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Beekeeping for All:

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Warré Beekeeping
Taking Swarms

swarms_dh_yglyn_2011.jpg (66566 bytes) A prime swarm hanging at eye level with no encumbrances (David Heaf)

1. Taking directly into Warré boxes

On pages 96 and 97 of Beekeeping for All, Warré illustrates three ways of taking directly into Warré hive boxes swarms that have landed on trees:

  • smoking the bees up into a Warré box,
  • shaking the bees down into a Warré box and
  • brushing the bees down into a Warré box.

When driving the bees up into a box with smoke, it helps if the rim of the box is in contact with part of the top of the swarm. If the box already smells of bees, and, better still, has some brood comb in it, the bees will very likely enter it with little or no need for smoke.

swarms_jh_box_over_swarm.jpg (48452 bytes) A hive box is placed above a swarm on a fence post (John Haverson)

Brushing the bees down into a box is one method of choice for when the swarm is on a support that cannot be shaken, for example a thick bough, a tree trunk, a fence or some other rigid structure. It helps if the box can be snugly located under the swarm. The bees also respond best if the brush is the outer wing of a large bird such as a goose. Some commercial bee brushes seem to irritate bees.   

If using a Warré hive box as a receiver for shaken swarms, it is helpful to have the top bars secured and on those affixed a properly prepared top-bar cloth held in place by a thin board, which may be lightly pinned or stapled to the box rim. Once the bees are shaken into the box, it may be either gently inverted directly on a hive floor (or on a second box with top-bars and floor) immediately adjacent to where the swarm was taken, or simply inverted on a sheet or board. The rim of the box is then propped up with a stick or stone about 25 mm thick in order to provide ventilation and allow the flying bees to enter. Once the bees that took to the air are seen joining the swarm in the Warré box, one can reasonably assume that the queen was taken in the first shake down. Download a PDF of an actual case (0.7 Mb).

It is common practice to leave the taken swarm until evening when it is hived. Warré advises hiving no earlier than an hour before sunset (pp. 82-83). As the swarm may have been taken in the morning and will thus have to wait several hours before hiving, it helps to reduce the risk of absconding due to overheating if the taken swarm is immediately placed in full shade. If natural shade is not available it can be improvised by means of a board, leafy branches etc. 

2. Taking into some other receptacle

Traditionally, swarms are taken into a skep. Here is a video of shaking a swarm into the bottom skep unit of a sun hive (Weißenseifener-Hängekorb Beute): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HndNezyzWGw&feature=em-share_video_user

More or less any receptacle is suitable for taking swarms, though ideally it should be one in which the bees can easily grip the surface when it is inverted and the cluster allowed to hang from the bottom. A cardboard box is ideal, especially as it is comfortably light for when swarms have to be taken with the aid of a ladder. The bees will gradually reduce the cardboard in the bottom of the box to powder, but not before several swarms have been taken in it. In extremis, many other receptacles have worked fine, including buckets and waste paper baskets.

swarms_jh_cardboard_box_shake_down.jpg (81963 bytes) Cardboard box positioned ready to receive a swarm (John Haverson)

It helps to have a piece of cloth with which to cover the receptacle immediately the bees have been shaken into it. This helps reduce the number taking to the air. When the receptacle is inverted by the swarm site immediately after the bees have been shaken in, the cloth can be spread out on the ground. The receptacle is propped on a stick or stone about an inch thick (25 mm) in order to provide ventilation and allow the flying bees to enter.

3. Transporting swarms before hiving

Traditionally, a swarm taken in a skep may be transported wrapped in a sheet. This provides sufficient ventilation for short journeys in the cool of the evening. The same would apply to any other receptacle used to take swarms in. However, purpose-built swarm boxes can be obtained from beekeeping suppliers. These provide for safe well ventilated transport. Here is an example of a swarm box made by Warré beekeeper Kai Serschmarn:

swarms_rh_box1.jpg (48983 bytes)

The top is removable for receiving the swarm. The side is removable for ventilation.

swarms_rh_box2.jpg (53015 bytes)  swarms_rh_box4.jpg (88205 bytes)

The swarm box is sized to match a Warré box. If the taken swarm is to be hived in a Warré the Warré box may be placed over the swarm box immediately after taking the swarm. The hive can be clipped to the box. Bees that have taken to the air can enter the box via the closable entrance hole near the top of one side. An important advantage of this design of swarm box is that the bees can immediately start building combs which are not going to be lost later on. This also reduces the risk of a swarm absconding after hiving. When hiving, the bees don't need to be shaken into another hive as the Warré box is just gently lifted onto a hive floor.

