An idiot’s guide to collecting a swarm of Honey Bees…

Natural beauty…

29th August 2012 


For some time now I have been on the lookout for some Honey bees.  This generally involves a lot of waiting, daydreaming and luck.

Well my luck had changed.  On Wednesday 29th August I got a phone call to let me know of a swarm of Honey bees in a residential garden.  So I downed tools, got my kit, jumped into the car and drove “whilst adhering to the speed limit at all times” and made my way to meet the owner of the house to collect the house keys from them at their work place.

There was a little drive to the house which was quite easy to find but my mind was thinking on what to expect.  I have collected a few swarms before but always assisted by somebody.  This time I was going solo.

So I arrived at the house and immediately went in search of the bees, Ahh excellent… there they are… 8ft up in an apple tree, in the back garden.  They looked beautiful, inspiring, too beautiful to remove in fact, but I was there to remove them nevertheless.  I returned to my car and got all of the equipment needed to retrieve them such as: 
  • 1 x cardboard box
  • 1 x step ladder
  • 1 x bee suit and pair of gloves
  • 1 x mobile telephone (with camera built in)
The colony looked so beautiful in fact that I decided to get closer and take some snaps before I moved them.  So before I got into my full body bee suit, the ladder got put up close to them, then I climbed onto the second rung and was within 2 foot of them.  I took a few pictures and just watched them for a couple of minutes as this was truly a special moment for me.  They were so placid, not a single bee giving any attention to me, I was at one with some Honey bees. 

Upon closer inspection it became apparent that this was not a recent swarm as I was told on the telephone.  This was an established colony with food stores, brood and plenty of comb.

Ah, at this point I have remembered that I have forgotten to mention the weather that day, which was drying up after heavy showers.

As I was moving on the ladder, my wet boot, on the wet rung of the ladder slipped and I lost my balance.  My natural automatic response was to hold onto something to steady myself, this just so happened to be a branch of the tree, naturally… 

Now, what can only be called a “mass of bees” fell from the colony and landed on me; in fact they landed on my head, neck and shoulders.  Suddenly this once placid colony had thought I was there to do them harm.

Oh crap!!!

Luckily my automatic responses kicked in pretty quick and I jumped off the ladder, brushed the majority of the bees off with my hands, and headed inside the house and shut the door behind me to reduce the amount of bees following me.  Then I realised that there were still bees on me.
“Ow, ow, ow stop stinging me” I yelled. 

There were quite a few bees stuck in my hair who thought their best course of action was to sting my head and in doing so committing suicide.

Now frantically brushing bees off me, I realised that I have been stung many, many times, as in dozens, to be honest I wasn’t counting as my chin, cheeks, arms, neck and head were stung multiple times.  I began to think

“I have never been stung this many times before”,
“How will my body cope”,
“I’m here on my own”,
“Where’s my phone if I need to call someone? Oh crap it’s outside on the floor”.

A few minutes later all of the bees were off but I was still buzzing, literally…

The bee suit was now on; all zips were triple checked to ensure no more stings.  I was sweating, pumped on adrenalin but there was still a job to do.

So I watched them for a little while and they all returned to the colony and everything looked normal again.  This time, armed with a bee suit, gloves and cardboard box, I retrieved my mobile phone and returned to the second rung of that ladder to begin to collect the swarm.

The sweat was pouring out of me, but I managed to transfer 75% of the bees and their comb into the cardboard box.  I rested the box on the ground and went back inside for 5-10 minutes to see if I had got the queen and to let them settle down. 

All of their comb was kept and returned to them in a new home

Here is when I phoned a friend to let them know what has happened, after reliving my version of events to them I was greeted with hysterical laughter and some concern, albeit through laughter. 

After the phone call ended I returned outside to see what was going on.  There were still 75 – 80% of the bees and their entire comb in the box but there were still stragglers on their original position.  I saw some signs that showed me that the queen was in fact inside the box so after a couple more attempts to collect the remainder of the bees, I packed my stuff up and headed back to the car.

It was an interesting drive back to this person’s place of work, some of the bees decided to stay on me personally for our journey in the car.  Others helped me change gear by resting on the gear stick, some just stayed on the dashboard and enjoyed the view. 

I got out of the car and walked through a very busy outdoor shopping area whilst still wearing a beekeeping suit with approximately a dozen bees on me, it would not bee a surprise to you when I say that I got an unusual, retreating response from the public.  The crowd just got out of my way, and at this point the funny side of the events were beginning to kick in.

I did offer some bees to members of the public but had no takers sadly, so after handing the keys back and saying the job was complete I headed back to my car with a few less bees still clinging onto me.

It was a pleasant drive back to the workshop, where their new home was waiting.  We arrived in one piece “whilst adhering to the speed limits at all times”.  They were now very pleasant bees to bee around as I transported them into a National bee hive.  I returned their comb that they built back to them as it did contain lots of brood and food, which is rightfully theirs.  After ensuring they were settled, I walked away to remove the bee suit.

Now I realised something interesting… the stings that I received in the garden, quite a lot of them were still in me.  So for some 40 minutes the venom sacks were still pumping venom into my body because when it actually happened I didn’t remove them all. 

So I searched for venom sacks and sat down and watched the little darlings for a little while before heading back to the car and going home.  Once home, I was greeted with some sniggers followed by some food. 

When replaying the events in my mind later that evening I thought:

“What a great story that is” 
“Someone will really enjoy listening to or reading that”

So to summarise, what have I learnt from today’s events? 
  • That I can cope with multiple bee stings, even though I do not wish to repeat these events again.
  • To wear non slip footwear.
  • That if somebody did assist me today, there would be a video on its way to “You’ve been framed” or “You Tube” as we speak.
  • To remove all venom sacks ASAP.
  • That my automatic responses are pretty dam efficient.
  • To wear a bee suit when getting close to a colony even though I think I’m safe, something may happen.
  • That I am able to see the funny side in a very unusual situation.
Lovely to see the Ladies coming home
It looks to me their new flyers are getting to grips with flying