When starting out beekeeping, there are obviously costs involved. You will need to purchase equipment such as a hive, frames, hive tools, a beekeeping suit, gloves, a smoker and, of course, bees. But what if you could avoid the cost associated with purchasing bees for your hive? Is there a way you can get them for free? Well, you’ll be glad to know that there is – you can catch a swarm. This is all well and good, but what to you do after catching a swarm of bees?
Catching a Swarm of Bees
Swarming in bees tend to occur either because the hive has become overcrowded, in which case a colony tends to split into two, or because the conditions in the hive have become unbearable for whatever reason so the entire colony leaves to find a new home.
If you spot a swarm of bees, you might be lucky enough to have the chance to capture them. Some swarms settle on low branches while sending out scouts to search for a new home, making the entire process of capturing a swarm easier. However, some swarms might decide to stay up high in the branches. In this situation it is obviously dangerous to try a capture as you could harm yourself in any number of ways.
If it is deemed safe to attempt a capture, you will need a suitable container for the bees. This could be a hive, a large bucket, or even a box. If you are lucky enough to have found a swarm on a low, rather thin tree branch, you could cut the branch from the tree and place it into your container (make sure you are wearing your suit when trying to catch a swarm!).
If the branch of the tree is either too thick to cut or too big to fit into your container, you could try to “scoop” the bees from the branch and place them into the container, or you could even try shaking the branch over your container.
The queen is highly likely to be in the middle of the swarm so you will need to try your best to ensure she is placed into the container sooner rather than later. The reason is that once she is in, the other bees will likely follow. You will know she is in the container once the bees stop returning to the branch.
After Catching the Swarm
Once the swarm has been placed into the container, you will need to move it to its new, permanent home. Nevertheless, before you do this, you will need to wait until the scouts have returned. As mentioned above, swarms will have sent out scout bees to search for a new home. They are unlikely to return until around dusk.
The move to their new home should take place once the sun has set as this is when the bees are far less likely to leave the hive. If you have used a box or bucket to catch the swarm, you will need to move it to a hive or a nucleus (a small hive that can hold around five frames). It is best to move them to their permanent hive as soon as possible.
When moving your bees, you will need to be as gentle as possible so as not to disturb them too much. After all, the swarm will not have any reason not to abscond until the queen has started laying in the new hive. If you disturb them too much, they may just up and leave to find a new home.
If you have any spare brood from another hive, you can add it to the new hive to give the bees a reason to stay. If not, it might be worthwhile placing a queen excluder in front of the hive entrance as the bees will not leave the hive without the queen. You should leave the excluder there for a few days. Once you notice the bees carrying pollen back to the hive, you can safely remove it as this is a sign that the bees have settled and made the hive their new home.
You should make sure to feed the new swarm, as this will help to sustain them while they build new comb. Bees will need a lot of energy to build the new comb so feeding them initially will give them a much-needed boost. Some beekeepers feed a new swarm sugar water while others provide frames will honey.
When Should You Inspect the New Hive?
I discussed not disturbing the bees too often or too soon after you have moved them as this will increase the chance of them absconding. Most beekeepers agree that it is best to wait for at least a week before inspecting the hive. By giving the bees this time to settle, they will have begun building comb and the queen will have started laying brood. This will ensure that the bees are now invested in their new home and far less likely to abscond should you disturb them.
Catching a swarm of bees is a terrific way to get started with beekeeping and will help to keep your initial costs down. Nonetheless, this must be done gently and correctly to ensure the bees want to stay in their new home (not to mention for your own safety as well).
Once you have caught a swarm, it is important to take steps to ensure the bees feel happy and safe in the new hive. Probably the most important thing to remember is to make sure you have the queen as this will ensure the bees will go willingly into the hive.