A Swarm in May

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay goes the old proverb, so when my dentist called me to say that there was a swarm of bees outside his office on a bright spring day, I had to go after it.  You never know exactly what you will find on a swarm call.  I usually bring with anything I can think I might need.  Tall step-ladder, hive body with frames, tops and bottoms of some sort, saw, clippers and loppers, rope, veil, Epi-Pen…  you just never know.

I always try to keep on hand at least one deep chamber with frames ready to go, either drawn or with foundation installed.  Frequently you have to replace a frame or two, and making splits and catching swarms requires equipment ready when you need it.  I had just completed this chore last week, nailing together another ten frames after using the previous “extra” box on splits a couple of weeks ago.  Expanding bee populations quickly diminish the equipment pile and keep me busy in the work shop!

When I arrived at the dentist’s office what I found was a nice cluster of bees in the cherry tree along the street.  I have no idea where they came from.  I looked around for any nearby bee hives but didn’t see any.

I always hope for the swarm to be on a small branch I can just clip and place on the new hive.  That’s the quick and easy way.  But this was next best.  The swarm was not too high, and an easy set-up with the ladder.  I tied the hive body to the step on the ladder and placed it all directly under the swarm.  The plywood lid was fashioned to act as a funnel to direct the bees from the lower branches into the hive.  Then I climbed the ladder and gave the branch with bees a sharp shake.  A large bundle of bees fell right onto the tops of the frames, quickly dispersing into the frames with foundation.  Soon many were signalling there compatriots that this was home, fanning with their rear ends up in the air emitting Nasonov pheromones.  However, many bees remained up in the tree and reformed the cluster there once again.  Another shake or two dislodge progressively smaller numbers of bees.  I have to wait patiently for the bees to figure it out for themselves.

When most of the bees are in, I carefully lower the box to the ground and continue to wait for the rest of the bees to find their way.  I break off a few small branches with clusters of bees and bring them down the ladder.  The bees eagerly disperse into the new colony.  Finally with still a few hundred bees in the tree it’s time to go home.  I slide the cover over the box, put the new colony in the van, and head home. The stragglers will eventually figure out they missed the boat and return to their old colony.

Now I’ve got three promising new little colonies in my bee yard. The new splits and now this swarm are the fun of beekeeping. In a week or so, all should have laying queens. I’m eager to see how the new gals do. Time will tell what surprises await!


  1. Deborah, as mylatinnotebook notes, “it’s great when it goes smoothly”! Last year I was in real need for a queen so I went for a swarm 20 ft. up in a tree. That adventure produced more adrenaline and fewer bees, but I did get my queen!

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