Catching a Swarm: And Now We Are Eight

For the past three or four years, The Engineer has been trying to catch a swarm using various old hive boxes in different configurations. In years past, he stuck with the “tried and true” method of baiting the boxes with ugly, old, frames, propolis we’ve scraped while cleaning woodware, and the “lemongrass oil on a q-tip” method.

Many curious bees visited our boxes — apparently drawn by the irresistible smell of another hive’s detritus — but none took the final step of choosing one of our offerings as a new home for their sisters and a queen.

This year, The Engineer upgraded. He built a purpose-made wood swarm box, and we bought Swarm Commander Premium Swarm Lure.

At more than $25 for two ounce bottle, it’s pricey stuff, but we’d heard it was the best. Also, The Engineer hung the trap in a tree, selecting a spot that was higher than previous box locations.

Having been fooled so many times before, we didn’t get excited when we saw bees going in and out, even when their behavior appeared more similar to foragers than curious scouts.

But last Saturday, I got a text: “Three queens in yellow jacket trap” (always cause for celebration), “and pollen going into swarm trap.”

We, and by “we,” I mean The Engineer, had caught a swarm.

As mentioned earlier, many bees will explore a swarm trap, but when they begin foraging and bringing in pollen, it means the box has a queen and brood. And those young bees require pollen to grow.

Next, we had to get the bees out of the box and into a hive, which meant ascending a ladder in full bee suit and lowering it to a table.

We left it there for a few days to allow the bees to reorient to the lower location. This was interesting to watch because the returning foragers went to the box’s prevous location before circling lower and lower until they found their newly lowered home.

Today, we finally looked inside. The swarm is a small one, which makes us think it’s likely a secondary swarm. Also, the bees are similar in color to the rest of ours. Although we split all the full-sized hives, maybe one of them swarmed without us realizing it.

Maybe one of our splits raised two queens, and one of the virgin queens swarmed.

This seems possible, but I still don’t know enough about beekeeping to say if it’s likely or not. Who knows?

They were very calm.

We were prepared to transfer freshly made comb to frames, something we’d done before when we left a hive to their own devices and they built beautiful new comb without a frame. This time, we didn’t need to because the girls were using the old comb.

It was wonderful to see a healthy brood pattern, even though there wasn’t a lot of it.

Then we saw the queen, another golden girl, and knew all was well with our new hive.

To give them a boost and help ensure they stay in their new home, we gave them one of LoLa’s frames of brood, along with a feeder filled with sugar syrup and Amino-B Booster.

In a day or two, we will re-orient the hive entrance to face south, the direction it will ultimately face when we move it to its permanent position in the apiary.

We will be treating all our hives in the next few weeks, and afterwards, when we are sure this one is in good health, we’ll move it to its final home.

Having dealt with our newest hive, we turned our attention to LoLa (the LOng LAngstroth). Although we didn’t spot the queen, there were many frames of brood, larvae, and eggs. Slightly more worrying was the sight of many queen cups on the bottom of one frame, albeit empty ones. This is despite the fact that they have plenty of room toward the middle of the hive.

We rearranged a bit, moving more open comb near the brood so Mama Bee has room to lay, and closed the end entrance to encourage them to move more toward the middle. Taking the frame of brood for the swarm hive will also help.

Below, you can see the bees figuring out they need to use the front entrance.

Our last task was to check #1A, which we’d split from #1 in April, leaving them to make their own queen. When we do this type of split, we like to leave the queen-making hive alone for a full month. By leaving them undisturbed, we hope they will make and accept a new queen and that she will have plenty of time to mate and start laying.

We were not disappointed.

The hive is well-populated, with plenty of brood.

And we saw the queen! Do you?

So now we are an eight hive apiary, and I can assure you this was not the plan. When we started beekeeping, we kind of thought four hives might be good to have … you know, eventually. Then, last year, when our girls started doing well, we upped that estimate to maybe six.

And by having friends take some of our splits, we did pretty well with that aim. But, then came LoLa, and, well, when The Engineer catches a swarm after trying for years, we can hardly get rid of it, now can we?

I can see now how beekeepers end up with twenty, forty, one-hundred hives.

They kind of sneak up on you.

Anyway, I have a couple more photos to show you, taken earlier in the week from #4. At least, I think it’s #4 — the one with the comb-in-a-jar experiment. Here’s an update of their progress. Although the glass distorts the view somewhat, the photo on the left is from the side, and the one on the right is the top of the jar.

There are a lot of bees working on the project. Maybe they’ll get a little further than last year.

And, lest you think we devote our lives solely to beekeeping, I have to report we also took our first camping trip and our first paddle of the year this week at Mohican State Park.

Because the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River is popular for canoeing, rafting and tubing, the campground can be quite crowded during the summer, especially on weekends. So, we camp on weeknights in May.

We can do this because we’re retired. 🙂

The downsides are the river can be too high to paddle due to spring rain (last year), and the nights can be quite cold … especially when you camp in a tent like we do (this year).

