Swarms on High

I have found an alternative use for deer stands in the summer season. You’re welcome hunters.

Swarm traps are supposed to mimic a hollow tree trunk. I look at bass lures to see if it is something I would eat, and I looked at my swarm trap to see if it’s somewhere I would live. Much like watermelon seed rubber worms, it’s not for me, but it works!

As you may have seen, we installed two hives of bees in April of this year. One hive looked fantastic from the start, but the other’s numbers slowly dwindled. (the same hive I was too distracted to check the queen cage when I installed the package). After some time, there were so few bees that I think I could have easily fit them all in a pint mason jar.

About half the bees present in the hive 3 weeks and some change after hiving.

As compared to my other hive, I knew they were in big trouble. With so few bees, I felt confident that if a queen was present, I would have seen her. Which I did not. So, in an effort to save the hive, a new queen was purchased from Honey Strong here in Upstate South Carolina (they have about 800 hives!). My new queen had a green marker, and the old one was blue, so it was easy to tell if the old queen was present. After releasing the new queen a few days after being in the hive, there she was, with a spot as green as new money on her back, confirming that the hive had been queenless.

Giving the hive a new queen was a last ditch effort to get them back on their feet and become a producing hive. Unfortunately, it did not work. Honey Strong suggested that most of the bees likely drifted to the other hive and that was where we lost so many bees initially. Which is a condolence as I am certain it made them stronger.

Stronger hive, same day as above view of weaker hive.

So, the question became, do we buy another package, nuc, try to catch a swarm, or simply wait til next spring? I have zero patience and already had a swarm lure pheromone packet, so the choice seemed obvious.

I set my swarm trap on June 3rd and added a pheromone packet from Mann Lake along with three drawn out combs I had purchased from Honey Strong as well as two new frames.

I had read that swarms like partial shade and were preferential to places like gas lines or open ROWs. I so happen to have a natural gas pipeline cutting across the property, but it is a LONG walk on the best of days and we had a tornado not long ago that knocked down about a bazillion trees along the walking path. So I decided to use a deer stand closer to the house for my lure. Since the aforementioned tornado, that stand gets a LOT more sunlight these days.

My lure box was a 5 frame nuc hive that is three separate pieces. A ratchet strap made them as one piece then I attached to the stand itself.

There was some initial fleeting interest from bees and the sugar water feeder I added was emptied, but I saw no signs of permanent occupancy. Then, as is the way with short term attention spans, I stopped checking them every day. Watched pots never boil and watched traps are never sprung I guess. I finally went to check earlier this week, and we had residents!

Aren’t they so cute!

So then the question became, how do I get them out of the tree??? It was not nearly so traumatic as expected and I didn’t get stung the first day. Thanks to the way the nuc box is set up, all I had to do was cut a board the size of the opening (just at 8” in case you were wondering) wait til evening when most everyone was home, and tape the board over the opening. There were some stragglers that didn’t make it inside and didn’t follow us, but more on that shortly. The ratchet strap became a carry handle and we made the long walk to the apiary.

Once the board was removed, some bees did start buzzing about, but they didn’t take off in a massive angry swarm as expected. We left them alone in the nuc box overnight and today we transferred the frames to a proper hive with an additional 5 frames. I also had a good few bees that were still hanging around where the swarm lure had been set up. I think they were forager bees that just got lost. So I put a little bit of sugar syrup and a package box my original bees had come in today and caught quite a few in there. We transferred them up to the hive when we swapped them to the proper 10 frame box. As a side note, we also learned the very important fact that I am not allergic to bee stings today! Now, get to work honey bees!


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