One can never tell how many swarms there are going to be for any given season, and I was surprised to see so many people on the Association’s list…swarms are deemed the sign of “failure” and bad management, yet here are tens of people wanting them to repopulate their apiaries after losing colonies over winter. Perhaps we should appreciate this swarming impulse and wholly natural behaviour of the honeybee and rather than feeling disappointed or chastised, learn to appreciate the swarm for what it it: a precious and extremely valuable resource.

As I have said many times before, I manage my bees for swarming, that is to say I assume they will swarm and be on hand to collect them when they do. This is a conscious decision and I find swarms to be the absolute best way to start a new colony.

This year I have had 3 swarms from the Oak Tree bees:

The prime (first swarm with the original queen) is doing brilliantly:

I nadired these to give them a bit more room, and will check them to see if they need a top box.

The second swarm(s) from this hive appeared 11 days after the prime. I put the two halves in different hives: one in my Warré, the other in my friend’s Warré. Sadly his seemed to abscond – possibly due to the open mesh floor which bees really don’t like, so we have fixed an inspection board underneath to stop the draughts!

I found the third swarm from this colony 3 days later – the classic time period between casts. They didn’t seem hugely bothered about this queen, but then cast swarms normally have at least two. Here she is, running around being ignored by her sisters:

Spotting a queen in a swarm might sound like a veritable needle in a haystack, but once you get your eye in – practise! – you quickly spot both the difference is size/shape, and behaviour. They never fan, tend to walk around independently, and don’t tend to be fed, although the bees often cluster round her. This is why swarms are such an important learning experience as you get to see the bees’ group behaviour, and get an insight in to the function of the superorganism.

This swarm was reported to me yesterday as they were on a low fence near a footpath just by the South Downs Way. I don’t know how long they’d been there but they were dropping wax flakes underneath the cluster which usually shows they are raring to go with the comb-building:

On my way to collect them in the evening, I called in on another beekeeper’s swarm as he’d never caught a swarm and didn’t have a spare hive:

They are in a nuc box and I’m collecting them this evening. I will take them to the second Thermosolar hive at Berwick as I think they are a prime swarm.

In the middle of the day we went to collect a cast from another beekeeper, and I put this in one of my Warré hives in the apiary. There is a video of this on my Patreon: www.patreon.com/waywardbee

It’s a busy time of year, and thankfully the weather has been kind so the swarms have all done well. It’ll be interesting to see if the lower pollution levels will have an effect.

2 Replies to “Swaaaarms”

  1. I love your point that swarms should be viewed as a valuable resource. I used to try snd prevent swarming. It stunted the bees getting newly mated queens on time and stunted my honey harvest. Now I simply stay ready to catch a swarm when it happens. Thanks Jen!! Wonderful insight!

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