I’m sitting in the bedroom with my wife trying to solve world peace and all of the sudden Mauri looks out the window and screams “SWARM!” As I look out the window I see 30,000 bees flying in all directions, the closest analogy I can use is a cartoon tornado. My initial reaction was awe at the sight of that many bees in frantic motion. My second reaction was panic – what do I do? What happened? Are those my bees?
As it would happen, the swarm found a branch on a tree outside my window and all settled into a big ball of moving, buzzing bees. It was an incredible spectacle of nature to see chaos transformed into order in a matter of minutes as they re-grouped around the queen in the tree.
Here is a picture of what they looked like:
Being the awesome professional amateur beekeeper that I am, I did what you’d expect – I panicked – then I called Brian who is the local shopkeeper at his store Her Majesty’s Bees here in San Francisco. I explained the situation and asked him what I should do. He first asked if I had a cardboard box, then he started to tell me how to approach the hive to re-capture it. I immediately cut him off, and told him I had no intention of approaching that swarm myself! Was there someone I could call? Could I pay someone to deal with this?! He offered his own serves. He got someone to watch the shop and came over right away.
Here’s what he did:
This video shows Brian cutting the swarm from the tree. A few important notes:
1) Brian is wearing short sleeves and no protection.
2) When Brian showed up the first thing he did was crack a beer, roll his own cigarette and stand directly underneath the swarm
3) Direct quote from Brian: “I like bees better than people – present company not withstanding”
4) Brian was amazing. He cut the branch that the swarm was attached to, and removed it to place it in the cardboard box he brought with him.
In this video, Brian is helping encourage the bees to leave the branch and get into the box:
A few things you should know about a swarm of bees:
1) They gorge on honey before they leave the hive, so they are a bit drowsy (think Thanksgiving dinner)
2) Bees are naturally defensive, so they usually only sting you for 3 main reasons: defend the brood (the eggs), defend the hive, and defend their physical safety. In the case of the swarm, the first two reasons to sting you are not in play as they have no brood and no hive to defend, therefore, amidst the seeming chaos of the swarm, you are actually the safest you could be around bees. It took Brian’s confidence and ease to inspire the same in me. Trust me, I was freaked out seeing that huge swarm!
3) The number one reason that bees will swarm is that they are over-crowded in their current living space. In this case the queen, and a majority of the hive will take flight to find a new home. They usually will land locally in a short amount of time as a temporary resting spot while select bees survey the surrounding area to identify a preferable location. This can take minutes or hours.
4) Throughout the swarming process the bees number one concern remains the protection of the queen and staying close at all times, so once you actually get the queen into the cardboard box, the rest of the 29,999 bees will follow quickly. Brian even said that sometimes, if the queen is marked, he will simply stick his hand into the swarm, pull out the queen, place her in the box, and then stand to the side as the entire swarm voluntarily fills into the box. Wow!
I am going back into the hive tomorrow to check on the aftermath. Likely there are still 10-20,000 bees still in the hive. I’ll check the frames for new queen cells – as the hive is likely trying to raise a new queen. I’ll update tomorrow on what we find.