My first swarm

The bees worked hard over the first couple of weeks to draw out this beautiful comb

So, my adventure began about three weeks ago. After being placed on the swarm list, I received my first call to a small swarm of around 300 bees. They were located in a bush about 4ft off the ground in the caller’s back garden.

I was feeling pretty excited about this being my first solo swarm collection and I had just finished painting a poly nuc. Packing hedge trimmers, a white sheet, small wooded board, smoker, queen clip and of course the poly nuc, I set off to the caller’s address.

On arrival, I found the whole family wanting to watch so after advising them the kitchen window was the safest place, I put the nuc on one of their gardens chairs and then under the bush below the swarm. I gave the branch one good shake and managed to get most of the bees into the nuc.

Unfortunately, not being quick enough with the lid, a few flew out returning to the branch. Overall, it seemed like I got the queen in that first shake as fanning started at the entrance. This was a good sign, and when some of the flying bees started to head into the nuc, landing at the entrance and fanning too, I knew I had the queen!

Examining the branches, I could see the bees had started building some comb and I was told that they had been there since Thursday some four days previous. So, I knew the pheromones on the branch would be strong explaining why some of the swarm repeatedly returned.

After standing there for about twenty minutes, I decided to leave them alone for a couple of hours and return at dusk when all the bees, if they had read the same book as me, should be in the nuc.

In true British style, just before dusk, the heavens opened and the rain started. I headed back quickly, strapped up the nuc and blocked off the entrance so as not to be stung on my journey home where I intended to house the bees.

I placed the nuc on a spare hive stand away from my main apiary in case of disease etc. and left them sealed up for the night. Come 07:00 the following morning, I opened the entrance, immediately some bees started to come out, fly around a little and then return to the nuc. I knew from my mentor and all the videos and books I’d been reading that I shouldn’t feed the bees for a couple of days to allow them to use the stores they were carrying in their honey crops. This is to prevent the bees potentially storing infected food.

A couple of days later, I returned and opened the nuc to find that they had started to build comb, but as usual in the wrong place! As I pulled up the frame I got my first look at my new queen and she is a beauty, with a large dark abdomen. The bees themselves were calm, stayed on the comb and didn’t require any smoke. I was very pleased with what I had so far. The problem I had now is that I didn’t have a feeder to fit my new nuc so I pushed small amounts of fondant in to the gap between two frames and replaced the lid.

I wasn’t overly worried as there was a flow on and the bees had been coming and going all week. So came the hard part; leave them alone and don’t be tempted to open the nuc again for a good couple of weeks. I watched closely for the next few days as bees came and went from the entrance. I was pretty sure that they liked their new home and that they would stay now, I just wanted the queen to start laying.

Four days later the worst happened, I had booked a holiday and I had to leave them. Off to Devon I went and had an amazing time and on the final day I was pleased we decided to leave early; it meant I could look inside the nuc when I returned. I would say that like all beekeepers, the scenarios were running rampant in my head.

At around 3.00pm we arrived home and it was good news, the bees were still coming and going but were they just robbing?

They had drawn out at least three frames of beautiful white comb

I opened the lid of the nuc and was overjoyed; my first swarm hadn’t absconded, died or been eaten by the bee-eater that seems to be arriving on these shores. Bee-eater.

The bees had drawn at least three frames of beautiful white comb and I could see pearly white larvae at all stages and eggs in the cells. And there, sitting in the middle of the frame was the queen. No sign of disease and she was laying wall to wall.

They say you should always replace a queen from a swarm, but I’ve also been told to challenge what they say and find out for myself. So, I’m keeping her. I know all my swarms will not go like this but one can only hope!

I could see in the cells there was pearly white larva at all stages and eggs. And there sitting in the middle of the frame was the queen.

This week, 4th July, I had another look. I think in about a week the Nuc will be ready to transfer into my poly hive and into the main apiary; making my hive count five.

My first swarm was written by Richard Skinner in June 2022

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