Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lesson 117: Mild Winter May Mean More Swarm Calls 217-427-2678

Hello gang! We’re David and Sheri Burns from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois.
Because it was such a mild winter, colonies may produce more swarms. This means as a beekeeper, you should be prepared for swarm retrievals. So today’s lesson will be about swarms: Are swarms worth retrieving? What’s the best way to catch a swarm? How to keep a swarm from leaving again and what is the best use for a swarm that is caught.
LESSON 117: A Mild Winter May Mean More Swarm Calls
Lesson74fAs  beekeepers we get plenty of calls about swarms, hanging on trees, cars, buildings, fence posts and homes. You’re going to get those calls as a beekeeper. Is it worth going after a swarm? Yes.
First, it is worth it because as beekeepers we need to calm the public when they encounter honey bees. Secondly, a swarm is made up of a laying queen and young bees ready to make a new home. This can be a valuable addition to our apiary. Let’s think about the best way to catch a swarm.
Lesson74gOur primary objective is to safely retrieve the queen and her colony. Consider the risks when climbing trees, ladders and scaling walls. It is dangerous and a swarm is never worth bodily injury. Use good judgment. Some swarms you simply walk away from because the risk is too high.

lesson74aA healthy hive produces a swarm, and since we had a mild winter, many colonies are healthy in numbers and will likely produce swarms. This is a colony’s natural way of reproducing, making another colony.  Around 60% of the bees in a strong hive will leave with the old queen, fly and land close by, and remain there until the scouts report back with a new home location. While the swarm is hanging there, we can retrieve the swarm. However, keep in mind that they may only stay put a few minutes or a few days. You never know. Often you can drive a considerable distance only to find the swarm has flown away to their newly found home.
DAVID’S TIP: When I receive a call about a swarm, I write down the caller’s cell number. Then, when I am half way to the location, I call and ask if the swarm is still there. Many times, the swarm is gone and by calling half way, I minimize my fuel costs.
Make a flyer and post it around various places in town so people will know to call you when they see a swarm. Send flyers to pest control companies, police and fire departments, garden centers and local businesses such as groceries and hardware stores.
Lesson74eHow to catch a swarm. Make sure the swarm has landed and is a tight clump of bees. If they are on a limb, it can be as simple as placing equipment below the limb and giving the branch a hard shake. Hopefully all the bees with the queen will be shaken into your equipment so that you can put a lid on it, and wait a few minutes for all the bees to go inside and you’re finished. Sometimes the bees fly back up to their original place in the tree. It may take several shakes.
With the permission of the owner of the tree, you might consider cutting a small limb supporting the swarm and physically carrying the swarm on the limb to your box to shake them in or to simply place the limb, bees and all into the hive box.
May 24 2010 042Many beekeepers are frustrated when the swarm will not stay in the box, but takes flight again. How can you prevent that from happening. Well, nothing is perfect, but it can help to add drawn comb that has been sprayed with sugar water with Honey-B-Healthy. For our swarm retrieval boxes, we use a screen bottom board, a deep hive body, an inner cover and a lid. We also have a specially cut piece of screen for the front entrance and a tie down strap to strap it all together for transport.
swarmcatcherWe sell this Emergency Swarm Catch Kit. Click here for more information. Since our kit uses a screen bottom board and a screen blocking the entrance, we will keep the hive sealed off for about 24-48 hours. This allows time for the hive to settle in to our new box. It isn’t always 100% but it certainly helps.
As a beekeeper, you should always be prepare to retrieve a swarm. Every where we go our vehicles are loaded with swarm retrieval items such as the swarm kit, ladders, sugar spray, protective gear etc. We’ve found many swarms even while traveling on the road. So take equipment with you during the swarming months of April through June.
TipJarThanks for joining us for another lesson in beekeeping. We have a growing number of students who have learned how to keep bees based on these free lessons. It’s our hope that if you find these lessons of value, you’ll consider making a donation so that we can continue our research, experiments and communicating to you the best practices in keeping bees. Click on the tip jar to make a $30 donation or go to:
Thank you in advance for your donation.
Please feel free to contact us. Phone is best. 217-427-2678 and visit us online at:
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
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