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SWARMS! Not as scary as you might think!

This week has been a busy one for us here at Holt Hall Apiary, the warm weather over the past few weeks as well as the oil seed rape being in flower has really helped push our bees on. This boost has led to very early swarms of bees which I’ll talk about a few that we have collected since our last post.

Why Bees Swarm

So firstly you should understand why bees swarm, when a hive becomes too crowded and there is limited space for the queen to lay the bees choose to swarm. To swarm they start to rear a new queen (which is a topic in itself!) the queen is put on a diet by the workers so that she is light enough to fly and around half of the bees leave with the queen to make a new hive elsewhere. Leaving behind the cells that will hatch out to become a new queen to carry on the old hive.

As a beekeeper I want to try and stop this happening as not only do I lose half of the workforce of a hive I lose a lot of the honey they have produced as they fill up before leaving the hive as building wax takes lots of energy! There are countless ways to intervene with swarming but I choose the most straight forward, when I see the bees are trying to create a new queen I take the old queen and some of the workers and put them in a new hive of their own. Basically they have swarmed but without me losing anything, later on I can always combine them back together should I need to.

When You See Swarms

When the bees leave the hive they stop a short distance away and cluster around the queen to protect her,If you’ve seen pictures of swarms this is what you’ve seen and what is happening in the picture below. Even though seeing that many bees in one cluster can look intimidating bees in a swarm are actually at their most docile, this is because they no longer have a hive and young to protect.

While the bees are clustering they are actually looking for a new home and scout bees are checking out any potential locations before a consensus between the bees is made and the swarm leaves. This can take up to 4 days and sometimes a swarm cannot find a suitable location and so builds the hive where they have stopped in the open, these swarms rarely survive as they are hard to defend and keep warm.

Collecting Swarms

When the bees are still in cluster it is possible for a beekeeper to come and collect and re-home the bees. This week I have collected 3 swarms and the way you do it differs depending on where the swarm has stopped. I was lucky as two of them stopped in a place where I could put a hive directly underneath and and shake the bees in.

Once the queen is in the hive, especially if it is one that has been used before and therefore smells of a beehive the bees do something amazing, on mass they suddenly start walking into the new hive! As one of the swarms was on an area with lots of long tufts of grass I put down a white sheet which makes it easier for the bees to walk in.

Hopefully you will find seeing a few pictures of swarms interesting and to me I think swarming and the collective decisions they make during that time are some of the most fascinating examples of bees intelligence!

In the next blog post I will talk about queen bees, how we rear more queens and how we even get some sent by post!

Thank you for reading our blog and supporting our business. – If you do see a swarm in your garden or elsewhere please do get in touch and we will collect them as quickly as possible, please email us with a contact phone number and a location and we will get back to you right away –

Matthew Ingram

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