If you've never seen a wild bee swarm, it evokes a giant double take as you realize that weird dark mass you see is made up of thousands of bees. Ryan texted me while I was at work with a picture that said "This is on our fence." I had to zoom in, and then immediately worried they were OUR bees. We couldn't be sure if they were, and I'm still not.
When a colony swarms, only half of them leave. Prompted by over-crowding, the queen and half of the bees peace out to find a new home. They leave behind an unhatched queen to rule over the bees that stay. It essentially splits the hive in two. A week after this happened, I still have active bees and can't detect a population change. But I do have queen cells in my hive -- a sign that they hatched a new queen. So it's likely these did come from my hive. Chalk it up to lazy beekeeping (aka pregnant beekeeping) that I didn't prevent them from swarming. Though I'd recently given them more space so it may have happened even if I'd been more diligent. Sometimes nature takes its course.
After work I immediately hopped on my bike and hurried home, hoping they'd stick around. Not having any extra hive boxes I texted my friend Deano to see if he wanted them at his farm. Wild swarms are valuable -- equate it to buying hundreds of dollars worth of bees. He said he'd be over ASAP, and brought along master beekeeper David Stalker to help capture it. Never having dealt with a swarm, it was lucky to have David's expertise.
The tricky part was the bees being intertwined on the chain link fence. David decided most of them were on the outside, so he climbed over and laid out a sheet and capture box. Deano gave the fence a couple hard jolts and down they fell. Most of them landed in the box as planned, but a lot fell on the ground.
A successful capture means getting the queen safely in the box, so we waited for a few minutes to observe signs that we gotten her.
And suddenly, as if they all received the memo simultaneously, all the bees on the ground started marching toward the box in a river of orderly agreement to go to their queen.
After about 10 minutes it seemed that we'd gotten a critical mass in the box. And confident the queen was inside, David swaddled up the box in the sheet and handed it off to us. I urged David to be careful getting back over the fence and he reminded me that he is a "tree climber and marathon runner," and I exhaled and officially stopped worrying for the day. Deano drove home with a few loose bees in the back of his car. And I waved goodbye to about 50,000 of my girls who were off to a better home.