My First Swarm

was just sitting in the garden taking advantage of this beautiful weather and eating my lunch when the buzzing noise from around my hive increased exponentially.  Suddenly there were thousands of bees taking to the air and streaming across my neighbours gardens.  This is the firsts time I have seen a swarm take flight.  What a truly amazing experience.

Thankfully, my neighbours were out at the time as I’m not sure how the sight of a cloud of swarming bees in their garden would have gone down.  Surely this must be one of the disadvantages of natural urban beekeeping?  I would love to hear more experienced beek’s views on this.  I’ve heard bees are pretty docile when swarming, but I can imagine a lot of people freaking out if they see a cloud of thousands of bees buzzing around them.

I am left with many questions.  Is it common for a new hive to re-swarm so quickly within 8 weeks?  Why do they do this? Is this a sign of the vitality of the hive, or otherwise?  I did notice they were raising queen cells, obviously for this purpose. Is this a way of replacing an aged or worn-out queen?

I’m not sure whether to try to go and “rescue” the swarm from their temporary accommodation.  I don’t have many spare boxes or a spare hive to house them in. What are the chances of a swarm at this time of the summer surviving? Any advice would be welcome.

I am also concerned about future swarms and my relationship with my neighbours.  On the one hand I don’t want to  inhibit the bees natural impulses, but also I don’t want to be the local pariah!!

I would certainly appreciate any help on this.

Graham, Reading Berkshire

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3 Responses to My First Swarm

  1. Paul says:

    It is a sign of vitality. They’ve done really well in this location.

    If it’s a large swarm it has a good chance of surviving. Plonk it in a box, even if you don’t want it someone else will! Assuming you know someone nearby you think will take good care of them. Or you could put a divider in your hive and put it back in in the “other half” (I can’t recall if you have a TBH but that’s what I would do now). Though when we did that early this year, the other half’s entrance pointed over our garden and we couldn’t go into the garden without being in their flight path, which got a bit hairy untl a nice gent came and took ’em away. (That was Mr Simplebee, playing the part of Social Security and taking our “girls” into care.)

  2. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham, Catch the swarm and put it in your spare Warré boxes with a hessian topbar cloth, a piece of carpet as a temporary quilt and a makeshift floor and roof. A number of beeks are using their 4 hive-boxes to house two new colonies This new colony may well build up to survive the winter; if not at least it will build some new comb which will give a running start to a next year swarm or aid later ‘grow down’.

    The fact that you clear up a swarm will give your neighbours confidence that help is at hand. Take the opportunity to speak to them and educate them about bees; a new swarm is not aggressive and the best way to help bees is to let them live, not suppress their reproduction. This year a number of people have seen new colonies swarm; the weather may be one factor and an ageing queen another but frequent disturbance may also contribute. I have seen it happen after weekly lawn-mowing around a hive; a hive situated next to a busy road as well as regular looking at bees – even through windows?

    Few new beeks have spare boxes and equipment handy to deal with swarms. We all need to think and plan ahead so we are ready for what might happen. After 9 years of collecting swarms I am still encountering different situations which require basic planning and some basic kit but also a flexible approach.

    People rarely see swarms leaving the hive and forming a cluster, some hear the roar of a swarm in flight as they move to their new home. I think swarming, the birth of a new colony, is the highlight of the Bee’s life-cycle; It is impressive and wonderful. You are lucky to have witnessed this phenomenum so early in your experience.

    John, Stockbridge Hants

    Note: The Warré is a vertical hive; the Kenyan is a horizontal hive. Both are Top Bar Hives; for clarity it seems appropriate to refer to them as VTBH and HTBH

  3. Thanks for the comments. Currently, the swarm is hanging out in one of my neighbours trees. I will need to wait until they are back this evening before I can go and see if they are open to me collecting it. Of course, it may have gone by then!!

    John – how do you house two colonies in a 4 box Warre? I assume that the new swarm goes into a spare box and this spare box would replace the last but one box in the hive (which currently doesn’t have any comb on it). Would you need a divider between the two colonies, as I assumed swarming was a way of maintaining genetic diversity? If so, what would I use and also how would the upper colony get in and out of the hive?

    I definitely think I need to talk to my neighbours about bees and try to educate them. I also see the merit in keeping spare provisions handy just in case!

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