So far I've collected 8 swarms this spring (one of them twice). Honey bees have kept me running, with a big smile the whole time. After the excitement of my first swarm, I heard a commotion from my bedroom window one morning, went out to the apiary to discover another swarm had settled on a blueberry bush outside the hives. I collected this one in a temporary box, but while inspecting another hive it absconded. Lesson learned: once in a temporary hive, move them to their new digs as soon as possible.
My friend George came over to buy some queenless nucs. My hives are boiling over, so it was easy to accommodate. In this hive there was no brood but plenty of capped queen cells. This one had already swarmed out on me, yet still it was boiling over with bees.
Then a third swarm happened. I grabbed a metal pan and sieve that I use for wax processing and began tanging away. I directed this lovely 6-pounder to a holly bush. All told I've now tanged 4 swarms onto low bushes in my backyard, keeping them out of the trees. I'm a believer!
It was a beauty, and a joy to collect and has settled back in nicely in my apiary.
I've learned the joys of having extra nuc boxes not only around, but ready to go, as well as extra frames and foundation. Quickly I ran out. Thanks to my dear friend and fellow beekeeper Rod, I was able to keep up with all of these swarms and hive them. Saving the honey bees is a wonderful, miraculous thing. But you have to be prepared. I was more successful over-wintering my bees than even I'd anticipated, with 8 of 9 not only making it but expanding over winter. Each season I think I'm prepared and find myself making a list of things I'll do better next winter!
The fence became a popular swarm spot. I think it's the leftover pheromones from the first swarm, along with sugar water and the yellow bells that make it a popular stop. I have that Tibetan singing bowl, a sheet and an extra box ready to go. The swarm collected in this box absconded out of the box the next morning, then swarmed back onto the fence, then all at once descended onto and into another hive that had a virgin queen in it! It was the most bizarre and crazy thing I've seen to date from my honey bees.
Here is that virgin queen, freshly hatched out. I saw an open queen cell then noticed her walking on my hand and soon onto my hive tool. I gently put her back inside as she'd just emerged. I don't know if she made it when the other swarm took over this box for two days, but I'm hopeful. Time will tell.
Here's the other swarm marching in after they descended onto this little nuc box for a couple of days.
A huge 8-pound swarm was collected on the bushes behind my apiary. Then the next day I snagged this 5-pounder off my neighbor's bushes. This is a borrowed nuc box, stand with slatted rack and feeder that Rod loaned me, being a hero to the honey bee in the process. Thank you, Rod!!! I've also found that using a sheet helps speed up a swarm in finding their way to the hive box, instead of getting lost among all the grass blades, twigs and such.
This is the front of the hive I made a queenless nuc out of that had tons of swarm cells on it. One day it seemed every bee came outside. I thought for sure it was another swarm. But no, they went back inside. I think this may have been a send-off party for a virgin queen making her first orientation or mating flight. What an amazing spring this has been and it just started!
A day later I greeted the day watching swarm #8 emanate out of the virgin queen nuc box it had over-taken a couple days prior. My eye saw her in the morning sun, that big beautiful amber queen had landed on the bushes. I quickly snagged her with my queen catcher. It pays to have your equipment at the ready! I sprayed her and her attendants a little with sugar water.
I gently placed her inside by opening the clip above a frame and allowing her to exit and enter the hive. This swarm was HUGE. They're all safely settled back into my apiary. Yes, I've been making splits the hard way this spring, by chasing swarms all over the place. Next year I'll do a better job by checker-boarding all of my hives with empty frames and foundation BEFORE they swarm out.
I put an old political sign down as a ramp from the bush to the entrance of the hive where the queen was housed. In they walked. But this swarm was so large I had to scoop 6 or 7 times off the bushes with a cut-off ice tea jug top and handle and dump the bees onto the landing board. In all it took about 2 hours before the entire swarm was housed and walked back to the apiary.
Recently I was laid off from my corporate job, which is scary. But instead of being stuck inside a windowless, dank grey cubicle I've been allowed to be a part of daily miracles from these bountiful honey bees this spring. I'm selling nucs this year, and apparently more than I'd initially anticipated. And wow, am I having fun learning what God and the honey bees have in store for me. I'm just taking it all one swarm and day at a time.
Red maples started blooming in mid-January, and by Valentine's I had thrown on my first honey super. So no surprise that in the first week of March I happened across my first swarm, thanks to an excited neighbor who said as I got home, "Hey, Tom, you got a WHOLE HIVE over there on the fence!" Nothing puts Spring into a beekeeper's step like collecting a swarm. This was my second hived swarm, first in my apiary. Looked and felt like a 6-pounder!
The big column of bees landed on a forsythia plant, aka "Yellow Bells" which had started to bloom. I asked my neighbor to not pull that plant up, since the bees like it. The swarm was divided by the fence down the middle.
