Rehousing a swarm of bees – Part 2

In the last posting I described how we had removed a large and well established swarm of bees that had build a large nest from high up in an apple tree and relocated them in a hive within my apiary south of Odiham.  Here’s what happened next…

Too tall to fit in a single brood chamber
Too tall to fit in a single brood chamber

Once we got the bees into my apiary and on a sturdy hive stand, we could take a good look at them.  The picture here shows what we found. The bees had built across seven combs in a tangled mess of tree branches, twigs, leaves and even several embedded apples.  It rapidly became apparent that simply cutting away the combs to shake the bees onto frames of foundation was not going to be an easy option without massively disturbing the nest.  This could potentially kill many bees, possibly including the Queen which would obviously lead to the death of the entire colony over winter.

The other problem was that the main branch the colony was attached to stuck up over the top of the bottom brood chamber by about 10″ and therefore there was a huge amount of wasted space that would be hard to fill with unwanted brace comb. At the same time, the whole hive felt quite light as we moved it into position and we could not see many stores in place.  This is probably because being positioned high in a tree had left them very exposed and unable to keep the brood nest very warm and so they had probable consumed the food as it came in to feed themselves and their brood.

Trimming the branches to get the nest inside a single brood chamber
Trimming the branches to get the nest inside a single brood chamber

We decided to try and get the entire colony into a single brood chamber as a start so that they would not waste further energy building more comb to fill the space left.  I held the hive steady whilst James cut away some of the bigger branches with a tree lopper as well as removing all the embedded apples and bits of twigs and leaves that we could easily get at. The whole nest is made up of beautifully clean, fresh yellow comb, but it’s in a complete mess making it impossible to remove single combs without destroying the ones next to it.

We took away a couple of empty combs attached to the top of the main branch and although the bees were all over the inside of the brood chamber, they were all very docile indicating that there is probably a healthy Queen in these somewhere.

Apiary_swarm_5Having cut the branches back, we  then placed a Queen excluder on the top of the brood chamber plus a super of recently extracted honey for a quick feed.  We then closed up the colony to reduce the stress and left them alone to acclimatise to their new location and start foraging again whilst we think of a way of transferring the colony onto frames of foundation…

I’m thinking of a Bailey comb change, placing a brood chamber of frames and food above the current brood nest which would be ideal if was not so late in the season. I do have a good hives worth of clean brood comb full of honey gathered from recently merged colonies that might work, although it would mean creating a double Jumbo Langstroth (Dandant) sized hive to go through the winter which is a big space to keep warm. However, their in a nice warm poly hive which should see them through to next spring with a bit of TLC and candy feed when required. Hopefully, by next spring the bees will all move up into the upper brood chamber with the food and the Queen will be laying up there which in theory means I’ll be able to simply remove the bottom box, shake off the bees and let them get on with it in 2014, but somehow, I think removing a brood chamber full of brace comb will not be all that easy….

Rehousing a swarm of bees – Part 1…

Even the most diligent of beekeepers employing a strict inspection process to manage swarming gets it wrong occasionally…

We have eleven active hives in the Fleet Beekeepers training apiary and try to ensure that  we manage the colonies to spot the signs of swarming and deal with it appropriately. But about two months ago, as we arrived at the apiary, we saw a huge swarm departing from one of the hives and settling high up in one of the apple trees within the Orchard.

The nest was deeply imbedded in the centre of the tree canopy

Typically, the first stopping point is purely temporary as the swarm sends out scouts to find a suitable home for the bees to go to and as we could not get close to the swarm we had to simply leave it there.

However it appears in this case, the swarm moved into another tree as a few weeks ago we spotted the swarm settled into another tree in the orchard about 15′ off the ground.  They had been busy building combs and had created a nest about 18″ square in the centre of the tree.

James carefully cutting away the branches around the tree nest

The nest was quite exposed in the tree and very unlikely to survive the winter once the leaves had dropped, so James, Geoff and I decided to mount a rescue and retrieval mission.  James built a scaffolding platform underneath the swarm and I supplied a Jumbo Langstroth poly hive to put the bees into.  James and Geoff then proceeded to carefully cut away the surrounding branches so that we could get access to the nest itself. This took quite some time and although the bees were extremely calm it soon became apparent that the bees had greatly expanded the nest and it had become huge!

It was the biggest wild nest we had ever seen!

Eventually, James and Geoff managed to cut away the surrounding branches and they carefully lowered the complete tree nest into the prepared brood chamber complete with tree branches, leaves and even whole apples within it!  Even now the bees stayed very calm as we placed them inside the hive and then we realised that the nest was so big it would not fit…

The nest was about 10″ too high, but as luck would have it, James had a spare brood chamber with him that we placed on top of the other lower chamber and closed the hive up.

The nest filled two jumbo brood chambers!
The nest filled two jumbo brood chambers!

We then left the hive for the rest of the day so that all the flying foragers could return to join the rest of the colony now happily inside the hive. We had no space to keep the colony inside the training apiary and so we decided to move the bees that night to my out apiary south of Odiham and then possibly shake the bees into new brood frames before overwintering them there.

In the next posting I’ll describe some of the difficult choices we faced when we tried to set the bees up in the new apiary…