Catching a Swarm of Bees

I caught a swarm of bees a few days ago.  It’s strange, but I think the bees called me over to them somehow.  They beckoned me with their minds.  I was unloading my truck and decided to stop what I was doing to go look at our macadamia nut tree.  I walked around it and smelled the wonderful blooms on it.  Then I noticed something dark up in the tree… a cluster of honeybees.

Blooms on our macadamia nut tree.

A swarm of bees in our tree. They’re surrounding their queen.

I believe the swarm is from one of my other hives, but I’m not sure.  They probably outgrew their box and made themselves a new queen since their boxes are healthy and full of brood and honey.  They could have gathered a group together with a new queen and took off to find a new home.  I should have split the hive myself to prevent them from doing this because they were crowded, but I didn’t.  This beekeeping practice is called a split.  Honeybees will make pointy honeycomb on the bottom of the foundation in their boxes when they’ve made up their minds to leave.  These are called swarm cells.  A beekeeper can pull them off to deter the bees from leaving, but it doesn’t always work.  There are several methods of swarm prevention.

I didn’t have a box big enough to put the swarm in so I called a fellow beekeeper.  She gave me an empty bee box to put them in.  (Thanks, Penelope!) I threw on my beekeeping jacket with a veil and lit a smoker.  I held the box up with one hand under the swarm and cut the branch off with big garden sheers with the other hand.  This was tricky, but where there’s a will, there is a way.  The idea is to get the queen into the box so the bees will stay.  If the queen flies off, her swarm will go with her.  I was lucky that the swarm was on a low branch.

Penelope gave me a queen cage to put the queen in if I could catch her.  It would be set into the box between the foundation.  The toothpicks would help the cage stay between the foundation. There’s a little bit of marshmallow stuffed into the end.  The honeybees would eat through the marshmallow over a couple of days to let their queen out.  This process would up the odds that the honeybees would stay in their new box. 

A queen cage.

I couldn’t catch the queen.  I couldn’t even find her.  The bees started getting frustrated with me since I was taking so long so I just gently put the top on their box and walked away.  Within a few minutes, every single bee had made its way into the box.

Every one of these bees went into the box because their queen was in there.

It’s been a few days now and the honey bees are still in their box.  I opened them up and they’re making beautiful white comb.  My instincts tell me they’re not going anywhere and have found their new home. 

New home for honeybee swarm.

Soon I will re-queen them to keep them gentle.  This is an important step for beekeeping in Southwest Florida.  The practice of capturing a swarm of honeybees is not supported in Southwest Florida because we’re in Africanized honey bee territory.  I felt very comfortable catching my swarm though and I didn’t have a nervous bone in my body.  I really wanted that swarm.  Beekeepers develop emotional attachments to their honeybees.

The Beekeepers Association of Southwest Florida is holding another class for beginning beekeeping on June 17, 2011.  Click here for more information about them.  Click here for their blog.

Come grow with us! 

8 Responses to “Catching a Swarm of Bees”

  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I’m in Miami and not a beek (yet). I won’t keep bees until I move to New England, and I am aware of our Africanized bee population, but this is the first time I’ve heard that our local practice is to requeen feral colonies. I’m not even sure that a swarm like yours, if indeed this swarm was from your hive, is considered “feral,” really. Please bear with me, I still have a lot to learn.

    My garden is Honeybee Heaven. It’s completely accidental. In our hottest, dryest months, I have large and prolific (rare) brugmansia species in bloom. My Super Nova brug, in particular, is huge, and the blooms are enormous. It’s not unusual to find 25 honeybees at a time inside each flower, and the sound coming from the tree when the bees are foraging is almost deafening. Needless to say, I love this tree.

    These bees are always extremely gentle. This particular brugmansia is right in the middle of everything I need to do outside. I’m practically IN the tree, all the time. My garden hose is under it; my herbs are under it; my new ginger root is growing under it…I have periwinkles, stephanotis, ground orchids, Jamaican bananas…I’m perpetually at shoulder level with these bees with a greyhound underfoot. I know that foraging bees are too busy to worry about me, but my every-day level of intrusiveness is large. I sometimes have a bee coat that follows me around, on my bare arms and legs. I’ve never been stung.

