days 6 - 12: sandcastles and swarms
Time is flying! It’s starting to feel like so long ago that Jessie’s family came to visit - her mother Lynn, husband James, and daughters Abigail and Hannah who have the best imaginations in the world and filled my free time with treasure hunts, boats to China, secret notes, and sandcastles:
Rock castles and sand watermelons with Hannah
Sandcastles, hammocks, and secret notes with Abigail
In bee land, two mornings this week started with catching swarms. The second one was up so high in a tree out by the road that Kwao had to find an extra long piece of bamboo and attach a crocus bag to the end. To catch a swarm you can use boxes, bags, or almost any kind of container that fits the situation. Because a swarm can be there one minute and gone the next it’s a good idea to have your swarm catching equipment ready at all times, especially during swarm season. Once this week we went to catch a swarm and it was gone within 10 minutes.
Swarm catchin (picture above by Jessie Brown)
Aside from a container, other equipment to bring when catching a swarm is lemongrass (oil or leaves), a smoker, and a friend. Lemongrass mimics the “attractant” pheromone created by the bees’ nasanov glands, which scout bees release when looking for a new home. The smoker you’re mainly keeping around in case the bees become agitated, but you don’t want to directly smoke the bees because it can cause them to scatter. If the bees seem like they are getting testy and trying to sting the person who is catching them, blow some smoke on/around the person to give them a little forcefield.
Some beekeepers will also put a frame from an existing hive in the container to help lure the bees. With the big bamboo catch, Kwao put a frame laid out with young brood and honey directly in the crocus bag. Last Sunday when we checked this colony was alive and well, and we transferred it to a full sized top bar hive that now belongs to Joshua.
The fun thing about swarm catching (besides the rush of adrenaline - if I could start every day catching a swarm, I could maybe quit coffee) is that it requires creativity. Bees can swarm in an attic, on a powerline, a roof, anywhere. Les Crowder in his book Top-Bar Beekeeping even talks about catching one in an abandoned outhouse toilet. Because every swarm is unique and requires its own solution, the impression I get is when catching a swarm you need to think fast and tap into your inner MacGyver.
This is probably where the original idea for the bee vacuum began. Yes, a bee vacuum! I did not know these existed until last week and it blew my mind. Here’s the diagram Jessie made me with beeswax candles and a rubber band (100% MacGyver). The straight candles are the hoses and the ovals are the chambers:
The best case scenario with a swarm is if they’re gathered on a tree branch or anything within reach that you can shake. If you’re lucky, sometimes it’s as easy as shaking them into your container and then brushing the remaining ones in with your lemongrass or any grass or leaves that happen to be around, closing it up and then shaking them again into the hive you’ve prepared. The prepared hive should have lemongrass leaves or oil on the inside, and ideally some frames from two other hives containing young brood, some empty comb, and honey. If it’s not best case scenario, you might use a bee vacuum, or come up with your own MacGyvery trick.
Thank you, Jessie and family for bringing joy to Jamaica. We miss you!