Spring is the time of year when the thoughts of bees turn to swarming. Most people think of swarms of bees as something to be feared – images of nasty swarms swooping from the skies, terrorizing women and children. Oops, sorry, that’s my fear of Congress.
Swarming is actually reproduction in the bee world. When a hive feels that it’s getting too cramped in it’s current space and needs to expand beyond that, it starts getting into swarm mode. First, they start building queen cells to raise a new queen. When the cells are almost ripe with a new queen, the old queen and about half the workers take off in a swarm to find a new, more spacious home. Back in the hive, a new queen will then emerge. One of her first tasks is to kill off any of the other developing queens so she can be the sole ruler of the hive. It’s such a brutal society, but it works.
Swarms are relatively docile for the most part. Since it’s primary purpose is to find a new home, the bees are focused on that (and not terrorizing women and children). The workers filled up their bellies with honey for the journey and are generally slow moving. You’ve probably seen pictures (or witnessed) a swarm of bees, clustered somewhere on a branch or on a fence. These are like gold to a beekeeper – it’s free bees for the one that gets to capture the swarm. If you see a swarm, don’t be a-scared – call your local beekeeper to come get them.
For the poor beekeeper who’s hive swarmed, it’s a loss though. They just lost a bunch of bees and there’s no guarantee that the new queen will get fertilized and be productive. Also, it’s a break in the brood cycle so there will be no new bees for a while to bring in nectar and pollen. So in the springtime, a cautious beekeeper looks for the signs of swarming – particularly queen cells being built and populated. If a beekeeper finds queen cells, they have a few options to try to mitigate the swarming urge. First, they can expand the room that they bees have to live in. Also, they can do a split – making two hives out of one which is the basic goal of swarming. Essentially, you are giving the bees a new home so they don’t have to go off looking on their own.
I’ve been looking through the window in my remaining hive and have noticed that there are lots of bees and they seem to be getting a little cramped.
I decided to do an inspection this weekend and see if they are looking to swarm and give them a little more room to expand in any case. As usual, I forgot to take pictures while I was in the hive. That’s pretty typical in most of my life – no pictures from kids birthday parties, graduations, etc so why should the bees be any different?
We looked through the hive and for the most part, they seem pretty happy. We only found one little queen cup. But they had 6 frames of brood, including one comb that was filled on both sides with drone come. Drones are the males and the presence of drone comb this time of year means that they are thinking of reproduction (or else they are doing some mite control). As Diana said as we were looking through the hive, “there sure are a lot more bees than in the other hive at this time last year!)
We found the queen as we were putting the hive back together – she was in the back on bar 10, but she looked plump and judging from the amout of brood, she’s been laying like crazy! I moved the follower board back a ways and added some empty combs up front. The girls have been bringing in pollen like crazy – in fact one comb in the brood area was solid pollen.
I also removed the entrance reducer. Our nights are still below freezing on occasion and we’ll probably still get snow, but they seem to be a robust hive, so I think they can keep warm and fend off any potential robbers.
Spring is in full swing in Colorado – a little early and a little drier than I’d like. The tulips are blooming now as well as the crab apple trees. I miss my flowering crab this year, but I’m hoping that the linden will be providing nectar to my bees before I know it.
I’ll be getting some new bees in a couple of weeks to repopulate BnB1. I spent today building 2 new hives. One will go in a nearby yard of a friend of Diana’s and the other will be a “just in case” hive. I might still have a chance to split BnB1 and if I do, our neighbors have offered a spot out in their yard.
Who knows, I may even get to capture a swarm if I’m lucky!