Help! My bees are SWARMING! Well, maybe they are – bees do that, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if what they are doing looks like this video, they are not swarming, they are orienting, and it’s completely normal for them to orient any (or every) nice afternoon this time of year. Your queen can lay thousands of eggs a day. So once she gets rolling that means that on any given day all of the eggs that were layed about 3 weeks earlier hatch out. Those bees hang out, clean house, feed babies for two or three more weeks – and then they all leave the nest to start gathering nectar. Since they have never been out of the hive before, the first thing they do is fly around and get their bearings. It sure looks like they might all be getting together to leave for good. But they don’t – usually.
A swarm puts a lot of bees in the air too, and it could be hard to tell the beginnings of a swarm from an orientation, but here’s the thing – once a swarm gets to this point you can stop worrying. The train has already left the station. As a matter of fact, swarm preparations start weeks before the actual swarm, and can be very difficult to stop.
Experienced bee keepers remove queen cells to prevent swarms, but unless you KNOW what you are doing you can cause a hive to become hopelessly queenless by removing cells.
A hive swarms because it is healthy and has lots of bees, brood and food – it is how honey bee colonies reproduce. The swarm will leave behind a hive that is full of food, brood, plenty of adult workers, and queen cells which will soon hatch out into new virgin queens. About 3 weeks later more or less one of those queens will be mated, and you should be able to spot brood.
If you have a hive which you think has swarmed, and you have another hive, it is a good thing to give the queenless hive a frame of mixed brood once a week until you know it has a mated queen. Even if you plan to requeen it with a store bought queen it may be best to let them make a new one first or there is a very good chance that your new expensive queen will be killed because the hive already has a virgin or newly mated queen.
This time of year bees do things like orientation flights, and bearding on the outside of the hive that makes new bee keepers worry that they are about to swarm – which they might – but it isn’t a disaster if they do. It’s just time to be a bee KEEPER instead of just a bee HAVER.