It’s swarm season y’all!
Swarming is a totally natural and expected behavior from honey bees. However, while it might be instinctive for bees, it is in the beekeepers best interest to prevent swarming.
Like most creatures in the animal kingdom, bees reproduce and split in order to keep their colony and their species thriving. Bees begin reproducing at a high rate in late winter (January/February in the Treasure Valley). Therefore, come spring time, their hive often has more bees than it can hold. Further, the spring weather came very early this year! Many of you with thriving colonies may have noticed that your hives are fuller far earlier than previous years.
Swarming can occur because of multiple factors, but in general, it occurs because the hive has too many bees and resources than the hive can accomodate. Therefore, the hive will create a new queen by laying multiple swarm queen cells. These cells are much larger than other brood cells, and often looks like a peanut shell hanging from the bottom of a frame. See the image below.
Next, the living queen will suddenly leave the hive with about half of the bees and find a temporary new home somewhere else (usually a tree branch, shrub, or other easy-to-hold-onto location nearby). This is the act of swarming! From here, the swarm will send out scout bees to find a better location for a more permanent home.
Swarming is unfortunate for several reasons:
1 – It leaves your original hive with half the bees, sometimes even less!
2 – You now have a virgin queen that cannot lay eggs until she is mated. This can take several weeks.
3 – This knocks your hive way back in strength and greatly impacts the honey production.
4 – Finally, swarms can cause some unnecessary panic from neighbors that think a bee-pocalypse has just occurred in their backyard. Rather, swarms are harmless in nature. They are focused on finding a new home and not in protecting a hive. Therefore, you can basically stick your hand into the bundle that forms and not get stung. However, your neighbors may not understand or appreciate this concept.
Bottom line is – PREVENT SWARMS. There are a lot of ways to do this, which I will go into detail for future blogs, videos, and classes. For now, here is a link to an article I have found helpful.
Keep your bees buzzin’ (and in your hives!) y’all!