Making Swarm Lure

Recipe for Swarm Lure

Those bee colonies that swarm are strong, and I want strong bees. I hated that one of my hives died last year…the hive that died was always kind of slow compared to the Amazons (which I got as a result of a swarm from Chris’s hive). It makes sense that it you’ve got strong colonies, you’d want to propogate them. And there are several ways to do that, though I haven’t done it yet.

Last night I mixed up a batch of swarm lure—I have to give credit to Linda over at Linda’s Bees. She posted this recipe several years ago.

I mixed 1/4 cup olive oil, a wad of beeswax (1/2 of a sheet of foundation), and about 20 drops of lemongrass oil. I heated the mixture together in a glass measuring cup that I placed in a pan of boiling water. Once it was all melted together, I poured it into a small foil bread mold we had in the cabinet. It solidified into a smearable paste in about 5 minutes. I wish I’d had a nice little jar with a lid, but all the jars I have are too deep to keep shoving my hands into.

Today I’ll head out to an unused brood box I’ve set up near my hives and smear it with this swarm lure. It’s supposed to attract bees…apparently the lemongrass oil smells like the queen pheremone; the oil and wax keep the lemongrass oil from dissipating and make the mixture workable.

In the swarm-lure box are 10 frames with beeswax foundation (I’m supposed to have some frames of drawn comb in there, too, but I don’t have any. All my combs are with the bees), so once the scout bees from a swarm come to check out the smell in my brood box, they should find a nice home in a good neighborhood all ready for them to move into.

Later today, I plan to call the police and fire departments in my area and add my name to their swarm capture list…then, if anyone calls to report a swarm of bees, I’m on the list of people who will go and capture it. It’s a great way to increase the number of robust bees.

Making Swarm Lure
Liquid Swarm Lure
Solidified Swarm Lure

Good Entrance Reducers Make Good Neighbors

After trimming trees around the house for much of the afternoon, we were taking a little iced-tea break  on our deck. I began to see quite a bit of activity out in the bee yard…more than usual. It didn’t look like a swarm, but there were a lot of bees. You can see them when the sun lights them up against the dark background of the woods behind our house.

When I went to check on things, I found robbing occurring at Tomboys and Girls of Summer. There was bee frenzy going on out there. Amazons seemed far more calm. And the robbing bees were coming from the woods where I assume the swarm went to live on Saturday morning. It was pretty wild out there, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t capture it on my camera (only a video would show the craziness and capture the impressive sound of this, though). I never think to grab my camera when I go out there. And if I do put my camera in my pocket, I forget it’s there.

Here’s what I assume is happening: I’m pretty sure the swarm with which we’ve just dealt was from Amazons because Amazons are so darn robust. And, more importantly, because we discovered a lot of queen cells in the hive when we inspected it on Saturday…a sure sign the hive is planning to swarm. So now the swarm has found a place to live, but they don’t have food stored up in their new place…they would know, however, that there’s honey near their old house. So they came back to rob their old neighbors, Tomboys and Girls of Summer…those two hives are newer and so have less strength and fewer guard bees to protect the hive. But they’ve stored up good honey already…honey the Amazon swarm clearly wants.

The robbers were not robbing Amazons nearly so much because those girls are their sisters…for real. And Amazons are a more established and stronger hive than the two new colonies and so can defend themselves better against intruders.

This morning I plan to put entrance reducers on Tomboys and Girls of Summer. I’ll also plug the holes I drilled in the brood-chamber boxes for a few days. Those holes are unnecessary openings, and plugging them will allow the guard bees to defend only one (reduced) opening.

I’m still bemoaning the loss of honey production from Amazons this year. The honey we collected on Saturday is so beautiful in their pretty jars. I’ve got them all lined up on the counter now, and they are amazingly gorgeous when the sun hits them.

Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad

I go from being happy to being sad about the Amazon swarm. Happy because some mighty fine and robust and healthy bees have propagated, and they live near me. Sad because half my Amazon hive is gone. Happy because half my Amazon hive remains. Sad because I just read in Bee Culture magazine that there could certainly be “afterswarms.” Happy that I’ve now learned a hell of a lot about swarm lures and can set up my lure box to hopefully attract any afterswarms. Sad that honey production is reduced in Amazons. Etc.

See how my mind works?

