Capturing a swarm of bees

March 27, 2009 | By | Comments (9)

We’ve been working on the May issue of the magazine, so I didn’t have time to blog about the rest of the high drama in the beeyard that began when Betty swarmed last week. She first swarmed on a Tuesday, then on Wednesday, another swarm left the hive, puddled on the ground, and then crawled back, ending up underneath the hive. By that evening I only saw a few bees sniffing around the stack of clay pots near the hives. It looked sad, like they’d lost all their girlfriends and were trying to figure out what to do. I thought we’d lost another bit of Betty.

But the next morning we found a small swarm on one of the clay pot stacks!


Bee Team member Brianne, who belongs to the Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild, had just attended a lecture about how to capture a swarm. She calmly and surely scooped the bees into the box we’d prepared as a trap box (we cut a hole into the side and put some wax inside—it’s supposed to be enticing to bees on the prowl for a new hive).

Yes, it’s a xerox box. Yes, we’ve heard the jokes about the bees replicating.


The bees tumbled right in, with a little help from a bee brush. They were so docile. Like little kittens (with stingers). They were huddled and sweet, and seemed a little dazed. They never once tried to sting us, although if we had somehow hurt the queen or threatened them, they would have. But slow, steady, and careful handling keeps bees calm.

We figured we’d gotten the queen that was in the middle of the swarm, because after we put the lid on the box, bees ringed the hole in the box, bottoms out, and fanned for all they were worth, spreading pheremones that told the other bees “hey, Her Majesty’s in here!” The bees we hadn’t caught poured up to the box and into the hole, just like they are supposed to do.


The box of bees went to Tom Vercoutere, of the Beekeepers Guild Of San Mateo County. He’s been so generous with his help as we stumble through our first year of beekeeping, we thought we’d give him the swarm as thanks.

This week has been calm in the beeyard, although Betty (or what’s left of her hive) sometimes clumps up at the entrance of her box. We’re not sure what’s going on in that hive. We hope that the bees planned well and prepared some queen cells so they’d have a new queen after they swarmed. There have been plenty of drones, so she shouldn’t have any trouble getting mated. Hopefully she’ll start laying eggs soon.


  1. Margaret

    Hi Deb
    Thanks for your question. Yes, that hive swarmed, probably because they needed more room, or they had more than one queen. Nothing really “went wrong.” The bees were just doing what bees do.

    October 11, 2010 at 6:10 pm
  2. deb

    just saw this article. I hope you’ve figured out by now what went wrong. Any updates?

    October 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm
  3. Margaret

    Hi Carolyn
    The girls seem to be settling down. But yes, there was a big queen change. Check out the latest post:

    April 3, 2009 at 8:23 pm
  4. Carolyn Fairman

    Thanks for the link! I hope the hive settles soon, though I doubt they worry about restless ground or water compared to known instincts to head out to new areas when there is queen change — is that the cause here?

    April 3, 2009 at 4:11 am
  5. Margaret

    Hi Gwen,
    There is undoubtedly some restless ground under our hives; this is California, afterall. Earthquake territory!

    We’ll be moving the hives slightly next week to make room for our new hive. Perhaps that will make a difference to them.

    April 2, 2009 at 7:03 pm
  6. Margaret

    Hi Carolyn,
    Yes, I agree, encouraging solitary bees like mason bees is much easier than keeping honey bees. We actually have a story on our website about how to encourage native and solitary bees. Try this url:

    April 2, 2009 at 7:00 pm
  7. Carolyn Fairman

    Have you thought about setting up mason bee houses?

    Looking that swarm, some solitary bees could be an interesting contrast.

    It might be more do-able for homeowners, versus a complete bee hive (no honey though so less one-block-diet and more gardening).

    April 1, 2009 at 3:53 am
  8. Gwen

    My mother is a beekeeper and I remember her saying that sometimes bees tend to swarm more when they are standing on a spot that is restless, like a watervein. Maybe you want to check that and relocate the beehive that makes most trouble a few feet. She pacified her “worst” beehive with that method.

    Kind regards from Europe, Gwen

    March 30, 2009 at 8:14 am
  9. Alison Wiley, Portland Oregon

    Good post. Beekeeping strikes me as quite brave, something I might eventually aspire to do. My fruits and vegetables won’t sting me :).

    March 29, 2009 at 4:16 am

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