PREVENTING YOUR BEES FROM SWARMING IN MAY
Updated: May 31
May is synonymous with swarming. Swarming is the beekeepers nightmare.
There is a lot of theory about managing and preventing swarming. Last year I lost 3 lots of hives that had swarmed and split. It was annoying, as in real terms that was £750 worth of bees flying out of my apiary into the wild.
There is has been a lot written about swarming, but I’ve concluded it’s simply a natural process that is difficult to stop and manage. Never the less here is a synopsis of the information I have to impart to you about swarming.
The collective intelligence of a colony decides when to swarm. When the conditions are right, one third of the worker bees of your colony will stay at home to rear a new queen and the other two thirds , that could be up to 20,000 bees will fly off with the old queen to create a new colony.
How do bees decide to make such a complex decision, get it right and end up in a small hole in a tree 3 miles away from their home when only a few hundred actually know where they are going?
The swarming process starts on a calm warm day when the bees settle 10 – 20 metres from the hive they have left. Easy for the bee keeper to intervene IF they are there!
The queen then arrives, to keep the swarm cluster together.
A swarm has the ability to regulate its temperature.
The swarming sequence
1. Choose Nest site and criteria
2. Reaching a consensus in the hive before they swarm
3. Initiating a take off
4. Steering the swarm
5. Landing at their new ‘home’
What we have learned from bees behaviour ?
From dealing with swarms we know
1. They regularly settle on the same tree or other location in an apiary – due to pheromones left by previous swarms
2. Swarms generally settle near the hive and hang in a cluster before they seek out a new home. ( This may take hours and is the best time to collect the swarm)
3. Before flying to their new home the swarm must raise its temperature to 35 degrees. Spraying cool water on a swarm can slow them down enabling you to collect them, as it gives you more time.
Managing and Preventing Swarms
There is a lot written on managing swarms, but even the most skilled beekeeper cannot control a colony of bees that is about to swarm, other than being there, monitoring them, watching where they go and them re capturing them using a skep.
You wish to minimise swarming because
1. You don’t want to lose your best queen
2. Diminish the amount of honey collected
3. Weaken the colony to the degree they don’t survive through the winter
The Trigger's for swarming
1. Congestion in the colony- too many bees in the brood chamber with no enough space for the queen to lay, or not enough room for bees to unload pollen and nectar
2. Older queens produce less queen pheromone, which may result in a colony preparing the swarm or creation of supersedure cells to replace her. If you attend my 3rd and 4th June course I will explain what these look like, and even show you some from my colonies.
You can mitigate swarming in your colonies by
1. Adding drawn comb to the brood chamber when needed
2. Replacing old and mouldy frames
3. Adding supers when honey flow starts- that basically is right about now this year.
These 3 things can delay swarming.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, it is part of one of my training sessions that will be delivered in June, so, if you have not already contacted me to reserve your place, please do so, as spaces are limited.
I am only delivering one course this year, which will strengthen and increase your practical knowledge of beekeeping and inspections and meet more bee keepers in an attempt to share your practise, knowledge and develop your skills even further over the weekend. You may even buy a hive or some bees from me before they’ve had a chance to swarm!