Adventures in Beekeeping! (Or how to Capture a Swarm of Bees)
We just got through a beautiful long weekend here in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand. We have a national and regional holiday on either end of a regular weekend and then I took 2 additional days of work of making it a very long weekend. It was wonderful!
One of the major items to work on over the weekend was getting the yard trimmed up and cleaned up. Think of it as a spring cleaning for the yard, as things are starting to grow quickly here in the warmer weather. I was busy string trimming around the plum and orange trees and stopped for some reason. I pulled out my ear plugs and heard a buzzing sound that was SO loud I was confused by what it was for a moment. I turned around and found myself uncomfortably close to this.
That’s right, a full swarm of vicious killer bees! Ok, so they were just sweet, full honey bees, but in that moment you turn around and find yourself 3 feet away from a pile of bees that you almost bumped into, killer bees springs to mind. They are in fact however just a swarm of honey bees (specific type unknown). I invited Divinity and the kids to come over and check it out and they were freaked out at first but became quite fascinated as well.
I’ve wanted to keep bees for several years now, and yes, my wife bought me the beekeeping for dummies book which was surprisingly interesting. Because our plans have been so dynamic in recent years I decided not to do it back home. One of the great lessons that I’ve learned in recent years is that if you are intentional and prepare yourself, you can be ready when opportunity as it arises. This was one of those cases. The day wound down as I tried to recall everything I’d read or learned in the past 3 years and I went to bed with a crazy plan to try, as a complete amateur and with no guidance, to do something I had never set out to do; capture a wild swarm.
Needless to say that about 4:00 AM, I couldn’t sleep. I’d say I was scared, but really I was just anxious about the experience. I felt confident, but honestly, who isn’t going to be anxious about knocking 15,000 wild bees out of a tree with no protection? After killing a few hours in my office, I ate some breakfast and at 7:00 AM, I set off to capture the swarm. I rallied to find a cardboard box leftover from our purchase a year ago and a tarp to set the box on, just in case. Divinity joined me and we went out to the tree. Then the fun began.
Capturing the Swarm
After setting the box under the bees, I decided to try doing what I had read the night before from other people’s experiences and kick the trunk of the tree hard enough to knock the swarm into the box. After psyching myself up and pushing through my fear, I wound up and kicked the tree. My stomach jumped as I saw and heard about 1/3 of the bees plop into the bottom of the box. Panicked, I fled with my trusty camera girl, Divinity, to a safe distance. On closer inspection, I found that there was actually a stray branch hanging down from the pear tree and the bees had all congregated on it.
Next I came back with my trusty tree loppers. As the videos will show, it took several attempts, but I managed to clip most of the bees into the box, and then used a shovel to scrape a few more into the box. I closed the lid of the box and left just a small amount of room for bees to come in and out.
Did I get stung? Nope, but I did wind up with a bee in my shirt and I ran across the whole yard flapping my arms like a chicken (ok, really just flapping the upper part of my shirt) and eventually the bee escaped sounding rather upset.
Building a Hive
With that task complete, I wound up in contact with some people locally who keep bees and learned that we may have to give the swarm away because we would need a hive quickly or they would exhaust their energy. Not to be dissuaded from our quest, I took the day off work and Divinity and I quickly found a place that we could source beekeeping gear. Arataki honey is a local and nationwide honey distributor located about 8 minutes away from us. We showed up right as they opened and proceeded to purchase a jacket and hood as well as an unassembled beehive. I hadn’t realized that the hive wouldn’t be assembled, so again, we rallied and bought nails, paint, etc. and set about assembling and painting the hive.
Divinity, the master painter, chose our awesome pastel green color and did her painting thing applying 3 coats of the lovely stuff. Divinity also used her master paint skills to melt down some beeswax and paint it onto the plastic honeycomb frames.
As the hive dried, we took a walk around the yard and identified the most optimal place we could put the beehive. We placed the hive next to a big shed on the property that faces our garden and is next to our raspberry plants and citrus trees.
Hiving the Bees
By this point, the day had all but finished and with the sun setting, most of the bees had returned to the box. With them mostly to roost and cooled down enough to not be too active, we did the most exciting part and hived the bees.
After donning my amazing bee suit and hauling the cardboard box of bees across the yard, I gave the cardboard box a good couple of whacks on the side and “poured” them into the open hive. Mayhem ensued, but I was calm due to my awesome bee suit. The real champion though was Divinity who was being the trusty camera person with no real protection but street clothes and a jacket. Just ignore the whimpers and eeks on the video as she faces the massively uncomfortable scene of being bombarded by bees at all angles. 🙂
After setting in the rest of the frames and putting the roof on top, the whole family enjoyed getting close to the hive and watching bees try to settle in to their new home and find their queen again.
All in all, this was an amazing and well worth while experience that I don’t think we’ll ever forget. I absolutely love when the universe presents opportunities that fall in line with long set desires and in this case, the added experience of capturing a wild swarm. So far, the bees seem happy, the location is great, and the garden is getting massively pollinated. We’re excited to inspect the hive in a few days and to get honey in the next few months!
P.S. Did you know that if you harvest honey past a certain date in New Zealand, you are at risk for having your honey contain a potentially deadly neurotoxin from a natural plant? Crazy..!