May Day Swarm

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise


That’ll teach me for waiting till midday before going for a shower.

Dad had run upstairs to tell me that the bees had just started to swarm, that ‘sound of a spitfire starting up’.

‘Can you watch where they go? They shouldn’t go too far’.

Give me time to dry, get dressed, get my bee-suit on and gather a few things.

First thing to do is to block the hive entrance, with a bit of luck the queen is still inside. No foam so used some tape. Then stood and watched the hive entrance for a bit. There were some bees clumped together under the entrance board so I gave them a light brush and they flew off. Then I noticed a queen being fed on the landing board. I caught her in a queen clip, put her under a T chest so that bees could join her there.

I hadn’t inspected this hive this year, this was to be the first time, the queen that I had caught was unmarked and my first thought was that she was a virgin queen. (The original queen was marked green). If that was the case when did the original queen go or did she just perish. There seemed to be many bees about I felt this was a prime swarm. So it could be that she (the queen in the clip) is the current queen. I wouldn’t really know until I had a look in the hive.

The swarm had now decided to settle right up high in a tree next door, I think it is a cherry but not sure now, but lots of mistletoe. As we waited for the bees to settle, Ben from two doors down dropped in and offered a double ladder for me to climb up. Ben set the ladder up and I got my modified laundry basket (skep) ready.

If the queen in the clip is the queen that should be with the swarm then the bees will return to the hive at some point, but can I take that chance? Oh no!

The bees swarming on May 3rd 2015


Up the ladder I went with the skep in one hand, the swarm was just in reach right at the top. With the skep positioned below the swarm as best I could I gave the branch a sharp jerk. The bees plopped off, but only half of them into the skep. Blast, not brilliant. I took the bees in the skep down and added them to the queen in the T chest. The rest of the bees were re gathering in the same place at the top of the tree. I waited again until they had settled and back up the ladder. This time with much more success, the vast majority of the bees were in the skep. This time I turned the skep over on the ground to see if there was a queen with them. If there was a queen then the flying bees would want to join them and make their way under the skep and into the darkness of the upturned skep.

After about 20 minutes it was pretty clear that there wasn’t a queen there and bees were starting to come out of the skep, but this time they were making their way back to the hive. They were returning:


Notice how the bees at the front of the hive are waving their abdomens in the air. Their nasonov gland is located near the end and they use this to indicate to other bees where the hive entrance or queen is located.

OK, so time to have a look inside the hive to make an assessment of what to do next. The main idea would be to try and keep the bees.

The hive was comprised of a brood and super with brood in both boxes (brood and a half). There were about 10 queen cells, lots of sealed brood, but no eggs or unsealed brood and plenty of stores. One queen cell showed that a queen had emerged and I noticed another with the cap having a thin line around it. At this point I had to decide whether to release any other queens and let them sort it out or do something else. I tore down two others but they were not mature, so I decided to capture this queen in a queen cage by removing the cap and letting the queen run into the cage. I now had two queens!

I put a second brood chamber on the hive and put it all back together to decide how to split it.

There were a lot of bees so I decided to split the hive into three. Dad made up two Snelgrove boards and I completed the other super we had. I planned to leave a queen cell in two lower colonies, add the first queen to the middle colony and the second queen into the top colony in the second super. With all the flying bees being in the lower colony I gave them one frame of brood with a queen cell as a contingency.


Notice that the Snelgrove boards have landing boards on them such that the entrances can easily be identified, the main one to the front, the middle colony on the right and the top colony on the left.

Finished by about 5.00pm. Phew an afternoon that flew by…

The next morning the sun came up and we sat in the conservatory under the hive and enjoyed the sun as it rose up into the sky. Would the bees settle? They looked happy enough with activity at each entrance, but with all those bees with the swarming impulse!?

Sure enough at about midday that spitfire sound could be heard as they flowed out of the hive. It is an amazing sight, but unfortunately no video. This time the swarm settled on a hanging basket next door. Nice and convenient to collect. I waited until they were all in the swarm and then gave them a sharp jerk and they plopped into the skep. I placed the skep upside down on a sheet and watched to see what the bees would do. Sure enough there were bees waving their abdomens at the entrance to the skep and any remaining flying bees made their way into it.

We went and had some lunch and then I wrapped the skep in the sheet and took it home to re-hive it

The Swarm on May 4th 2015:


We now have four colonies and all are active at present. I will have a look at them again in a few weeks time

3 thoughts on “May Day Swarm

  1. nice work, kids enjoyed watching and reading through it, long time since I heard a Spitfire start up, ‘Sigh for a Merlin’.

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