To swarm or not to swarm....
I recently saw a shirt that professed “Beekeeper: one who does precise guess work based on unreliable data provided by those of questionable knowledge, also known as magician, wizard or psychic”
Lets be honest, you can keep bees for 1 or 30 years, there always seem to be lessons that need to be learned. One amazing and alternatively frustrating situation with our bees is swarming. Generally bees will swarm when they feel they have run out of space in their colony. The Queen packs up half of the existing bees and moves on to look for a new home.
So if this illustrious Queen decides its time to move on, she leaves behind a handful of freshly laid eggs for her remaining bees. Truly fascinating to me that the bees that remain will carefully go through these eggs and choose who is most worthy to become queen and will feed them and create a different cell for them to grow in. After only 16 days, the new Queen or Queens will hatch and hopefully one will leave the colony to mate and return. I’m sure you would imagine this is an easy feat but alas, she must mate with 10-15 male drones in order to successfully have enough to be fertilized her whole life. Boys cover your ears: unfortunately the males die upon mating completion……but that’s a whole another topic…..
This year has been extra special for me as I have had my first successful Queen mating in my urban located area. Although it truly is Mother Nature who orchestrates this incredible miracle – when I saw I had a successfully mated Queen I ran around the house in utter bliss screaming and hollering that I had a mated queen…nope, no shame here. My cats sure had a good show that day. I had set up my outdoor camera at the entrance of the hive and watched through 6 hours of footage to luckily catch sight of her leaving and returning a few times. When I checked the colony a few days later I could see her abdomen was fuller than when she had left on the camera which meant her eggs were fertilized.
If by chance my colonies grow fast I could do a “split” where I can imposter nature and take half of the bees and put them in a new colony box.…..this way I can attempt to control the swarm from happening. It is possible to buy a mated queen locally or create one of my own (which is time consuming and time is short in our season)
What does it look like when a swarm happens? Well it’s a giant ball of bees that you will see hanging off of tree limbs, poles, I recently read an article of a woman who returned to her car in the parking lot from shopping and found a swarm hanging out on her car!
Please note that when bees have swarmed they are quite docile as they are homeless, this does not mean you should go grab them with your bare hands and put them in a box like that lovely blond lady all over facebook who tends to bees in shorts and a tshirt – however it should give you peace to know they are not out to sting you. They are focused on staying with their Queen‘s scent and protecting her (she is usually inside the giant ball of bees)
What can you do if you see a swarm? You can contact this lovely local Bee Club and someone will gladly come and get them for you! Note that wasps are not bees and below I will add a picture so you can tell the difference.
As beekeepers we check our colonies regularly to ensure there is proper balance…
Balance of space
Balance of food
Balance of pathogens
Balance of bees
These balances are vital in ensuring our bees are strong and healthy. We have so much to thank them for with their contribution to our earth! Now I’m off to inspect my bees to ensure they don’t get any funny ideas and try to swarm…….