“Bee” kind to our honey bees, we need them. As you may be aware, honey bees are under a great deal of stress and disappearing in alarming numbers. The real challenges facing our honeybees are the recently imported viruses and the Varroa mite. The Varroa mite is a parasite from Southeast Asia that our bees have not yet been able to adapt. Other major stresses on our bees are pesticides and the need to transport large numbers of hives around the county to pollinate mono-crops. Some hives are lost directly to agricultural spaying, others to long term exposure to pesticides.
Some of our bees have been able to survive without the use of strong medications and human intervention. It is these bees that we hope will develop the genetics to survive on their own. Swarm colonies are considered to have some of these survivor genetics. They have survived the various viruses and parasites that are stressing our bee colonies. Some beekeepers consider these naturally occurring swarms to be a superior way to replace our losses and increase hive numbers than to purchase packaged bees from commercial beekeepers.
Honey bees are beneficial insects that support agriculture and pollinate our gardens flowers, fruits and vegetables. Our food supply would be greatly diminished without them. In general, beekeepers are always interested in collecting swarms – especially in the spring. Swarms that occur after June are often small and it is too late in the season for them to build up sufficiently to successfully over winter. Even so, we are still interested in collecting swarms to combine with one of our weaker colonies.
Do I hear buzzing? Honey bees are social insects. Unlike the several thousand other species of solitary bees, honey bees store resources, in the form of honey and pollen. This ability allows the hive to survive the winter without hibernating, when there is no food to collect. It is this instinct that allows us to recover our sweet treat when sufficient excess honey is stored.
A beehive is like a single organism. If it does not grow and divide, it will eventually die off. Swarming is the only way a bee colony can propagate and reproduce itself. Without swarming, the species would soon go extinct. When a honey bee hive successfully survives the winter, the queen begins to expand her brood nest in anticipation of the coming spring bloom with its pollen and nectar flow. The number of bees in the hive increases rapidly and dramatically.
When a hive is very successful and the population expands beyond the capacity of the hive, the queen and her workers feel crowded and begin to make plans to swarm. The nurse bees respond by creating several queen cells in which to raise a new queen and replace the old, who will leave the hive with the swarm taking half or more of the hive’s bees with her. Only one of the newly raised queens will be allowed to survive, mate and resume her duties in the old hive.
When they swarm: The swarm forms just outside the hive, usually mid-day in the spring, primarily in March, April and May. The outgoing bees will circle around the old hive, rising in a vortex until they are organized to depart – usually landing in a nearby tree, a bush, on the side of a building or tree. There they form a tight cluster around the queen, It is a wondrous sight to behold.
A swarm can be as small as softball or larger than a basketball, containing from 5,000 to 50,000 individual bees. From this cluster the swarm sends out scouts to look for a good location for the bees to make their new home – a hollow in a tree, a utility box, a hole in the side of a house or out building, etc. Often the swarm will move on shortly after the first cluster is formed in thier effort to find a new home. So it is important to attempt to collect it soon after landing.
Other Clubs in the area provide Swarm Capture services.
• Sonoma Bee Club: www.sonomabees.org
• San Francisco: www.sfbee.org
• East Bay: www.diablobees.org
• Peninsula: www.sanmateobee.org