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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: Catching a swarm

  • When a friend called to say there was a swarm on her property along a wooded walking path, I was all set. Catching a bee swarm has been on my adventure list for a couple of years but it’s really up to bees to decide when it’s time.
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  • When a friend called to say there was a swarm on her property along a wooded walking path, I was all set. Catching a bee swarm has been on my adventure list for a couple of years but it’s really up to bees to decide when it’s time.
    According to biologists, swarming is part of the honeybee’s survival strategy. They break off from the original colony and make a new one when there are too many bees in the original hive.
    One of the least aggressive times to get close to honeybees is when they swarm. They are full of honey to make the trip; they don’t have a home to defend and they are waiting for scout bees to return with directions to their new home. No one is doing chores, including guard bees.
    Since this was my second season to try to catch a swarm, I had a new hive set up and ready to welcome a new honeybee family. The hive included lovely dark wax comb, ready for egg-laying, which queens prefer; one frame full of delicious honey, which is like stocking the refrigerator, and extra room for the rest of the extended family.
    I decided to take a cardboard box to transport bees home. I could have hauled a full hive but I knew I didn’t have the strength to hold it under the swarm to shake bees into it if necessary.
    With sharp garden shears, my fellow beekeeper David Draker started by trying to cut tree branches on either side of the swarm so the wad of bees could be moved. The branches were crossed so we couldn’t easily remove the tightly-knit swarm without breaking it.
    We had our first injury shortly after starting. David got a cut on one of his fingers, which he didn’t notice until I brought out a paper towel and duct tape to make a temporary bandage.
    The key, we knew, was to get the queen, who usually is in the center of the swarm, being protected by the colony. Once we had her, the rest of the bees would deliberately follow.
    When we were able to remove the entire colony, we shook it gently into the box. After a few minutes, bees were climbing into the cardboard box on their own so we knew we had the queen.
    Back at my house, we gently nudged the swarm into their new home. I added a feeder with sugar water to give them a little extra incentive to stay and left them to settle in for the night.
    Bees swarm for only three to five days. If they don’t find a new home, they die so giving them a little extra food is a quick way to provide carbohydrates, energy and an extra incentive to stay.
    Page 2 of 2 - David ended up getting four stitches in his cut finger.
    “I’ve never had to get stitches before I met you,” he said, proudly showing me his index finger with the swarm-capture reminder scar.
    Within one week, bees were building new wax and the queen was laying eggs. At least this swarm found themselves a new home!
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@gmail.com.

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