What is a Bee Swarm?
It’s a natural phenomenon….
The reason that BEES swarm is that it is part of their instinct to spread their genetic line, so as to ensure their survival as a species. Over the ‘Bee Season’ numbers in the hive increase from about 20,000 to around 60,000….overcrowding and heat can trigger ‘the swarm instinct’.
As a Beekeeper….what are the signs your Bees give you?
- The Bees will raise queen cells
- Your hive will suddenly have little activity ( they’ve left already ! )
Controversy…in Beekeeping circles it has been discussed that Bees swarm because the Beekeeper is not managing their hive properly!
Other factors….hive may bee unwell or could be that the hive-boxes are damp or mouldy or located in a site which the Bees decide is unsuitable.
BEE Swarm prevention – how?
Obviously prevention should be a priority, ways you can help preventing a swarm is to regularly monitor your hive. Monitoring is required every fortnight throughout the BEE Season. By “monitoring” we mean inspecting the hive, opening up and checking for…
- Queen cells- are there any?
- Brood levels – is there enough space? are the brood healthy?
- Population – how many Bees within the hive? is the hive over-heating? is the hive mouldy?
- Health of brood and Bees
- Food – is there pollen? is there enough honey?
Handy hint, Prevention is one thing but you could also capture the swarming instinct by using it to create a new colony…are you brave enough? Check out our How to split a Beehive article
- add more boxes
- add more frames
- is the hive mouldy or damp?
- reorganise your hive by moving capped honey up and adding new frames
- treating as part of an integrated pest management program
- feed to help encourage wax production and hive morale
- use meshboards
- raise hive off the ground
Handy hint, use the results of your inspection to guide you on what you need to do!
Location of Hive – where and why?
BEES need to be warm and dry to remain healthy. The Bees should bee able to ventilate their hive. The hive will not survive in very windy locations. Hives do not thrive under a thick tree canopy (we found this out early on in our beekeeping adventure and lost hives ). There should be a nearby water-source.
So we have covered prevention or capturing the swarm instinct, now read below when you actually have a swarm to collect…
How to Collect a Swarm and what you need
- Light colored Sheet
- Bee brush
- Odour eliminator (We use air freshener)
- Hive box with solid bottom board or solid cardboard box and lids
- Ties for boxes
- Extendable pole
- Pruner or Loppers, to prune branches
- Gloves and Suit
- fine misting water sprayer
- Emergency Chocolate
- tape and scissors
- …ensure you have a proper hive box to transfer the swarm in to !
- ….a quarantine site would be ideal – so you can wait for them to raise brood from which you can then check for disease and also treat them, before introducing them to your main apiary.
First Steps – Assess and survey the site and location of the swarm
Assess the risk- factor… are you confident in the location of the swarm? Can you retrieve it without help or more importantly without injuring yourself. No bee Swarm is worth six months off work or worse?
You can try and and leave a bait or ‘lure’ hive on site, but we have never had a swarm move into one of these.
If its in a tree at a safe height, before cutting any branches – get permission from the home-owner.
Handy hint, quote from Paul Brown from ABC “…don’t forget the dramatics…”
Speak to land-owner, explain what will happen, wear a fullsuit – onlookers will love it!
Second Step – Getting the main cluster in a box
In the centre of the cluster you will generally find the queen, try to locate her, ideally if you can locate her, you need to then get her into the box and all the worker bees will follow her – simple…but she’s great at hiding, sometimes you see her, but more often, you don’t.
Otherwise deal with the whole cluster.
Is the cluster on a small branch that can be cut and moved straight into the box? Or will the cluster need to be brushed into the box or can you shake it straight into the box?
Other ways are to place a sheet under (or on the ground under) the swarm, then shake the swarm into the sheet then place your box on the sheet add some twigs leading to the entrance, ideally the queen will enter the box quickly and the workers will march straight in to the box.
or is it a non-shakable structure (Like someones car?) use your Bee brush to gently and slowly brush into the box.
Some people use a vacuum, this needs to be very gentle or you will damage the Bees.
It all depends how accessible the bees are, we aren’t builders so if in a cavity of a roof we advise the home-owner to ask a professional to access.
You will get better at applying different techniques, the more swarms you come across.
The Pick Up
You will often have bees flying around when most of the bees have gone into the box, you can just close the box up and head off, if you are confident you have the Queen, leaving the hive on site til nightfall and collect in the evening. By leaving and waiting, this way you will ensure you get all the field and scout bees and not get repeat calls for the stragglers that will congregate at the location of the swarm. Plus the Bees will be cooler and settling-in. Seal the entrance and transport to new site.
Handy hint, once the swarm has been removed from a branch, spraying the branch or area with air fresher masks the Queens pheromone which stops bees landing there again.
Always clean up any cut branches that you may have removed, by asking the home-owner where you can place these or take them with you.
Always thank the home-owner or the person that reported the swarm, and explain why its so important for people to do that. They may call you again next season if the experience is a good one.
Once you have collected the swarm you must prepare for the next step – housing your swarm!