Taking Swarms

Swarms are best taken soon after they cluster, as in warm weather they can
move on.  We have had 4 occasions this spring (May 2012) when people have been told of swarms at midday; they were delayed or waited ’til late afternoon and swarms dispersed.

Once boxed (normally 30 – 40 litre box or skep) the swarm should be well shaded and kept cool, ideally under the position where it had settled.

However, one should wait until the cool of the evening before removing the swarm box to allow the return of foragers, scouts and even a queen.  I have noticed, on a number of occasions, queens returning to the swarm up to an hour and a half after boxing it.   If you move a swarm early you should return in the evening to collect the cluster of late returners.  If you fail to collect the queen, the swarm will not develop into a new colony.

Ideally a swarm should be hived in the evening of the day it swarmed.  The bees are oozing with wax and will start to make comb as soon as they settle.  Moving the developing colony to another box after a few days is stressful and wasteful (bees use 200 – 240gms of honey to make 30gms of wax).  A late move will retard colony build-up.

In hot weather bees may not settle until 2030 to 2100hours.  This is usually too late to hive the swarm without severe disruption; so put the swarm box on the intended hive site and leave the colony to settle overnight.  Hive it early the next day.

If the swarm collection has been difficult and traumatic for the bees, they may well abscond looking for a more peaceful situation.   A queen excluder (QE) may be used to hold the swarm while it settles.  It should be in place for no more than 2 days. Virgin queens are only receptive for about a week and must be allowed to take their mating flights.  A QE will also trap- in drones and scrape pollen off the legs of foragers.  Restricting the narrow hive entrance of a Warré hive can block all traffic within minutes so use a QE arrangement with maximum area.  Be careful, a QE is a stress raiser!

Do not ask for a swarm unless you have a hive sited, fully prepared and ready for immediate use.

John Haverson

June 2012