With swarm season comes a multitude of challenges of how to successfully retrieve a colony that makes like a hive and splits.
Many of us have seen the pictures of swarms in really, really odd places; on the wing tips of aircraft, under bicycle seats and on the tines of harrows and other farm equipment. Those take some specialized efforts to retrieve.
But how many of us have encountered the real challenge, the swarm clustered high on a branch well out of range of a folding ladder and seemingly beyond reach? The swarm is tantalizingly close, but between it and you stands the potential for injury.
We had a couple of those this last week; one we managed to retrieve from a tree right next to the roof of a condo building. The other was retrieved from under the branches of a huge old conifer, 12 feet up over a fence. Standing on the top step of a painting ladder isn’t advisable, especially when getting the swarm means dropping bees into the hair of the person holding the ladder.
Although they were success stories, they involved tricky retrievals and it would have been much easier with the device I just made yesterday.
I owe this design to Axel Krause, a beekeeper and now the regional bee inspector for the Kootenays here in British Columbia. He showed this to us years ago but I never got around to making it until after it became clear I would likely break my neck the next time I try a high-risk retrieval.
All it involves is a five-gallon water jug with the bottom cut off, a wooden bung and a collapsible window-washing pole. Assembled, you use it to gently place the jug under a swarm column. You basically capture the swarm and queen inside the jug. A sharp upward jab will dislodge the swarm into the water carrier, which you then dump into a waiting banker’s box. I then leave the box on the ground for up to an hour or two to allow stragglers to come down and rejoin the party.
Making the contraption is simple: take one of those five-gallon plastic water bottles, the ones you put on to a water dispenser. Cut the bottom off with a saw – I used a jig saw – and then fashion a wooden bung for the neck.
I made my bung out of a piece of 2×4, traced into a circle that fits the neck of the water bottle. But you could probably also get a large black cork from a medical supply company.
It helps to also cut off the first inch of the neck of the opening so that you get a straight edge coupling for the bung. I shaped the bung after tracing a circle the diameter of the neck. I used a cut-off saw to roughly round the bung, and then finished it smooth with a belt sander. You can also use a jig saw to cut out the circle. Make sure it fits snugly into the neck of the water carrier.
Drill a 5/8″ or 3/4 inch hole in the middle of the bung to which you can screw a standard collapsible window-washing or painting pole. I bought a heavy-duty telescoping pole at the local box hardware store for about $20 but you could also use a mop or broom handle if you don’t want the extendable reach.
You will want the bung to be snug so that the jar doesn’t collapse sideways with the weight of the captured swarm. It is better to use a slightly smaller drill bit and then rasp out the centre with a rat-tail file. But if you find you make the hole too large, you can make it snug again by wrapping several turns of electrician’s tape around the pole screw.
For extra security I pre-drilled holes and screwed the bung to the neck, and then wrapped the whole affair with black electrician’s tape.
The whole thing comes apart and fits into our truck with the rest of our swarm kit. We transfer the swarm into a proper hive when we get home.
Here’s what we always carry in our kit; you never know when you’ll get a call:
- Banker’s box into which the swarm is placed;
- Duct tape to seal the handle holes after stragglers have gone in;
- Short veil
- Short ladder
- Bee brush
- Smoker (which we rarely use)
- Utility knife (for making holes in box)
- Extra jeans and shirt (I dress in a suit at work)
- Small saw to cut branches if necessary
- Bungee cords or utility cargo strap to secure the retrieved swarm
- Pole and water carrier contraption
All but the last item fit right into the banker’s box to save space in the truck.