I did a double take driving up the driveway last week. A strange sight caught the corner of my eye. It looked odd even though I was the one who put it there. Just not something you see everyday, a box in a tree. If it had’t been so level it could have been a prop from Twister or Wizard of Oz.
I’ve been busy putting up swarm boxes across 2 counties this year. The general idea is that a beekeeper can entice wild bees to relocate into our equipment and save us money from buying packages of bees. Plus, we theoretically get bees who have naturally overwintered in our area and are hardy, “survivor” bees. (Plus we save the $125 for a package of bees.). All good stuff.
Once a colony of bees decides to split up and swarm, the reigning queen & roughly half of the colony needs to find a new home. Out go the real estate scout bees to find a variety of suitable locations for consideration. The swarm leaves the old hive encase and congregates on a nearby branch, tree, mailbox and have a rousing debate of Love it or List it until one scout bee convinces the group to choose her preferred location. And off they go.
Beekeepers usually get phonically about the congregating stage. “There’s a ball of bees on my house!” Beekeeper promptly shifts to high gear to catch the swarm before the location decision is cemented. Swarm boxes are kind of the opposite. Instead of interrupting the impending swarm – we try to lure it in.
Beekeepers disagree about the value of swarms (and every other topic related to beekeeping). Some think we should keep bees who aren’t prone to swarming, but this is a hard-wired characteristic. It’s possible to breed it out (a la chicken example from my last post) but I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. So I’m trying my hand with swarms this year. Nothing ventured, nothing up a tree. Or something like that.
If you braved Bug Out Shelter Part I, you may recall that 1 deep hive body has become known as the preferred home size for bees. We come up with all sorts of containers to put out as swarm traps (flower pots, coolers, homemade traps, etc.). I went the simple route and just ratcheted a deep hive into a tree. If I am fortunate enough to lure a swarm, I can move the frames out or take the whole thing down as a mobile home.
The rumored key to swarm traps is old comb. It smells like cozy bees, has already furnished living space, and maybe some food stores – no place like home! So this year all of my swarm boxes are outfitted with some grungy, well-loved comb and lots of places for them to build new digs. I’ll be interested to see which (if any) sites bring in swarms. Hopefully they will indeed be wild bees (not swarms from my own hives).
So keep your eyes peeled for balls of bees on mailboxes, or boxes in trees. And stay tuned for Bug Out Shelter – Part II (coming soon) where I talk about my spring swarm strategy for my own hives. These boxes in trees may be my last resort to catch wayward splits if my management strategy goes south. So, pretty much a given.