Wild bees don't like to be separated from their queen.
Illustration by Fotolia/cirodelia
I have worked up a few simple tools and techniques to gather wild bees, and the tools are always at hand during the swarming season. One of these is a strong ten-foot pole with a heavy hook screwed into its end. This brings most swarms within my reach, though sometimes I must also stand on top of my truck. Another device, and without doubt the best single discovery of my beekeeping career, is an enormous funnel, about two feet wide at the top and narrowing to about four inches at the neck. Rather than hiving bees where and when they are found — which is strangely a common practice among beekeepers — I merely dislodge them into screened swarm boxes, using the funnel, then hive them at times and places of my own convenience. In addition to these two special swarm-gathering implements, I have the usual ones: pruners, both large and small, a small buck saw, a length of cord or clothesline, and a few small queen cages.
Ideally a swarm should select as its clustering point the end of a fairly small branch of worthless sapling, about four feet from the ground. And actually, swarms do that, more or less, fairly often. I then merely prune the branch near the cluster, trim away twigs and leaves, and either dislodge the swarm into one of my swarm boxes or carry it to a nearby hive in need of occupants and dislodge it there. If I use a swarm box, I can cart it home and, if necessary, store it in my cool basement for a few days, then deal with it at my leisure. The bees do not mind this in the slightest, just so long as their queen is with them.
Usually, however, swarms are found clustered in less convenient places — in a thornbush, for example, or a tangle of vines. I prune it away as best I can, taking care that the cluster does not get broken up or scattered if this can be helped. If at all possible, in such cases it is best to get the funnel and swarm box under the bees, then shake them all in as well as one can. Bees that are left outside will cluster on the outside of the cage in a few minutes, provided, again, that the queen is inside it.
Of course, the swarm is likely to be overhead. The pole will usually bring it down to within reach. If it would require a ladder to get the swarm, I usually force myself to ignore it, to pretend I never saw it, and proceed with other things. No swarm is worth the risk of getting hurt.
EDITOR'S NOTE. This article was excerpted from The Joys of Beekeeping, copyright ©1974 by Richard Taylor and reprinted with the permission of St. Martin's Press, Inc.