I don’t know what drew my eyes to a mulberry sapling in my corner meadow, but I stepped out of the house and saw a brown bulging in the tree.
It was the shape and color of a large birdhouse gourd, maybe a little darker, but I didn’t remember hanging a birdhouse gourd in that tree, or in any tree in the yard this year. I took a few steps toward the meadow, and then I knew what it was.
I ran back in the kitchen door, grabbed my phone from the table and yelled for Michael. My husband thought I was exaggerating or overreacting, so he took his time.
When he finally left his desk and came out blinking in the late-afternoon sun, I had taken a picture and sent it with a message to Rena, my bee mentor. “I think my bees are swarming!”
She called me back only a few minutes later and advised me to make a mixture of sugar syrup and spritz them with it. That, she said, would keep them calm and hold them there until she could come out and help me capture them.
She explained that if they run out of the honey they ate before leaving the hive, they would get hungry and fly away. I mixed up the sugar syrup and spritzed them.
While we waited for Rena to arrive, I took the opportunity to get close and take a few more pictures.
I sent a photo to Matt, another beekeeper friend, who answered with one word: “Run.” I lol-ed and told him I already sprayed them with sugar water and that they were very calm.
He asked me how long they had been there, but I didn’t know. He said a fresh swarm is very peaceful (“If the swarm just formed, you could probably pet them”), but if they have been away from the hive long enough to exhaust the honey stores in their gut, they could get into a stinging mood.
I decided they were peaceful enough with the sugar water I sprayed on them, and I could get close enough for another look, though I did not try to pet them.
They were tightly packed, and from a distance, the swarm looked solid.
Michael noted that they were all aligned — mostly in a vertical orientation. They were moving a little, some milling around, some taking brief flights only to light again onto the gourd shape.
When Rena arrived with her husband, Drew, we talked while they suited up about how lucky it was that the bees had chosen such a low tree.
I have been trimming select trees in the corner meadow that I want to pollard — I don’t really want shade there, but it will be nice to keep a few species of trees I can prune to be small: mulberry, sycamore, redbud.
The bees chose a tree not 6 feet tall and had settled on the lower branches. When all was prepared, Drew held a box under the swarm, and Rena gave the trunk a couple of firm shakes.
The swarm just poured into the box like pepper from a shaker. Some of the bees landed on Drew’s suit, and Rena brushed them into the box.
We looked for the queen, who, Rena explained, was likely somewhere in the midst of the swarm. It is the queen’s pheromones that attract the bees, so we needed to make sure she was in the box.
A clump of bees wanted to linger on the branch of the tree, and that was probably where the queen was sitting inside the swarm.
Dusk was falling, and we stood talking and coaxing bees into the box with the rest until we were satisfied that it was only the scent on the tree that kept some bees behind. Eventually, almost all followed their fellows into the box, and Rena and Drew took them home.
But why did my bees swarm in the first place? I think I let them get too crowded. I was meaning to put on some extra honey supers and didn’t get around to it. But Matt helped me find a nicer perspective: “It’s OK. You just got a new colony, and you clearly have healthy bees that can produce a swarm. Stay positive girl.”
Swarm in Beauty; Fly in Peace; Blessed Be.