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Let's Talk Swarming


The term "swarming" is probably the most misused terms related to honey bees and beekeeping.  Swarming does not refer to attacking bees. And swarming is not what a hive does when it’s unhappy with its abode (that is actually called absonsion!)  Swarming is, simply put, the colony’s way of reproducing.  Colonies can spread their genetics two ways: by producing drones who will mate with virgin queens from other hives, as you have learned, and second, by swarming.  

Rather than think of the individual bees in a colony as the organisms, we need  to think of the colony as a whole as the organism. And like all living beings, this organism needs to reproduce.  The mere mention of a swarm can simultaneously put fear and excitement in the heart of a beekeeper!  Most beekeepers would prefer that their own bees not swarm, yet the thought of catching another colony’s swarm can mean ‘free bees!” Let’s learn the ins and outs of how a colony swarms so that you can learn how to help prevent swarming in your own apiary and maybe even catch your own swarm or two someday.  

How One Colony Can Become Two

When the nutritional resources and a robust healthy queen allows, a hive can grow to be so large and packed with bees that it can then split into two or more colonies.  The mechanics of this split is fascinating. As a colony grows and congestion in the hive occurs, and if enough honey resources are available, it signals to the workers that the hive is strong enough to swarm. Also, if the queen starts to run out of space to lay eggs, either naturally or because of misguided decision making and interventions by the beekeeper, this can also signal the colony to swarm. 

Once the hive has decided to swarm, the workers will prepare for this monumental event by stuffing themselves full of honey to take on their journey.  The queen bee stops laying eggs and is put on a diet by the worker bees.  This diet decreases her body weight and allows her to fly with the swarm.  On the fateful day, one-third to one-half of the young worker bees will leave the colony en masse with the queen. This, the swarm, is looking for a new home to start a new colony. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see this amazing sight, a swarm of bees is a big cloud of insects moving across the sky. 

However, when the swarm leaves the hive they have not yet selected a new hive site, so they will find a place to rest and to give foraging bees, called scout bees, the opportunity to hunt for new real estate.  The swarm will rest in a tight ball, with the queen protected at the center. This swarm may rest on a tree, a fenceline, a car, or even your mailbox! Once settled, scout bees will begin flying from the swarm, looking for a suitable home.  They will return to the swarm and perform the same waggle dance that they use to communicate the location of food to communicate the location of a new potential home.  Each of the scout bees will visit all of the potential homes, and return to the swarm and ‘voting’ for their favorite by performing this dance.  When all of the scouts are performing the same dance and are in agreeance, the entire swarm will move once again to the new home.  This house hunting can take a little as a few hours or a few days. The bees that have engorged themselves with honey will immediately begin to use the carbohydrates to build the beeswax comb so the queen can again start to lay and establish the new colony.  

Have you ever caught a swarm? Are you interested in learning more about baiting and catching swarms?  Check out this month's Ask a Beek at the Honey Ranch! We will be talking all about swarms and will even demonstrate an easy lure recipe, and send you home with some to try!  Event is FREE! Keep scrolling to learn more.   

Plus, check out our annual garage sale next Friday, March 11.  Still on the fence about becoming a beekeeper? Keep scrolling to learn how to save $15 on our E-course on beekeeping. 

If you have caught a swarm and have a great story to share, will you hit reply and tell me about it!? Swarming stories are my favorite and I'm always looking for new ones to share with groups!

For the Bees,
Tara Dawn

It's time once again for our annual garage sale! Show up early to get best pick of all of our used equipment and gear.  Plus, all NEW tools and protective gear will be on sale! Learn more here. 
Join us for this month's Ask a Beek at the Honey Ranch! We will be discussing how to bait and catch swarms and will be demonstrating an easy recipe for making swarm lure. (AND we will send you home with a sample to bait your own swarms!)  Evens is FREE. Learn more here. 
Still putting off becoming a beekeeper?! This month I am giving you $15 off our popular E-course on Beekeeping.  Four gorgeous videos + an e-book.  Buy once and have forever access! Use code SPRING to save $15.  Watch the video below for a preview of the course.  
Check out a preview of my E-Course on Beekeeping!
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