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A swarm capture from the dark side

Editor’s note: Sometimes having a website seems like having hundreds of pen friends. The pen friends are the ones who keep writing, year after year, even though many months may pass between communications. Email addresses tend to stick in my mind, so when one of these lands in my inbox, I’m always pleased.

Renaldo Raymond of Roseburg, Oregon is one of those friends. He has been keeping bees since April 2010, but I first heard from him in March of 2011. The first time he ever wrote to ask a question, he said the internet was full of “goof ball beekeepers who can’t give rational answers.” An inauspicious beginning, to be sure! At any rate, here is the story of his very first swarm capture.

A swarm capture to remember
Holy moly. Yesterday, May 19, I captured my first swarm! I think. I noticed lots and lots of things flying around like crazy near the lilacs, and I thought it was a bunch of small insects. But our grandson said, “No Pop, they look like bees to me!”

After a while, they started to congregate on the lilac bush and I could see they were a swarm. Oh my. I’ve been waiting years to capture a swarm and there they were. Bit by bit, they bunched up just like in the pictures.

I’d been watching our colony and knew the bees were really crowded. I had been hoping they would swarm and I would be there to see it, and they would settle down where I could reach them, and we could actually increase our hive count. And then it happened. Yahoo.

Just drop them in a box

So, I gathered up a deep with frames saved from last fall’s hive, along with the bottom board from last winter’s dead out, and set it up under the lilac bush. I put an empty super on top of that. I got my orchard ladder out, suited up, and went to work. There were two swarm bodies. I snipped off the smaller, lower group and dropped it into the boxes. Got the loppers and cut off the branch holding the large swarm. I laid that puppy on top of the deep box frames. Amazing.

Then I pruned the excess branches, stuck the foliage into the entrance to form a restriction, added a lid and it was done. Please congratulate me for being a genius.

Easy until it all goes south

It was a little later that things started to go sideways. Just before dark, I suited up again and went to gather my “new” hive to move it to its permanent home. My genius status started to slip almost instantly. The first problem I hadn’t considered was that the hive was now situated in the grass on a slope, with the entrance facing downhill. When I started to “gather” it all up, it all started to fall apart.

The top slid halfway off. I caught that and slid it back on top. Then the super slid. Caught that and slid it back. The deep slid off the base. Caught that and put it back. Then all the parts started to slide here and there. By that point, bees were everywhere and they were mad!

Speaking in code

Bees were pelting my mask so hard it sounded like Morse code. Dit, dit, dot, dash. They were whacking me everywhere but I couldn’t quit. By now I knew I had to do this thing or I would end up killing them all. Not an option. Then they discovered that, in my haste, I hadn’t put on my rubber boots but kept my street shoes on, thinking this was going to be an easy peasy thing. Wrong.

Fire started in my left ankle. Oh my. Then they found my right ankle. My oh my. But I couldn’t stop now, I might kill them all. Any damage to the queen would be fatal to the whole swarm. They had to be moved and the wheels were coming off. God, I was in pain.

Finally got the whole mess moved and put in “their” place. It was like lava pouring over both ankles. The little darlings where crawling down into my shoes and up into my pants, bravely sacrificing their lives in order to try to kill me. I was on fire. The whole thing was a mess. It was one of those, “I wish I had never started, but I can’t stop now” things in life.

The aftermath wasn’t pretty

I stripped down going into the house, jumped into the tub and ran cold water over my poor inflamed feet. Dead and dying bees were scattered around the bathroom. Lois scooped them up one by one and gave them a decent funeral.

That was yesterday. After the night from hell, I am almost human. Elephant ankles, red and swollen to be sure. Fresh memories of agony and pain that will live forever.

The “new” hive sits in its assigned home, but nothing is lined up now. Poor squashed bees are sticking out here and there, grass and leaves are hanging out. A sad looking thing to be sure. But now, 24 hours later, there are bees coming and going as if nothing ever happened and I am one happy fool.

And one week later

Here we are almost a week later. The bees seem fine. I took off the super, put another deep on top, added an in-the-box feeder, gave them a gallon of food and they seem pretty happy. More feed tomorrow. Still lots of pollen going in. Warming up. The clover is in bloom and black berries just starting. We also have lots of lavender. The bumblers love that stuff.

As for me, lots of antihistamine and Cortisone. I keep thinking I will get smarter, but in my 7th decade, hope is fading. Life is an adventure and I still love bees, but I will never suit up with street shoes again. Just wanted to share my excitement.

Best regards,
Renaldo

A swarm capture can be difficult, even for experienced beekeepers.
A swarm in a tree. Pixabay public domain photo.

Comments

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

I would be honored to call this fine person my friend. Lucky you, Rusty.

