It is early spring and if you follow us on Instagram or Facebook you know our beehive recently swarmed. Today we want to cover: why do bee swarms happen and what you need to do. There are two main reasons that a honey bee swarm happens. First, we need to understand that swarming is part of a bee colony's natural instinct. It can feel very unsettling if you watch it happen but you have to remember it is a sign that the hive is healthy.
When Do Honey Bees Swarm
Honey bees can swarm at anytime but most swarming activity takes place from April through May. Bees don't swarm during the rain or when it is too cold to fly.
Which Bees Swarm The Most
First, all bees will swarm but Western honey bees aren't nearly as likely to abscond as African honey bees, (a hybrid of South American and European bees known as Africanized honey bees), which tend to swarm more and be a bit more defensive as well. We allowed our hive to re-queen one year and the results were a very aggressive bee. There are some advantages to beekeeping in the south (longer honey flow time) but with that comes the more aggressive bees in the area. We'll talk about how to avoid that later.
How Do The Bees Know To Swarm
Worker bees are able to detect when it's time to swarm due to overcrowding of the hive or the lack of pheromone production from the queen. In preparation for the swarm, the workers will deprive the queen of food in order to slim her down so she can fly. They will also agitate and run her around in order to prevent her from laying many eggs. If they are going to swarm, they will create new queen cells and allow the queen to lay eggs so a new queen can emerge and take over the hive.
What To Do If Your Hive Swarms
That depends on rather or not you want another hive. If you do not want another hive you can ignore the swarm. All you need to do is check your current hive that the swarm came from. You'll want to try and identify why it swarmed. In our hives case, it was out of room. To solve that issue we added on another box.
If you want another hive you will need to catch the swarm and place it in either a nuc which you can buy online or set up a new hive with a full-size brood box.
Catching a Swarm
Catching a bee swarm is easier then you think. The bees are less aggressive but I still suggest gearing up to be safe.
A swarm will not hang around for more than a day or two so you need to act quickly if you want to catch it.
1. Find a suitable container. You can use an empty nuc, beehive, a cardboard box, or even a plastic tote of similar dimensions.
2. Suit up and get ready. It is best to wear a bee suit in case the bees get agitated. .
3. Dislodge the bees. Hold the box directly under the swarm and give a strong shake to the object on which the bees are congregated.
4. Stand back and observe. You won’t get all the bees into the box with the initial shaking and sweeping, but as long as the queen ended up in the box the remaining bees will soon follow.
5. Wait for the stragglers. If you have the time, leave the box until dusk so that the scout bees will join the group as they return throughout the day.
6. Set up the new hive. Close the box, leaving the ventilation holes open, and transfer the bees into their new hive within 24 hours.
Learn More About Beekeeping
Learn more about beekeeping with our other beekeeping articles or if you're really ready to dive into beekeeping sign up for our beekeeping course! Our beekeeping course is ideal for new beekeepers and covers everything you need to know for your first year of beekeeping.