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My First Swarm of Honey Bees in the Box

April 28, 2017

By Chris Erwin

If you follow this column, you know I have been learning the art of Beekeeping. I got interested after doing an article on Mike Crawford. Crawford served 22 years as a police officer before retiring. Along with working at Bare Arms, an indoor shooting range and gun club, he is also the owner of Crawford Bee farm.

The Bees landed here on this tree Author Chris Erwin and his wife Linda removed them from the tree using their hands and put them in the catch box photo by the Duleys

The more I looked into beekeeping the more I wanted to give it a try. I joined two clubs, the North Eastern Kentucky Beekeeper and the Greenup County Beekeepers. I attended two bee schools and the State Beekeepers Convention. I read three books and watch about a 100 videos on different aspects of bee keeping.

When bees swarm it is usually because the hive they are in has become crowed and they produce a queen to split the hive. This invokes the old queen to take half of the hive and set out to look for a new location.

On their way, they rest. The queen usually only leaves the hive twice, once to mate, and if she decides to swarm. Her body is heavy and her wings short; when she stops to rest, her colony will collect around her, forming what is generally called a beard of bees.

In this stage, the bees are not overly aggressive; they are looking for a new home and only have her to defend.
Last Tuesday, a friend on my Facebook page (Lesa Johnson Duley) posted that a swarm of bees had collected on a tree in her horse pasture. I told her I would come and get them.

Of course, I really didn’t have a swarm kit made up… smoker, spray bottle of sugar water, a catch box or netting to cover the box once it is in the truck. However, I was determined to try to see if all the training I had done would pay off, and I would collect these bees.

I tried to call one of my old buddies from my National Mine Service Company days, Lloyd Baldridge. We reconnected at one of the bee schools. However, he is a pastor of a church these days and was out and unavailable so I convinced my wife Linda, into going with me. She had been to the classes and seemed eager to go.
I had a big plastic tub with a lid, and we stopped at Walmart and got sugar and a spray bottle, including a gallon of water. The idea is to spray the bees with a little sugar water; this keeps them calm and keeps them from flying as much. I mixed the spray while Linda drove us to the farm.

When we saw the swarm, it was huge! It was covering the tree all the way around and about a foot from the bottom of the tree to about six feet from the ground, and looked to be four and five bees deep.

In the 100 or so videos I had watched, I had never seen a swarm this big. Most of the videos’ I saw the bees were in a neat little ball hanging from a limb. You just snipped off the limb and let them drop into the box.

I looked over the swarm. I could see one place where a limb was holding bees that seemed to be draping from the tree and looked to have about a thousand bees clustered around it. I was thinking the queen had to be here.

Linda held the box, and I took both hands and cradled all the bees I could hold in my hands at once and placed them in the box. I then stared scoping the bees off the tree with both hands and put them in the box. The bees started getting aggressive, so we stepped back to let them calm down. They didn’t return to the tree. Instead they started clustering on the box. It was clear I had the queen in the box, and they wanted in the box.

We sat down by the box and borrowed a pocketknife from the Duley’s and cut two one-inch holes in each end of the box. All the books and training told me that the bees wanted in where the queen was instead of trying to escape from the box.
It took a few minutes of bees coming out of the box and doing their shaky dance and then it started. They marched in the box as fast as they could get their little fat bodies in there. Once they were in, we slapped on some furnace tape over the holes and walked them out of the woods.

Once the queen was in the box, they cut a hole in each end of the box and the remaining bees marched in the box to be with the queen photo by the Duleys

My first swarm is now building comb and content in their new hive, which will be moved to the fish camp in a few days. I did not get stung. This question has been asked many times since we caught the colony.

Chris Erwin is the Author of Camping Kentucky, founder and publisher of Kentucky Angling News an on-line magazine available at www.kentuckyangling.com/magazine Chris can be reached by email chris@ashlandbeacon.com

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