How I came to have bees again

This weekend I was still beeless, as there has been an outbreak of American Foul Brood (AFB) in my supplier’s area and movement of bees and hives has been suspended. “Let me know if any swarms come your way”, I said to my in-laws on Sunday.

On Monday evening, just before I started putting Tommy to bed, I got an unexpected call from Tom, my father-in-law. “We have a swarm!” he said. Can you believe it? The bees came to us.

Carol, my mother-in-law, kindly babysat Tommy while Tom and I went to collect the swarm. The bees had been kind on me and conveniently landed on a low-down apple tree branch, about six feet up. Even a shortie like me could reach them with a stepladder. My sister-in-law, Oni, and brother-in-law, Alan, were also on hand. As Oni is a similar size to me she got my spare bee suit and assisted me with the swarm collection. Al happens to be a multi-award winning documentary-style wedding photographer (alanlawphotography.co.uk and thisisreportage.com), so he came in handy to take photos! A joint family effort.

I was excited but also a little nervous as I’ve never collected a swarm before. I’ve read lots about it, and heard talks about it, but that’s not quite the same is it? My plan was to collect them straight into my spare hive, as I didn’t have a nuc or skep ready. This made it a two-person job, as you can’t hold up a National hive with one hand. Although she has never done beekeeping before, Oni was very brave and held the hive steady for me under the swarm.

The swarm was hanging just above me in the evening light, settled down for the night. Away from home, on an adventure, with just each other in the world. They buzzed lightly and contentedly, a few circling the swarm but most clinging together in a perfect mass. Balancing on the stepladder, I counted ‘One, two, three!’ and proceeded to shake the apple tree branch.

Nothing happened. I shook it more vigorously, again and again. The swarm swayed, but held firm together. It would take more than my shaking to shift them. I had read in my books that you could try holding the skep or nuc box above them, as bees like to enter dark cavities. But I imagined that might take some time, the hive was heavy, and it was already gone 8pm. I decided I would need to move the bees in myself.

I stuck my hand into the swarm. Trying my best to be gentle, I used my hand to shake them loose into the hive box Oni was holding up for me. They were soft, warm, and miraculously put up with me doing this. Swarms fill up on honey before they leave, so as long as they still have plenty of honey in their stomachs they are usually good-tempered. Once I had a fair number in, I got Oni to put the box down on the ground.

The swarm in the hive

The colony stayed in the hive, lifted their abdomens and started to fan their wings, which told me that the queen was with them. Raising their abdomen exposes their Nasonov gland, releasing the attractive Nasonov pheromone to draw the rest of the swarm home. “Here we are!” the pheromone says. Meanwhile I used a empty feeder to scoop up more and more of the bees from the branch. Eventually only a hard-core group of irritable bees remained up on the tree, their indignant buzzing indicating their displeasure at their queen suddenly going missing. They clung desperately to the branch, which must have smelled like home to them, having being scented by their queen and fellow bees.

It was growing dark, so we positioned the hive in a corner of Tom and Carol’s garden and Tom dropped me back home. Today Tom collected the last few stubborn stragglers from the tree and put them in the hive with their sisters. I hope they are happy in their new home, and that all my readers have swarms coming their way too – if you want them, that is.

Oni in a bee suit, photo by Alan Law

Oni in a bee suit, photo by Alan Law

 

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
This entry was posted in Swarms, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to How I came to have bees again

  1. Erik says:

    Yay! Congrats on the swarm and glad to hear you have bees. I don’t think I’m brave enough to put my hand in a swarm yet… maybe someday.

    A nice tale.

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      I’m sure you would be brave enough, if you had to be. I did have thin gloves on, since reading on theapiarist.org (great blog) that gloves protect the bees from any chemicals you might have on your hands. And they were a peaceful swarm, it’s not like they were pinging off me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So excited for you! And your first swarm too! Awesome isn’t it?

    Like

  3. Congratulations on your swarm!

    Like

  4. Congratulations on being “beeful” again!

    Like

  5. mcfwriter says:

    Catching/collecting a swarm is my favorite way to get bees! I’ve only done it twice, but it’s kind of addicting. This past May I got a “leftover” swarm (another beekeeper collected it two days prior but there were a lot of bees still swarmed at the spot. I got them into a box and brought them home. I think the first beekeeper probably got the queen, so after a week I added a frame of eggs from my other hive and am hoping they were able to make a queen (weather’s been too icky on the days I’ve had time to inspect, so I don’t know yet). Good luck with your swarm!

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      It is a bit addictive, isn’t it? I want to do it again!

      Sounds like the first beekeeper took the swarm away too early, perhaps they didn’t have time to wait till nightfall. Good for you though! Hope they make a queen for you.

      Like

  6. disperser says:

    Interesting read and glad you got yourself some bees.

    Like

  7. hencorner says:

    Yeah! Fantastic 🙂
    Thomas & I collected a swarm off the Great West Road in Brentford yesterday, Thomas arrived first and had it all under control by the time I got there!
    Only a small swarm, but beautiful bees and a very elegant queen, I’ve got them at home in a nuc and hope that they are happy (and stay there), fingers crossed that the queen is well mated, if not now then soon…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love putting my hand into a swarm: all warm and tickly like a nest of kittens! I once did so at the Eden Project where there was a swarm near the Cone (Core?). They’d roped off the area but I went in anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A lovely story Emily, congratulations on your new bees! And thanks for the links…your brother in law is a brilliant photographer.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Eliza says:

    Such a beautiful story. Inspiring me as always to learn bee keeping. Thank you,

    Lizzy S

    Like

  11. greenster93 says:

    We have not heard any bee tales from yourself in quite a while. Now that you have some bees maybe you might provide more of your bee adventures

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ray says:

    Nicely written Emily, look forward to more!

    Like

  13. Congratulations! There is something otherwordly about seeing a swarm clustered out in the open. We were tempted but not brave enough to touch ours.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Lindylou says:

    Really fine that you have bees again Emily. I hope they stay. Yesterday I put the bees that were in the narrow nuc. into a normal einrambeute. Looks today as though they are in agreement with the extra space. They seemed to be flying in a normal pattern when I sat and “watched the hive entance”
    Cool that so many of your family are so enthusiastic in helping you with bees. They can work in that way. I’m still waiting for my son to want a bee family in his own garden…..

    Liked by 1 person

  15. beatingthebounds says:

    Wow! What a stroke of luck. Good luck with your newly occupied hive.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So glad to hear your have your bees. They are bound to be a very special colony having chosen to come to you! Swarms are so exciting. Amelia

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Well done, great team effort!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What an exciting story and how interesting to be able to put your hand into the swarm and feel the bees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Philip. I went and checked on the bees today and transferred a few more stilling clinging to the tree over to the hive. There are about four poor little bees on the tree still, it is tricky indeed to get them all!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. mike gould says:

    Hi, I found with the one I collected last year no matter how many stragglers I picked up more would appear and start buzzing round. A couple of days later I realised there must be a scent mark or something attracting more bees to that spot. After giving the branches a good spray with the hosepipe they all went home.

    Liked by 1 person

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