I ran inside, made up some sugar water and put it in a spray bottle, threw on a white shirt and veil, and then sprayed the swarm to make it easier to collect. Then I got my good ol' bee brush, an empty nuc box I had on hand (stapled the bottom to the body quickly), one deep frame of Plasticell foundation, and two drawn shallow combs from last year. I pulled out a couple of deep combs I had in the freezer as well. Suddenly I realized how unprepared I was equipment-wise for the season. No matter, time to get to it!
I brushed off what I could into the nuc box from one side, then quickly went to the other side.
I went to the other side, sprayed them a bit more, then bent the plant over and gave the branch a sudden shake. The column of bees fell and began to peel down. I grabbed my brush and brushed what I could into the box.
Some were on the ground, but I noticed immediately there was a fanner on the top left lip of the box.
More fanners lined up along the lid as I put the lid mostly on. A great sign which meant the queen was inside. Where she goes, so goes the swarm. Most of the bees were still on the fence. But from here on out I just waited, watched and marveled.
In about 20 minutes, the swarm began to fly and head into the box. I definitely got the queen on the first try. Nothing makes a beekeeper quite so happy!
Bees marched down the fence and along the ground, while scout bees returned from trying to find a new home for the swarm and quickly smelled the lemongrass-like scent that the bees were fanning into the air that said, "Over here, this is our new location!"
This spring sure has lots of sweet surprises so far, and we've only just started. One thing I know for sure: you can't do this in a dank, grey cubicle.
In less than 45 minutes, all of the bees had made their way into their new home. Hopefully, they'll decide to stay there. I walked the box back to the apiary, added one of the deep combs from the freezer, said a prayer of thanks and left them be. Spring is all about new beginnings, for us and for the honey bees. Enjoy the sweetness.
Carolina morning colors to send one off on their way is a happy palette.
Orientation flights remain one of my most favorite things to witness and experience in the bee yard. There's nothing like the sight, feel and sound of it. Here's a video of a Friday afternoon's orientation. Right now it's occurring around 3:30 each afternoon. When someone says, "your bees are swarming" they usually mean this. It's something mentees aren't used to and wonder "what's happening?" All good things, as young bees orient themselves to their home and learn to fly.
It was time to say goodbye to some over-wintered nuc's that I'd used to make even more colonies. It was bittersweet loading up these spectacular queens and nuc's for sale and travel. I used the Brushy Mountain "superior design" nuc box. It's heavily waxed. But it does not secure itself, meaning the bottom will fall out unless you secure it. But tape on a waxed surface doesn't work well, not even duct tape as you can see here. Still, clear mailing tape on the outsides did the trick. This nuc was the largest I said goodbye to. It is MONSTROUS. When I started out 6 years ago my two Russian nuc's were teensy in comparison, not even a third of this size. I do believe in providing my best to the customer.
A third nuc was finally all settled in, and showed off a nice group of bees. The next morning before the temps rose high enough for the bees to start flying I shut the entrances on the nuc boxes so the customer wouldn't lose the field force.
Goodbye, sweet 2015 nuc's. You've been amazing. I kept the screen raised on each with a wine cork. After inspection with the customer, we lowered the screen mesh sans cork and they were ready for travel. They rewarded me with a single sting as I carried a nuc to his vehicle. Seemed like a perfect parting gift.
After those goodbyes, it was time to say hello to my next round of queens in the making and nucleus hive starts. Here's a beautiful frame with several queen cells, the last of which is being capped (you can see the tip of the queen larvae inside the open cell).
I made sure to put at least two frames of bees in each, and opted for a third in the long run just to be sure. A frame of food and a frame of capped brood went into each start.
More beautiful queen cells on a gorgeous frame mixed with worker brood and honey. A perfect frame to make a start with. All in all, I took one hive and hopefully will end up with five when all is said and done (the old queen with her contingent making up one of the nuc's, so 4 new colonies plus an artificial swarm with the original queen).
This same hive that generated such beautiful queen cells was also generating lots of honey. Queenless bees in a populous hive during a spring nectar flow will put up some honey. Just two weeks ago it got its first honey super. The frames were half drawn and filled with capped honey. Fresh honey on fresh comb is also one of my favorite things.
While mowing the grass I stopped to literally smell the flowers. These little tiny flowers of "weeds" (or survivor plants as I call them) were one of the first flowers to greet them as they came out of winter. So I let the plants flower before I cut them.
The grand old red tip tree is in full bloom now, as are the tulip poplars around our neighborhood. Morning sun on their fluffy throngs of blossoms was also a beautiful way for me to say hello to a new day and week as I said goodbye for now.
Bees for Sale
Get the very best in Charlotte's local nucleus colonies for sale, with a personal touch, by clicking HERE.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
Subscribe by email