Swarm Call!

a honey bee swarm in a tree
A nice fat swarm just waiting to be caught!

Today I received the first swarm call of the year and just picked them up. I figured an explanation on the ways that I have collected swarms might be useful and/or informational. Swarms are usually quite docile and easy to work with. I’ve seen swarms form on a second story window, on the ground, and the most common on tree branches (from eye level clear up to 30-40 ft up in the air). The biggest challenge with capturing any swarm is getting the queen in the box and then letting all of the other bees follow the queen.

The first thing you will need to do is get your name and number on one or more of the swarm call lists that are around and about. There is a spot here on our website for this. Once you have your name on the list you really just have to wait for a call. While you are waiting for someone to call with a nice big swarm you’ll most likely want to gather all of your equipment so it’ll be ready to go when you do get the call.

pickup truck full of swarm stuff
If you're a dedicated golfer you keep your clubs in your trunk just in case - same goes for swarm collectors!
a rubber maid box used for swarm collection
At the bare minimum you'll need a box to collect the swarm in. I use a Rubbermaid container that has a lid attached.

At the bare minimum you’ll need a box to collect the swarm in. I use a Rubbermaid container that has a lid attached. I will also take along a cardboard box or two since you never know when they might come in handy. I’d also take a veil and any other clothing/equipment that you want for you to feel comfortable working with bees. While swarms are quite docile I have probably been stung more while collecting swarms than when working my hives. Almost all of the stings were due to mistakes I made due to inexperience or carelessness. You can leave the smoker at home, some people will use a sugar water mix to spray the bees down with before working with them. I don’t and really haven’t seen the need to do anything to the swarm before working with them. Some other things that I include in my box of swarm catching equipment are:


  • Roll of Duct Tape (tons of uses)
  • Piece of Bug Netting (I use with the duct tape if I’m worried about the bees getting out of the box mostly if I’m transporting the bees back in something other than a truck)
  • Ladder (Bees wont always consider whether your good at climbing trees or not)
  • Feather (I use it to brush off the bees when closing the box, could also be used to brush the bees into the box)
  • Bee vac and 100ft of extension cord

These are the things that I take along with me however if you have anything that you feel might help you get the queen in the box then by all means take it along.

Once you get the call you will want to make sure you get some information before heading out. An address (directions if you need them), phone number and Name are a good start. Also ask whether you will need a ladder to get to the swarm, I would consider taking a ladder anyways since I’ve had a swarm move from an easily reachable position to a much higher location which I needed a ladder to get to. But if I can avoid taking my large extendable ladder I will.

catching a honey bee swarm with a helper
The easiest way I've found and the one that I have used the most is to hold a box underneath the swarm and just shake the branch. It can help to have someone to hold the box while you shake the branch.

I’ve learned from experience that one quick tug or jerk of the branch is usually sufficient to dislodge most of the bees. Shaking the branch up and down repeatedly tends to infuriate the bees, the one time I’ve tried that they stung me multiple times. I’ll shake them once then set the box down and wait for a couple of minutes to see if they reform the swarm on the branch. If they reform on the tree then I’ll repeat the shake and wait process until they start to swarm around the box. Its pretty easy to tell when you’ve got the queen in the box, all of the bees will fly off and start looking for the queen. It is quite a sight to see a large swarm turn into a huge cloud of bees all around you. Then I’ll close up the box leaving the bees a crack or opening to get into the box. The next step is easiest of them all, just wait around for the bees to join the queen in the box.   Generally after about 15-20 minutes the bees will have mostly be in the box and I’ll load them up to take home. You could wait longer but there always seems to be 20-30 bees that are a bit slow and never can find the queen.


