Sunday, May 18, 2008

My First Swarm

Tuesday, May 13, 2008.

Kindergarten orientation for my five-year old from 8:30-9:30. CJ checked her email this morning and a friend in Killen had a swarm of bees in the tree in her front yard and had sent a bulk email to everyone she knew asking if they were interested in catching them. CJ was surprisingly excited about the prospect. I was ecstatic. We called three times to make sure the bees, that had settled on the tree the night before, were still there. I still had kindergarten orientation to attend and I didn't want to drive an hour round trip to look at a branch where a swarm of bees stopped for the night.

10:30 am. I arrived at my friend's house and the bees were still there: on a branch hanging over a ditch about 15 feet in the air. Now I had read several things about catching swarms and often the advice for a swarm high in the air is to wave goodbye and wait for another one. Not a chance. I couldn't bear to see another swarm get away from me. I NEEDED THESE BEES!!!! I was determined to catch this swarm no matter what.

After grabbing a cardboard box and a large ladder, I donned the bee gloves and the hat and veil, climbed the ladder, brushed the bees into the box and came down off the ladder. I brought the box with me and dumped the bees into the hive body, hoping I had the queen. Where the queen is, there go the bees, right? Oh, I got stung on the right upper arm through my shirt. I stayed calm and fortunately the stinger was stuck in my shirt and not my skin. No big deal.
I looked up and saw that the bees I didn't brush into the box were leaving the branch, so I felt pretty good about getting the queen. While I was reassembling my hive, my friend directed my attention to the branch and the rapid rate at which the bees were returning to it. Strike one. Bummer.
Okay, with a sting in my arm, a once again empty hive, and a swarm just itching to find a new home, I couldn't keep knocking them down and hoping to get the queen. I had to really think this through this time.
I got another ladder and put it next to the swarm on the low side of the branch. I stabilized my first ladder on several planks of plywood and assembled my hive on the top rung, top open, but saw that my hive was still two feet from the bottom of the swarm. I cut the top and bottom out of my cardboard box and made a chute into the hive, then went up the second ladder and began to brush bees off again. This time I used my hand instead of the bee brush and got stung through the glove. Ouch, but it could have been worse.
Thousands of bees fell into my open hive, thousands of bees remained on the branch. I climbed higher and continued my assault on the swarm, brushing as many bees as I could off the branch and into my chute. Once I was pretty certain that I had only about 100 bees left on the branch, I threw my outer cover on the top of the chute and climbed down the ladder. Three minutes later, the bees were all off the branch and nobody seemed to be heading back, so I went up the ladder for phase two.
My makeshift chute didn't close off the top of the hive, so if the queen had wanted to fly, she could have easily escaped, so I put the inner cover on the top of the hive, under the chute, so the bees that were still in the chute had to go down into the hive to escape. I had not closed off the regular hive entrance. I figured that was the best way for the bees to rejoin their queen. Ten minutes later, the branch remained bee-free and my chute was empty of bees, so I removed the chute and put the top cover on the hive. There were still thousands of bees flying around the hive, ladder, and tree that I wanted to catch, so I left the hive on top of the ladder and decided to come back at dusk and collect my bees...if they stayed in the hive.

8:00 pm. At dusk I returned to my hive. There were about half a dozen bees guarding the entrance to the hive and as I approached the hive, I could hear the contented buzzing of a swarm of bees in a new home. Now all I had to do was get them off the top of a 15 foot ladder without dropping them or falling and killing myself. I was alone and my friend was not interested in being stung, so I could count on no more help than moral support. I placed a rolled towel in the opening of the hive to contain the bees should I jostle them more than they were willing to tolerate comfortably and after a couple of shaky steps and a near fall, my 20# hive and I were safe on the ground. I loaded them into the back of my van, covered them with a quilt to minimize any vibration and trap any agitated bees from attacking me while I drove the 30 minutes back home. I gently placed the hive on the cinderblock base I had made earlier that afternoon and let them sleep.

Final score: Me- 15,000 bees, bees- 2 stings. At least I know now that I'm not allergic.

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