This past weekend, I got a message, saying that my friend Kitty had a swarm of bees in her tree, and asking if I might know what to do about this situation.
Anyone who knows me even a little bit will be able to guess what happened next. I called Kitty and asked a bunch of questions, I gathered up a car-full of gear, had a quick chat with a local beekeeper, and headed out the door, looking for bees. I've been wanting to see a wild swarm, ever since I heard about them.
Apparently, I didn't ask quite the right questions, because I came prepared for a swarm of bees, hanging from her tree, and what I found was a hole in the tree that bees were said to be going in and out of.
In the springtime, if a colony of bees is healthy enough, the bees may swarm. What this means is that the queen and some portion of her colony will leave all of their stored honey and developing offspring, and set out to find a new home. The bees that are left behind in the hive will raise a new queen who will be the mother to a whole new generation of bees. The old queen and her swarm of bees will hang out in a big clump while a the real-estate agents of the group go looking for a suitable new home. If a beekeeper is lucky enough to find a feral swarm, it is apparently quite easy to catch these bees.
I've watched all sorts of videos about catching swarms. It's remarkable how mellow the bees seem, as humans move them into hive boxes. Since I heard about this, I wanted to experience it for myself. If you can't picture what I'm talking about, click here, or here, or here, or here.
The bees at Kitty's house weren't looking for a new home. They had found a perfect place to live, inside of a hollow tree. Kitty and her husband are about to embark on a big construction project at their home, and they don't want a colony of bees right in the middle of the action. They don't want to cut down their huge beautiful box elder tree, and they don't want to kill the bees.
We discussed options, and I went home to learn more about what doing what beekeepers call a "trap out."
I had met a woman at one of our beekeeping meetings who was selling a chemical swarm lure, made of some of the same compounds that bees excrete when they want to send a message to other bees. This particular chemical message seems to translate as "hey everyone, come over here, I've found something really great." I tracked her down, and she kindly sold me a bottle of swarm lure, and a "bee escape." She also gave me the biggest carrot that I had ever seen in my life. (I love urban gardeners!)
The idea here is to make a one-way door that the bees can exit, but cannot re-enter. We set up a new hive near the hollow tree, and scented it with hive lure. Hopefully, the bees who leave the tree take up residence in my hive box. That's the plan, anyway.
The curious thing is that I've only been over to Kitty's house in the evening, when the bees have all gone to bed. I've never seen any bees flying around this tree at all.
This lack of activity made our work so much easier. Kitty had attached the wire bee escape cone to some hardware cloth, which she and I cut it to to fit around the hole in the tree. We taped it in place with duct tape, and then stapled all that to the tree.
During all this poking and stapling, we didn't see or hear a single bee.
Good luck bees. I hope you decide to live in my hive.