Last year around this time, I wrote about trapping wild bee swarms in 5-frame mini-hives that I hung in trees. We received many letters asking for more information and updates on that project — in a nutshell, it worked really well for us. This approach to expanding or replenishing your bee stock will work fine with whichever beehive design you prefer (I prefer Layens, and my wife prefers Langstroth), so long as you build the mini-hives to accommodate the frames that fit your hive body type.
So, we set our seven bee swarm traps up in sentinel trees, and all but one became occupied by bees. We had some problems with squirrels, or possibly packrats, gnawing into a couple of the traps, which caused the bees to move on. And as so often happens at our place, when I should’ve been installing the trapped bees into permanent hives, the warm-season hay was ready to cut, and then the late-season hay was ready to cut, and then fences needed to be fixed … so I never got them installed. We wondered whether they would survive with such small colonies and high up in trees.
In spite of the cold, wet, long winter, the small feral colony that we installed in a single shallow Langstroth hive body (no super) in the midst of cool-season haying about four years ago thrived, and so did the bees occupying the traps still in the trees. To make things even more interesting, the colonies in the traps and that small Langstroth hive swarmed not once, but twice. We caught one of the swarms from each and installed them in prepared Layens hives, where they now thrive. We let the other swarms go because they were too high to easily reach, and we thought it couldn’t hurt to add to the wild honeybee resource.
Even more unexpectedly, we had several feral swarms choose a fence post in our garden, along with the hackberry crotch near the garden, where one of the swarm traps had been located. We brushed three of these swarms into cardboard boxes and quite literally dumped them into empty Layens hives that I’d built in winter. They’re also thriving.
We’re now completely sold on wild honeybees and letting them use their own resources to get through winter. Come spring, there’s still some honey and wax for us (our goal is not to maximize harvest per hive). We also now anticipate swarm season as an easy way to expand our apiary. As a side note, some of our hives are at my wife’s farm, about 25 miles from where we live, and last fall, there was one vacant hive among the several on that property. And with no baiting or fussing, that hive became occupied this spring all on its own. Folks in our region are experiencing quite a bit of colony loss, and more people are reporting that they see fewer honeybees. At this point in our wild honeybee experiment, we’re experiencing the opposite.
If you’ve had any positive experiences with bee survival in your area, I’d love to hear about them. Send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com if you ever have any stories or wisdom you’d like to share.
See you in October,