Flame Duct Tape, A Rock, Orange String And Debbie’s Bee Swarm

Debbie’s Bee Swarm

Last Saturday, my friend Debbie and I were taking a bee workshop called “Overwintering Nucs”.  In the middle of drilling together a specialized bottom board for the nucs, Debbie gets a text message on her phone from her husband as he was walking out the door for an overnight trip. “Your bees just swarmed, is that normal?”  She responded “No. Where did they go. ” Her husband (who is not a beekeeper) replied “I’m not stupid enough to follow them.” and that was that.  She sadly said goodbye to her bees and continued on at the workshop putting together equipment.

Several hours later, Debbie returned home where she found her bees sitting in a tree high above her hive.  She didn’t have any hope of getting them back, but Brian’s baseball arm was itching for a swarm catching workout.

The bee swarm.

Brian and I loaded the kids in the car and rushed over to her house to help her try to get the bees back.  It was around 5:30 when we got there and we were quickly running out of time to help her catch the bee swarm.

The swarm 40 feet high in the air.

This is what we walked into – a swarm 40 feet high in the air.  Although Brian had a chainsaw and a pole saw we did not have access to a ladder to get up to the bees.  What we did have was Cat 5 cable and orange string.  Debbie supplied the duct tape and Brian tried his previously successful method of swarm catching using Duct Tape, A Rock and A String to get them back.  Did I tell you when I met Brian he was known as the man who could fix anything with duct tape?  You can see he hasn’t changed much.  Debbie and I gathered some rocks, Brian tied a string around them and used Debbie’s flame duct tape to secure the rock to the string.

Brian securing the string to the rock with flame duct tape.

Then relying on his baseball arm, Brian threw the rock and the string high into the air and looped it around the branch holding the swarm.  We were in business now!

The rope is around the branch.

The next step was attaching the Cat 5 cable to the string. The string is easy to throw but not strong enough for lifting a frame or a box so the cable was needed for that.

Debbie holds the string in place while Brian duct tapes the Cat 5 cable to the string.

Brian used the string to pull the Cat 5 cable over the branch.  While I was standing there holding the string for him, out of nowhere – BAM!  I got viciously attacked by Debbie’s bees and stung on my arm (yes I was not wearing a bee suit – silly me).  Ouch, did it hurt!  A bee sting is so much different when the bee actually means to sting you!

Debbie’s swarm came from a hive that was queenless and we suspect it was a virgin swarm.  The swarm was calm and gentle now that they were gone but the hive was really angry.   A queenless hive is usually aggressive and cranky and not a hive you want to mess around with.  In fact, this temperament change is one way you can tell if your hive is not queen right without even opening it.

Brian using the string to pull the cable over the branch.

Brian pulled on the branch with the Cat 5 cable, seeing if it would budge.  The branch was not flexible and too thick to break off near the swarm.  Cutting the whole branch down was not an option due to its size and weight.

Debbie helps move the cable into position.

Our plan was to either shake the bees into a box or to coax the bees to come down off the branch using a frame of open brood.  We decided to throw another line over the limb closer to the swarm to attach a cardboard box onto. Perhaps we could shake the branch enough to get them inside.

Brian throws another line around the tree limb to attach the box onto.

Brian and Debbie laughing about flame duct tape and ridiculousness of the situation.

Now that the cables were in place, Brian attached a cardboard box to the cable with you guessed it – duct tape.  We debated about sending a frame up to the swarm alone but unfortunately we did not have a frame of uncapped brood to use at the time.  We tried using what we had,  which was only a sheet of beeswax foundation and decided to place it inside the box, all the while doubting it would work.  This way we only had to raise the box up into the swarm once to try both methods.
Brian raised the box and the frame up underneath the swarm using the cable.
We were able to position the box underneath the swarm. Unfortunately this branch was not flexible enough to shake the bees off and into the box.  But we tried anyway.  Using all the force we could muster, we shook that branch hard.  The bees fell, raining down upon us, but not all the way to the ground.  Then they flew back to the branch and regrouped.  Further shaking of the branch only made a few of them fly away and regroup.  They were holding on tightly now.
We decided to leave the box there for a while and see if the bees would be attracted to the beeswax frame.  We watched and waited and detected movement on the swarm.  We waited some more.  After it was apparent the swarm stopped moving around we lowered the box down.  Surprisingly, a few bees did go onto the frame and were fanning telling the others to come inside the box.  We looked through the box to find the queen but she was not in there.  Despite the fanning bees enticing the other bees to come on the frame with them, the rest of the bee swarm was not moving. 

Next we tried dousing the box with some lemon grass oil Debbie had.  This is used as is a swarm lure to attract bees to swarm traps.  We put some on the box, and on a paper towel inside the box, then sent the box and the frame back up under the swarm.

Some bees went into the box and began fanning.

