Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Survival Bee Keeping - A Bit About Swarms

At this point a little bit about swarms is in order. As the daily amount of sunshine begins to increase the handler bees inside the hive will begin forcing the queen to lay more and more eggs to increase the number of workers. It's the perfect time of course since a lot of the comb that once held honey is now empty.

At some point the handler bees will decide it is time for the queen to lay some eggs in the reproduction or swarm cells that are usually placed on the bottom part of a comb. When these eggs hatch into larva the nursery bees will begin feeding the new larva royal jelly that turns them into queens. It takes 21 days for them to make a new queen from an egg.

The first new virgin queen to emerge will then move around the hive and kill her sisters thereby establishing herself as the new heir apparent at which point she will take a mating flight and the old queen will leave the hive taking roughly half the bees with her to establish a new hive.

Of course there are many little things that can go wrong in this scenario. Sometimes the new queen doesn't kill all her rivals or she herself is killed somehow during her mating flight. The bee keeper might accidentally kill her. I won't be getting into all the possibilities today. What we are interested in is what happens once a swarm leaves the hive.

Queens are not the best flyers so when they leave the hive in the swarm they almost always find a close location within a few feet of the hive to land on something. The bees who have volunteered to follow the old queen then form a huge ball around her like in the picture at the top. At this point the swarm will either stay right where it is and send out scouts to begin looking for a new home or it will sometimes move  further away before it starts looking. Ya just never know so if you see a swarm in a tree it's best to go ahead and capture it if you can rather than gamble it will find one of your traps.

After the swarm has settled somewhere it sends out scout bees. The scout bees are the older forager bees who's main job now becomes finding a new home for the swarm. These bees will begin checking out every nook, crack, container etc. they can find. I have read they are looking for a specific sized area with multiple conditions like South facing, small opening etc. etc. etc. The variables are too numerous to list but they are also measured as a whole so a hive area that is maybe too big but with a proper entrance maybe chosen over one that is the right size but too big an entrance etc.

One huge bonus however seems to be if the new hive area has been occupied by bees in the past. Old comb in a cavity is like a welcome mat to the scout bees. Many people also put lemon grass oil in their traps because the scout bees can smell it from miles away and it mimics the queen's natural pheromone smell.

The scout bees then go back to the swarm and do a direction dance for whatever cavities they have found. Other scouts then go to those coordinates and check out the cavities then fly back to the swarm and will join the dance for each given cavity. Eventually enough of the scouts agree on which cavity is the best by which one has the most votes in dancers. When that happens the swarm takes off and the scout bees now become herders and move the swarm along to their new home.

The variables that seem to make the most difference around here are entrance size. You want it to be about a 3/4 inch hole.

Volume of the trap. This is variable itself though because a small swarm will not always go to a large cavity. That is why I make traps of different sizes.

Old comb and Lemon grass oil in the trap. To attract the bees and make them think they got a head start on the comb building.

South or East facing entrance. Around here the bees really dislike North facing for sure. West they will take if all the other variables add up.

Height off the ground. I used to try and put traps at about 8 foot off the ground but the last few years I been only going about 6 foot because the swarms seem to prefer em 6 foot over higher. Not sure why.

Next up I will discuss traps a bit more in depth but I would like to close this post with a bit about traps v. natural cavities. I have noticed when a lot of the local feral bees die off in a year trapping swarms becomes very difficult. The bees cannot resist an old cavity filled with empty comb. They will chose such a home over your traps every time so a good Spring build up after a harsh year will almost certainly be a terrible trapping year and you should make it point to grab the swarms before they make a choice on a new home. This is why scouting out feral colonies is a good idea so you know what areas to look for swarms in.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!


  1. Since you work with bees and you are on that topic and I know nothing about them what do you think about this video below. Is this possible or the coming of a big scam?

    1. Mike - I saw an earlier video Kymber linked for me a couple weeks ago and I was very skeptical. For one thing the open jars they showed would equal out to other bees robbing the honey faster than it came out. However this video you linked shows more sealed containers and explains the process a bit more. Honestly it looks more like a viable system in the video you linked. They also had my favorite bee personality Michael Bush on there plugging it and if he plugs something it has to be good.

      That being said I see two problems. The way they got around the uncapping issue is brilliant. I wonder though if it will be tough enough to deal with brood being laid in the frames? I think it will all hinge on how tough the plastic is. Secondly you would more than likely have to remove the flow frames during the Winter, which I do some but keep others on.

      Honestly though after the video you linked I think I am going to try it when/if I can. It just might work honestly. I doubt it will work for all the hives and the price tag is going to be a real consideration as well but I would like to give it a try and see.

    2. Also the other problem I see is if you put these frames above a queen excluder to keep her from laying eggs in them then you also limit the honey going in. Most bee keepers call queen excluders honey excluders as well because the girls don't seem to want to go up there if the queen can't. If you let her up there and there are eggs and larva in those frames I wonder what will happen when some bee goo gets liquified into the honey.

    3. I see it as a kind of battery farming for bees. They don't want plastic comb, they want to make their own!

  2. Thanks PP, I'll keep an eye on it to see if it goes anywhere. May even checkout their patent.

  3. I think you could do an ebook on this subject, might bring in a little money for more preps as well!

  4. thanks for this latest bee article PP - i print all of your bee articles but i am really liking the way you are explaining all of it. can't wait for the next installment about traps vs. cavities! much love bro!

    your friend,

  5. Another interesting post, Beeking.


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