Still, the days were gloriously clear and sunny. Also, we re-met a couple we’d become acquainted with on last year’s visit and ended up kayaking and hiking with them on our second day.

The paddle was wonderful, with no other boats on the water. The hike was an unplanned one and entirely my fault because after bringing two cars to camp so we could avoid having to hike back to the drop-off point where we’d left our van, I realized I’d left the car keys in the van. As a result, having the car at the end of the kayak run was pretty completely useless.

Although The Engineer and I were happy willing to hike back on our own, our new acquaintances insisted on joining us. And in the end, we could all have ice cream with a clear conscience, knowing we’d earned it.

It was a lovely day, made even better because I didn’t completely char the evening meal.

Our campfire kitchen includes a volcano kettle (one of the best inventions ever!). Ours is a Kelly Kettle, but the Ghillie Kettle is made to similar specs. Our stove is an EcoZoom Versa, and we also use a small Lodge Dutch Oven. All these kitchen items cook with wood or other readily available fuel (leaves, etc).

I’ll admit the results can be hit or miss when cooking in an open fire with a Dutch Oven … at least when I’m cooking.

This time, I thought I did okay. I made chile on the stove with chorizo left from the previous night’s quesadilla (made in our double pie iron (similar to this Rome one), black beans, my last jar of home canned tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lots of spices. Then I threw together cornbread (from a mix), spooned it on top, and into the fire it went.

Result? A little charred, but still quite tasty, and since it was the last night in camp, I was able to soak the pan and clean it up at home. I didn’t realize, or maybe just forgot, that the cornbread mix would make a crust on both the top and bottom!

June promises more adventure, with a coastal kayaking lesson, a kayak tour of Lake Erie, and a camping trip planned to East Harbor State Park where we can put it all into practice.

Plus, bees! Stay tuned!


It’s always a relief when you look in a hive and see this.

Look at that beautiful light comb. Notice the larvae — of every size — and eggs too!

These photos were taken Wednesday. We checked LoLa and checked/split #5. There were lots of larvae and eggs in both, so I’m not sure which hive is in the photos above.

We relieved to see many eggs in LoLa. When we last checked, the mother bee didn’t seem to be doing much. We rearranged the frames in case she felt crowded, and added a few brood frames from another hive to give LoLa a little boost.

Working with a horizontal Langstroth hive is slightly different from a regular (vertical) Langstroth. In a vertical hive, the frames are arranged with the brood in the middle and pantry frames on the outside, adding additional boxes as the hive expands upward. In a Long Langstroth, there is just one long layer of frames, so the beekeeper has to make sure there is open comb near the brood frames for the queen to move to.

Perhaps we hadn’t left her that space because she is quickly filling the frames we moved. The worker bees have also started foraging. There was plenty of food, so we took out the feeder.

When we split into that hive, it got the queen, brood, and mostly nurse bees, so we’d been feeding them until the young bees transitioned to foragers, which now seems to have happened.

Concensus: LoLa is doing well.

The #5 hive was one of two we hadn’t yet split. With loads of brood and larvae, as well as eggs, it was going gangbusters! They had also built numerous fresh queen cups, all of them on the bottom of a frame.

Our bees seem to like to build queen cups, and there’s always a few in each hive, so we don’t generally worrry when we see them. But, in such a full hive, with the the amount of drone brood we were seeing, it’s likely these queen cups were built to be used to raise a queen.

As you may have realized by now, there are no hard and fast rules about honey bee behavior. However, queen cells on the bottom of a frame tend to mean the hive is planning to swarm. And although the cells were still cups and not actual queen cells (yet), we prefer to split before they reach that point.

Why? Because if a beekeeper finds a capped queen cell, that means the cell is at least 8 days old. Generally the primary swarm of a hive takes place when the first queen cell is capped. So, if a beekeeper finds a capped queen cell s/he needs to act quickly (immediately) if they want to (try to) prevent a swarm.

You do this by making a split — taking the old queen and some frames of bees to create a new hive. Theoretically, the old hive will then not swarm because they don’t have a queen to swarm with.

There’s a lot of math involved in queen rearing/beekeeping. The size and stage of the eggs, larvae, and cells can tell us much — if we have a queen, how recently we had a queen, if the hive might swarm, when that swarm might happen. If you’d like more details, Michael Bush explains it better than I ever could.

Math is not my strong point, so I had to keep looking it all up.

“How long before an egg becomes a larva?” I’d ask duckduckgo.

“How many days before a bee emerges from under its cap?” I’d type.

“How long does it take to raise a queen?” I just could not remember!

Then, I found these Bee Math cards at Girl Next Door Honey. I was so taken I bought three of them — one for us, and one each for two of our beekeeper friends.

Ours is taped to my “Bee Book” — the notebook where I record what we do and find when when we inspect hives — and I swear I look at that thing at least once a day.

And, no, I don’t get anything for mentioning them.

Anyway, we try to avoid swarms by preemptively splitting our hives when they start getting full, before they build queen cells, and the situation becomes urgent.