The only other way I’ve collected swarms was with the use of a bee vac. There are multiple designs and types of bee vacs available on the internet. I use a square container from kitty litter that I’ve drilled three holes. One hole connects to a small shop vac I got from Lowe’s and another connects to the hose I use to collect the bees with. The last hole has another piece of plastic that rotates around the hole so I can vary the vacuum that is generated. I also cut out a piece of foam that sits in the bottom of the container that theoretically will give them a softer landing. The best thing to do to avoid killing lots of bees while using the bee vac is to adjust the vacuum so you are barely sucking the bees into the hose. I use a pool hose because I had one laying around, however a smooth hose would make things easier and probably be a bit less bumpy for the bees. The process is about the same, the bees will generally let you vacuum them up with very little resistance. It is a bit easier to tell when the queen has been vacuumed up however since the bees will suddenly all fly up and form a cloud looking for the queen. A bee vac will most likely be overkill for 90% of the swarms you will encounter but it can come in handy with the other 10%.

bee vac design on beesource.com
pdf bee vac design on beegeek.com

dumping honey bees into a hive
Once you get the bees home it’s as simple as dumping the bees into a box and getting some frames into box for them to populate.
a swarm being hived
Ideally you would give the bees drawn comb however I don’t have any extra laying around so I give them plain old empty foundationless frames.

Some people use a frame of brood from an existing hive to make sure the bees don’t leave before they’ve had a chance to draw their own comb. So far I haven’t had a problem with the bees leaving once I’ve placed them in a hive but it’s something to consider if you’ve got a spare frame of brood lying around. You will most likely want to feed the bees unless there is a major flow happening.


These aren’t the only ways to capture a swarm but merely the ways I have used to capture a swarm. Where the swarm is located will also determine the best and/or easiest method to grab a swarm. For instance if the swarm is located on the ground you can just put the box over the swarm and slide a piece of cardboard under the swarm and then turn the box over. The varying circumstances are part of the fun of catching swarms. This will be my second year as a beekeeper and catching swarms, so I’m no expert by any means and I’d love to hear of different ways you have caught swarms.

March – Ready or Not – Swarm Season begins…

Caution – the videographer utters the s%$t word a couple of times in this video taken in Illinois.

What a swarm! But as you all know, as much as bee keepers might like to catch swarms we don’t want them to issue from our hives. If you plan to do anything to try to prevent swarms from your hives it might be time to take action – if not now, then soon. The mild weather this winter may very well have things ahead of our normal schedule.

Swarming is when the old queen in a strong colony leaves with a big chunk (a really big chunk in the video) of the foragers to establish a new colony – and the existing colony raises a new queen.  When the swarm issues it usually regroups in a nearby tree or bush – or sometimes on the ground or the side of a municipal building – for a while as scouts look for a suitable cavity to become the new home.  Once they agree by means of honeybee democracy on the new address they go to it and set up housekeeping.  As you saw in the video there’s a window of opportunity (usually just a few hours at most) for a beekeeper to put them into a box and convince them that it’s a mansion fit for a queen bee.  If they stay long enough to build comb and produce brood then they are home for good.  Sometimes they don’t, but things like lemongrass oil (or other swarm lure) old comb, or live brood comb from another colony can help to convince them to stay.  Swarms usually produce lots of new comb very quickly.

What can you do to prevent swarms? That’s a good question since swarming is how a colony of bees reproduces itself – attempting to prevent swarming is interfering with ingrained nature, and it is never a sure thing. However we gotta try.

Removing Swarm cells – is only effective if you get every single one of the them, and even then swarms often issue as soon as queen cells are capped – about 8 days after the egg is layed.  Unless you religiously check every few days, and never miss a cell your hive will swarm.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not that good at spotting cells, and checking every single frame of every single hive in my growing apiary at least once a week…  it’s not happening. BTW, if you DO remove queen cells make absolutely sure that you still have a laying queen first The queen may have already left!

Reversing hive bodies – this is probably the most customary method of swarm prevention. Basically all you do is take the box of empty comb from the bottom of the stack and move it above the box that contains the brood nest – don’t do this if there is still brood in the bottom box or you might create a situation where the brood nest is split between the bottom of the box that is now on the bottom and more brood at the top of the box which is now on top – and empty comb in between. If the weather gets cold enough the cluster may abandon one clump of brood and let the other one freeze.

Checker Boarding – As you might remember Mike Haney did a presentation on this method last fall.  Walt Wright – the inventor of Checkerboarding claims that if you do it correctly this method is almost 100% effective – however it requires a good bit of honey and empty drawn comb.  But, if you have the resources you can CB early (Mr. Wright says that he has already done it on some hives in Elkton TN) and it doesn’t involve any manipulations of the brood nest at all.  The purpose of checkerboarding is to get the bees storing nectar above the brood nest instead of in it.

