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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 17th year of beekeeping in April 2022. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a
Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

There's no Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

All beekeepers get excited when they are called for a swarm!  I'm in that boat - I get so excited that I keep all my gear in my car during swarm season so I'm ready to go if called.

Last night as my work day was ending, my friend, Curt, called me and said his hive had swarmed for the third time!  He now has three hives in his yard and he has reached his limit, so he offered the swarm to me.  It was about to rain, but I drove by his house where I saw the swarm about 16 feet up in a cedar tree.  I thought I could get it with the swarm catcher, but it was about to pour and I was exhausted.

So I decided to wait until this morning and if the bees were still there, I'd get them then.  I drove to Curt's house this morning around 8:45.  The bees were still there, up high in the tree and were very active.

Here's the swarm as up close as I could get it with the zoom on my camera.

 Here's its location in the tree - up toward the top on the left - see the house roof in the background? I had to put the swarm catcher on I think the fourth or fifth notch to get it long enough.

I had set up the box to receive the swarm on top of cardboard.  I also put a white sheet under the swarm's tree location.  I remembered Bee-wo Jima and put the box a little ways away, but after the first bee dump, I realized it could be closer so I set it on the white sheet.

What I am using is a plastic file box. I have a ventilated hive cover to close it and a white hive drape to cover that. A bungee cord is set to go around the collection box.

I tapped the swarm branch at least five times and bees still remained encircling the high branch.  I looked at the frantic bees flying near my head and realized there was another swarm about five feet over my head!  I went after that one several times as well, and got most of the bees.

When you collect a swarm, you know you have the queen when you see the bees raising their rear ends into the air and emitting nasonov to announce, "The Queen is here! The Queen is here!"  This was not happening and I felt discouraged. There were still hundreds of bees in the two tree locations and I was getting tired, getting close to two hours into this.

I looked around and my eye fell on about six bees on the edge of my plastic bucket I had brought with smoker fuel in it for later in the day. I had emptied it to try to use it to collect the small swarm on the lower branch. It was an unsuccessful attempt, so I had set it on the edge of the sheet.

As I looked closer, I realized that on the edge of the bucket was the QUEEN with about five bees in her retinue!  I didn't pause to take a photo; I just dumped her and her five companions into the plastic box. In ten years of beekeeping, I have never seen the queen in a swarm.  I was so excited!

As if by magic, suddenly everything changed.  The bees began making their way into the box. Bees started flying down from the high perch in the tree to join their sisters in the box. Hooray. By now I had been here two hours.

At this point almost all the bees had left the tree, so I brushed most of these bees into the box, attached the ends of the bungee cord and folded the sheet up around the whole thing so I wouldn't leave bees behind.

My plan was to install them at the nearby community garden where I have two hives, one still empty of bees from last year.

The hive was ready and waiting, so I dumped the bees in and replaced the missing frames.  I left and went to work.  The photo below is what it looked like when I left:

I had a break a couple of hours later, so I went by the garden to see how things were going, fully expecting to see bees orienting to the hive and happy as bees can bee.

Instead, this is what I found.  Not a bee in the hive and all of them in a swarm cluster, waiting for the scouts to find them a better home.

In desperation, I called Julia to find out what she would do in this situation.  She suggested that I spray them again with sugar syrup and then do three things: 
  • That I add another box to the hive and spread out the drawn and empty frames - maybe the hive  in two medium boxes wasn't big enough for this group;
  • That I put some lemon grass oil on the frames and inside the hive;
  • That I use a queen excluder as a queen includer and put it between the hive and the entry so that the queen couldn't leave again - picky woman that she apparently is.
Then I had to collect the swarm all over again.  So this time I spread out the sheet, propped the collection box below the hive entry, and readied the ventilated hive cover (seen to the left on the sheet).

Once the bees were in the collection box, I took the hive down to the screened bottom board and added the queen "includer." Then I checkerboarded the two filled boxes, adding a third box full of empty frames. In the end, each of the three boxex had about four drawn frames and four empty frames interspersed.

When I left (to go yet again back to work) the hive looked like this with more bees going in than coming out.

I stopped on my way home around 7:30 tonight and this is how it looked. There were a few stubborn swarm enthusiasts hanging out under the top cover, but the rest of the girls were flying in and out and orienting to the hive.