Elena
Reply

I gotta say, Rusty. Renaldo spins a great tale. Humorous and Humble. Like the one you told high tailing it out of the bee yard, scattering your clothing as you ran with your husband watching, amused, from the house. What was that? A Spider in your bonnet? Thanks to both of you for the chuckles.

Phillip
Reply

That’s a great story. I’ve got a few, but here’s my Renaldo Story for today :

I was working a hive full of the meanest bees, a hive I kept off by itself in woods. The bees were bopping my veil and trying to sting through my full bee suit every which way they could as usual. Then a dead tree branch broke through my veil, and the bees poured in like they were waiting for it. I dropped the box full of bees I was holding and I ran in terror, jumping over fallen trees, making my way to a field of tall grass, all the while tearing my bee suit to pieces to get it off me, the first piece being the veil full of bees. My glasses flew off with it, never to be found again. Five minutes later I was locked in my car, wearing nothing but underwear and a sweat soaked t-shirt, with several bees banging at the windows trying to get in. Yeah, those were good times.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

You never told me that! I would have loved to see it.

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

I did the run and strip once, but not bc of bees. I stepped on a yellow jacket best while going to get the mail. They came pouring out of the ground like a fury, up my shirt and pants in a heart beat. My clothes were flying everywhere. The neighbors got a good show that day. I was running for the house, but did not completely ditch them as a handful came in with me and promptly set about unleashing their fury on my dog’s nose. Nothing like a little afternoon fun.

Mike Fabish
Reply

Well it sounds to me as though you did everything just right! That’s how I would do it, anyway. Is there another way?

Bill Abell
Reply

Congratulations Renaldo! Capturing your first or your hundredth swarm is always exciting, but I hope the next 99 will not be as painful.

susan
Reply

I really enjoyed reading your hilarious account of the swarm capture.

My fellow bee nut friends and I captured our first swarm hive a few weeks ago and I have to say that much to my amazement, it was pretty uneventful. It was however very neatly wrapped around a reachable tree branch and all that was needed was a little pruning, a sharp snip and voila (you know, that french word)and they happily took to their new home. Very fun.

gene
Reply

Great story, thanks.

Kelsey
Reply

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Renaldo. By sharing your experience I think you have probably saved others (me included) from a lot of potential pain. I also feel more knowledgeable about catching a swarm. Sometimes it’s hard to anticipate everything that can go wrong. I had 1 bee fly up my pants and sting me. Ever since then I wear boots and tuck my pants in them. Heal well!

Chris Tornow
Reply

Really enjoyed this story. Very timely for me since I just got my first swarm Saturday! I had an opportunity on Tues but that went south because the bees were really entangled in a grape arbor and I just couldn’t get them all out of there. The ones I did get in a box left since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t able to get the queen. Saturday a swarm lit on the other side of the arbor and they were hanging in such a way I could situate a box on a ladder right under them and clip around the clump and get them in the box relatively intact. There were still quite a few bearded on the front of the box afterwards and I was so fascinated to watch them slowly marching in the front. At that point I figured the queen must be in there. Unfortunately I hadn’t put any frames in the box, so I had to open them up the next day and add those. they were not pleased, but all seems well today. It was sure fun and fascinating and exciting!

Joel Thompson
Reply

Glad I found this blog. Such great info and that story seriously made me laugh out loud! Thank you Rusty for sharing your knowledge with all the rookie bee keepers of the world!

Vince Busche
Reply

Built several 40-liter catch hives. Applied Swarm Commander and have got 5 so far. Have built several mountain camp shims for winter feeding and moisture boards.

Vince

Rusty
Reply

Yes! Swarm Commander is amazing.

Larry
Reply

Enjoyed your adventure reminding me of some of mine. Good luck with your new hive and happy beekeeping.

Barbran
Reply

Got a good giggle out of this story 🙂 I’m in my 7th decade, too, and I *AM* getting smarter, thanks to sharings such as these! I’m grateful for Renaldo, Rusty and the other commentors — thanks, all!

Daniel
Reply

Renaldo,

I also started about 2010.

For swarm captures, I have made (and keep ready for the quick response) cardboard box swarm boxes. This involves:

1. cutting a window into a side of a convenient cardboard box and duct taping some plastic screen (window or door screen from Home Depot or your neighborhood Ace Hardware on the inside. This is for ventilation if needed. I cut three sides, and leave the flap connected at the top so I can ‘close’ the window with tape if needed.

2. cutting a small entrance on another side with three cuts (box cutter or knife), and leaving the flap open, hinged on the top to deflect rain, but able to be taped close for transport.