How to checkerboard – to do it correctly you need two boxes of honey and one box of empty drawn comb.  Above the brood box alternate frames of empty comb and honey in two boxes so that the honey in the top box is above empty comb in the bottom box – then on the very top put a full box of honey.    You can not do this with foundation – you must have empty drawn comb, however Mr. wright says that although he hasn’t ever tried it there is no reason that he knows of why it wouldn’t work if you substitute comb filled with heavy syrup for honey.

Adding supers / Giving them more space to store nectar – Some bee keepers just put supers of empty comb on when dandelions start to bloom.  Unfortunately, the word on the street is that doesn’t work very well if you don’t have drawn comb – which second year bee keepers often don’t.  They will ignore foundation and back fill the brood nest and swarm despite all that empty space.

festooning bees
Festooning bees - chains formed by bees when they are preparing to build comb.

Opening the Brood Nest – this is a method endorsed by Michael Bush and which does not require drawn comb – so even Second years can do it.   Once the bees start producing wax you will see a small amt of white wax on top of the frames.  Open the hive down to the brood area.  If the population is strong open a frame sized space in the middle of the brood nest by removing a non-brood frame on the outside.  If the bees start to festoon in the space within a few minutes then put a foundationless frame (a regular empty frame without any comb or foundation but with a comb guide such as Popsicle sticks in the top slot) into the space.  Keep opening spaces, checking for festooning, and inserting foundationless frames (each foundationless frame should have brood frames on both sides of it) until they run out of bees to quickly fill the open spaces.  If you have to remove brood frames to do this then put them together above the middle of the new brood nest and fill the spaces to the sides with comb if you have it or foundation (or foundationless frames) if you don’t.  When you inspect a week later most or all of the empty space will probably be filled with new brood comb.  To be effective you have to continue to open the brood nest in this way throughout the swarm season.  Michael Bush said that this should probably be done about 3 weeks before the hive would have swarmed.  That’s the trick though.  Last year swarming started strongly in our area during the first week of April, but may well be sooner this year.

Splitting – Once drones are present (which they already are in our area)  strong hives can be split to help prevent swarming.  Splitting has a good chance of preventing a hive from swarming even if the hive has already begun making swarm cells – as long as it hasn’t actually swarmed yet – but sooner is better than later.  The most preferable way to make a swarm prevention split is to find the queen and remove her along with the frame she is on to a nucleus hive in a new location in the apiary.  Along with the queen get at least another frame or two of brood (and the bees clinging to it) and a frame or two of stores to fill the nucleus hive.  Then shake the bees off of another frame or two into the nuc.   All of the foragers from the nuc will return to the old hive, but in a few days some of the remaining bees will start foraging, and the nuc will quickly start to grow.  In the mean time the old hive will raise a new queen which will start laying in about a month.  If you want to insure that the old hive is successful in producing a queen then swap a frame of brood from the queenright nuc once a week into the old hive – shake most of the bees off first, and make SURE you don’t accidentally move the queen, and also make sure that you don’t transfer a queen cell into the queenright nuc.  If you do this it is virtually certain that you will end up with two queen right colonies in a few weeks.

If you simply can’t find the queen splitting a strong hive  may still head off swarming.  Just follow the directions above, and when you inspect a week later you can determine which hive has the queen by the presence of young open brood.

I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones I know.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the beginner’s short course yesterday.  I don’t know how many people were there, but it far exceeded my expectations.  We did our best, and I hope that everyone found it helpful.

If you want to participate in the TBA hive grant drawing at the next meeting you must be a first time bee keeper, and you must sign up for 2 years with the TBA before Thursday.  The only way to do it is to go to the TBA website,  print out the form, and mail it in with a check – by Tuesday so that you will be in their system.  You will also have to register (for free) your apiary location with the State using this online  PDF form.  Don’t worry, you won’t be inspected or anything unless you request it, or there is a disease outbreak.  It’s a good thing, and it’s the law.

