Wednesday, May 17, was a glorious day. I could see the sun, and the flags across the road moving moderately in the breeze, through my office window. My phone showed the temperature near 70. A good day to split colonies if I hadn't had to work a day job to support my habit.
I took the dogs for a walk back to the apiary when I got home from work, checking the flora and looking for swarms. The honeysuckle was in blossom and the bees were working it. When I say honeysuckle, I mean A LOT of honeysuckle. There’s miles of patches in this area that are 100 yards long and 10 yards wide. It’s a major source of early honey for me.
There’s 3 honey bees easily seen in this photo, and they were that thick everywhere.
As we neared the apiary I spotted an extraordinarily dark thickness on an upper branch of a young Box Elder tree which is a swarm wrapped around a vertical branch.
The swarm is 30 – 40 feet above the ground. Clustered vertically and wrapped around a branch, I couldn’t think of any way to capture them except for a chainsaw, or a bait box. I had two bait boxes in the shop and wished I had had one out.
I put the dogs in the house and set up the bait boxes (plural, another mistake). The bees found both within seconds and soon there were dozens of scouts checking both out. I knew from having read Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy that the scouts were returning to the swarm and dancing their opinions for the others to go and check them out. The number of scouts around the bait boxes grew, but remained equal, with dozens coming and going at each. I realized they probably wouldn’t reach a consensus because the boxes were equal in volume (8 frame deeps), and nearly equal inside with an old brood comb and frames. (#1 had several empty frames and #2 had several frames with foundation.)
I stood in the tall grass with the wood ticks for 2 ½ hours waiting to record the cluster bursting forth and flying en masse to the bait box of their choice. Then it got dark. Having realized my mistake, I removed bait box #2 to tip the votes to bait box #1. Then it stormed. Drenching rains and winds strong enough to topple an ancient box elder on my front lawn (missed the house by 10 feet). Thursday morning the swarm was intact in the tree.
I checked the bait box locations when I took the dogs for a walk at 6:15 a.m. and there were about a dozen scouts at each location. 20 minutes later they had abandoned the location where bait box #2 had been and the number increased at bait box #1. The daytime temperature didn’t get above the mid-50’s and the cluster didn’t stir. Friday morning the swarm was still in the tree and there were a couple of scouts checking bait box #1. I was getting concerned because I didn’t know how long the honey in the swarm bees' honey stomachs would last. Still don’t.
I shared with Jack and Fred the status of the swarm, and Jack suggested adding a frame of honey to the bait box to sweeten the pot. I took a frame loaded with honey over to the bait box when I got home from work (about 4 p.m.) and immediately a scout landed on it. I tried to be careful so I could get the bee in the bait box too, but the motion was enough to cause the bee to fly off.
I scratched the cappings to get the honey flowing down the comb and closed the bait box. In the short time it took to secure everything 3 scouts showed up and went in. I think they started shuttling honey to the swarm.
It’s now Saturday morning. The swarm is in the tree, the bait box has little activity (they know where it is), and I think they’re waiting for warm weather to finally take off for their new home, whether it be the bait box or not. I’m hoping the bait box wins the election and that the weather forecasters are wrong.
UPDATE: On day 5 after several storms the swarm came out of the tree and occupied Gerard's bait hive. Then the next day Gerard had the good fortune of capturing a 2nd swarm.