    So, I have regular foragers in my yard, NOT swarms. (IF you think I can attract swarms in my mango or avocados, please let me know.) There’s nowhere in a 5-mile radius that someone could keep a hive on the down-low (I think). I do think these ladies are “feral”. If they swarmed here, would I really have to requeen them? It just seems so “unnatural” and unnecessary. I’m not kidding when I say that I can pick them up and put them back into a tree.

    Do we assume that ALL swarms are Africanized? Does this mean that natural bee-keeping in Florida is impossible?

    • I doubt I will ever know all there is to know about bees. It’s a continuous learning curve. They’re complicated.

      I don’t think the swarm I caught was feral at all. It was obvious to me they were a gentle group. I have heard many stories of inexperienced people trying to remove bees in our area and ending up in the hospital. I would never try to remove a nest of bees without an experienced beekeeper. However, if one of my advanced beekeeper friends asked me to join in on a bee removal, I would jump at the chance.

      Your garden sounds wonderful with all the bees buzzing around. I have heard that Africanized bees will bump people, but I don’t know that to be a fact. I do know that Africanized honey bees have a more aggressive nature than the gentle European honey bee and when they get mad… they stay mad. You could always put an empty bee box in your garden. Most beekeepers keep an empty hive laying around for this reason. There are many times that the swarm will move themselves into it. This is how I acquired one of my hives. They moved into it right in front of me. It was a spectacular sight.

      If you are interested in keeping your own bees I would recommend you contact your local bee association. You might be surprised to learn that you can keep honeybees where you live. They would be a great support group because they’re all interested in honeybees. It’s usually a group of beginners as well as advanced. To answer your question, beekeeping in Florida has a separate set of guidelines than the rest of the country. It’s much more difficult here. Re-queening keeps your gentle honeybees gentle. Good luck!

  2. This is so darn interesting! We up here in MIssour-a- have a cold winter, so no mangos or macadamias here. what a thrill to mature those trees!
    Before housing values fell so dramatically, we had planned to start a small farm for ourselves, but are sort of ‘stuck’ for a bit until the market reconfigures. We have always gardened. I am a little nervous about keeping bees, but am more determined now, as i practically have to pollinate my own tomatos and zucchini!
    so how difficult is it to ‘requeen’/
    thanks for your enthusiasm…gave me quite a boost today.

    • And thank you for visiting my blog. Re-queening is not difficult. It just sounds difficult. A fourth generation beekeeper taught me the way he does it. He sticks a toothpick through the queen and tosses her back into the box so her colony can see that she is dead. Then a new queen, in a queen cage with attendants and peppermint candy, is placed into the hive box. The colony (or a beekeeper) releases her. Hopefully, they accept her as their new matriarch and the coronation ceremony begins. Oh, the life and times of the royalty. Hope I didn’t deflate the daily boost. In Missouri it’s recommended that queens be replaced every other year during March or April.

  3. i’m up in canada. i was just out in the garden picking my peas when i heard a buzz sound. my daughter had suggested earlier that she had heard it too. i thought nothing of it till i looked past the trees near the garden and on towards our front yard. there i saw (to me) a HUGE swarm of buzzing. (assuming it was bees not wasps).
    i went closer and saw them attaching themselves and hanging from the hitch of our fifthwheel.
    my husband would LOVE to start beekeeping. we just know NOTHING about it! lol.
    what would you suggest our first step to bee? hehe
    do we just get a box and put it out there? do we find something to lure them in?
    any suggestions would be good!

    • I know people that spray the inside of a box with lemon-scented pledge (or a lemon-scented oil mixture) to attract the bees to the box. However, “box” usually refers to a bee-hive box. The idea is to catch the swarm along with their queen, give them a box and hope that they stay and make it their home. I googled “catching a swarm of bees” and found several sites with step-by-step instructions. Beekeeping is a wonderful and rewarding hobby. Catching your own swarm is usually how the hobbyist starts. Good luck!

      • yes, i googled it as well! hoping the hubby can figure something out and he can have his ‘dream’ come true! LOL. he wanted to start beekeeping years ago, and never got past starting to build a box (yes, i meant bee hive box as well, lol).
        here’s hoping there’s a queen in there somewhere! 🙂
        nice blog btw! 🙂
        looked around a bit before lunch, but ran out of time! will be back to see more of your pickmeyard soon! 🙂

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    I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write with regards to here. Again, awesome website!

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