Also – as previously mentioned – we must have full and final payment for your bee orders at the next meeting which will be this week on Thursday March 1st at the usual location 6:00 PM – hopefully in the big room this time.

Don’t let your bees starve! They have young mouths to feed, and weather can keep them from foraging.


Cut Out Frame

If you ever have to do a cut out – or repair collapsed comb in a top bar or foundationless setup this works great.

Don’t forget the Beginning Bee Keeping Short Course this coming Saturday at 9:00 AM. If you want to get in on the hive grant drawing it (or another like it) is required.

Also, the March meeting will be on Thursday March 1st – Next week! If you’re getting bees you Must have them paid for in full by the meeting. If you can’t make it to the meeting then you need to send a check or make some other arrangement. Seriously, we have to pay for our order in full right after the meeting.

Cookeville Bee Keepers
453 E. Whitehall rd.
Cookeville, TN

Bee Keeping in February

The first thing that Cookeville TN area Bee Keepers need to do in February is plan to attend our regular meeting on Thursday February 2nd – TTU South hall – chat and mingle from 6:00 with the meeting beginning at 6:30 PM.

H.L. Foust  of Sunrise Apiaries in Cumberland county – purveyor of bees and beekeeping supplies will be our guest speaker at this meeting.

We will also be taking orders at the February  meeting for package bees, so bring your check books.  Eligible new bee keepers will be able to find out more about the TBA hive grant program as well.

In the Apiary this Month –

  • As always, don’t let them starve!  Add sugar, candy or fondant if needed.
  • Begin or continue feeding pollen substitute if this is part of your plan – once you start don’t stop until weather and natural pollen allow the bees to provide for their selves.
  • Sometime during the last third of the month you might want to  plan to reverse hive bodies if you have a dual brood box system – but only if all of the brood is in the top box! If brood is split between two boxes when you reverse you will “split the brood nest” and cause a lot of potentially fatal stress.  Obviously you have to inspect the hives to accomplish this – so watch the weather forecast for a a suitable day.  Not everyone does this manipulation, but the purpose of it is to attempt to prevent swarming.
  • Plan to add honey supers around March 15 – so arrange for that woodenware soon!

See you at the meeting!

Bee Keeping in January

granulated sugar being fed directly to honey bees using the mountain camp method
One of the safest and easiest ways to provide emergency food to your bees is the so called "Mountain Camp" method - granulated sugar placed right on top of the frames. A feed shim or empty super can be used to make room for the feed.

At the last meeting it was mentioned that we need to do a better job of talking about what bee keepers need to be doing in the near future instead of what should have been done last month.  So-

First of all Plan to attend the regular January Meeting on Thursday January 5, 2012 @ 6:30 pm –  TTU South hall.

You might think that there isn’t very much for a bee keeper to do in January, and there is a certain amount of truth to that, however…

As you know here in mid TN we can have nice weather almost any time – on one of those sunny days when the bees are flying and the temps are in the 50s take a quick peak into the top of your hives – no need to use smoke, but do wear a veil.  Does it look too wet?  If so you probably need more ventilation. Is the cluster all the way at the top?  You might need to feed candy or dry sugar.  Don’t stress your bees by opening the hive too much or too long, but a quick peak on a nice day won’t hurt.

Don’t let your bees starve! There was very little nectar produced in our area this fall and if you have any doubts about the stores that your bees have you can still feed them – dry sugar is one of the easiest ways to provide emergency food.  This subject was covered in the Oct 2011 Kelley newsletter.

Speaking of the Kelley Newsletter – sign up for it – it’s a great source of that “what to do this coming month” information that was previously mentioned and will hit your inbox just in time to use it. There are several very fine beekeeping resources on the web where you can find or get your questions answered just about any time – just fire up the Google and type in “bee keeping” or even “why did my bees swarm?”  Great entertainment on a cold winter day. You-tube has many informative videos as well.

Some people feed pollen substitute in the form of patties or candy beginning about the middle of January to stimulate a quick and early spring build up.  Educate yourself before deciding to do this, and once you start you need to keep it up until the weather and nectar flows are consistently good – or else all that brood you stimulate will eat your hive out of house and home and they may all starve in April. Personally – I had good results feeding Mega-Bee (from Kelley) made into candy last year.

