It's Swarm Season

 A swarm of bees high in a tree

A swarm of bees high in a tree

It’s the time of year that honey bee keepers start getting a lot more calls. From now until late Summer, swarming bees certainly keep bee keepers busy!

What is a swarm?

A swarm is a process whereby honey bees decide it’s time to create a new bee colony. A swarm can contain anywhere from several hundred bees and be the size of a grapefruit to much larger swarms having more than 30,000 bees. Usually the colony divides itself and half the bees leave the hive with a queen bee in search of a new home. During the swarm preparation, scout bees will find a nearby location for the swarm to cluster. When a honey bee swarm emerges from a hive they do not fly far at first. They may gather in a tree or on a branch only a few metres from the hive. When they do this, they cluster around the queen and send 20 - 50 scout bees out to find suitable new nest locations.

 Thousands of bees in the air swarming, just before settling onto a tree.

Thousands of bees in the air swarming, just before settling onto a tree.

There are a few reasons why a bee colony may swarm;

Overheating - A bee colony needs to keep the temperature of the hive between 32°C and 35°C. (We wrote a post about bees forming a cluster in Winter here to make sure they stay at a safe temperature.) 

If the hive becomes too hot, the bees need to reduce the volume of bees quickly. They do this by leaving the hive and forming a “bee beard” which hangs from the hive entrance. When they do this, they are able to reduce the hive temperature and allow better airflow.

Congestion - If there are too many bees in the hive, space is limited which means that there are no cells for the queen to lay her eggs into. 

The Queen is old - An old queen usually releases less pheromones with age. With this, bees sense a lack of queen pheromone in their food exchange with one another and the swarming impulse will be triggered. When the swarming impulse starts, there are a couple of things to look out for. Firstly, there will be an increase in the number of queen cells that are created. These appear about the bottom of a frame and look like little peanut shaped cups, they can also be to one side of the frame but are known to be anywhere on the frame if space is limited. The queen will lay eggs in here and new queens will be raised. When the colony now has a new queen in the making, the old queen will take off with half of the colony in a swarm.

Capturing a swarm

Swarms of bees are usually docile as they not protecting food or young bees. It’s probably a good idea not to provoke them though- they’re still bees after all!

It’s likely that your local beekeeper will want to collect the swarm for you. They will be re-hived into a new hive and given a new home. This helps protect bee numbers.

A swarm can be captured by clipping the branch from a tree they’re on or waiting until dusk to effectively scoop or bang them into a cardboard box. The trick is for the beekeeper to make sure that the queen is in the box when capturing the swarm. The bee colony relies entirely on their queen. If bees are leaving the box to swarm back on the tree or branch, it’s often that the queen is still there and isn’t in the box or the queen pheromone is still on the branch. Bees are very smart and they can locate their queen very quickly.

 Bees being emptied from a box to be re-hived.

Bees being emptied from a box to be re-hived.

When the swarm is boxed up, beekeepers will re-hive them straight away. Creating a ramp to the hive and putting the bees at the bottom will encourage the bees to enter the new hive. If you watch carefully, you may even see the queen go in too. It’s impressive that they know just what to do.

 When bees are dropped out of the box, it takes them a few minutes to figure out what's going on and where to go.

When bees are dropped out of the box, it takes them a few minutes to figure out what's going on and where to go.

 A honey bee with his abdomen in the air. It will release pheromones to the other bees saying "We're over here! Come in, we have a new home."

A honey bee with his abdomen in the air. It will release pheromones to the other bees saying "We're over here! Come in, we have a new home."

 Honey bees making their way up the ramp and into their new hive.

Honey bees making their way up the ramp and into their new hive.

How do I make sure my bees don’t swarm?

Check your hives regularly from once a week to perhaps twice a week if you have the time. Check for queen cells and remove these- this is the sign that the bees are rearing a new queen. You can’t have two queens in the hive. To avoid the queen leaving the hive, you can catch the queen (and mark her if you haven’t so you can spot her easily) and clip her wings so she cannot fly away. There are a few contraptions on the market to do this safely and successfully. Another suggestion is to add a super onto the hive to allow more space and keep the bees busy making honey. Keeping the bees busy in the supers means that there’s more room in the brood box for the nursing bees and the brood to hatch. A honey super is a box that goes on top of the of the brood box that has a queen excluder between them so the queen can’t lay eggs in the honey cells.

Have a swarm? Give us a call.

If you have a swarm near you, we can come and collect it safely for you and give them a new home. We charge a small fee of £10-£20 depending on your location. It’s particularly important to have a swarm removed safely if you have young children, elderly family members or pets. We will reward you with a jar of our delicious honey for you to try as a small gift to say thank you. You can call Kim on 07807519691 or email us at wearebeeloved@outlook.com

 If we collect a swarm from you, you'll get a jar of our delicious honey to say thank you.

If we collect a swarm from you, you'll get a jar of our delicious honey to say thank you.

The images on this blog post are all our own and are subject to copyright. Please do not use these images without our permission. If you would like to use them, drop us an email.

Beeloved

Beeloved

We are BeeLoved, a small team of two with 10 bee hives. We harvest our own delicious, raw honey, make pure beeswax candles and cosmetic products.