Carl, my meadow mentor, and I were finishing a loop around the field having agreed not to mow this spring when we noticed the swarm. Unlike last week’s, this one was headed for the upper branches of a spruce tree behind the hives. Their queen must be freshly minted to swarm that high.
As the bees settled into their basketball-sized formation, Carl marveled — this was his first swarm — but I vacillated between relief that they had chosen a spot too high for a capture effort and dismay that again I had failed to provide space in the form of a deep super at the right time to keep the bees in residence. After last week’s debacle in which I killed more bees than I captured, I had no appetite for another woe-begotten interaction. This swarm would rest overnight in the spruce and then move on tomorrow to their new home.
Carl wanted to know what it would take to capture the swarm. Too high, I said. But we could climb the tree, he said. No box into which to knock them, I said. I took all my boxes to the dump last week and the agricultural cloth I had used last week had been a bad idea. The bees’ feet got caught in the mesh. But the more I explained methods for capture that admittedly have never played out in textbook fashion for me, the more Carl saw spruce branches as a ladder and recapture as a goal. He was up the tree and then down.
If it’s OK to saw off the limb they’re hanging from, I think we can get them down, he said.
He went home for a tree harness to attach him to the tree. I put together a hive with some foundation and space for the branch. We decided on a bee bonnet as the “box” into which to slip the portion of the limb with the swarm.
Carl put on the bee suit and climbed back up the tree. I lit the smoker, and more usefully played sous chef tying first the loppers and then the bee bonnet, wallpaper paste brush and back-up butterfly net to the pulley system we used to get supplies up the tree.
Do the bees seem suspicious? I asked from the safety of the ground sounding like Winnie the Pooh. They don’t seem to notice me, said Carl. Good. My sous chef tasks would not include Christopher Robin’s of walking under the tree carrying an umbrella, proclaiming the likely onset of rain.
Carl first cut the more distant part of the branch with the loppers that sadly needed an adjustment in order to bite correctly. Grrrr, he said. But then he gently sawed the near piece of the limb into a length that just fit in the bonnet. After some missteps because we’d tided the bonnet to the tree, he passed it down to me buzzing with unharmed bees. We had most of the bees from the swarm.
Day two, this morning, Carl stopped by. A subset of the swarm had regrouped on the trunk of the spruce, but most of the bees were in the new hive. I went in to remove the bonnet and fill out the hive with frames. I saw the queen.
Before the next swarm, which I feel is in the planning, the meager remains of last week’s swarm will have to join with another hive, maybe the newly captured one. I bought more equipment this afternoon. I hope Carl stops by again for the next swarm.