A breakaway colony of bees

A breakaway colony of bees gathers in a birch tree

Our daughter called in a panic last week to say that our year-old hive of bees was swarming. “It looks like a huge cloud of bees and they’re heading for a tree in the yard,” she said. By the time my husband, Don, and I got home, the bees had lodged near the top of a 15-foot-tall birch in the back yard. Don called his beekeeping mentor, who advised him on the best way to approach the swarm.

Climbing into tree to capture bees

Don captures the bees, hoping to get the queen bee.

When a hive grows to have too many bees, a group of bees will break away and swarm to form a new colony. This behavior is a natural response and usually indicates a robust colony. To accommodate this new group, Don set up a new, empty box with frames, grabbed an extension ladder and trash can, and suited up in his protective gear.

Bee swarms contain a queen bee and she is critical to the success of the new colony. It’s important to catch the queen, but nearly impossible to identify her in the swarm.

The original colony, now without a queen, has probably identified several prospects, one of which will emerge (after a fight with her “sisters”) as a new, healthy queen for that colony. With luck, she will mate and begin laying eggs within a few weeks.

Transferring bees to new hive

Don pours the bees into the new box.

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Don brushed the bees gently into the trash can, then poured them into the awaiting new hive. It took several trips up the ladder, but he managed to capture about 90 percent of the bees. The colony has been busy working in their new beehive, so he must have gotten the queen. Capturing a swarm doesn’t always work out, but so far it appears that we’ve gained a new colony.