This time there was much more interest and we watched as the swarm changed shape and then again stopped moving.  It was getting dark now and was past the kids bedtime, so we decided to call it a night.  We left the box and frame and lemongrass oil up there.  If the swarm was still there in the morning the plan was for Debbie to get a frame of unsealed brood, attach it to the cable and raise it up into the swarm. The next morning rolled around and luckily the bees were still there and Debbie had secured a frame of uncapped brood.  She sent it up into the tree inside the box and tried to position it near the swarm but without help she could not get it into the center of the swarm.  Amazingly still about 1/3 of the swarm of bees began to march into the box and onto the frame.  It was working!  Now she waited and waited and waited.  After a few hours of waiting and realizing no more bees were going into the box, Debbie decided to see if she could send the frame up on the cable alone to position it closer to the swarm.
As she lowered the box down and away from the bees, an unmistakable buzzing sound begin to fill the air.  Little black and yellow bee bodies flew in a big swirling mass around Debbie as she stood there. Then just like that the humming black ball of swarm took off.  Debbie was in awe standing in the center of the bee swarm and speechless (which if you know her is truly an amazing feat).   As Debbie said “They had already found a new home which is why they would not be taken in by my trickery of a frame.  I wish them well in their new home.  Adios Bees!”  Better luck next time.

Debbie taking pictures of the swarm.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

  1. My First Bee Swarm
  2. Duct Tape, A Rock And A String Saved My Swarm
  3. In Case You’re Wondering Bees Can Chew Through Garden Row Cover
  4. Duct Tape A Beekeeper’s Best Friend
  5. A Hive with Two Queens

Author: Anita Deeley

Anita Deeley is a biologist and former state bee inspector who maintains 100 honey bee hives. She is the beekeeper, writer, owner and creator of BeverlyBees.com. When she is not spending time with her girls (the bees), she enjoys being a wife to her beekeeping cohort, Brian and mother to 3 little boys (the beekeepers in training). Read more about Anita here >> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Connect with Anita on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or Facebook here.

10 Comments

  1. I was making a link to you, and then saw this post. Dang, I’m supposed to leave soon, but your post had me enthralled. Great storytelling! And what an arm Brian has! Sorry the bees decided to move on, but at least you guys gave it your best shot.

    Good thing to think about too–the hive that got left. Usually one concentrates on the swarm, and not the hive that got left. Got to keep that under consideration as to avoid getting stung.

  2. Thanks Mil! It was a fun trying even though we didn’t catch them. Plus it makes a great story! Most beekeepers I know waive goodbye to high swarms because they are just so hard to get. I have a few ideas for a better way to get high swarms but I need to try them out first to see if they work.

    We knew that hive was angry and it was silly not to wear my suit. But I wasn’t really near them when they stung me. I had been in my hive about 30 minutes prior so maybe my hands still smelled like bees?? I sometimes wonder if the bees can tell who is their keeper and go after the strangers in yard. I have seen that happen several times.

    Thanks for the link to my site!

  3. I kept reading thinking. They’re gonna get em’…… Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
    Thanks for the idea though. You should video tape such efforts. In the event that would have been successful you would have had a hundred views from me alone, watching it over and over!!! 🙂

  4. I think if we had the frame of brood at the beginning it may have worked. It was fun trying anyway. I have some ideas how to perfect this technique that we may try next time.

    I did video tape some of it but I thought the kids fighting in the background was a little distracting. 🙂

  5. Our teacher once said he enticed a swarm down by clipping a frame of honey to a long pole.

    Love it!

  6. Anita, have you ever seen a swarm on the ground? We installed our second (ever) package of bees last night and this afternoon there was a pile of bees on the ground, about 6′ from the hive. It was about the size of a medium pizza pan. We had gone out with the plan of checking our first (ever) hive, which was about 1 month old, so we decided to do that first, then check the pile ‘o’ bees. In the meantime we called our wonderful local mentors. Hive 1 queen is a *layin’ machine* according to our mentor, and all appeared well. We went back to the pile and they were still swarming around on the ground. Our mentors came over and helped move the bees back to the hive, one-hive-tool-full at a time. Then dug the sod with the remaining bees up and moved it in front of the hive. We checked at dusk and it appears that they are camping out under the hive. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

    • Was there a queen in the pile of bees? Did you release the queen or leave her in the cage for the bees to chew out? It could be just a cluster of bees with no queen that got confused about the hive location. Package bees are very confused when they arrive and sometimes have trouble orienting, but it does sound odd. I have seen clusters on the ground near the hive when they are balling a queen and have also seen a swarm on the ground near a hive when a queen tried to swarm but could not fly and fell to the ground instead.

  7. Thanks so much for your reply Anita. Our *bee school teacher* came over today w/a nuc and some drawn comb from an old hive of hers. The put the nuc right next to the ball ‘o’ bees on the ground and they walked, strolled, sauntered in. Took about an hour Jerry said. So the nuc and the hive # 2 are right next to each other and all the bees are in one or the other. No bees on the ground. Our teacher thinks maybe the queen was not done mating and flew out and the others followed. (We saw the queen in the box, marked w/green. We replaced the cork w/marshmallow. They did not see the queen today. We hope she is in either the nuc or the hive # 2, which we are calling *Drama Queen*