How To Hive A Bee Swarm
Bees swarm mostly during the mid spring to mid summer months although they can occur at other times depending on seasonal conditions, food availability, room in the original hive and sometimes just because! While it looks very dramatic when you see a tumbling mass of bees coming your way they are usually very docile as they have just gorged themselves on honey before they left the hive and are a bit like you after a big lunch - full and wanting to lie down and have a rest.
Eventually these tumbling masses will settle somewhere and cluster. It could be just about anywhere but quite often you will find them hanging from branches, on fence posts, sides of walls, hanging from verandah roofs etc. Once they have settled you can think about bee swarm removal.
Considerations BEFORE You Remove The Bee Swarm!
Removing or rehiving a bee swarm is best done in the evening when it has started to cool. All the bees will cluster and the scouts that are out looking for a more permanent home will return to the swarm.
You must gather a few things before you start removing the bee hive. Obviously you will need something that you can seal off (but not airtight) to place the bees in to move them to their permanent home. A cardboard box and packing tape is usually easiest but you can use rubbish bins with lids, plastic or polystyrene boxes you can cover, buckets with lids - almost any object where you can cover the ends to ensure the bees don't escape. Depending on where the bee swarm is you may need a pair of secateurs or garden saw if the are on a branch or a dustpan and brush if they are on a fence or wall. A smoker is handy if you have one but definitely not essential. As I said earlier - the bees are USUALLY placid at this stage as they are full of honey. Having said that - they will still sting if they feel threatened! Which leads us to clothing.
Ideally - use a proper bee suit and gloves. If this is not available I would caution you about going any further. However - if you insist then I would suggest thick clothing (jeans, flannette shirts on top of t shirts), good thick gloves and something to cover your head and keep the bees away from your hair. Also a pair of googles are good if you have them because bees will go straight for your eyes given half a chance. Remember - bee stings hurt like hell if you are not allergic to them. If you are allergic then please do NOT even consider going near the swarm.
Collecting The Bee Swarm
Depending on where the bee swarm is this can be very easy or very difficult and dangerous. Bees and heights are never fun - if the bees are up high and you are doing this up a ladder - it can be very dangerous. When in doubt - get in a professional!
If the swarm is hanging from a branch - place your box, bucket or whatever you are using directly under the swarm. If you have a smoker - give the swarm a couple of puffs of smoke but use it sparingly (ie just enough to pacify the bees). Too much smoke will make bees angry! Cut the branch CAREFULLY a little away from the cluster and GENTLY place the bee cluster and branch in the box below. Close up the box but leave a small gap where any loose flying or crawling bees can climb into the box and join the cluster. Leave the box where it is for 30 - 60 minutes and you will find that almost all of the loose bees will find there way in. If you disturb the cluster too much and the queen takes to the air - you will find that either the cluster will reform in an hour or so OR most of the cluster will disappear somewhere else but a few thousand bees will remain and annoy you for the next couple of days.
If the swarm is on the side of a wall or a fence post or something object - place your box as close as possible to the swarm and then sweep or knock the cluster into the box. Again - seal it off but leave a small gap for the loose flying bees to join the others. This may take a bit longer as you have probably stirred them up a bit so leave them for a good hour or so.
Hiving The Swarm
Once the bees have settled in the box - you can seal it off completely and then move the box to wherever their new home will be. If you the box you have used is their permanent home then it is just a case of place the box where ever you want them and opening the hive up. However in most cases you will want to transfer the bees to another, more permanent home.
Once you have set up the new permanent hive box, place inside some empty frames. NEVER, NEVER put a swarm in a box with sticky or full frames of comb. Remember - they have just gorged themselves with honey before they left the original hive and their honey sacs/stomachs are full and need to be disgorged into comb once they have found a new home. Ideally you should place in at least 4 frames of foundation or good dry brood nest combs or a combination of both.
Empty the cardboard box into the hive, place the lid on but leave some gaps and then place the box on its side in front of the door to the hive. This will allow the remaning bees to climb into the hive. Hopefully very quickly you will see some bees come out of the front of the hive and "fan" the scent of the queen out. This will attract all the loose bees and tell them where the new home is.
Once The Bee Swarm Is In The New Hive...
Allow the newly hived swarm to settle down in the new home for few days before you inspect them. Sometimes you will lose a swarm within the next 24 hours or so because they don't like the new home. There are various ways to discourage this (give them a frame of eggs/brood, place a queen excluder over the entrance for 24 hours to name a few) but sometimes they go anyway.
You should inspect the hive after 4-5 days to check for temperament, disease, if the queen is laying and how etc. Bear in mind that this queen is usually the "old" queen from the original hive so it may pay to think about replacing her in the not too distant future.
Bee swarm removal is part of what I do in the West Gippsland area of Victoria, Australia. If you need more information feel free to contact me by leaving a comment and I'll reply as quickly as I can.