There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Monday, February 21, 2011

Swarm Capture Redux

It's getting close to the time when early spring swarms will be issuing, so I thought I'd update a little of the methodology I have been hypeing.

Notices: I got my little flyers out and all tacked up on local bulletin boards; and gave a few to the volunteer fire departments (they were real happy to meet me, as they get a bunch of calls this time of the year and usually don't know what to do.) And remind the folks that you met last year when you captured their swarms, they may get more and they will tell their friends too.

Flowerpot Swarm Traps - I've noticed that the area where the two pots meet rim-to-rim is not always uniform enough to eliminate gaps along the centerline. This may irritate the bee gals enough to abandon the trap, or cause them to start spending too much time filling the gaps with propolis. Our old friend Duct Tape can come in handy to seal the rims.

Carol in the comments section was thinking of installing top bars so as to limit disruption when transferring the swarm into a permanent facility. I think that it would be hard to make top bars for a round space. Besides, I'm thinking that just monitoring the traps closely will allow you to move the swarms and shake them into your hive before they have built much comb. In my first flowerpot swarm foray - where my  mentor friend took the bees - I got to the trap within a day of their occupying the trap and there was only one saucer-sized comb inside. My friend shook the swarm onto a sheet and the bees just docilely marched in to their new home.

Other Traps -  the guys over on the Warré Beekeeping Group have tended to talk in terms of more permanent wooden boxes strung up in trees and rooftops, etc. along with various methods for utilizing them. The UK  beekeeping locations are less prone to having feral swarms, I gather; not like my Willamette Valley location which has a lot more ferals and escapees. This means they have to put up a trap for a long time, I guess, and tune it to weather a much broader range of conditions. If I was going to go for top bars, I'd probably design something like a Warré box as a long-term swarm capture method. Put a flat board for a floor and one for a roof. Pretty bulky and not something you'd want to stand under for very long; but prolly worth it in some situations.

Bait - I'm still using my first bottle of Lemongrass Oil, along with a chunk of old comb sealed into the interiors of the traps. Even in my small apiary, the bees are always attracted to the small empty kTBH I have there, just because of those lures. I'm sure that as swarm time approaches the scouts will look there for a space to occupy. 

Stuff I learned from capturing the swarms - 
 1) Take your time. The swarm isn't going to go anywhere in the next 10 minutes; and even if it is, you can't do anything about that. Plan your moves, scope out the situation.

2) Wear those gloves. Even though most swarms are docile, there's always a couple of bee girls who didn't get the word. They want to sting you! Just because.

3) Yes, leave the trap there for the stragglers you din't catch at first and come back at sundown to get 'em. Don't be overly chagrined if some get away. All the old beeks I know say they will eventually go back to the original hive. This may or may not be true, but I'm going to believe that it is true. Just because.

4) The bees are not going to suffocate in the time it takes you to seal up the box, put it in the car and drive home. Don't worry about "air holes". Your basic cardboard box will have enough ventilation to allow them to breathe unless you are the seam-tape queen. If you have made yourself a fancy "Bee Bucket", you already made a screened ventilation system.

5) Speaking of being the seam-tape queen, tape the goddamn box edges! Really tape them good. The bees will definitely send out some angry scouts and they will find you when you are behind the steering wheel driving down I-5 at 66mph. Oh yes, they will.

6) This is a way cool idea. Way cool. Boom! Straight into a nuc!

7) I'm kinda on the cusp about using a spay bottle and water. I've captured swarms both with and without. If the swarm is densely packed, you can't get the interior bees wet enough. If it's spread out, sometimes spraying the little clusters will aid you in getting them all. You choose. Also - don't forget your bee brush. It helps a lot in persuading those same little clusters to get with the program.

8) After you put them in a hive, give the swarm some time to adjust to the new home. Don't be opening the hive every day to "check". They will abscond if they get too much attention from you. Oh, ... and wait a couple of days before you stick a feeder anywhere. They might need it, but then again if there are lotsa blooms they won't bother with a feeder and it may attract pyrates. Theoretically they gorged on honey before they left home, so they'll be okay. Here's where you gotta use your best judgment.

9) Take lots of pictures. And keep a little notebook so you can remember stuff you did.

10) It's prolly too early in the year yet for martinis after you get them into their new hive, so ... warm up with this.