That’s why we split #5 this week. Another beekeeper friend now has a split with lots of bees, brood, and larvae of every age, but no queen. She can choose to either buy a queen or let them raise one.

We now have a less crowded hive that probably (hopefully) won’t swarm.

This sort of segues into today’s task. You see, when we split #2 and #1, we moved the queens into the split, and left the old hive to raise a new one from the eggs/larvae we left them.

And, when I say “left,” I mean “left.” We don’t go into a hive when it’s trying to raise a queen until at least a month after the split. It’s a delicate process, and we don’t take any chances that we might somehow mess it up.

Knowing most of the foragers would return to the location of the original (now queenless) hive, we fed the splits with the queens. Checking in on them every week or so, we didn’t remove the food until we were sure they had enough foragers to thrive without our help.

When we split #4 and #5, we kept the old queens in the original hives, mostly because we didn’t want to have to wait for two more queens to be reared. The hive that keeps the queen keeps the original number; the hive left to rear a new queen gets an “A” added to the number.

Before we move on, here’s another picture from #5A. I always laugh when the bees line up on a frame looking up as if they’re wondering what the hell we’re doing now.

The ugly propolis-adorned thing on the left is a Beetle Jail. You can’t see all of it in the picture, but there’s an inner cavity for bait — that’s the tab you see toward the bottom. There are two reservoirs on either side (you can only see one) for oil. The beetles are attracted to the bait and then captured in the oil. There are othere means of trapping hive beetles, but this is the only one we’ve found that works for us.

Now, we move onto the exciting part! Today was a Big Day because we could finally (finally!) look in 2A!

The girls there were a little flighty, buzzing us quite a lot, and the hive was very full. Definitely a good sign.

First we saw the larvae. Yes! We had a queen!

Then we found eggs! She had been laying within the last three days (more bee math).

And then, and then, there she was! Our beautiful new golden queen.

Can you find her in the picture below, with only her abdomen showing?

How about here, when her body is twisted?

Okay, I’ll make it easy. I know you can find her in the last picture!

And next week, we’ll be able to check #1A to see if they’ve been equally successful. With any luck, all our hives will then be queen right, and we can move on to other duties, like treating for Varroa.

Until then, I’ll leave you with a (slightly blurry) photo of a fuzzy baby bee.

The (Scrap-happy) Engineer

I don’t often join in the ScrapHappiness blogging, mostly because all my posts would look like this:

Not only do I almost exclusively make ScrapHappy afghans following one pattern, if you look closely, you’ll also see some repetition of color because, well, they’re made from scraps. In fact, most of these photos were taken from the exact same spot on our couch where I while away the evenings watching mostly English, mostly mystery, series with The Engineer.

The only ones taken in a different setting were the first two set in my mom’s hospital room where my crochet projects helped keep me sane as we dealt with the challenges of having an elderly parent go through the pain of a broken hip and the ensuing surgery.

This month, however, at the recommendation of Kate from Tall Tales of Chiconia, I have another ScrapHappy project to share courtesy of The Engineer.

He’s a genius about repurposing items — upcycling them as they call it these days — taking a broken foundation frame from one of our hives and making new handles for my more-than-40-year-old-grill and many similar projects. (It’s now our grill rather than just mine, but since I acquired it before The Engineer, I’ll admit to sometimes claiming singular ownership.)

But today, I’m going to show you his latest weasel.

That’s our term for those flashes of inspiration one sometimes gets. It comes from a Blackadder episode, and if you’ve not watched the series, you really must. The first season isn’t the best, but the following ones rise to a level of humor that is sure to raise a giggle, guffaw, or at least a grin if you have the even the tiniest sense of humor.

But I digress. “Weasel” is used to describe one of Blackadder and his helpmate Baldrick’s many “cunning plans.” In that particular episode, Blackadder tells Baldrick, “I have a plan so cunning, you could put a tale on it and call it a weasel.”

Okay, it’s a little silly, but don’t most families/couples/friends usually share silly expressions?

This particular weasel involves the top of a metal grill we found on a hike earlier this year.

This is not as odd as it sounds. We pick up trash and recyclables whenever we hike or kayak and find a lot of strange things — a Crocs shoe, an unopened can of selzer, a pumpkin floating down the river — and this time we happened upon the grill lid.

No idea where the rest of it went, but The Engineer and Darling Daughter duly carried it for the mile or so back to the car, my hands being already full of cans and bottles.

In truth, I’d forgotten all about the thing until a few weeks ago when my husband called me outside to show me what he’d done.

Yes, it is now a lid for our compost barrel, which is itself a repurposed garbage can with the bottom cut out and side holes for aeration.

If you look at the picture below, you’ll see he was even able to use the hinges.

Now, you may think it unlovely, but I would have to disagree. I’m sure the lid will last at least a few years before it falls apart, and that means when we do finally have to recycle the metal, it will require less energy to do so.

Meanwhile, it’s serving a purpose in our garden.

I call that a ScrapHappy win.