Swarm: Be Careful What You Wish For!

I’ve been saying that New Zealand is a hub of magical energy; you no sooner put a thought out into the universe, than the wheels start turning and the thought manifests itself, often in ways one may not have expected.

Spring is a busy time for bees and for the beekeeper. Our bee book says that one should check the hive every ten days for new emerging queens. Many things can cause a hive to swarm, especially the addition of a new queen.

Well, we’ve been busy with the new Wainui property purchase and Bruce hasn’t had as much time to keep on top of the bees although he’s had every intention of it. He’s been talking about properly splitting the hive and bringing a hive out to Wainui {the wish}. He’s gone and gotten the equipment to make new boxes.

And this is what happened:

Bees in Trees

TUESDAY, Oct 23:

After taking a few days to build the super (the additional top box which allows for the harvestable honey), Bruce went out on this beautiful warm & sunny morning and added the super to the other two boxes (requires full bee suit, opening up the top of the existing box and adding the new one on top).

An hour or so later, as we were chatting in the kitchen, I looked out the window and saw hundreds of bees haphazardly buzzing about the yard. “Huh, that’s weird. Are they swarming?” I said. “Hmmm, don’t think so, but I don’t know,” says Bruce.

Now let me preface this with an earlier story. About two weeks prior, I came out the front door one morning and could hear a very loud buzzing. I looked up and there were several hundred bees near the roof, buzzing around in a wide circle. I wondered if this was a swarm and went and got Bruce. The bees circled higher and higher and were moving in a giant swirl down the road. Within ten minutes we watched them travel past four or five neighbors’ houses and on further. We didn’t know where they came from and we didn’t think they were from our hive as we’d been out in the yard and our bees seemed ‘normal’.

Bee SwarmBees Swarming

So back to the story. We curiously watched the bees buzzing all over the yard – they were flying around at an average person’s height level. Then within a short period of time, they started moving higher and bunching up more closely together. Within two hours, they had settled high into one of our trees on the property, perfectly clustered together into a beautiful cone formation. It was amazing and stunning to watch.

Bee Cone

Yes, we had just witnessed a swarm.

“Wow, what luck” we said. “They stayed here on the property which means they must want to stay with us.” With some head-scratching, Bruce went to his bee book to read up on capturing swarms. He got out the ladder to see if he could reach the hive, but couldn’t. The hive was a good six feet out of reach.

Bruce talked about cutting the tree down with our newly purchased chain saw. It’s a tree that we’d thought about taking down last year as it blocks out afternoon sun from the veggie garden. Friend Amba was appalled that we would even consider cutting down a native Totara tree. I wasn’t too keen on it. An after a careful ponder, Bruce decided against it too.

Instead, he parked the van close to the tree and strapped an open bee box on top. In the box were two honey frames from the existing hive; he was hoping that the scent of honey would draw them down.

Nothing more could be done today.


A nor’wester blew through bringing very high winds. The bees were not paying much attention to the bee box on the van. The trees were swaying and the bees hung on. Friend Amba dropped by, we all stared up at the bees, and she says, ‘Have they moved lower?” {another wish} to which I reply, ‘Nope, for sure not.” Late in the day, dark clouds rip open and we are pummeled with a ten minute hail storm producing quarter-inch-sized hail balls. I don’t think the bees were amused.


Another warm & glorious day. The bees are active. They are relocating lower in the tree! We watch in awe as they descend in formation and re-form two smaller hive/cones about six feet lower – within reach from the ladder. The time of reckoning is upon us.

ConeKathy & Bruce in suits

We both don our bee suits about an hour before dusk. The bees are settling down at this time after an active day. We spread a big sheet on the ground underneath the cone just in case they drop. Bruce starts the smoker. He climbs the ladder. We snip off some excess branches. Ooooh, he’s less than a foot away from the cone. Glorious.

Smoking the beesReaching for the beesSnip!

It’s time. One, two, three, snip. With one hand on the branch, and one hand awkwardly controlling the loppers, he makes the cut. The force of this action jolts the bees and half of them come tumbling down onto the sheet. A third are still clustered onto the branch which Bruce gently puts into the box. Bruce snips down the second smaller cone. The bees are startled and start buzzing around. We pick up the sheet and drape it around the box with hopes that they’ll crawl off and re-form in the box.

Bees on BranchBees on Sheet

FRIDAY, Oct 26:

Bruce is up at dawn to check on the bees. They’re still clustered on the sheet so he has to gently shake/scrape them off. By mid-day they’ve formed into two groups in the box. Bruce caps the box and let’s them settle in.

Bees in boxBee branchBee home

Here they’ll stay for a couple of weeks to get used to their new home. Bruce will create more frames and complete the box and then we’ll take them out to Wainui.

We have a second hive!