Hopefully swarm season is over (for a while)…it’s been crazy…

We have been trying to keep up with managing our initial 2 hives during this past swarm season. We were looking forward to it, cause if managed properly, you can make increases (get more hives)… our goal is to get to 10 hives.

A swarm is a naturally occurring event that hives exhibit; it is commonly believed that hives do this as part of the natural adaptation and procreation process. It is thought at that bees do this for many reasons:

  • The queen is sick, injured, aging, or dying.
  • They are out of room (too many bees, not enough space).
  • There is something wrong with the hive itself (infestations, damage, etc.)
  • They simply feel like doing it.

So, our plan was that when we started to see that the hives were preparing to swarm, we figured we would do as many increase splits as was reasonable for the number of good/viable queen cells they made, and the equipment that we had on hand… (We aren’t in the habit of buying queens (yet)).

Based on our inspections and the weather, we walked into the yard on 29 April to start making our splits; boy were we surprised to find our first swarm; it was on Blue hive. Heck, we just finished removing winter feed, and doing some hive box reversals on 14 April, and we checked the next week and removed queen cells (rather than split, cause we thought it was still too cold at night for a swarm to survive).

We captured that swarm into a nuc, and continued with planned splits; we ended up with 4 hives that day.

Then it got crazy in the yard…

7 May, 2 swarms, one on the ground (yellow marked queen) and one in a tree; captured both.

8 May, 1 swarm up in a high bush, captured.

12 May, 1 swarm with 3 queens in it, marked one, captured, other 2 crawled back into Blue, putting away Flowhive we found another queen, tried to mark and catch but she got away from us.

13 May, 2 swarms; saw queen come back from mating flight (followed by drones), go into wrong hive (and we didn’t know it was wrong hive until later)… so we “helped” her stay in the wrong hive…she was one we had marked earlier….

We started Spring with 2 strong hives, and entered Memorial Day with 8 hives (in various stages of viability).

Anyone who tells you a hive can have only 1 queen, or says that the first thing queens do when they emerge is kill the other queens, is being incomplete or is simply wrong… Most of the time, those statements might be true; however, the bees have their own way of collaborating and negotiating… We counted 4 queens in “Big Blue” (we marked them), we witnessed 2 swarms issue from “Big Blue” as we stood there, as they formed 2 separate masses on the top and side of the hive (with their queens), and then decide to simply go back into the hive through the open top, and we witnessed them crawl back into the hive; we captured swarms forming on “Big Blue”; at one point we saw swarms with multiple queens and multiple swarms with individual queens.

Lost some queens, flew right through our fingers…. it was crazy.

They seem to be settled down now, as we finish our day of combining the weak/tiny and/or splits/swarms where the queen simply didn’t make it back, with viable with splits/swarms.

We started the Spring with 2 strong hives, went to 8 hives, and after the combinations (honey soaked newspaper method) we have 5 thriving hives. If we can get these through Winter then we are well on our way to our 10 hive goal!

What are some of the things we learned?

1. Don’t try and out-guess the bees; they are smarter than us; if they make swarm cells, make your splits.

2. If you think your hive, swarm, (or split) is queen-less because for 2 weeks after your queen emerged you see no signs of laying, nor do you find the queen, then look for 2 other signs; A. If you are carefully inspecting and some bees are a little defensive and buzz your veil, AND B. You see that some of the frames that were honey-bound now have a nice pattern of open cells (as if the bees are preparing space for the queen to lay), then she’s probably in there, and you have just not been able to find her. They will provide us signs if we know what to look for; have patience.

3. For walk-away splits, some texts (and beekeepers) say to put swarm cells into the new hive and give the old hive more room, while some texts (and beekeepers) say to put the old queen into the new hive and let the new queen run the old hive. I was doing the first, but I’m now switching to the second; I believe you should get the existing queen out of the old hive, and put her into a new one; that is probably more aligned with the natural concept that the hive swarms with the the old queen (usually); each of our original queens and even some of the newly hatched queens swarmed out of the hive they were in. Also, put a queen excluder at the bottom of the new hive for a few days).

4. Bees don’t like frames with wax foundation with exposed wires; I’m not trying to put additional wire on my frames any longer; it’s not needed; crimped wire wax foundation is just fine… I’m not very good at embedding wires into my frames. Worked through the winter trying to make my frames “better”, but ended up having to rip all those wires out, while bees were flying all around.