A novice's guide to producing his own food

The swarm chaser


The first swarm. A terrifying thing of beauty

It was only nine days ago that the weather was so rubbish I thought it was going to be a disastrous year for bees. Since then, the heat has rocketed, my bees are going like stink, and I have had four major crises in eight days. I’m knackered.

It all began on Sunday, May 20. I had already noticed that one hive was bringing in a serious amount of honey, expanding rapidly, and producing queen cells.

It was time to create an artificial swarm.

When a colony expands quickly in the spring, it soon outgrows the  hive, and so decides to swarm. It initiates the process by created new queens, and it is at the point before they hatch that a beekeeper has to act. By creating an artificial warm, a beekeeper will get rid of the colony’s urge to move home. Plus he gets an extra colony into the bargain.

The first thing I had to do was find the queen. It’s not something I’m great at, but I saw her first time. Brilliant.

I popped a queen cage on her and prepared to move her to her new hive. The rest of the flying bees would follow.

It was all going well until the cage dropped off, and, to make matters worse, the queen then flew away. That was Crisis No. 1.

Where did she go? Chances are she went back to her hive, but by this time the bees were so disturbed, I had no chance of seeing her, so I shut the hive up.

That was on the Sunday. On the Monday, I returned to see if I could find her. No sign, despite going through the hive twice. I was preparing to go home when I turned round and saw something that rooted me to the spot. There was a huge swarm in a nearby tree. It must’ve been a least three-foot long.

Crisis No. 2. What do I do? I’d never caught a swarm before and didn’t have the right equipment. So, I phoned my mentor. Luckily he was available to help.

Within an hour, we had cut it down, and stuck it in a spare brood box.

My mentor reckoned it was a belter of a swarm which would work like crazy to bring in honey. Furthermore, it would produce astonishing clean and perfect comb. Excellent.

Before they swarm, bees fill their wee bellies with honey, so they have enough food with them for three days. Therefore, on the Thursday, I fed my new colony with 14  pints of sugar solution.

This was going to be great, I thought. Three hives all going like crazy, bringing me honey. I might even have some to sell.

The following day at work, I got a very confused message from my son. Someone had a swarm in their chimney, and they thought it was mine. Crisis No. 3.  I couldn’t understand it. I knew one of my colonies had already swarmed, and the other wasn’t ready to. Perhaps they weren’t my bees.

After leaving work, I went to see to poor family who had the swarm. To make matters worse, the woman in the house was allergic to bee stings, and had even been hospitalised before. I was hoping against hope the bees weren’t mine.

I went to visit my hives, and discovered my swarm had swarmed again! My mentor said later that in all his time of beekeeping (many decades), he’d never seen a hive swarm, settle for five days, and then swarm again. Furthermore, they didn’t take any of the sugar solution.

I had no option but to return to the swarm house, and fess up: they were my bees. There was no way of retrieving them, so the woman had called the council exterminator. Fair enough. Her family is her priority, and I agree with that 100%.  The situation wasn’t my fault, and it certainly wasn’t the family’s, so I apologised about 100 times and offered to pay the bill when the council came out. It was all I could do.

Fortunately, they were decent people, and saw that it was just one of those things.

The next day, a beekeeper informed me that the original swarm was probably so huge, it was too big for the hive I put it into. Hence the decision to move on to a chimney — more space. That made complete sense.

Crisis No. 4 arrived on Sunday morning. The family phoned to say the swarm had moved on to a nearby bush. Great, I thought, I’ll catch it, get a new hive, and the family won’t have to get the council out.

My joy turned to disappointment when I saw the new swarm. It was only a fraction of the size of the original. Plus, there were still bees flying in and out of the chimney.

But, again, I had no real choice — I caught the new swarm, and took it to my apiary. As I write, this I don’t know if there is a queen, but I have “locked” her in to the new hive until I decide what to do.

On the Monday, the council came out to visit the family. The pest controller was unable to see whether the chimney was empty, so he stuck some poison down it anyway.

At last, the whole episode is over. However, while all this was going on, the plants in the greenhouse and at the allotment were growing like crazy. I had tomatoes to put in grow bags and several of my beds needed weeding. I managed to spend four hours on Sunday at the allotment, and I am finally getting round to planting up the tomatoes, but I don’t mind telling you I am utterly exhausted.

A beautiful spring may be a bountiful time for the allotmenteer, but it is also utterly, utterly exhausting. I feel frazzled, and still have a lot to do. Hopefully, though, the worst is over for now.

2 thoughts on “The swarm chaser

  1. I never knew bee keeping could be so exciting! I had a neighbour who kept bees and everyone on the area knew it. If we saw a swarm it was all, “call Stephanie, her bees have gotten loose again.”

  2. That’s what happens to all beekeepers — they become the “go-to guys” for any swarming problems. At least I know what to do now!

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