oh no, the bees are swarming!!!

following on from the artificial swarm at the beginning of the season I was hoping that things at the apiary would calm down now. I had made one split and now had two colonies of healthy bees so had doubled my chances of getting some honey in 2010.

My friend who works the land where the bees live rang me early one Saturday “your bees are all swarming on a tree near the hive” was the message. I couldn’t believe it – after all the work three days previously to try and avoid this situation they had decided to swarm from the first hive anyway. I packed up my beekeeping gear, grabbed a large box, jumped in the car and headed down to the apiary.

The bees had formed a perfect envelop of movement around the queen and were hanging in a low tree whilst the scout bees were out huting for a potential new home.

The process for catching a swarm is surprisingly simple – first get protected, so on goes the suit and gloves. Swarmed bees have their stomachs full of honey and are very placid really but no need to take chances!

Then you clear the branches below the swarm to get good access, cutting a couple of sturdy sticks to fit diagonally in the box – the bees like to have something to hang on rather than slumping on the floor. The box is placed under the main bulk of the swarm and then you give the branch a firm downward shake and most of the bees fall into the box. Place the box on the ground nearby and cover the top with a dark towel to reduce the entrance down. If you have got the queen in there all the other bees will follow and hang on the sticks you cut and on the underside of the towel.

Traditionally you leave the box here until night fall then come along to collect your bees. If time doesnt allow for this they are very much off the tree and in the box after about 40 minutes or so and they can then be moved, either to the new hive or the box is moved to the location where your new hive will be placed, and the bees are allowed to fly again.

I returned my bees back to the hive from where thay had come, hoping now that they had swarmed that they would be pleased to have a nice cosy safe hive and stay put. I even placed another queen excluder under the hive, above the entrance, as extra security – trapping the queen temporarily in the brood box. There job done … so what could possibly go wrong now?

Two days later the phone rang – my bees were out on the tree again, not the same one but a nearby tree all the same. Somehow the slimmed down queen had escaped through the queen excluder and taken a swarm with her again. I headed back to the apiary and repeated the actions detailed above – once again returning the bees to the hive but this time removing the pointless excluder from above the entrance – it hadn’t done its job so there was no point having it there – eventually it would become cluttered with drones (male bees) who are also to large to fit through the slots.

A check of the hive the following week revealed why the queen had swarmed twice and was so desperate to escape – it turned out there were more queen cells in there – how could this be? The old queen was moved onto undrawn wax foundation a weelk ago during the artificial swarm – the only answer must be that as soon as she started laying eggs again the bees decided to create new queens! I think I lost a small swarm in the end but not to worry as I retained two colonies … now both with new queens for 2010 who will are mated and laying well!

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