Sunday, October 18

Catching a swarm of bees

Bees are an incredible part of nature, important for pollination and the subsequent reproduction of many plant species, for food, and of benefit to humans directly through their honey production. The slump in world numbers has highlighted a potential for a disaster to occur – in Australia, at least, one estimate is that two thirds of all agriculture is dependent upon bees. I have not seen the data that was used to make this estimate, so cannot verify it, but certain the industry I grew up in – stone and pome fruit, bees are crucial – there would be zero apples, pears, peaches etc without bees.

So when a young person takes an interest in bees I jump at the chance. I began keeping bees when I was about 15 years of age, and have had bees ever since. The photos below are of a nucleus my great uncle Carl gave me many years ago when I showed an interest in bee keeping. The other week Sam said he wanted to learn about bee keeping, so being October I knew that either one of my hives might swarm or one of the wild hives (wild in that they are European bees that have set up their hives in the hollow of trees in the area). So I set up a small nucleus hive with four frames, which had some fully formed comb and I filled the missing pieces with honey-comb foundation – wax that has hexagons imprinted in the surface. Below is a photo of the nucleus hive and frame with wax foundation I had impregnated into the wires that runs across the frame. In Australia all apiarists need to be registered, so you can see my registration letters on the front of the hive. I then placed the hive out amongst my other two.

Nucleus hive and a frame with new foundation wax

Last Thursday I came home from work to find a swarm hanging off box of supers, lids and bottoms, sitting outside my shed. The supers contained a heterogeneous collection of frames so I did not want the bees to occupy these boxes as one box had no frames and most of the frames were un-waxed and many had broken wires. So they had to be moved into my nucleus I had set up.

Swam on group of empty supers.

Handling a swarm is easy – my son was concerned for my lack of gloves, but the bees are too busy protecting the queen and making a new home to bother me. They are also full of honey, having consumed their full before leaving their originating hive and are very docile. I wear a veil, although I have handled swarms without them, because if they get tangled with eyelashes they sting – and a sting on the eye lid is very painful! I merely knocked the majority of the bees into the nucleus and low-and-behold the rest of the bees merely marched in – a wonderful sight. I did not find the queen – dusk was falling rapidly at the time, and I did not find the queen outside the box, so I presumed it was inside. After about an hour only a small handful of bees remained, and a bit later, none – so I move the box into the garden.

Most of the bees I had knocked into the box, but those that were outside, quickly orientated themselves and marched into the nucleus

In a couple of days I will open the box to see if there is a queen, but at this stage, in the warm sunny weather, the bees are very busy, just as they aught. In a couple of weeks, if things go well, I will migrate the four frames (and bees!) to a 10 frame super and take it to my friend’s home; their first hive!

Nucleus ready for bees!