Viewer mail: Swarm rescue with heavy equipment

A reader in Michigan writes:

I know that we are a long way from LA, but I have a story to tell that would not have happened without your blog. In the fall of 2010, we began investigating beekeeping. Your blog was one of the first I followed. I borrowed books from the library, my husband watched all the videos he could find.

In the winter of 2011, we ordered two packages of bees and beekeeping supplies. We felt that our chances of happening upon a wild swarm in west central Michigan were slim and we certainly weren't ready to open ourselves to removal of bees—we hadn't even kept bees.

Fast forward to this winter. We decided to order two more packages, one for my husband's mother and one for us in case we ended up with an empty hive. We checked on them went it warmed up and discovered we had two full hives survive a rather mild winter this year. We ordered more supplies so we would be ready, added more hive body pieces to our existing hives and were happily awaiting the arrival of our new bees.

Yesterday our new bees arrived. My husband installed our package and then we headed to his mom's. Everything went smoothly, more smoothly than last spring and last spring was a breeze.

Today, my little guy and I wandered out to our bee area to see how they were doing. Usually, I stop the little guy at a certain spot to happily dig and I continue on to the hives. When we stopped for my little guy to start digging, the volume of buzzing was greater than it should have been.

I looked up in the trees and spotted a swarm. I grabbed the little guy and headed back to into our yard. I put him in his play area, suited up and headed to the hives with a smoker. All three hives are agitated but seemed to be active. I didn't see any raiding, but I suspect the sugar water attracted the swarm. As they were 20 feet off the ground and I'm only 5, the only option was to wait for my husband to get home from work and recruit the neighbors.

Our first plan to reach the swarm was to call our neighbor Scott. Not only is he our neighbor, he is also the self-employed general contractor who just completed an addition to our house. The three of us have had many discussions about our beehives and chickens. He's interested in bees but not the point of keeping them himself. While discussing plans via email, Jason decided to contact Scott to see if he'd be up for a swarm retrieval. Had Scott not been available, we would have gone with plan B, an extension ladder.

To reach the swarm, Scott brought over a Pettibone hydraulic telescoping forklift. After a dry run, Jason stood on a piece of wood sitting on the top of the forks. I tried to bully Scott into wearing a jacket and veil in case something went wrong, but he wasn't interested.

We threw together some makeshift hive body pieces to get the new hive going and have ordered a better set-up. We gave them sugar water feeders inside the hive to reduce the likelihood of them needing to forage.

—Debra and Jason