an established colony.

In this case, the call came from a young couple on Vancouver’s east side. They rent a basement suite and were stunned to see a swarm land in the only tree in their back yard, a tall, spindly fruit tree.

Lev and Jacks called us in the late afternoon, and within an hour we were there, expecting to find s medium swarm. Weren’t we surprised when we entered the back yard and found this huge mass clinging to the lowest branches of the tree, well within reach.

In our travelling swarm kit we carry all the necessary items; smoker, fuel, duct tape, tools, a small pruner, pole and water bottle catcher for tall extractions, notebook and veil. All but the pole and catcher fit inside a banker’s box which doubles as a carrying box for the bees.

But this swarm was so big that I wasn’t sure it would fit inside the box.

Shaking the bees into a cardboard box. You can see they will alight anywhere, including on my shirt, veil, and pants. Photo: Amanda Goodman Lee

Shaking the bees into a cardboard box. You can see they will alight anywhere, including on my shirt, veil, and pants. Photo: Amanda Goodman Lee

I gently cut away some branches that were in the way and knocked the swarm, queen and all, into the box and put it on the ground. After about 20 minutes we had the majority of the swarm.

It was so large that after rehousing it a brood box at home I ended up adding another chamber. When I looked in there today, the place was a humming and queen right place. They took to their new home well.

We left a small nuc box by the fruit tree in case stragglers wanted a home. Usually, however, orphaned bees without a queen will find their way back to the home hive.

That’s exactly what happened in this case. When we came back the next day the nuc box was empty.

I don’t know where this swarm originated from, but a neighbour who owns a pair of hives three doors up came over as we were undertaking the recovery. He suspected it might have issued from one of his two hives, which he admitted were both very full and likely in swarming mode. But he also pointed out that there’s another beekeeper half a block up the street.

A new home for a swarm. This one was so big that it went directly into a full-sized hive, two brood boxes. I'll check it in a week to make sure the queen is laying, and will treat it for mites. Photo: Amanda Goodman Lee

A new home for a swarm. This one was so big that it went directly into a full-sized hive, two brood boxes. I’ll check it in a week to make sure the queen is laying, and will treat it for mites. Photo: Amanda Goodman Lee

That’s the nature of swarms; you almost never know whose they are. There’s an unwritten rule among beekeepers that whoever retrieves a swarm owns it, an apiarian equivalent of finders-keepers.

I’ve had swarms issue from our colonies, and my view has been if someone gets to them before I do, that’s fair.

The beekeeper was good-natured about it, and we agreed neither of us could be certain where the swarm came from. But while I was mopping up I noticed he’d climbed into his gear and was checking his hives to see if it had come from him. He was probably also doing swarm control on the other hive to prevent another loss.

This swarm, as massive as it was, ended up being very easy to retrieve. I’m waiting for the call where a swarm is high in a tree or clinging to a building in an awkward spot. It will be payback for the fun of getting this one.

But it wasn’t all fun. I was dressed in black slacks and a pink shirt, and those aren’t colours bees particularly like. a few stings reminded me that in future I should carry a pair of white coveralls with us, in addition to the shorty veil I prefer.

The kit is reassembled and waiting for the next inevitable call.

Facebook Twitter Email

, , , , , ,

Comments are closed.