Spring Swarming

With spring just starting, I guess thoughts are now turning to possible early swarming. As I live in an urban environment I would like to be able to have some awareness of when/if my hive is likely to swarm so that I can warn my neighbours.

How can I tell, without opening the hive how close to swarming they are? Any details would be helpful as this is a source of some concern to me. Many thanks

Graham, Reading Berkshire

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5 Responses to Spring Swarming

  1. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham, Good to see you thinking ahead. Where I am, the main swarming period is May and my own bees have usually swarmed in the second week of May most years, despite the weather. A neighbour 3 miles away sees swarms in late April. There can be later swarms, often as a result of beeks, trying to prevent swarming, delaying the process; if the colony is determined to do so it will swarm; beek interference can cause absconding of the whole colony.

    As swarms mean reproduction, and virgin queens which need mating, you will see colonies produce drones a week or so before the swarm. Old queens will also be slimmed down ready to fly; they will lay fewer eggs so brood feeding will be reduced and less pollen will be needed; less collected. You might see preparatory orientation flights at the entrance. The hive buzz will be different if you tap it and annoy the occupants.
    The colony will be expanding rapidly in April; it will put on weight (heft it) and fill up space.
    “At The Hive Entrance” by Storch is a useful guide to understanding colony condition without intrusive inspection.
    When you check growth and clean your hive floor in late March or early April you might put a nadir in place to give extra space. Colonies do not necessarily swarm every year; I know of feral colonies which swarm every 2 years; I have a couple of hived colonies which do the same and one which just supercedes the queen when it wants to.

    You need to decide what you are going to do with the swarm. Do you want an extra colony? It is useful to have a spare but you will need extra boxes. If so, you could set up a bait-hive.
    If you don’t want to keep the swarm let someone know; they might position a bait-hive or be prepared to take the swarm. Will you take and box the swarm yourself? If so plan ahead for how you will do it and what equipment you need.

    I know people who have and want only one hive. They and their neighbours are only to pleased to have the support of a beekeeper and someone to take away the swarm. Often telling the neighbour you will deal with a swarm gives them confidence and builds support for the Bee, rather than creating fear and hostility.

    Hope that helps
    John, Stockbridge Hants

  2. John, thanks for this. I’m certainly in that process of deciding what it is I want to do in terms of having a possible extra colony etc. You mentioned checking and cleaning in late March. Presumably this is to check they have enough stores before the main nectar flow comes in? You wouldn’t be checking this this early in the month?

    With regards cleaning the floor, I know you have talked before about the micro-ecology of the hive floor. In that respect is it wise to clear away all the detritus on the floor or just leave the bees to manage it themselves?

    Graham, Reading Berkshire

  3. tramcaro says:

    Could someone tell me how to clean the floor of a hive that is full of bees? Isn’t this too intrusive?

    • simplebees says:

      If a clean floor is desired, it is easy enough to swap the old floor with a clean one when nadiring, then clean the old floor and repeat on the next hive. A bit difficult if you only have the one hive, though, so in that case I’d be tempted to put the hive on a temporary floor while cleaning the old one, putting another box underneath and returning the original floor. If you want a clean floor that is, or if the old one is so full of detritus that it is blocking the entrance.

      I’m using sump floors and will allow the debris to collect as in a natural cavity. A few helpful wee beasties and microbes might want to live there!

      Gareth, Cotswolds

      • tramcaro says:

        Thanks for that advice Gareth. Following an idea from Phil, I have a mesh floor covered with bits of rotted wood collected over time then dried. This has been very successful and I can see no reason to change it. If the hive is vacated, then I would, but right now, it seems to serve a purpose against too much draft – and the wonderfully strong colony has survived against all odds on their own honey. Though I have given them fondant, they have hardly touched it.

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