Beekeepers joke that swarm bees are "free bees. These were hardly free. I collected the swarm with great effort over and over, first from the tree and then later in the afternoon, had to collect it again. I spent at least four hours on this project during a work day (not at the office, not getting paid!) 

Because I had to interfere with them so much, I got stung in the hands at least eight times. On the positive side, though, I only wore a veil - not my jacket - and only put on gloves after I had been stung a lot because I wanted to mask the pheromone so they would quit.

It was a great challenge and I had a direct experience to teach me that there is no such thing as a free lunch!

PS - since this is the third swarm the hive has sent out into the world, the queen is likely a virgin and I can't leave the queen "includer" on for a week.  Guess I'll take it off this afternoon after work or tomorrow morning.  Will call my friend Julia for more advice and consult Honey Bee Democracy and Mark Winston's book for help.

Note:  I stopped by the next day when the hive had been in the hive for 24 hours and removed the queen excluder.  I do hope the queen makes her way out to be mated.  Meanwhile in the next few days I'll probably put in a frame of brood and eggs from one of my survivor hives to be sure.


  1. What an incredible story!

  2. Linda, I would so appreciate some advice from you. I know you are busy so I feel badly asking, but I am desperate. I am a new beekeeper with 2 hives. I was trying so hard to do things like you and Michael Bush but I'm afraid I've messed up terribly. I'm in tears as I write. I put my pkg'd bees in on 3/23 using the baggies w/ syrup. It didn't seem like the bees could get to it so I (stupidly) put the slatted rack up below the vent. inner cover so they could. I also took 3 frames out and left the can of syrup sitting on top of the 2nd box as it wouldn't fit up top. When I chk'd them in a week, #1 had not done anything - no brood in the few foundation frames & no comb on frames w/ wax strips. However, #2 had built comb from the slatted rack, filling the area where the 3 frames should have been. They have not filled out any other frames or used the ones w/ foundation provided.

    When I saw this mess, I went and got Boardman Feeders for the front and took the cans and baggies out. I've con't to feed them even though you say I probably shouldn't be because I'm afraid not to. A qt jar is empty after 1 day! The nectar is beginning to flow just south of us, but I don't know about here.

    I do belong to a bee club but I don't know anyone there who does things more "naturally". I feel like I will really be judged for not using plastic foundation, doing the strips, etc. and not doing things more like they do. I would so appreciate any advice you can give me as I am very discouraged. Thank you Linda.

  3. Hi Jill, We've all done things like that. The bees will fill up the open space with comb as you discovered. If you feed on the inside with baggies, you put the baggie on top of the inner cover with a shim around it or an empty box. If it's on top of the inner cover, the bees don't build comb. You don't say where you are located, but here in Atlanta we have nectar coming in and I would not feed the bees. However, you have packages and they need feeding at first because they don't know they are being shaken into a package and feeding is then important. Read about baggie feeding on this blog and see how/where the baggies are placed. If you have the syrup jar that came with the packages, put it on top of the inner cover - I usually set it on two end bars for building frames to raise it up a little and then surround it with an empty box. Later when you are through feeding, you take off the empty box and the top cover can sit right on top of the inner cover as it is designed to do. Hope that helps, Linda

    1. Linda, thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my problem. It was very helpful. We'd so love to attend your upcoming meetup but we are in the Cleveland area and you are a bit far for us. I really enjoy your blog. Thank you again.

  4. Hi Linda, Thanks for writing your swarm story. I am only starting into my 3rd year keeping bees. My very first year I was able to catch a swarm that was hanging under a trampoline. The queen landed right on my forearm. I wasn't even sure she was the queen, even though I had a pretty good idea she looked different. My mentor that day, said she was the queen and helped me get her into the box. All went well and the hive thrived. Nothing is more exciting than capturing a swarm.

  5. I keep my swarm collection things in my car too. So far though I have only been called out to various bumblebee nests. This is despite giving a full description of the differences. Congrats on the catch. Perhaps leave a bait hive at your friend's house and the swarm might catch itself next time

  6. Anonymous8:38 AM

    What a story. So lucky to see the queen! How is the colony doing now?


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