Buzz on Bees: Swarm season

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By RACHEL HALLIWELL

Buzz on Bees Columnist

Have you ever seen a clump of bees hanging off your neighbour’s tree and thought, “I don’t remember seeing that there yesterday.”

That is a swarm: half of a beekeeper’s precious colony has up and left and is now temporarily trespassing on your neighbour’s property. But what is a swarm? Swarms consist of thousands of worker bees, a handful of drones (male honeybees) and one queen that have left their original home and are in the middle of finding a more suitable location. They are temporarily using your neighbour’s tree as a resting post while sending “scout” bees on the hunt for a more permanent spot. Once the scout bees find a better home, they will let the colony know and within moments, the swarm will leave just as fast as it arrived. Swarms can be waiting in that clump formation anywhere from an hour to a few days.

Although the sight of a mini colony hanging from your neighbour’s tree may seem daunting, swarms are typically quite gentle. Prior to leaving their original hive, the workers filled their stomachs with honey, therefore they are quite full and heavy — reducing their desire to sting innocent bystanders. As well, they do not have any brood (babies) to defend. That being said, they are protecting their queen, so I would suggest giving the swarm some breathing room and admiring them from a safe distance.

Swarms may occur for several reasons but there is one reason, especially around this time of year, that is the most common: insufficient space in the home they currently occupy. This is why routine inspections of your colony is important. Hive inspections will give you an indication if your hive is in need of more room and adding boxes (supers) as needed, giving your queen more room to lay and reducing their desire to swarm.

If a swarm does occur and you discover this hanging basket of bees, there are a few options. You could contact the local bee club. They typically have a swarm catcher list that you could call, and a local beekeeper will take them away.

If you are this lovely beekeeper and want to acquire your first swarm, I would suggest bringing a cardboard box (with ventilation), placing a white sheet on the ground and holding the box underneath the hanging colony. With one forceful bang to the branch, the colony should drop in the box typically without a fuss. The white sheet is a perfect backdrop to search for the queen if she happened to fall to the ground during the commotion. Place the cardboard box on the ground with the lid ajar and allow the rest of the colony, that may have missed the box, to make it back to their family. You can be confident that you have acquired the queen if the colony doesn’t fly back to the branch. Take the box home and relocate them to your standardized equipment.

Good luck and happy swarm catching!

Rachel Halliwell is founder of Home Grown Bee in the Comox Valley, is Bee Master certified and well educated on the world of honeybees. She is passionate about honeybees and believes that education is our strongest tool in spreading awareness about these pollinators and all the wonderful work that they do.

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