A kindle of kittens, a gaggle of geese…. a swarm of Bees?

January 16, 2015 News

Dear Sage Advice,

Last year I took EYA’s Community Hive program and learned all about Organic Beekeeping – it was great! I thought I’d give it a try myself this spring and purchased a new hive. The bees are looking great, but we learned in our beekeeping course that springtime is the natural time for honeybees to swarm. Im worried that my new bee babes will take flight. How can I tell if they are going to swarm, and how might I discourage this behavior? I don’t want to loose half my hive!

Concerned mother beekeeper

Dear CMB,
Swarming is a natural behavior of honeybees in which a new queen is produced inside the hive, and once she is born, the new queen and half the colony will fly out of the hive to start a new colony, essentially splitting the old hive into two. However, since this is not honeybee’s natural climate, they likely wont survive if they aren’t scooped up by a beekeeper and put into a new hive! The thing to know about swarming is it can happen for multiple reasons, and it is an artful balancing act knowing when your hive may be gearing up for a swarm.

Swarms happen mainly for 3 reasons:

1. if the bees are sick they may swarm to get away from the disease (although it usually follows them) and survive in a new location.
2. If the original queen is getting old, they may feel its time to break away and hedge their bets by starting a new colony with a younger queen.
3. The colony is going very well! A little too well…. They’ve made a lot of workers and now they’ve outgrown the size of the hive. Time to split up.

It takes close observation of your bees to know when your hive might swarm. During a hive inspection, watch for baby queens forming in the comb called swarm cells (these appear different looking than the rest of the comb). To avoid swarming you can take preemptive measures. Avoid congestion by providing new layers of comb for the bees to occupy, keep track of your aging queen, discard swarm cells, and make sure that the location of your current hive is dry and ventilated.