If you are interested in buying any package bees NOW is the time to take action on that – soon they will all be spoken for, and you won’t be able to get them until the Spring season is well underway.

Now is also the time to get together the equipment you will need next year.  If you started with bees last year and your bees did pretty good you will probably need more room for them. Don’t wait until your hives are full of honey or your bees are about to swarm to try to find (and assemble) frames and supers to fit your hive setup.  If things go well you might need a stack of supers taller than you are – plan ahead.  Also seriously consider buying or building an extra hive setup – or a nuc – so that you have some options in case you get the chance to catch a swarm, or need to make a split to prevent one.  If the warm weather we are having continues you might need that equipment sooner than you thing – Like in February.  Don’t wait.

Just a heads up – late February/March  is when the swarming process can start – about the time you see dandelions in bloom. In April when you see queen cells in your hives, and a cloud of bees flying around the train has already left the station, so plan to deal with it before it starts by reversing hive bodies, adding supers, checkerboarding, splitting or some other means depending upon your available resources.

See you at the meeting!


Easy Mouse Guard

This video from Germany (I think) is showing robber bees crowding in through a little hole above the regular entrance. It also shows a really simple way to attach hardware cloth mouse guards using push pins.

I did a spot inspection today and my bees were robbing like mad. Trying to anyway. Every hive I checked still has at least some brood – in one I even saw quite a few eggs. But they all seem to be well stocked up for winter – so I’m finished feeding sugar syrup for the year.

After Thanksgiving I will be putting small hives on top of big hives with double screen boards between, and applying sugar or candy to all of them to serve as emergency stores.

That’s about all I can do for a while other than wish them luck.

We will be voting for new officers at the next meeting – so plan to come or we might elect you in absentia.

Home Remedies for Honey Bee Maladies

A very populous hive of bees
The white material is what remains of an Essential Oil pad after a few days.

Before I step out on a limb I should first tell you that the USDA approved way of treating your bee hives for mites and diseases is to use a USDA/EPA approved treatment which has been scientifically tested and approved for those applications – which are produced of course by the nice folks in the  agricultural chemical/pharmaceutical complex  who produce the ag chemicals that get sprayed on crop fields next to your apiary.

The regimen that I am going to tell you about here may not even work.   The main reason that I think it does work is that since I started keeping bees in 2009 I have yet to lose a single hive (other than a few small, weak, queenless mating nucs – which have secumbed to hive beetles) to any parasite or disease.  I over wintered 10 hives last year – all of which were strong in the spring, and produced my first ever honey crop this year.  There may well be some other factors at work and they may all die tomorrow –  So use your own judgment.  However, I’m not alone in using these concoctions – other people also report success using similar mixtures and methods.  In addition to these home remedies I also apply an organic acid treatment in December when hives are pretty much broodless.

Essential Oils are produced by plants as a defense mechanism – basically to prevent animals, insects, and perhaps microbes from eating them.  Some essential oils have been scientifically proven to be effective mitacides (toxic to mites, such as varroa and tracheal mites) – for example thymol the active ingredient in Apiguard (a Commercial product used to combat varroa mites) is the main aromatic in essential oil of the herb thyme.  You can get essential oils right off of the shelf at your local health food store.

These substances may work in any of several ways – When bees eat them or feed them to larva their hemolymph (bee blood) may become toxic to mites that feed on them.  In brood the mite reproduction process may be suppressed when larva have been fed some essential oils.  Essential oils may be physically applied to the mites during grooming or by bee house keeping activities.  The smell of the essential oils may also repel mites or interfere with their ability to home in on their food sources – brood and adult bees.

You should also know that there may be some downsides to using essential oils on your bees – either home brewed or commercial preparations.  Essential oils (or any medication, or dietary supplement for that matter) may have a negative impact on beneficial bee hive flora and fauna, they may also interfere with the bees ability to communicate or interact by their sense of smell.  I don’t know of any studies that have been done on that, but I have heard those points speculated by people who know more about it than I do.  Also, the concentration of active ingredients (such as thymol) are not really regulated in these products like they would be in pharmaceuticals – so it may not be as exact as a commercial preparation would be.

