Home Beekeeping Bee Dazzling: What a Swarm of Bees Looks Like

Bee Dazzling: What a Swarm of Bees Looks Like

Bee Dazzling: What a Swarm of Bees Looks Like

bee swarm honeybeesThe calm after the storm; the swarm has landed. Earlier an explosion of high flying, darting bees commandeered the orchard’s airspace.

When Bees Split the Hive

I am a man awed by nature, the steadfast magic around me that continues to seep into my psyche leaving me delighted, gobsmacked and feeling like there are more questions than answers in this world. Yesterday, nature proved inspiring and dazzling and inexplicable once again, as my bees swarmed, leaving the old queen to exit the hive in search of a new home, while the new queen stayed put, undoubtedly measuring for new carpets and drapes.honeybees swarm in the vineyardThe bees getting organized; assembling to protect the queen, and perhaps reconsidering their choice of a tender young grape vine as a temporary outpost. (You’re looking at 6.75 pounds of bees.)

My friend Jon was visiting, trying not to wince after his first sip of sweet tea, when he said, “What going on down there? Looks like there’s some giant swarm of flies going crazy.” I turned to look, and immediately recognized that flight pattern: bees, thousands of bees creating a spectacular show over the treetops in my orchard. The hive was beginning to swarm.

The closer we got, the greater the frenzied buzz. (This should have been our clue to step away from the orchard.) Like a wild fire out of control, golden embers dotted the sky in frantic dances. The bees flew free and fast in patterns only nature and they could translate and understand. The usually gentle bees let us know we weren’t invited to this party, so we backed away and watched the best show in town from a safer distance.

My whirling wildfire was now turning into a concentrated winged cyclone, as the bees circled in closer and closer,  moving as one unit around the orchard. Within an hour, the bees began to land on my grape arbor, forming a sculptural moving mass of golden brown bees. The worker bees began to locate the queen via her powerful pheromone presence, and created a living and layered fortress around her.

large swarm of beesThis photo speaks for itself.

An hour later the orchard was serene, the frantic activity a mere memory with the original resident hive foraging about their business. The departing bees calmly amassed on a couple  sinewy grape vines, resting and planning their next move. While scout bees were out looking for the perfect new home, about 20,000 bees swayed in the wind in temporary housing.

I called my beekeeper pals David and Heidi for guidance. David was at a WSU Beekeeping seminar, but Heidi was happy to help when she returned to the island from her day job in Seattle. PR professional by day, Superhero beekeeper in her off hours. I watched, I listened, I learned and I thanked. Heidi suited up, somehow still remaining cute as a bug’s ear. I always look like a walking talking marshmallow or cotton swab in my bee suit.

beekeeper trim vine bee swarm Heidi trims the vine to remove obstacles for relocation.

After trimming off a few in-the-way vines, she gently lifted an empty 5-gallon bucket up and under the entire swarm, carefully coaxing in a majority of bees as if moving mashed potatoes into a bowl. With one or two brisk shakes of the vine, the remaining bees dropped into the thoroughly vented bucket, filling it completely.  The lid was snapped on top and we waited for the straddlers to may their way into the bucket through the side portals.

swarm of bees in a relocation bucketI’ll take a 5-gallon bucket of bees to go, please.

Gracie took one for the team, her deafness and curiosity about food-grade buckets did not serve her well that day. She sauntered in for a closer look when I wasn’t looking, and met the sharp end of a dutiful bee. I moved her away quickly, and she’s fine now. Boz kept his distance, resting up under the apple tree too exhausted to budge after a day of awesome dog adventures and milk bones. (Had this been a deer or squirrel roundup, he would have been all over it.)

bulldog couple Boz and GraGracie ponders what’s for dinner, while Boz can barely keep his eyes open. (Countin’ bees, before sawin’ z’s.)

Heidi took the bees back to her and David’s place where they will set them up in a top-bar hive and then return them to my place, because as the beekeeper saying goes, two hives are better than one.

Thank you Heidi and David. You two bee dazzle me with your knowledge, generous natures and sweet as honey dispositions!

Video of the Event: When Bees Swarm


  1. That’s a large swarm! You’re so lucky! This happened to us last spring, but by the time the cloud of bees finally settled, they were more than 40′ up in a coast live oak tree! There was no way we could reach them. All we could do was bid adieu. It is an impressive sight to see them though, when they first spill out of the hive. The air space definitely has a sense of organized chaos about it, and what really struck me was how loud the bees are in that state. At least you were smart enough not to walk through the swarm. I might not do that again 😉

    • Hi Sarah,
      I think you just have to check your city or county ordinances for having beehives on your property. I’m pretty sure in Seattle you can. Nice day to remember your Dad as a beekeeper — a noble vocation!

    • It is Jason, but within a couple hours the bees are seemingly docile and hanging with the queen until the scout bees say it’s time to headin’ em up and move ’em out!

  2. Fantastic pictures Tom…wow! What a sight that would have been indeed! Although…I am a fraidy cat when it comes to bees…but I love them for all of their beautiful honey, and for all the amazing hard work that they do.

    • Ina, I feign bravery; bees still leave me a little unsettle in swarm situations. It’s nice to have a mentor, so you can be guided through the process and the journey of keeping bees.

  3. I had my own experience with a swarm last weekend and David came to my rescue, thanks to your referral. Yours is the third swarm I’ve heard about this spring. Must have been a good winter for the bees!

    • I think it was a mild winter, for both insects, weeds and tender annuals and perennials — as it seems everything is back in full force and bloom, respectively.

  4. Wonderful photo! It’s heartening to see so many bees.

    I read that bees are dying off in alarming numbers due to Monsanto’s grip on seed distribution as well as pesticides. I’m amazed that it’s not front page news.

  5. Tom, great pix and description! It wasn’t until I saw your photos that the magnitude of this swarm really struck me. Happy to report that every last bee found its way in the bucket and tomorrow morning a handmade bamboo top bar hive will soon call Tall Clover Farm home with your extended Italian family in residence. Ciao!

  6. Bee-dazzling photos! Recently there was a swarm that attached itself to the door jamb of the business next to mine. Several of us were standing out on the sidewalk with our mouths open (fortunately, no bees went down our throats!) staring awestruck at them. One of us knew a local beekeeper who she called. He couldn’t come out right away, so I didn’t witness the removal. But it was a sight to see! I am in the Willamette Valley of Oregon…could this be a Pacific NW thing? (btw, Tom, I found your website and have been enjoying it immensely. You are a fine writer and photographer. Hope you don’t mind…I think of you as my “neighbor to the North”. lol. Have been to Vashon, but years ago!

    • Lucy, what a fine compliment you have paid me, neighbor! Thank you kindly. I was so glad I was home when this happen or at least out on the porch to be disturb by the ruckus and check it out. And, I love the Willamette Valley, such a beautiful part of an equally beautiful state. Thanks for introducing yourself. Well wishes, Tom

  7. What a great post!! How exciting and interesting. This is the first time I’ve commented, but I’ve following your blog for awhile now..I’m a parttimer on the island and work @ VCC. What a great old house and sweet pups, too!
    A friend of mine in Idaho also has a bulldog named Gracie…both adorable.and…and your lemon tart and apple crisp are both amazing..
    Thanks, Tom.

    • Hi Kristy,
      How great to make your acquaintance and meet you yesterday at the Farmers Market. Thanks so much for the kind words of support, and of course the bulldog love. BoZ and Gracie will definitely get the message. Take care and see you soon I’m sure at the Farmers Market.


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