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A Swarm Story: Episode 2, Movin’ on Up

If you’re not up to speed on my swarm capture, read Episode 1 here!

As with everything else in beekeeping, there’s no single best practice when it comes to transferring a colony from the swarm trap to your normal hive boxes. The actual transfer is not a big deal: Similar to installing a nuc, you just move the frames from the trap into a hive box, and you’re done. The trick comes in the timing and in moving the hive to their permanent location. 

General wisdom is that if you’re moving a hive less than 2-3 miles, you can only move it about three feet per day. As I understand it, bees use landmarks for part of their navigation, so if the new location is too close to the old one, they’ll see the same landmarks and go back to the old spot and won’t find their hive. 

The tree where I trapped the swarm is 50-60 feet from where I wanted them to end up, so it would take the better part of a month to move them there by this method. This could pose some problems with lawn mowing, but I thought I’d give it a shot. 

The first step, of course, was getting the trap out of the tree. The box itself is made of ¾” plywood, so it’s pretty heavy on its own, even without bees and comb and nectar. Some people suggest moving it during the day when many of the bees will be out foraging; I figured I’d try this in hopes that it would be marginally lighter. I strapped the lid on tightly and hefted it down the ladder — no easy feat, but it went fine. Though there were of course a ton of bees buzzing around me. Others suggest doing it at night and putting a cork in the entrance, after all the bees have returned for the night, though maneuvering the thing down the ladder in the dark doesn’t sound appealing, either. Perhaps next time I’ll just stick the cork in during the day; the returning foragers would still be flying around, but at least I wouldn’t have more bees coming out trying to figure out what’s going on. LESSON 1: Cork the bees.

I decided to go ahead and transfer them to a standard hive box right away. I figured it would only take a couple of minutes to swap the frames over from the trap to the hive box. However, I’d forgotten that they’d probably have built some additional comb since they had been in there for about a week — and they had. I should have taken the time to strap that comb, which was just hanging from the lid of the trap, to an empty frame with some rubber bands. But I was in a hurry (Space X launch!), so I just picked it up and slid it in beside the other frames in the hive box — bad idea, because it just made a mess, spilling nectar and larvae and bees all over the box. (But I did make the launch with 2 minutes to spare.) LESSON 2: Don’t do this if you’re in a hurry.

I managed to get everything into the hive box and set on some cinder blocks at the bottom of the tree so it wouldn’t be too far from their original spot. I also got some of the other hive components in place — bottom board, inner and outer covers, etc. I imagine they weren’t super happy about the process, but it got done.

A few days later, I figured they’d settled down enough to begin the daily 3-foot move. I wanted to put the box on a chair at the same time, which would be easier to move each day than if it were just sitting on the ground (also less likely for other critters to bother them). But I was in a hurry again, though I don’t remember why this time (lunch?). I tightened a strap around all the components and figured that would be enough to keep everything together while I picked it up and set it on the chair. NOT. A single strap around pieces sliding around that’s way too heavy for me to just pick up and move in one shot is not enough to keep things together. Suffice to say I am now 100% sure that honeybees cannot sting through my bee suit. Because every single one of them was trying. I of course should have taken the time to treat this like a normal hive inspection, smoke and all, to move the setup piece by piece to the chair. Note that I don’t have any pictures of the setup in the chair by the tree: I was not sticking around to take a photo (they chased me all the way back to the house when I was done), and I stayed away for a number of days after that, in case they were still ornery. LESSON 3: Definitely don’t do this when you’re in a hurry.

I also gave up on the 3-feet-per-day thing. I just wanted to get them in their place so they could just settle in and not be constantly disturbed. So another method of moving hives is to close them up while they’re all inside at night, move them all the way, then place a branch or something across the entrance before opening it again. This will theoretically force them to reorient when they come out because something has changed, so they’ll “remap” to the new location, but there’s a risk that this won’t happen and you’ll lose a bunch of bees when they try to find their hive in the old location. So we moved the chair in the late evening, and I hung a bunch of leaves over the entrance before I opened it again the next morning.

This seemed to work for the most part. You can see a few bees flying around like they’re trying to get a handle on the new setup. But later that day I did notice quite a lot of bees flying aimlessly around the tree, looking for their house that was no longer there. So those were probably lost without hope. 🙁

Still, it seems that the majority made the transition fine. The colony is strong now and doing really well. They do seem to be a little more testy than most of my previous colonies — could be simply the temperament of these particular bees, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’ve just had enough of being messed with. Many lessons learned for the next time I try this!

3 thoughts on “A Swarm Story: Episode 2, Movin’ on Up

  1. Pingback: A Swarm Story: Episode 1, Capturing Wild Bees | Garden Geekery

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