A swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm in July isn't worth a fly.
While that poem is obviously location-related, in Atlanta, it applies well although most of our swarms which are definitely worth a silver spoon (or much more - after all, they are free bees) usually occur in March and April. Definitely we don't typically have swarms in July.
So imagine my surprise when I looked out of my window at 6 PM on a Friday night to see my survivor beehive swirling by the thousands up in the air. I was too panicked to think to video the event, but I thought is this robbing? I didn't think so because there were no attacks as you usually see in robbing. But it is JULY. So I picked up the hose and set it on shower and sent water straight up into the air and disrupted the swarm.
I called my friend Julia who gave me the hive. She said that the man whose survivor bees she split to create this hive has swarming all season long. I do know that Russian bees often swarm throughout bee season.
I just did a split to control the varroa mites at the community garden, so I wanted a queen cell. Great, I thought, I'll go in this hive in the morning and get a queen cell. Even if I lose these bees, I'll have a queen with their genetics.
Eventually the bees settled down on the side of the hive. And as night fell, they all were back inside the hive.
First thing this morning I went outside, lit my smoker and proceeded to open the hive. I made a video below.
As the video notes, there is absolutely nothing in any of the honeycomb - no brood, no honey, no nothing. And there are thousands of bees in the hive. These bees were absconding, not swarming.
Bees abscond when they think something is wrong with their home - sometimes it is that there are too many small hive beetles, sometimes they don't have enough food and have no hope for forage or feeding, sometimes their hive is damaged and they don't feel safe. Who can know the mind of the bee? But all beekeepers - inexperienced and experienced - have dealt with absconding, even if they didn't define it as such. A beekeeper may tell me, "I went to the hive and all the bees were gone. I have no idea what happened." If there is nothing left in the hive, the bees absconded. When they leave, they take all of their supplies, all of the honey.
I had noticed that a new box I put on this hive had a broken corner and the bees were forced to guard the broken corner as if it were an entrance. Maybe they didn't feel safe in the hive. The hive was in shade much of the afternoon and maybe there were too many small hive beetles. The hive had lots of honey when I last inspected but we are in a dearth and maybe they saw no hope for enough food for the future.
When I replaced the new box with one that wasn't broken, I noticed that the bees were carrying out larvae. At the time, I thought how great that they were such good survivor bees, carrying out defective or infected larvae. But that wasn't what they were doing. They were carrying out larvae because they were leaving/absconding and wouldn't be in the hive to care for their young - so they got rid of them.
When I recognized what was going on, I thought they are looking for a new home. What if I move them and give them a new home? Maybe that will keep them in my apiary. I love these survivor bees and the sister hive of this hive is at the community garden. I could move them there. While I began preparations to move this hive all by myself, I put a Boardman feeder inside the hive with a jar of honey to feed them, if that was the motivator.
I started at 8:30 and it was 12:30 before I was completely finished with this project. I took two plastic nuc boxes that I have and filled both of them with bees. I did this by shaking each frame off into the boxes. Then I had to shake each box. I looked for the queen but I never saw her and I never saw the bees with their rear ends in the air sending out nasonov....but I was VERY busy. Still, I don't know if I had the queen or if she were in the grass somewhere.
Bees do give tale-tell signs - like if the queen is in a corner, all the bees will start moving toward that corner or if she is in a box, they will easily go into the box. This whole process was like catching a swarm except that I was moving a hive as if they were a swarm. But I never saw any of those signs. So I thought I would get a frame of brood and eggs out of one of the community garden hives when I got there to help them make a queen if she didn't make the journey or was injured in the process.
I was by myself and had to make six or seven trips to and from the car, carrying equipment, cinder blocks, and/or bees each time. By the time I got to the last step of putting on the feeder and the surrounding boxes, I felt light-headed and faint. It was hot as blue blazes, as my mother used to say. I didn't get a frame of brood and eggs from another hive and just hoped for the best. I may go up there tomorrow and add a frame of brood and eggs. Doing that will make it OK even if the queen didn't make the trip or survive the trip. The frame of brood and eggs will inspire the bees to stay in the box. And will give them the resources to make a new queen.
At the end of the move, this is how the hive looked:
The entrance is actually on the other side of the hive, but I didn't think of that and kept treating the hive as if it were facing this way. You can see bees all over the hive and the area. You can see the community garden nuc hive to the far side of the new hive.
At around 3 PM at the end of the afternoon, I went back to the community garden and found the bees doing orientation flying and acting like they were comfortably home. I realized that the notch in the inner cover provided a door for robbers to enter where the bees are feeding on honey, so I stuff grass into it before I left.
Hopefully they will live well and prosper, but after all that work, they may still abscond tomorrow! But I will go in the morning and add a frame of brood and eggs from the sister hive next door to them.
As a side note, because I did this move in the day time, there were at least a thousand bees left behind who were circling in the area where their home used to be. I finished at 12:30 and at 1:30 this afternoon, there was a fierce thunderstorm. When I drove back into my driveway, the thousand bees were clinging to the hive to the left of where there hive had been and as the rain fell, they moved in with their neighbors!