Got a call from a friend of ours late Sunday afternoon. “I think we have a swarm of bees on a stone in our garden”. On a stone? That’s odd; they normally hang in trees after they’ve swarmed. But all things may happen. I asked if she could send a picture and sure enough, they were indeed honey bees and it was a stone.
This is the photo. It looks like a big pile of bees but in fact it’s a small pile completely covering a large stone (about 12″ long by 6″ high).
A family member had suggested turning the hose on them; this was discouraged, thankfully. The comment at the time was “how fast do you think you can run” but in truth turning a hose on a small swarm of homeless honey bees would have caused a minor flutter and a lot of sorry dead bees.
We drove out, getting there just as the light was failing. The problem was this: how do I get the bees off the rock and into a hive box, in the dark. The answer? I don’t do anything at all. Like any good leader the bees themselves know what to do: I just provide the tools for them to do it.
I took a photo but in the bad light it’s tricky to see. What I did was take an empty hive box and, using wood props to level it, place it on the ground so that it enclosed the bee rock. The bottom was left open, but inside the hive body I then put a few empty frames: two medium and two deep. I placed them as close to the bees as I could.
The theory was that with a swarmed colony looking for a home, I would let them know they had found that home and build it around them. By providing frames close to the rock, I hoped they’d start to move off the rock for the waxy familiarity of the frames. By providing a favorable environment I as sure they wouldn’t then try to move elsewhere.
The lower box shot shows the frames in place. Even the camera flags doesn’t really work well.
The other factors here were the weather and my schedule. Forecast called for rain all day Monday. This could have an either/or effect: either the bees wouldn’t have moved off the rock and they’d get chilled by the rain, OR they would have moved to safety but kept in the box and unable to leave. I hoped for the latter, because I wasn’t going to be able to return until Tuesday morning.
Monday’s synopsis: it rained, the bees moved off the rock, all was well. Tuesday morning we showed up an 6am – before they’d really started flying – picked up the box and placed it on a closed bottom surface in the back of the car. No Bee Left Behind. Perfect. We took them home where, for reasons including the weather and a yacking wren nesting close by, I couldn’t make a thorough inspection to see what we’d got. I made sure they had some sugar feed and let them get on with it.
Fast forward to Friday and finally I was able to get them to a suitable location and take a look.
The first question anybody should ask when hiving a swarm is: is there a queen”? The photo shows a lot of bees. Can you see what I see?
Yup. We have a queen. The lower photo shows just the circle around the queen so she’s easier to see on the frame. Good stuff. And there appeared to be a fair number of bees as well. Not as many as a commercial package but enough to be going on with. I may supplement the numbers with bees from another hive.
So bees appeared out of nowhere and joined our apiary. It’s that time of year and the beekeeper must be a chances and grab such opportunities. God, the weather, Bayer and my own clumsy hand may take a hive from me just as swiftly so I’ll take it when it’s offered.
These bees are now in their hive on an excellent piece of land, facing east to catch the hot new day, and adjacent to a to-be-grown treatment-free cornfield and a wildflower meadow – in addition to the flourishing flora of semi-rural SW Rhode Island.
Be happy, Bees.