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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a Master Beekeeper! Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.


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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Swarming - the Reproduction of the Hive

Swarm season is about to be upon us here in Atlanta.  I've been reading about swarms and swarm action in the hive in the Winston book.  Here are some interesting facts about swarming:

Environmental cues that contribute to swarm preparation in the hive:
  •  Time of year (spring build-up, usually)
  •   Length of days (longer)
  •   Availability of nectar (the new hive formed by the swarm has to be able to provision itself)
  •   Warm weather (what cluster of bees wants to hang from a branch in the snow?)
Inside the hive the cues that contribute to swarm preparation are:
  • Congestion in the brood nest
  • Good buildup of population in the hive
  • Lots of young bees (70% of worker bees in the swarm are under 10 days old)
  • Reduced distribution of queen pheromone (which influences the workers to build queen cells)
 Queen cups are built as a sort of insurance policy so that they could be quickly filled with an egg and royal jelly should the factors for swarming begin to increase.  Previous to swarming the queen lays 20 or more eggs in queen cups - this ensures that the hive will have a queen when the old queen leaves with the swarm.  Colonies seal 15 - 25 queen cells before swarming!

Usually the swarm takes place on the day of or the day after sealing the first queen cell.

Note:  in traditional beekeeping practices, the beekeeper "cuts" queen cells.  The teaching is that cutting the queen cells keeps the hive from swarming.  Let's think about this.

The hive is going to swarm when the first queen cell is capped.  The bees themselves sometimes destroy queen cells to delay swarming.  They do this during bad weather or when the nectar flow has stopped so that the swarm won't leave in less than optimal conditions.

Since it works for the bees, beekeepers often try to prevent swarming in the same way, but we are not privy to hive decision making.  The beekeeper opens the hive and says, "Oh, dear, I must cut out those queen cells."  And with one decision, the hive may be rendered queenless because the old queen has left/is leaving with the swarm.

Hmmmmm.  I don't think I will be cutting queen cells. 

Another possibility upon finding swarm cells in the hive is to take a frame with queen cells on it and use it to make a split a la Michael Bush.  Maybe this is the way I'll choose to go when I find swarm queen cells in my hives this year.

2 comments:

  1. It sounds like the bees naturally take care of themselves when it comes to swarming..why would anyone mess with that?

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  2. Anonymous8:37 PM

    I had a hive swarm just yesterday, approx 2/3 of the bees left with the queen. From what I'm reading, your advice is to leave the vacated hive alone or swap its position with another hive? Would you recommend requeening?

    The swarm is still hanging on a large tree branch about 40-feet up, totally inaccessible, as if to taunt us...why are they still here? Scout bees didn't find a good home for the swarm yet?

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