Just a few days ago, I watched my bee hive swarm, and it was an amazing phenomenon to behold. I stepped out onto my back porch and could hear a loud buzzing/humming. The hives are about 50 feet away from the house. I couldn't see anything from the porch, but I could hear the buzzing loud an clear! I threw on my shoes and made my way to the bee yard... and that's when I saw the swarm on the trunk of a walnut tree that was just about 20 feet away from the hive. The trunk of the tree was covered in bees. Thousands of them! While I found this sight to be fascinating... if you didn't know anything about bees and swarms, this sight could make you feel pretty nervous. If you see a swarm of bees, don't be alarmed and please don't get out a can of bug spray! Here's what's going on when you see a swarm and what to do about it:
As the spring season warms up, honey bees become more active and sometimes they can outgrow their hives. When the queen decides that she'd like to move to more spacious digs, she will take about half of the hive's population with her they will head out to find a new home (leaving the other half of the hive to carry on as usual and they will make themselves a new queen). The queen and her crew will swarm onto a branch, tree, building, etc. and wait until her scout bees come back with some good news -"we found a new place to live!" So when you see a swarm of bees, hanging from a branch... those bees are just hanging out, protecting their queen... waiting for the scouts to come back with that good news.
If you do see a swarm, the best thing to do is to call a local bee keeper to come and collect them. Bee keepers often have extra hive boxes at the ready for when a swarm shows up. The hive boxes are just the thing that the queen's scouts are looking for... a spacious new home for their queen! If the swarm is hanging from a branch, the bee keeper will just clip the branch and put it in the hive box. If the swarm happens to be in the wall of an old building or on a tree trunk, the task of re-homing them might be a bit more tedious... but many bee keepers are willing to give it a shot!
To learn more about honey bee swarms and to find a local bee keeper you can always check with the Iowa Honey Producers Association. Or check out the listing of honey producers on our Southeast Iowa local food directory.
In the case of my bees, we weren't able to capture the swarm from the tree. With them swarmed on the outside of a tree trunk, 6 feet above my head, there was no way we could reach them to safely capture the queen and lead them into a new hive box. We ended up setting up a new hive box about 20 feet away from the original hive box, and hoped that the queen's scouts would find this new box before they moved on. But as some rain clouds rolled in, we noticed that the whole swarm began to lift off from the tree and moved back to their original home. They bearded on the outside of the hive box for another couple of hours... and by nightfall they were all back inside the hive box again. We are leaving our empty hive box out for them, just in case they get the urge to swarm again.