Catching Swarms

Every spring, beekeepers you may know will get just a little giddy at the mention of “swarms.” While members of the general public conjure up some low budget Hollywood disaster movie, to a beekeeper a swarm is everything from “free bees” to an invitation to an adventure.

Honeybees swarming are not something to be feared. In most cases, bees in a swarm are at their most docile. Full of honey before they left their last home, these bees are waiting for scout bees to locate new possible houses while they literally hang out – on your fence, the side of a house, maybe a nearby tree.  The scouts return to the bunch of bees, describe the potential home and the bees “vote” on which one they like best. Once the consensus is reached, the swarm will leave their spot and follow the scout bee to their chosen location.

Swarms have a very short life span, 3 to 5 days so if you see a swarm, please don’t spray it or swat at it, visit for a list of area beekeepers who will come out to catch the swarm.

To go after swarms, beekeepers are like first responders, vehicles packed with extra bee suits, possible helpful equipment like a ladder and empty hives in various sizes. If one is lucky, a beekeeper can entice a colony into a new home with ample space, hive frames already with places for the queen to lay and maybe a whiff of honey.

To keep the bees happy, a beekeeper must feed the colony and, in half the cases, replace the old queen.

Even with good care, the national figures indicate 40% of all caught swarms make it through their first winter so in spite of all of the work, there still is a good chance the bees won’t make it.

Honeybees are amazing tiny little creatures and quite docile when found in a swarm because they have nothing to defend. This worker bee stopped on my finger for a short rest. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a gardener, beekeeper and sometimes cook, for more visit Published by Kaleidoscope Weekly with permission. Copyright 2018, all rights reserved. This column may not be copied, published, reprinted, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at

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