There are two ways to hive a swarm and I don’t think I really decided between them until the last minute. It was well into dusk by the time the last wary bees had gone into the box and I wrapped it in the sheet and carried it back to my garden. Knock them into the top of the open hive after removing three or four of the top bars (I’m using top bars rather than frames) or knock them onto the sheet on the ground with a ramp leading up to the hive entrance and watch the spectacle of them walking into their new home.
Here’s what I’d do in hindsight: with my hive being 3 foot off the ground and having a very small entrance I would knock the box into the top of the hive. Here’s what I did: I placed the wrapped box on the ground and put a plank (only 6 inches wide) up to the entrance. I knocked the box hard (I had learned timidity doesn’t pay) and took the box away. They walked around the sheet but nowhere near the ramp. I waited, it was nearly dark by now and they just weren’t going to walk up the ramp. OMG. What now? I couldn’t leave it to go and call the experienced beekeeper, it was after 10 o’clock and there’s only so much humiliation I could take in one night. My mind raced, what can I do? (What alcohol do I have in the house when this trauma is over?). I can’t leave them here for the night, I’m going to have to try and lift the sheet and put them into the top of the hive.
I took the plunge and some minutes later I had a whole new problem. The bees were clinging to the sheet, I couldn’t get them off and it was difficult not to squeeze a bee when trying to pinch the sheet and shake. In some despair I knew I’d have to leave it here as it was almost dark. All I could hope was they would find their way out of the tangled sheet and onto the top bars (one with some comb on). I placed the roof at an angle over the brood box to keep the dew out and felt relief that I could go indoors. Before I could salivate at the thought of an ice cold beer the sound of buzzing coming from the cardboard box caught my ear. Exhausted I decided to prop the box against the ramp and hope they’d survive the night. Swarms do say stay out overnight and I just hoped it wasn’t too damp near the ground.
A beer. Sleep of the dead. Wake at six o’clock with a mind immediately starting to whirr about how to save the situation. I decided to do a recce, no action, just assess the situation. I knew I’d have to remove the sheet. In the dark bees had been very placid and they don’t fly. I wasn’t looking forward to them dive-bombing me when they woke up this morning to yet more amateur interference. By eight o’clock the bees in the box had pretty much disappeared and I had seen no activity at the hive entrance. I feared they had gone. There was every chance the queen had been in the box or hadn’t survived the sheet shenanigans. With the hive looking as quiet as the grave I began to grieve for the lost swarm. All sorts of feelings came up after the tension of the previous night and now the realisation it had all been for nothing. The only saving grace was that this swarm wasn’t from my other colony as I had originally thought so there was still a chance I would hive a swarm this year.
I would have to remove the sheet just in case my other colony did decide to swarm and choose to move into the hive next door. I was going away for a few days so they’d have to choose it and move in by themselves (wouldn’t that be the easiest thing!).
Opening the hive to retrieve the sheet (by the way don’t use a fitted sheet, it really doesn’t help) you could have knocked me down with a feather, my knees were already feeling weak, because there inside on the comb bees were crawling around as if they owned the place.
The danger wasn’t over yet I realised after an initial euphoria as the queen may have been in the cardboard box and now left with a small entourage. But at least there was some hope. I watched bees making orientation flights and later in the morning I saw them begin to use the entrance. By the time I left at 4:30 pm there was a sense that all the drama was over and normal service would be resumed. What a relief! How easily it was all forgotten when the outcome turned positive (comparisons with birth or at least initiation?) but I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I know how it felt to have lost them. Welcome to your new home bees, I hope you’ll be very happy!