The article about swarming in Bee Culture sort of got me down. It documented how long it will take my new queen to emerge, learn the ropes, take her mating flight, lay eggs; then it documented how long it will take those larvae and pupae to develop into bees and get to work foraging. I already sort of knew all of this, but when someone lays the numbers out for you, and when those numbers now relate directly to your hive and your honey, your heart sinks. Grand total of at least 65 days. Shit. There goes the spring. Oh well, there’s not much to forage on around here in the summer time, so we might as well use that time to let the new queen do her good work.

On a happier note: upon yesterday’s inspection, Tomboys and Girls of Summer each look very robust. We saw larvae and capped honey and pollen, etc. in each brood box. It’s not entirely out of the question that we could harvest honey from those colonies even though it’s their first year…we’ve had great weather and lots of blooming stuff. They are each healthier than the hive we lost over the winter ever was.

I’m thinking of taking a frame or two of capped brood from Amazons and putting it in Tomboys and Girls of Summer to give them some extra workers. That may give them a boost and increase the likelihood of harvesting honey from those colonies this year.

Amazon Swarm, May 2010

And There Was The SWARM

We’d just settled down in the Adirondack chairs when I looked up into the tree. And there was something just not right about something up there…it looked odd. And then I saw it—the SWARM.

My Amazons had swarmed and the swarm was drooping from the lowest branch of a tall tall tree. Too high to reach by any ladder other than one belonging to the the fire department.

Oh my gosh, did I jump to action. I ran into the basement and yanked all the leftover equipment stored down there and I ran it all out and set it up under the swarm…then I jumped in the car and drove like a crazy person to the Natural Food Store to buy lemongrass oil because it’s said to be a swarm lure. We smeared lemongrass oil and honey all over the super and frames set beneath the swarm, and we hoped the girls would decide it looked like a great home.

To make a long story short…we set the bottle of lemongrass oil on the lure box; we took the stopper out of it; we put the stopper into it again; we moved the lemongrass oil inside the lure box; we moved it out again; we set the lure box up on a ladder; we tried to throw a long rope over the branch the swarm was attached to; we couldn’t reach it with the rope; we tied a wrench to the end of the rope as a weight to help us reach the branch and tried it several more times again; we succeeded only in throwing the wrench and rope into the garden; we spread a sheet beneath the swarm in case the swarm dropped from the tree—we did everything we knew to do, and then we undid it. We have no idea what we’re doing. How on earth can you seduce a swarm of bees?

I went out there in the night with a flashlight to check on them.

They were still there this morning.

I turned my back on them for 10 minutes and they disappeared. They now live in some unknown hollow tree trunk in the woods behind our house. Deb’s been out there searching for them.

I was so disappointed.

I guess the good news is that now we’ll have a new queen in the Amazon hive because the older queen should have left with half the bees. God speed, bees.

It helped that I later discovered two frames of capped honey ready for harvest…and we collected about 2 pounds of gorgeous, almost-clear honey from our Amazon girls.

Amazon Swarm, May 2010
Amazon Swarm, May 2010

Swarm Lure, May 2010
Amazon honey, May 2010

Going with My Gut

I think my Amazon girls are getting ahead of me. It was at this time last year that this very group swarmed; and based on the activity I see out at their hive, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t try that trick again.

But I don’t have time in the next few days to inspect the hive, so I won’t know until the weekend if the girls need me to add another super to their home. Old-man Higgins (from Higgins Construction Company where I get my local bee supplies) said I should add room before I think the bees need it…which is NOW.

I think I’m going out there after work late today or  before work early tomorrow (inopportune times to visit a hive) and simply add a queen excluder and their first shallow super. I do NOT want these girls to swarm… I want them to stick around here and make us some honey.

Okay. I’ve made my decision. I’m adding a super within the next 24 hours.

Swarm On

The bees’ primary biological drive is to swarm. I read it this morning in Bee Culture magazine, and the moment I read it, it seemed right. Reader, if you’re new to bees, you’ll want to learn that when bees get too crowded in a hive, they raise a second queen. Once the new queen is ready to take on her new job, the old queen leaves the crowded hive with half of that colony’s bees, and they go find a new home. This move is called swarming. The new queen stays back in the established hive and takes on the job of producing more bees. One of our two colonies came to us as a result of a captured swarm.

Bees ensure their species’ survival by swarming…think of it as teenagers leaving home and getting their own apartments. Many beekeepers manage their hives to keep their bees from swarming, because once those bees leave, honey production decreases. I am of a mind to let them swarm. How about that…I am developing a beekeeper philosophy.