The following box is one of David Heaf's Warré-size bait hives which also serves as a swarm box:

swarms_baithive_dh_front_left.jpg (41945 bytes) swarms_baithive_dh_inside.jpg (53764 bytes)

The box features top and bottom vents for opening during travel; a rear window; closable entrance, simple roof, top-bars mounted against a propolised top-bar cloth on a board. The top-bar unit can be lifted out and lowered into a Warré hive. Alternatively, if the box is to be re-used as a bait hive, the bees can be run in or shaken in to a Warré hive in the usual ways. More details of this box are available here.

4. Swarms that present particular difficulties

i. Cutting the branch

In some instances, it is not easy to get a receptacle under the swarm. One solution is to cut the branch with care and transfer it directly to a hive or other receptacle placed  immediately below the swarm site. Here is an example:

swarms_rh_cut_branch_swarm.jpg (59058 bytes) Photo: Kai Serschmarn

If the branch is small enough it can sometimes simply be cut and lowered into the receptacle or cut directly into it. Here is a video of Bill Wood using this method: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePiYUIaOyuQ.

ii. Transferring in batches

The following swarm was in a situation where neither brushing nor shaking was possible because of its intimate association with ivy-covered willow tree branches.

swarms_willow+ivy.jpg (108556 bytes) Photo: David Heaf

Instead of trying to perch a Warré hive box over the swarm, the bees were transferred to a swarm box on the ground in batches, by placing a brood comb against the top of the swarm. When the comb was heavy with bees, it was taken down the ladder and shaken into the swarm box. This was repeated several times until there were very few bees left in the tree. As bees began to gather round the swarm box after the first batch was shaken in, it was likely that the queen was taken at first go.

5. High altitude swarms

Swarms high in trees are sometimes difficult to access even with a ladder. Beekeepers have had some nasty accidents trying to take such swarms. Some devices can be made or bought to make such swarms reachable. The following five photos compare Larry Garrett's swarm catcher, made from a 20 litre water bottle and some pipe fittings, with a traditional long-reach swarm catcher (skep on pitchfork), and a bag with a draw string to close in the taken swarm (Abelo Beekeeping Equipment).

swarms_lg_catcher1.jpg (13278 bytes)  swarms_lg_catcher2.jpg (15251 bytes)  swarms_lg_catcher3.jpg (27064 bytes)  swarms_skep_on_pitchfork.jpg (47635 bytes)  swarms_bag.jpg (27579 bytes)

All sorts of domestic utensils can be pressed into service for swarm catching. Here is a version by Andy Collins (Perthshire) comprising a 12 litre kitchen waste bin and a telescopic window cleaner.

swarms_ac_catcher1.jpg (19513 bytes) swarms_ac_catcher2.jpg (39840 bytes)

The following video (in German) shows a somewhat more entertaining and probably more expensive long-reach catcher which is intended to deliver the swarm to ground level after shaking it off the branch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pknmz7EHs40. The device comprises a length of PVC sewer pipe with a wider pipe at the top to act as a funnel and sometimes a bag at the bottom to catch the bees. Its name in German 'Schwarmfangrohr' translates as 'swarm catch tube'. Here are some photos of Bernhard Heuvel's swarm catch tube: http://www.immenfreunde.de/forum/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=426 .

Here is an even more unorthodox way. One shot dropped a bee swarm from high up in a pine tree. The bee swarm was just out of range for a telescoping ladder. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8ULv_KdW84

6. Hiving your swarm

For hiving bees in the Warré hive please see the page on hiving.