Bees in Her Trees


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.


fascinating post and lovely to find your bee friendly blog! (and thanks for the squirrel comment) I am so with you on your ambivalence about grubs too!
Christine said…
Neat! I'm crossing my fingers for you!
What a fascinating post. I've been a lot about bee swarms lately, but never seen this trap-out method before. Good luck!
What a great idea, will have to remember that one. Hope it works out!
tina said…
The bee 'door' is a really neat idea. I do hope it works and the bees come to your hive and that you get to see a live swarm one day.
Eliza said…
Wow! That is a really cool trapping method, never seen it before. Great demo photos, too!
Anonymous said…
Your posts have been really helpful. A friend and I have been researching bee keeping for a couple months and hope to have our own soon.

Thanks for all your nice comments, folks.

We'll see how this works out.
Adrian said…
Greetings from Illinois and thanks for visiting my blog. I came right over here and found this really interesting piece on bees. I hope to learn beekeeping just as soon as my town decides it's not a public nuisance, which should be soon, I hope.

Am looking forward to finding out what happens with these bees.
mamakin said…
And here I was grieving about Kitty passing and not being able to get myself together. I decided to blog some of the photos of her & write the poem we read at her funeral. And then I was somehow drawn to your blog again. And what do I find but a lovely lady named Kitty hopefully giving you the bees you've been wanting for so long. What a blessing. I'm hoping that your interesting device & scent works. Keep us posted on Lampyridae. This is soooo interesting. Best of luck you bee hunter :-)
Thanks for visiting my blog recently via Blotanical! I really appreciate your very informative posts on honeybees. Their plight as a result of the devastating effects of CCD is of critical importance, both from an ecological and economical standpoint.
Unknown said…
I was lucky enough to see a wild swarm when I was a child. I didn't have a clue what I was looking at at the time, but I'll never forget it. I hope you get to have this experience (and soon!). The trap-out is intriguing. I hope it works well and you have your own hive soon.
Karyl said…
I just want you to know that you are making me obsess on the bee topic. I'm determined to lure a feral swarm.
Linda T said…
A trap out almost always takes quite a long time and you don't get the queen so the queen in the tree is sacrificed and you do have a hive of bees but will need to come up with a queen for it. How is it going?
As it turned out, there were no bees living in this tree. Perhaps Kitty and her husband spotted scouting Bee Realtors, looking at possible new homes.

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