Repeat Swarming

Hi, I am a new beekeeper using a Warre hive populated with local bees in a National nucleus conversion-to-warre box. Bees arrived end of May settled well and built comb in first Warre box very quickly. Then stopped, despite having an additional box to spread into. I know the issue of space is complex and ensured there was enough physical space for further comb building if they wanted to – but they didn’t and swarmed. The hive built up numbers but has swarmed again this week leaving low bee numbers. Bees have plenty of foraging : hay meadows, orchards, gardens and woodland and hedgerow,  (needle in haystack job to see where the swarms have gone).  I worried that, with bad weather, they hadn’t enough stores for comb building so I have fed them the past couple of weeks. I am taken aback that they have swarmed again and not sure that remnant is strong enough to survive. Would merge it with another colony if I had more hives. Disappointing start to bee-keeping. Any thoughts?

Catharine Gloucestershire/North Wiltshire border

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8 Responses to Repeat Swarming

  1. simplebees says:

    Disappointing start to bee-keeping.

    Although this might be a disappointing start to bee keeping, it’s actually a great start to bee husbandry; a colony that has swarmed twice in a season is a healthy colony indeed. Do I take it that the colony is in two boxes: the converter box and a Warre box?

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  2. FollowMeChaps says:

    Catharine
    I think that the only problem is that you are worrying.
    Your worry led you to feed them which may have triggered them to swarm. Now you worry that they may not be strong enough to survive and are considering interfering again and merging them.
    Why not take a back seat, leave them to manage their own affairs and learn from them, rather than your own guesswork?
    Please, this isn’t meant as harsh criticism, rather encouragement to let the bees teach you. It is my opinion that true natural beekeeping is only difficult if one resists letting go.
    I hope this helps.
    Robin
    North Somerset

  3. churford says:

    I only fed them when the weather came in after the first swarm. Quite happy to leave them be but now am faced with very reduced numbers and very little follow on brood.

    • simplebees says:

      Catharine

      See my longer post below, but my advice would be to consider giving small amounts of feed in the evenings – no more than 200ml of 1:1 syrup made with nettle tea. Making syrup with nettle tea has been shown to help with brood production. Do this on alternate evenings, or even every 3rd evening. The aim is to give the bees a a trickle of input that encourages brood production without giving false signals or clogging the brood nest with stored syrup. Feeding small amounts in the evenings does not disrupt normal daytime foraging.

      Overall, although we are approaching the time when colonies begin to produce winter bees, the time for heavy, winter feeding, is not yet with us. That comes during late August.

      I apologise to readers who don’t buy in to feeding, but it is important that people at least understand what it is that they are doing, or not, as the case may be – see my next post, below.

      Gareth West, Oxfordshire

  4. simplebees says:

    This summer is turning out to be the wettest on record and that has led to a general perception that bees will need help. The general advice, therefore, has been to feed.

    In many locations this is true; but there are local exceptions, where the bees are thriving without assistance. This illustrates the point that beekeeping is intensely local. Forage and weather can vary significantly from locality to locality, for example between town and adjacent countryside and I have seen several examples of that this summer.

    A further factor to be considered is that, whenever we do something for, or to, our bees, we give them a signal. The bees do not differentiate between feed that comes in a feeder and feed that comes from a flower. This can lead to behavioural changes. For example, if a colony has sufficient stores, additional feeding during poor weather can cause the colony to perceive the weather as being better than it is: perhaps good enough to swarm. In this case, following the general advice to feed would give the colony misleading signals.

    By contrast, not feeding a colony that is on the brink of starvation could lead to that colony’s demise and potential heartache on the part of the beekeeper, feeling that they had failed in their duty of care. I have seen this recently, too.

    In summary, there is a balance to be found. Bee colonies need to be carefully assessed to decide whether beekeeper input is likely to be beneficial or harmful to their overall well being. This can be a difficult judgement for a beginner, and is one where the assistance of a more experienced natural beekeeper can be invaluable.

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

    • ruth talbot says:

      thanks as always for your thoughtful advice Gareth. You are right – it is a difficult judgement for a beginner! The consistent thread in the advice more experienced keepers give is to leave the bees alone and only intervene in extreme circumstances. BUT how does an inexperienced keeper recognise those circumstances? I watch my bees each day and they are really busy except in the most torrential downpour. when its drizzly they are less active and things usually pick up as the day goes on. Through my observation window I can see comb developing but slowly. To me they seem happy and settled and I assume that the colony is now laying brood and will expand its numbers as the brood hatches, so that the comb building will accelerate with more bees to do the work. what signs would alert me to the colony being in trouble? less activity at the entrance? a cessation in comb building? The temptation to look (which I resist remembering all the advice) is a result of my anxiety that I dont know what’s happening and that if I look, I might be able to work it out. I’ve even wondered if I could set up a webcam in the new hive I plan to install next season…..

  5. Lynne says:

    Hi Catharine – I know how distressing it can be to have a hive that throws cast after cast and seems to render itself unviable – this has happened to us this year too with a swarm followed by 3 casts. BUT, a consolation has to be that the initial colony was very strong and healthy and so has managed to reproduce itself brilliantly and it is likely that there are now 3 or 4 viable superorganisms existing in the world where before there was only one. The downside for us as beeks is, of course, that the remaining ‘old’ superorganism may not survive. We are fortunate however in having a second hive that is still going strong.
    So the only thing that I would add to the advice already given by Gareth is that any beek with just one hive is bound to experience odd occurences like this and so, for future peace of mind, I would suggest you go for 2 hives next year. That will give you more stability, and the difference in behaviour that can be noted between hives sitting right next to one another can be very illuminating. Good luck!

  6. churford says:

    Many thanks for everyone’s thoughtful input

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