What is swarming?
Swarming is when a large number of bees leave a hive together to form a new colony elsewhere. Swarming is a natural bee behaviour that occurs for a few reasons.
Reason 1: There is a space issue for the colony, and they need to split into two so they can continue to flourish.
Reason 2: The location of the hive is undesirable and the bees choose to look for a better location. This is usually because of issues with moisture, amount of sunlight, disease issues, location to water sources, and nectar sources.
When do honeybees swarm?
Honeybees will typically swarm between spring and early summer. We like to call this swarm season because this is when swarming is most likely to happen. Hives will also swarm once they start running out of space. You can also manage your hives to suppress swarms which is a great opportunity to make room, split, or grow your colonies. You can read about how to make splits here.
What are the signs of swarming?
While doing your standard hive inspections, you might notice that you have a large brood population! When this happens the queen bee releases a pheromone that lets the hive know it’s time to prepare for a swarm. This is when worker bees will start building queen cups in preparation for a new queen bee.
Is swarming bad?
NO! This is a misconception about beekeeping that has been perpetuated by the media: swarming is dangerous; they will attack and kill you. In fact, swarming is a safe, calm, and organized behaviour for bees. They all cling on to one another by latching hands and feet, surrounding the queen because without her they will not be able to survive. The scout bees fly around the area looking for a new nesting site. Then, the bees follow the pheromone scent of the scout bee which has found the best location. Think of swarming as a ferry taking the queen from one island to another: slow and methodical.
Swarm Suppression in your Langstroth Hive
You are going to want to add another brood box below your bees this flow, even if your brood nest is only 5 frames large. You are going to want to be smart about how you do this though. Make sure that the day and night forecast temperatures are warmer than 9 degrees Celsius for 7 days after this manipulation.
Take the open brood frames of the brood nest and move them to the middle of your new brood box, which will be placed above the currently populated hive box (new bottom box). I do this when I move from 2 boxes to 3 boxes, without use of the queen excluder.
Why move open brood up?
- Heat moves up, open brood requires more heat than capped brood.
- Open brood contains young nurse bees and young bees are wax producing bees
- Wax production in colonies requires an internal temperature of a minimum of 28 degrees Celsius. Therefore, wax production is best done in the brood nest or top box.
- The young brood above means that the combs in the upper boxes will have no vacancy for two weeks or more. This encourages the queen to maintain the brood nest in the bottom box(es) without the use of queen excluders.
Place honey frames on the outsides of all boxes, checkerboarding new frames (foundation or foundationless) between honey and other pulled combs. Do your best to maintain the brood nest, and not split up the capped brood at this time. Doing both supering and checkerboarding capped brood in the same week can cause undue stress on the colony. Pace your wax production and potentially move a new frame between frames of capped brood, but only do this if you feel you have enough bee/cluster to cover the expanding area of the brood nest. If you’re close, wait a week for brood to hatch, increase the cluster size, then checkerboard. This keeps the brood nest together and also offers the insulating properties of the remaining periphery honey stores to keep the colony warm. The bees will build comb fast this way but you can have the inner cover closed to reduce heat loss.
If you are a beekeeper, make sure to keep an eye on your hives especially on those warmer days where your brood population is more likely to increase. If you ever come across a swarm, remember that this is a calm and organized bee behaviour and it is best to contact a beekeeper in your area.