Swarm in a Cable Box

August 20, 2020
P. Michael Henderson

I received a call about a swarm that had moved into a cable box in someone's front yard, close to their mailbox, and they wanted the bees removed.  I called Elizabeth and together we picked the bees up in the evening about 7pm so that the foragers would have returned to the hive.  We used the bee vacuum to get the bees out of the cable box.  It was a good-sized group of bees.  We didn't take any pictures of our extraction but here's a couple of pictures of the location I took a few days later.

The bees had moved into the cable box indicated by the yellow arrow.  It was near the mail box and the owners of the house were afraid they'd get stung.

Here's a close-up of the cable TV box.  When we picked the bees up, the top was the opposite way with the hole at the other end.  Looks like they reversed it after we left.  The bees were using that hole as the hive entrance.  There was a small amount of drawn comb in the box, but not enough to use for the hive I put them into.  Finding bees in a cable TV box is pretty common here.  I've extracted a number of hives from boxes like this.  The bee vacuum really works well to collect the bees but can also pick up dirt and small stones.

I notice that the homeowners have not blocked up that hole.  I warmed them that once you have bees in one of these boxes it's very common to have another swarm move in.  I think it's the smell of comb that draws the next swarm.  I suggested they use duct tape or steel wool to block up that hole.  I may get a call from them next year.

We took the bees to my place and put them in a hive of one brood box.  I put in two frames of drawn comb and put a queen excluder between the brood box and the bottom board.

I also made sure there was oil in the stand to keep out the ants, and I fed them some sugar water.  To help avoid robbing, I narrowed the entrance with a piece of wood.

I peeked into the box a few days later and thought I saw some eggs but wasn't sure. 

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9/8/2020 - It's now been 19 days since we hived the bees so I decided to take a look.  Worker bees normally take 21 days from egg laid to emergence so there should be lots of capped brood if we have a queen.  The queen wouldn't have started laying immediately but we may see some 16 day old brood.  Judy came with me to take pictures.

Here I am opening the hive - just to show you what I put the bees into.

I had put the two frames with the drawn comb in the center and you can see that the bees are clustered around those frames.

A closer view of the bees and those two frames.

I removed the leftmost of those two frames and it was covered with brood on both sides.  The queen has really gone to town.  Note that the brood has very few empty cells in the middle of the brood field.  This is a good sign, of healthy brood.  I didn't try to find the queen - seeing all that brood is clear evidence that she's there and doing well.

A close-up view of some of the comb showing some larvae.

This is the other frame of drawn comb.  It was covered with brood on both sides.  I expect the bees to make more comb and fill the frame with comb.

I removed one of the frames next to the drawn comb, which has plastic foundation, and the bees are beginning to draw out some comb on it.  A good sign.

Since they have so much brood, I removed the excluder.  Bees will almost never abandon brood so I don't have to block the queen from leaving.

All-in-all the bees look like they're doing very well.  They have a lot of growing to do before I'll need to put any more boxes on the hive but by next year I may be able to harvest some honey from them.

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[Update 10/8/2020 - 49 days since the cutout]  I took a look into the hive today to see how the bees are doing.  There's lots of brood but mainly on the two frames of drawn comb that I gave them.  There's a bit of brood on the frame with plastic foundation next to the two frames of drawn comb - that is, the frame on the left of the drawn comb when observed from the back of the box.  The comb they added to the drawn comb I gave them is very irregular.  Mostly I just leave it but when they get strong I may take the two original frames of drawn comb out of the box so that the frames are more regular.

There was a small amount of capped honey outside the brood area.  If times get tough I'll have to feed them this winter - or move a super of honey from one of the other hives.  I'm reluctant to put a lot of honey into the hive because it can cause robbing.

They were a late swarm and late swarms don't have a lot of time to build up stores before winter.  Here in southern California we always have nectar available but not as much in the winter.  What seems to happen is that wild hives settle in small cavities.  Then they fill the cavity before winter and, because they're so full, they throw off a swarm late in the year (like this one).  If they had a bigger cavity they would wait until spring nectar flow to fill the hive and then throw off a swarm.  But I'll try to keep them going until spring when they can build up naturally.  They seem to be using the honey and pollen brought in for brood (to build up the hive) rather than storing it for the winter.

The bees are very mild but that's common for small hives.  I'll have to see what they're like after they build up to two brood boxes.  Hopefully, they'll stay mild or I'll exterminate the hive.

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[Update 10/30/2020 - 71 days since the cutout]  I looked into the hive today as part of my smoker tutorial.  The hive is growing but fairly slowly.  The brood covered about three frames and there was a reasonable (but small) amount of honey stored.  If we were in a location where it got really cold through the winter the hive would never survive - but here in southern California the bees will be able to fly and gather nectar most days in our winter.  So they have a chance to survive.  I'll feed them some sugar water to help them.

I hope this is not a swarm from someone's hive of European bees.  If so, the varroa mites will eventually kill the hive since I don't treat with chemicals.

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[Update 12/24/2020 - 126 days since the cutout] I took a quick look at the hive.  The bees are starting to draw out comb on the plastic foundation and have some brood on a couple of those frames.  They also have some honey stored around the outside of the brood but it's not a lot.  I fed them some more sugar water.

The weather has been cool, with the nights in the 40's but the days in the 60's so the foragers are going out and bringing in nectar and pollen.  We have a couple of cold months coming up - January and February - but I think the hive is going to make it.  I'll keep feeding them if necessary.

The bees are still pretty mild but I smoke them before going into the hive.  Just have to wait until they build up larger to see what their temperment is.

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[Update 2/8/2021 - 172 days since the cutout]  Since my last posting, I've added a second brood box and one super.  The bees have been very active at the entrance so I could tell they were doing well but I took a look inside today.  They have began building brood comb in the second brood box and have maybe two frames of good brood there.  Lots of honey outside the brood area. I didn't even go into the bottom brood box - it was clear they were doing well and growing rapidly.

No temperment problems - they're very mild.