Doing our best to clean it up

Installing a “Forgotten” Swarm Hive

My neighbor’s bees are having quite the season, and recently he messaged me and asked if I’d like to take one of his extra colonies, a swarm that he caught earlier in the season. He hinted that there were some odd things about it, but he also knows I’m no longer “working” bees, that mostly I just love having them around.

He told me he would be by with them around 8:30 am, while it was still cool and dim enough up in the holler that the bees would be (hopefully) calm.

The odd thing about this colony was that he’d caught it weeks ago, then forgotten about it for a bit. And he got incredibly busy with the rest of his 20-something hives.

Normally when you catch a swarm, you put it in with 5 frames in a small box called a “nuc” (nucleus), or if you don’t have a nuc, you can put them in a standard 10-frame box with at least a handful of frames to get started with.

This one was in a 10-frame box with 6 frames in it, but the swarm was big, and my neighbor had been unable to get back to put 4 more frames in the box.

And the bees weren’t of a mind to wait on him, either. They quickly and happily did what bees everywhere do: they filled the 6 frames already in the box, then they built more comb.

In this case, they hung it directly from the inner cover in the empty space in that hive box: four gorgeous, orderly rows of it.

We talked about the situation, and made a plan to just install the inner cover with all its natural comb in my horizontal hive, push in the other frames to either side, add some empty frames for the bees to grow into, and figure out what more to do about the whole thing later.

So that’s what we did. Or at least, that’s what we tried to do.

That’s us in the photo below, lifting out the inner cover (it was heavy!!) and me looking underneath, trying to see what we had.

Checking what the bees built onto this lid
Checking what the bees built onto this lid

Of course, what we had was exactly what my neighbor had guessed: 4 natural rows of comb, mostly full of honey!

Unfortunately, the bees had attached their comb not just to the lid you can see in the photo, but also to the side of the box. Or else it was just very tightly packed, because when we lifted it out, we broke a lot of it, and the honey spilled everywhere.

LOTS of broken comb
LOTS of broken comb (4 rows of it)

While the bees had some brood growing in those 4 rows, most of it was honey, which is good and bad.

Bad, because we destroyed a lot of the comb, lost some of the honey, and accidentally drowned some of the bees. (Bees will clean honey off of each other, but there’s only so much they can do in a deluge of it like this.)

Good, because queen bees are rarely climbing around on cells filled with honey; they are usually busy around open cells where they can lay eggs. So we were pretty sure—or at least hopeful—that we didn’t hurt or drown the colony’s queen when we broke all that comb and made the transfer.

So we installed his lid and the broken but still attached comb in my hive, and stacked the other 5 frames plus some new, empty frames on either side the best we could.

The swarm will have plenty of room to grow now, if they decide to stick around long-term.

Installing clean new frames around the natural comb
Installing clean new frames around the natural comb

After all the bees and frames (and the natural, broken comb) were installed, we carefully pulled out and inspected the broken comb bits, and layed them in bowls and on top of the hive for the bees to recover the honey as best they could.

Doing our best to clean it up
Doing our best to clean it up

The empty hive box and the bottom board we stacked in front of their new home, knowing they would clean it up in a day or so, then I could return it to my neighbor.

The bees will clean up the rest of the messy bits and re-store the honey
The bees will clean up the rest of the messy bits and re-store the honey

By the time the sun was spilling down into the holler, the bees were back in bzz-ness!

Back in bzzness
Back in bzzness

One day later Lance and I returned the freshly-cleaned bee box and bottom board, then we went into the hive to make small adjustments and check that everything was as expected.

We have no idea if we’ll be able to cut out that natural comb eventually, or whether we’ll decide to just let it be.

Cutting it out will mean that we won’t accidentally break everything again if the bees attach the natural comb to the sides of the hive. Cutting it out would also mean much easier inspections.

It doesn’t feel particularly urgent to us, though; we have plenty of honey from our last harvest, and we’re just happy to have bees in the hive again!

2 comments on “Installing a “Forgotten” Swarm Hive

  1. Fascinating! What u live about this us how much compassion, cooperation, gentleness, intelligence shines through this story. We need more if this every day. Thank you.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      What lovely words, Maura. I so appreciate your taking the time to tell me this.

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