Dealing with my first swarm


Well. Regular readers will know that ordinarily my report about Colony One follows the same sort of story most weeks. They were a bit moody, we didn't see the queen but there were eggs, they're being productive, they look healthy. Today's beekeeping lasted four hours, so go and get a drink and sit down while I tell you all about it.

Last week, Colony One had a single, sealed queen cell, and some weird queen cups. I thought it might need an inspection, and headed down today on a lovely 20°C afternoon. Cracking open the hive, I saw about 90% of the brood box still in use, about a quarter stores and about three-quarters brood. There were quite a lot of drones around, and lots of lumpy drone brood.

I was a bit concerned to see that there were no eggs in there. The youngest brood was about four or five days old — uncapped worker brood was here and there, and a lot more capped brood too. Going up into the supers, about three frames had been filled with stores, with most of the rest worked on, so they are indeed moving the stores up.

At this point, I looked up, and even though the bees weren't being aggressive, it felt a bit like they'd filled up the sky. The apiary was thick with them flying around frenetically. The adjacent hedge and road was getting busier with bees. It was time to stop the inspection if people were cycling and running through that cloud, so the roof went on and I waited a couple of minutes for everything to go back to normal.

After inspections, I usually take a five-minute walk around the field, just to give any following bees the opportunity to give up and head back home. However, this time, I could hear buzzing from the hedge. Looking closer, there was a ball of bees clustered around two of the thorny branches. We had a swarm on our hands, and possibly one that I had caused! I had to do something about it — not only because it would mean another colony, but also because I didn't want it to end up in someone's house. They wouldn't be staying in the hedge if I could help it.

I rang Dave. He was excited, and told me to ring Thomas, who by now is our beekeeping mentor in all but name. Thomas explained first about the hive inspection — that if I do nothing else I should leave them alone for three weeks. The new virgin queen is emerging or has just emerged and will be laying after she mates, while the swarm is the result of the queen heading elsewhere. Because of this, the lack of eggs made sense, but the hive didn't seem to be low on numbers and, as I said above, there was plenty of nectar and pollen stored in there. But it was a warm day, and I think this had been on the cards for some time.

And about the swarm, Thomas gave me a crash course in how to rescue a swarm in a few minutes. Dad was along with the necessary equipment shortly after. A brush, a bucket and a blanket were all within reach. He went home, and Ⓑ and Ⓒ arrived to see what was going on. It was Ⓒ's first proper encounter with bees — a swarm in full effect — and considering how potentially unsettling that must've been, she did really well. Ⓑ saw the buzzing mass in the hedge and was transfixed.

Telling myself that I knew what I was doing, I shook the hedge with the bucket under the ball of bees, and they just fell into it. Then, I poured the bees — they were just like a liquid — into the nuc. After a few minutes, I put the roof on the hive, and bees were going into the entrance while others were fanning lots of orientation pheromones to say that the queen is at home. I'd temporarily repurposed the crown board as a kind of ramp for the bees to walk up. Watching them do that was amazing. Ⓑ even spotted the queen in all this.

They looked very slow, so I thought perhaps I'd repeat the original advice from last year — to welcome them to their new home with a bag of fondant. A kilo of ApiCandy went in the top. During putting it there, I dropped some of the bees onto the grass, but they seemed to just trudge up the ramp again. Within about half a hour — just enough time for a picnic of two bananas and a bottle of beer — they were all inside, and it was time to move the nuc. The bees were quiet as I walked their new home the 50m back to the apiary, with Ⓑ's help, and we packed up and went home.

It must be a good day for for swarming nationwide because Tiff rang from Leighton Buzzard in the middle of all this to say she'd found a swarm in a tree and had called a beekeeper too.

All this makes me think a bit that the lesson is that we should have maybe split the colony a few weeks ago. This of course seems clear now, but judging swarming tendency seems like something that just comes with experience. I'm sure we'll get a better sense of how to time it.

So now, potentially, there's a Colony Three. Ben is overjoyed at his new bees — we just have to hope they stay. I will likely go down there on Sunday to check if they're still at home, and Dave and Ⓓ are doing their inspection tomorrow, but I won't start a full inspection for a couple of weeks on either hive. If I do hear about a swarm, though, I'll perhaps be a little more confident in grabbing a brush and a bucket and heading out to investigate.

Colony ID
Queen seen?
Queen cells
Framefuls of stores
Frames available for brood
Estimated mites
Temper / docility
Feed given
Treatment given
Supers added
C11✔ 7¼f?, no e2½f? + 3sf1¼f + 7sf820°C ☀