This spring, we got our hands on a bunch of beekeeping equipment (thanks Sophie!). So, I set up swarm traps (small empty hives) around the yard in a few different configurations in the hopes of luring in a swarm. Once I had four empty hives around the yard, I stacked up all the remaining boxes on a kid’s play table with a simply plywood roof on it. I wasn’t really expecting bees to move in there. After all, it wasn’t setup as a swarm trap. The configuration was all wrong, and it was basically just a stack of boxes.
After a while, some bee scouts started sniffing around a couple of the hives. Some were interested in the left-over honey in them, and they started grabbing that and bringing it back to wherever home was.
Then some came to check out the stack of leftover boxes. There was only a small hole at the top for them to get in, so I decided to put a little cardboard shelf under it, a landing board of sorts, just to help them out. Then they got really curious about it, with quite a few scouts coming and going, sniffing out every corner of it.
And that’s basically how I knew they were scouts. Foragers don’t really care about anything that isn’t nectar, honey, or something they can make honey out of. But scouts are trying to determine if this is a good place for a colony to move into. So, they scout ever square inch of it, multiple times over.
Here’s a video I took of them scouting out the stack:
This was a Sunday (July 5, 2020). By the next day, it seems they decided this was a good home.
I was working upstairs in my office when Christina called me down and said “there are a ton of bees in the backyard”. Now, I assumed a ton would be like dozens, maybe hundreds. Nope, it was thousands, maybe tens of thousands.
It took them a few hours to all finally land and move in. Remember that small hole in the other video? Yeah, they all had to squeeze in there. Somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 bees (as far as I can tell).
It took them a while, but they managed it. It was all very surreal. I mean, we had managed to lure a swarm of bees for free!
Typically if you buy bees, it will cost you about $300 for a nuc (nucleus colony) and it will have about 10,000 bees, and there’s no guarantee they’ll survive. So, that’s a good day.
I managed to take some videos so you can see what it looks like.
Then I got a bit braver and moved closer. Turns out bees who are moving into a hive are very docile. I’ve seen people scoop up bees with their bare hands. It’s later, when the hive gets more established, that they get a bit more territorial and defensive.
You can see them all moving towards the small entrance. It’s only about and inch and a half wide, so only a couple bees can fit through at a time.
After a while, they had all settled down. By the time I took this picture, there weren’t many flying anymore. Most had landed, many doing bee gymnastics – bees hanging from other bees, but still making their slow progression in.
That cardboard landing pad I had put in was starting to bow under the weight of the bees hanging onto it. And you can see to the right, there’s just a solid mass of bees hanging from the plywood on top.
A few hours later, they’d all moved in and had started getting themselves organized, ready to build up the colony. There were some old frames in it that they had to clean up before using, so I think that kept them busy for quite a while, ripping out what wasn’t good, then rebuilding cells again.
I also put some water in a dish on top of the hive for them, in case they were thirsty and didn’t know where to get water from. Some actually came to check it out, which was neat to watch.
And that was the end of the day. Pretty soon they were doing what we assumed were normal bee things. Some were flying out, looking for places to get food and other resources. Some cleaning up inside, some building comb, some feeding the queen, and probably getting ready to start raising brood.
All in all, it was pretty cool, not as scary as you might think. I might, when you hear “a swarm of bees”, usually you equate that to getting stung. We didn’t get stung once and I was within feet of the hive with tens of thousands of bees right there. With all the bees in the backyard, none of our kids got stung either.
So, don’t be scared of bee swarms. They’re likely not going to hurt you. They’re too busy looking for a home, and because they don’t have one yet, you aren’t a threat to them.