Thyme Oil Pads

  • 1 ounce (30 ml) essential oil of thyme (both red and white thyme will work)
  • 130 ml food grade mineral oil
  • 15 heavy paper towels folded in quarters.

These are simply paper towels folded twice and soaked in a mixture of 30 ml (one ounce) of essential oil of thyme (red or white – doesn’t matter) and 130 ml of food grade mineral oil (sold in pharmacies and dollar stores for use as a laxative).  I mix the oil right in a mineral oil bottle that I have marked with a pen at 130 ml – then add a whole 1 ounce bottle of Essential oil of thyme.  According to my calculation this results in about a 3.5% thymol mixture.   Quarter fold 15 paper towels and put them in a zip lock bag, add the oil mixture to the bag and kneed it a bit to get them all nice and oily.  Tip – Some food products (splenda) come in zip lock mylar bags that are much more oil resistant than regular baggies.

Lay one of these right on top of the brood frames.  The bees will shred the paper and carry it out of the colony over the course of a few weeks.  This doesn’t seem to cause any adverse effects – queen or brood mortality.  Right now – August – would be a good time to use this method in advance of the fall build up.  Following up in two weeks with a second application – after currently capped brood has emerged – would probably be a good idea.

Less than $1.50 per application.

Essential Oil Feeding Stimulant with Thyme Oil

You can use this as a feeding stimulant whenever there is no danger that it will end up in honey that you will  harvest – and in theory the essential oils will end up in the bees and brood, and might mitigate mite problems.   It will also help to prevent feed syrup from fermenting or growing mold.

This recipe will keep for a long time, and can be used to treat 80 gallons of feed.  You can make more than 4 batches out of 1 ounce bottles of essential oil.  About 12 cents per gallon of treated feed.

  • 7.2 ml essential oil of lemon grass
  • 7.2 ml essential oil of spearmint
  • 3.6 ml essential oil of thyme
  • 1 teeny tiny drop of soy lecithin to make oil and water mix – emulsifier in other words
  • Sugar syrup to make 1/2 gallon.

This recipe will keep for a long time, and can be used to treat 80 gallons of feed.  You can make more than 4 batches out of 1 ounce bottles of essential oil – and over half of the thyme will be left over.

Measuring small amounts like this can be easily done using a veterinary syringe that is available from the farmers co-op or Tractor supply store.  You can also use an “eye” dropper if it has a graduated volume marked on it.  I use a graduated shot glass to measure the mixture into gallons of feed syrup as I make it.

Don’t be fooled by the small amounts of essential oils – they are really strong, and the amounts in the bill of ingredients are not typos.

First mix up some sugar syrup by putting 5 pounds of sugar in a gallon jug, fill with hot tap water and shake until all of the sugar dissolves – then top it off with water.  This results in a mixture that is a bit more than 1-1 sugar/water.  Mix the essential oils and lecithin in a 1/2 gallon jug – the clear plastic ones that juice comes in are more durable than milk jugs.  Fill it about 1/2 full with sugar syrup, shake to mix, then top up with sugar syrup. If you see a yellow waxy substance float to the top – that is excess lecithin, don’t worry about it.  If you see oil float to the top, add a bit more lecithin and continue mixing.  It should look (and smells) about like lemonade.

Shake well before mixing this concentrated mixture with sugar syrup feed at the rate of:

  • 1.6 oz to one gallon of syrup
  • 1 cup to five gallons of syrup

One caution though, using any “feeding stimulant” which contains lemon grass oil (such as Honey-Bee-Healthy) can aggravate robbing.  The bees can smell it, and they really like it – so be careful when there is a danger of robbing.  Like July and August for example.  Unfortunately late summer and fall are probably the best time to use something like this – just be careful, reduce hive entrances, and keep an eye on weak hives.