3. I duct tape the edges for reinforcement.

While I don’t mind spending money for equipment, the cardboard box route is very inexpensive, but mostly very convenient and lightweight.

For swarm capture, just knock the swarm into the open cardboard box from the top, then close the top, folding the cardboard top or taping it closed if needed. The bees not in the box will gather at the top, the screened window, and the small entrance, but will eventually figure out how to get in if the queen is inside. That night, I return to tape the entrance closed, and either move it at that time, or the next morning, still taped closed. Bring it to your final destination, and shake it in. Much easier than carrying wooden boxes around. I don’t transfer at night, just leave them ‘taped in’, until daylight. Fewer mistakes in the daylight.

You are brave! I would have succumbed (as I frequently do) to the ‘run of shame’, stripping off gear, running away, and swatting in a panic. The last time was a few weeks ago, wearing no protection while checking out the usually safe back of the TBH. Turns out they were queen-less, and nasty. Like you, I am nearing the end (7th decade). I am certain others would be entertained watching the aged ‘run of shame’ if they had a lawn chair and a beer!

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

Nearing the end? Honey, you are just getting started. Guys like you? You show the rest of us how it’s done, including runs of shame.

Audrey
Reply

What beekeeper doesn’t have at least one story like this? I had a similar episode where I suited up but didn’t bother with my rubber boots since I was only going to be in the hives for a few minutes. I had on shoes and thick socks and figured if I got stung the stinger would not imbed. Within 3 minutes I got 5 stings, 2 in one ankle, 3 in the other. How do they manage to find the 1 vulnerable location? Even without the stingers, I got hives on my thigh, my arm, 1 ear went numb and so did my pinky. I fully realize this was more than a normal reaction to a sting. Lesson learned: always wear boots. Most of the stings I have gotten have been because of mistakes I have made. I try to never make the same mistake twice, but there are so many mistakes that can be made!

Rusty
Reply

Audrey,

Each time I don’t wear boots, they find my ankles. And I keep making that same mistake over and over, thinking “I’ll just be a minute.”

Audrey
Reply

Slow learner? Each time I think I’ll only be a minute I think about the 5 stings and the subsequent hives and then I put on my boots. What made things even worse that day was that the hives were open and I had to take the time to button things up before I could come back inside and safely suffer.

Renaldo
Reply

The “hero” here is my wife. For more than 50 years she has been cleaning up my dead bees and other disasters, driving to urgent care, fixing my mistakes and, from time to time, telling me I am an idiot. What a woman!

Rusty
Reply

Way to go, Lois. Keep him in line!

Rodney
Reply

Not to laugh too much at someone else’s pain, but that was funny! I have not had the privilege of capturing a swarm as yet, I started again three years ago, however that sounds like a scenario that might play out in my world.

Keep up the good work and thanks for a humorous reality check on a stressful day.

Lindy
Reply

I enjoyed and sympathised with you in your story Renaldo. You are a brave man. I have a “good bees” story that happened to me on Monday last.. Up very early 4am and busy in garden.. was ready for a nap at about 12. Heard the phone ringing…

Swarm starting to hang in apple tree at neighbours, did I want it? Of course I did.. pushed tiredness away and collected swarm hive, suit, water spray and feather. Locked my 3 dogs up in the barn and drove to neighbours. … Swarm was already dispersing… Pity for that, had a drink of water from neighbour and drove back to barn. Sat in sun and dozed a bit…. woke up to swarm zoom…

Hoi de Hoi… swarm had found my empty hive from bees lost in sudden extra cold spell in March… The bees that lived there had just started flying about to the hazel pollen. Hive next to it was also active.. that one remained fine but the first one didn’t.

So it was empty and closed to prevent robbing. I saw that the orienting bees were in investigating the front and underneath of this hive so I opened the little 3 inch hole that is one of 4 entrances and watched how things went…
22:30 at night still very busy, I had also opened another hole to alleviate traffic jam earlier in the afternoon.
I had to get to bed by now and thought I will look early in the morning if they have stayed.

Next morning before 7 am it was still or again busy at both holes. Remained so all day again. Tuesday at about 6pm neighbour came over.. he is a bee man. I asked him if he thought they were a swarm or robbers pinching the stores left in February. “No not robbers he said this is a prime swarm.. with probably a fertilised queen already.”
So how lucky can you get..

It is Thursday lunchtime now and everything is calm bees calmly busy gathering and others inside building comb. I haven’t seen any pollen collectors going in yet.

I said my proper and graceful thank you’s for this gift of bees Rusty I am truly delighted. Thank you all for sharing on Rusty’s top rate site.. the place to go for support, advice and a good laugh.

Rusty
Reply

Great story, Lindy!

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