Thursday, May 13, 2010


Swarm season is in full swing by now, and getting a call to go get a wild swarm is always a good news for the beekeeper. The bad news is when his own hive swarms, and that's what I got a call for this afternoon. Hive #1 that was doing so good, swarmed. I inspected that hive 3 weeks ago, and added 2 sections to give them room (it is the lack of room that triggers swarming), and thought everything was fine, but the colony had already caught the swarm fever. In the 3 weeks that followed my first inspection, they built queen cells and prepared for the division of the colony, which happened today.
The swarm landed on a tree in the property. Here is the first sight we got of it:

This is a HUGE swarm, obviously a primary swarm. Bee colonies may swarm several times in a row, the first swarm (primary) is the biggest, the following swarms (secondary...) are not as good.
The swarm was around the tree trunk, which means we couldn't simply cut the branch and shake the whole swarm inside a new hive. I had to shake the whole tree trunk above a cardboard box and hope the queen would fall in. Here is a pic just before the shake up:

Here is the box full of bees after the shake up. The box has 2 windows cut through for ventilation. The windows are covered with window screen. All the bees congregating outside on the window screen is a good sign indicating the queen is likely in the box.

We walked to the new beehive, and prepared for shaking the bees inside the hive. Since this was an emergency, I used 2 hive sections I was preparing for another hive. These boxes are not painted, and Jim from the bee store let me use a used top and bottom for free (thanks Jim!). That will be their temporary home until I get a final place to set them.

Here is a pic inside the box, before shaking them in the hive.

There were about half as many bees on the outside of the box, and more still on the tree.
Shaking the bees. See the pile of bees already in the hive.

After the bees were set inside, the top bars of the beehive must be put in place. During that time, the queen may fly off.

After the swarm was taken care of, it was time to check the hive that generated this swarm, and inspect for queen cells. Here is the hive where the swarm originated:

And here is an unhatched queen cell:

I also found a hatched queen cell, likely the one from the swarm:

I found a total of 8 queen cells: 3 of them hatched, 4 unhatched, and one other that was just filled with royal jelly, not capped yet. There is high fever in the colony! All the queen cells were removed.
After we were done, we went back to the tree and could see quite a few bees congregating there. I had to shake the tree again, and this time, the trunk broke. That tree lost a few limbs during the whole event. Eventually, we got most of the bees. Here is the new hive:

All the pictures are from Kristen, who got stung while handling one of those mysterious queen cells in her hand. There was a worker bee still inside! Thanks Kristen for your help!
We now have 6 hives, but we won't have the honey harvest we were hoping for, a swarm drains a colony of its stores. I will have to closely monitor hive #1 (the originator of the swarm), and cull any queen cell I can find until swarm fever recedes, at the end of the swarm season. Hopefully there will be enough time for this colony to refocus on establishing winter stores. Too bad, this colony was booming. I increased the size of this hive just a few days too late...

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