One can get in trouble (and rightfully so) by making unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of “alternative” remedies.  However the only way to legally substantiate those claims is to perform expensive scientific research – which is usually funded by someone who expects to profit from the sale of the substance in question.  One problem with this system is that if a potential remedy is not likely to be profitable (because it is already cheap and freely available for example) no one is likely to spend the large amounts required to do that research.  The result is that there may be safe, effective, inexpensive ways to treat things, but you have to be really careful about making any claims about their effectiveness.  “Dietary Supplements” are a great example.  The Red Yeast Rice pills that our doctor told my wife “might” be worth trying for her blood pressure (and seem to work) can’t say “for the treatment of high blood pressure” on the box, and doctors even have to be careful about how they talk about it.  Even if it really does work.

So all I’m saying is that these things might work.  They also might not.

Decapping Honey with a Heat Gun

I just ran across that video and thought that it might be interesting to some.  According to discussion on a beekeepers forum surface tension draws the melted cappings open so that your honey can be extracted without heating the honey or tearing up the combs – also without the wasted honey, wax and mess of the usual way of knife decapping.  Might be worth a try.



Are My Bees Swarming?

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.

It's too hot inside - these bees are only bearding. It does not mean that they are going to swarm.

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.

What Should I Do Now?!!

Honey bees bearding in hot weather
Are these bees going to swarm? Probably not. First year package hives usually don't swarm unless you completely neglect to give them room.

When the weather gets hot your bees might hang out on the outside of the hive – this is commonly called “bearding”  it doesn’t mean that they are going to swarm – even when it’s as extreme as in the picture above.  It just means that it’s hot and they would rather be outside of that hot little box than inside of it.   It isn’t really a good thing though either.  If you have a screened bottom board and you haven’t already, then you should go ahead and remove the mite count sticky board and leave it out for at least the rest of the summer – if not always.  Keep it though because you might want to use it to do a mite count.  It will probably stow inside of your telescoping cover.  Also open up the entrance some – if not all the way.

When you remove the sticky board you might see what looks like maggots infesting the debris on the board – I don’t know exactly what they are, they could be Small hive beetle larva or they could just be fly larva of some kind.  Just dump them away from your hives or feed them to your chickens.  I’ve seen them under some of my hives too, and once you get rid of them it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

If you started your hive in March with a package from Wolf Creak like many of us did, you also probably need to go ahead and add a second box of foundation.  If 7 out of 10 or 6 out of 8 frames are mostly drawn then it’s time to add more room.

You also might want to add some Small Hive Beetle traps – there are lots of different traps, but a really simple one that works is to just put 3-4″ squares of coreplast – AKA old political signs –  in your hive.  On the top bars and on the bottom board.  The bees will drive beetles into the tunnels in the plastic and you can remove them once a week when you inspect – just drop them into a coffee can with some oil in it to drown the beetles.  The trap on the bottom board will be more convenient to put in and out if you put a long piece of wire through it to act as a handle so that you can just put it in and out of the entrance without removing the bottom hive body – that will also help to keep the bees from pushing it out of the hive.  There is wide agreement that the best way to combat beetles in our area is to keep the hives strong – dense populations of bees – and keep them in pretty much direct sun.

If you’re still feeding your package bees sugar water they are probably taking it slowly if it all because our main nectar flow is on right now.  Plain 1-1 sugar syrup will ferment pretty quickly in this warm weather, and then the bees won’t take it at all, so if you want to continue to feed you need to use small containers that the bees will empty in 3-4 days or add some honey-b-healthy or other essential oil concoction to it to help keep it from ruining.  Be aware that you should never feed anything to your bees if there are honey supers on that you intend to harvest honey from.  Feeding new packages all season long is probably a good thing to do because you need them to draw out as much comb as possible before next fall.  Drawn comb is like gold.

If you’re a beginner you need to put on your gear and inspect your hives every week – you’re looking for either the queen, eggs, or young open brood which indicates that the queen is still there and doing her job.  You also are assessing how much food they have in the hive, and if they need more space or not.  But most of all you need to get comfortable working with your bees while the hives are new, small and relatively docile.  Later when they get built up they will be a lot more intimidating, and you need to get some experience now – no one else can do it for you.  You’ll probably make some mistakes, kill a few bees, and you’re sure to get stung sooner or later, but you probably won’t hurt them very much, and you’ll get better and more confident at it every time you go in.

Have fun!