Anniversary Bees: Catching Our First Swarm!

Swarm 1

We usually take the “scenic route” down a quiet dirt road when we drive into town, but yesterday I had to take the highway because the ute had very little petrol in it and I didn’t want to get stuck on a back road hardly anyone uses if that little bit of petrol ran out.

Well, it must have been fate because just after I turned onto the highway I saw, in my peripheral vision, the unmistakable shape of a bee swarm hanging of a branch on the other side of the road.  I desperately wanted to stop to check it out (and make sure my eyes hadn’t deceived me) but I thought that if I stopped the dangerously low fuel level may mean not starting again.

When I got into mum’s place in town I started furiously researching swam catching (particularly the high in a tree variety) and texting Rohan about the discovery.

Swarm 2

My mind was a-buzz and I decided to drive back out to the swarm (getting petrol on the way) to see exactly where they were, if they were indeed still there and how difficult it was going to be to get them down.  To my relief, they were still there and getting them down looked doable, but I did think it would be a two person operation so decided to wait for Rohan to get home from work just after lunch.

The next few hours were some of the longest of my life.  I ran around like a headless chook getting together a swarm catching kit (worrying the whole time that the bees might take off):

  • overalls and veils
  • the biggest cardboard box I could find
  • the bait hive we made recently (it was the only thing we had that could house the bees in immediately), together with frames with foundation starter strips
  • a big white sheet
  • a step ladder
  • a pole with part of a cardboard box stuck to the end to knock the bees off if we couldn’t reach them
  • a big paper bag in case we could get close enough to knock the bees into that

If I’d known how long it was going to take I would have packed water and snacks too…

Swarm catching kit

When Rohan arrived home at 1pm I was waiting outside for him and shooed him inside to get ready.  My mum told Rohan to not bring me back if the bees had gone because I’d probably cry.  She was right, I would have been devastated if they’d taken off.

Luckily they hadn’t!

We laid the sheet out under the swarm and decided the big paper bag would be the best thing to catch them in.  We tried to set the step ladder up to reach them but couldn’t get it stable so decided against it.  The solution presented itself when Rohan remarked that bees were checking out the inside of the ute, probably because it smelt like lemongrass oil after having the bait hive sitting in it: the ute!

Swarm 9

We parked the ute under the swarm, set the bait hive up in the tray, put on overalls and veils, and decided who was doing what: Rohan would hold the bag under them and I would give the branch a good shake.  I stood on the roof of the ute, Rohan in the tray and we collected about two thirds of the swarm with a couple of good shakes.  Rohan copped a sting on the hand, but this was probably because a bee got stuck between his hand and the paper bag.

Rohan shook the bagful of bees into the bait hive, I put the remaining frames, we put the lid on and watched, waiting to see if the rest of the swarm would go in.  We broke down the cardboard box to give them some shade in the hope they’d find our bait hive more attractive!

Swarm 8

While we waited, Rohan noticed bees flying in and out of a hollow high up in a dead tree no more than 20 metres away.  Then he noticed more flying out of a fork in a tree about 10 metres away.

Swarm 6

The fact that our swarm probably came from one of these two feral colonies made us even happier:

  • These feral colonies probably survived last year’s terrible summer without any assistance, then made it through winter on their own: they are tough and about as locally adapted as you could get.
  • There must be decent fodder in the area for them to have built up enough to swarm, we only live a few kilometres away so hopefully that means bees at our place will also have access to plenty of food.
  • We now know a great spot to put bait hives!

Swarm 3

After fifteen minutes or so it didn’t look like the rest of the swarm was too keen to move into the hive, and there wasn’t much fanning “come in” signal type activity from the bees already in the hive so we thought we’d get the last of the bees off the branch and empty them onto the sheet in front of the hive in the hope that they’d go in.

This worked, although it took over two hours for the vast majority of them to get in!  It was lovely to watch the process, though, and observe the bees’ behaviour.

Swarm 7

At 5pm, very hungry and thirsty and getting tired, we decided to cut our losses and leave the last few stragglers behind.  We closed the door of the bait hive, strapped the lid on, strapped the hive into the tray and drove slowly back to The Humpy.

We set the hive up under some poplars behind The Humpy where it will get morning sun but be shaded when the day warms up.  This morning we opened the door and the first intrepid foragers started to fly!

Hive at Humpy Creek

The plan is to let the bees build up a bit in the bait hive, then transfer them to their permanent home in a few weeks.

We really feel very lucky to have caught this swarm, and it just so happens that today is our two year wedding anniversary – we got about the best gift we could possibly get, the gift of wild bees!

Hive a Humpy Creek