local-honey-bee-suppliesRJ Honey Farm

Swarms. The Bane of Beekeeping.


Yes, beekeeper, these are queen cells. Yes, beekeeper, it is a sign that they are probably going to swarm.

Swarming is the bane of beekeeping. The bees are going to do it. It is their natural reproductive instinct. We've read. We've attended seminars. We've talked to seasoned beekeepers. Bees are going to swarm. Here is our collective, I was going to call it wisdom but that doesn't work, let's try observations.

Our very first nuc was from Hunter's Honey Farm. It swarmed. Then we had two. It swarmed again. Then we had three. Some hives will throw multiple swarms.

Should you cut the queen cells off? Place this in Richard and Jeff's book '101 Ways to Kill a Hive.' If you cut them all off, you may just kill the hive or at least make it queenless. If you cut any off make sure there are open queen cells on the frame. Leave them alone and cut off the capped ones. There are periods of development where the new queen is susceptible to damage in the capped cell by the beekeeper. If you damage her at this time and cut the other cells off, you've ruined the hive, too.

Beekeepers can do things to cause a hive to swarm.

1-Letting them get too crowded. Solutions? There are none. Here are things we do or have tried.

On a new hive add the deep when eight frames are built out. We did it 'right' with our first nuc. It still swarmed.

Slatted board. This goes between the bottom board and bottom deep. The theory is that it gives them more room, a place to hang out. It hasn't stopped hives swarming for us.

If it is an established hive super it up early. Follows the theory of giving them room. We do this. It hasn't stopped swarming.

Pull frames of brood. We do this every year for splits. It hasn't stopped swarming.

You can search and read about other strategies. We've probably tried them. They haven't stopped swarming.

2-Inadvertantly damage the queen. Pulling frames for inspection is a risky thing. You can accidentally damage the queen. This won't cause swarming. They will build supercedure or emergency cells. These are sometimes described as being on the middle of the frame while swarm cells are on the edges or bottom. This is just a rule of thumb.

3-Drop the queen on the ground. Perfect inspection technique has you holding the frame over the hive in case she drops off. But we don't always do this, eh? We need to see if there are eggs in there. The sun has to be right. Last year I saw this clump of bees on the ground. Poking around in it I found the queen. Dead. I'd stepped on her. Doh!

Ok. Three weeks since you saw the queen cells, hmm? Do the bee math. Sixteen days from egg to hatch. If you saw capped cells, maybe another week to hatch out. Another week for her to get the mating flight. Another week to really start laying. Add it up. It could take about a month for it to fix itself, become queenright. Then it is another three weeks for her eggs to hatch out into new bees. It takes a long time to recover.

Richard and I have pulled the trigger too early, purchased a queen, and found that the new queen was in there and laying. Now what do you do with the queen you just bought? No guarantees, though. She may have gotten picked off by a dragonfly or bird on the mating flight. Maybe she went back to the wrong hive.

Last week I was out feeding our new hives. Suddenly the air was filled with bees. The third from the end was swarming. Bees were pouring out like their wings were on fire. They eventually settled in a cedar tree about twenty feet in the air.

This is only a brief blog on the vagaries of swarming. For whatever comfort it is worth, you can do it all by the book and the hive is still going to swarm.