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.
Okay, fine, call me nutbag-crazy. But I'm here to tell you that tanging does, indeed work. It's not just for breakfast (or laughing at) any more. My apiary has been devastated this year, by “operator error” and just plain bad luck. The cold and wet weather set off a small hive beetle explosion in my back yard apiary here in Charlotte, NC. I went from 8 queen-right colonies and 5 starts down to 1.
On an autumn Sunday watching football and enjoying an all-day pajamas day where my one big effort would be spent making a cozy fire in the fireplace, our dog Honey whined to be let outside. I opened the front door. A little girl was crying across the street, having just fallen off her bike (she was fine, and was being attended to by a gaggle of friends). I decided to skip that scene. After all I wanted to get in and out before the team timeout was over and the Denver Broncos got back to beating the snuff out of Washington.
I took our dogs quickly to the back yard and let them out. Just two steps out into the yard, I heard the unmistakable sound of a swarm. I looked up and saw the telltale circular flying pattern. The entire back yard was filled with honeybees, their wings humming in unison with a purpose. Where are they trying to land? They didn't seem to have a spot picked out as far as I could tell, though some were starting to investigate a nearby bush.
I called the dogs in, who ran quickly through the cloud of bees that stretched from ground level to about 25 feet in the air. We all scurried inside. I threw on my white shirt and jeans, told Yvonne I was going to try to convince my bees to stay (or at least watch the last of my hives leave just like all the others), and said a prayer.
I believe that the legendary use of tanging, which is to make a loud clanging or ringing noise (done in the olden times with a pot or pan) works. Now, I've been called crazy before and have no problem with that. I also believe in UFO's, Bigfoot and ghosts. I think there are things seen just as well as unseen. And, I'd read just the other day about having faith the size of a mustard seed in Luke.
I ran into our yoga room and grabbed my wife Yvonne's Tibetan singing bowl, a small hand-hammered bronze bowl that “sings” with the slightest circular motions on the rim with a small wooden mallet. I just knew tanging would work. I could feel it. Regardless I was going to tang those bees. It was the only thing I could do at that point, other than stare in awe.
I've seen a video of someone using a hive tool on the metal portion of a telescoping top. They rapped repeatedly and loudly, and the swarm landed just a few feet from where the person was standing. I'd researched the myth, and discovered some who say it only works while a swarm is active and hasn't settled. Others say it was originally a way settlers could claim a swarm was theirs, running across neighbors' property lines and had no actual influence on the behavior of the bees. But, maybe, just maybe, both were true. For whatever reason, I'd been called by circumstance, or Providence, to my back yard in the middle of a swarm. I was happy to experience it, sad to see my last bees leaving.
As soon as I stepped into the back yard, the sound was even louder than before and the yard was filled with a cloud of bees flying in a great big circle. As it turns out the swarm wasn't that large, but in the middle of 'em it it sure seemed big to this third-year beekeeper. I believed that I could tang them into a desirable place and told myself, “I know this will work.” I commenced tanging the small metal broze bowl with the wooden mallet. “Tang, tang, tang, tang,” our backyard sounded like an old-fashioned fire alarm going off.
I held the bowl up high and tanged even louder. I started going near the bush, and then realized, “Heck, I'm tanging them to the hive stand instead of this bush. Why not?!” Were these my bees? Most likely. But then again swarms are often attracted to bee yards. The hive boxes were 50 feet away.
Holding the bowl as high as I could, I took slow steps toward the hives and methodically struck the bowl each second with the wooden mallet. The sound of the bees got louder and louder. About 7 feet in, I realized the swarm was circling around me. It was working! I smiled and reveled in the moment. The view underneath the swarm, a small circular cloud of bees above, was beautiful.
I continued my slow pace, tanging the bowl and approaching the hive. I knelt close to the hive entrance, and kept on. This time I changed where I was striking the bowl and successfully got a smoother, slightly lower and softer tone than before. I don't know if that made a difference but I sure felt like the Pied Piper. The bees quickly covered the Boardman feeder and hive entrance. I was amazed at how fast it happened. I let the bowl stop on its own and just took it all in.
With a quick, excited phone call to my friend and our club president George, I told him the news. “Tanging works!” Bees were indeed going into the hive, one by one, as a few bees were Nasinov fanning at the entrance. A few foragers with a tiny amount of pollen landed and looked utterly confused. Before I realized it, about halftime plus the 3rd quarter of the Denver-Washington game, it was all over (just as fast as those poor Redskins were).
When do I inspect the bees? George encouraged me to waste no time. “What damage would you do?” If they were my bees and were convinced to swarm regardless of this false start there wouldn't be any harm in inspecting. If it was a different swarm of bees that just got settled in, a quick inspection wouldn't convince them to leave, either.
I lit my smoker, just in case it was needed (it wasn't). I opened the top nuc box with 5 frames of food stores and a few bees, and placed it to the side. No queen cells were present in the brood chamber. Tight brood pattern, nice food stores, single eggs present, no foul odors, and no small hive beetles seen. Time now to inspect the top box.
I removed a frame that I thought my baggie feeder had dripped syrup onto. Then I realized I was looking at small hive beetle larvae, tiny ones, feasting on this food frame. They had slimed just one side. Another frame with only a piece of comb had been slimed also. The other frames were untouched. Only 2 small hive beetles were found, and I dealt them swift justice. The remaining three honey frames were untouched. I took this box and frames off the hive. To be safe, on the slimed frame I performed the rope test with a nearby twig to check for American Foulbrood. A little bit of capped brood was on this otherwise food frame, which was odd. The cells caps weren't sunken, but still I wanted to be sure. Each time I stirred up the larva with the twig it came out clean, white and not at all “ropey.” I let out a sigh of relief.
I went inside with my head hung low, humbled with the knowledge that so very little damage was required to make my bees abscond. “If only, if only ... ,” I mentally began to beat myself up. “What's that sour look on your face for?” Yvonne asked. “Well, my last bit of bees almost left, because yet again I'd made the same stupid mistake I've been making all year long with these beetles.” Then I realized her question was right on time. It was a different time, a time for thanks and optimism. I had faith that tanging would work, and it did! It was possible to use sound vibrations to direct a swarm.
Some may call it a coincidence and that's fine. Me? I call it a mustard seed. “... If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!' and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6).
The legendary practice of tanging swarms, something reserved for by and large as a crazy legend that does nothing more than making you look like a fool, fits neatly in with all my other “crazy” ideas and beliefs. But I tell you, it's not so crazy. Science will teach you there are always exceptions to every rule. And sacred texts will tell you there's more to life than things you can put your finger on. “For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Did I get rid of that sour look on my face and start smiling? You bet, because I realize that tanging, and maybe other crazy ideas will work, as long as you give that mustard seed of faith some fertile ground to grow in. I'll be keeping that Tibetan singing bowl in my truck, now, with the rest of my swarm equipment, a happy reminder of those mysterious things like faith that ring true.
"Tanging" bees. Apparently it's real (... or is it?). When I heard of this I thought, "no way, that's an urban legend." Well, check this out and decide for yourself! It's the only one of these I've ever seen. Hopefully more examples of tanging will be found. All I know is, if I see a swarm in my back yard? You betcha, I'm grabbing a pot and a spoon and tanging away!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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