The Wonder of Swarms

Swarming is an essential part of the life cycle of the bee.  As explained in this article, swarming bees are healthy bees.  In the south of England, the swarming season typically starts in May, however, this year the cold spring has delayed matters until the end of May.

The first swarm from a hive is termed the prime swarm and contains the queen from that hive plus maybe a third of the bees.  In a good season, an early prime swarm can build to become a very strong colony by the end of the summer.  In nature, such a swarm will seek out an appropriate cavity in which to build comb and create a hive.  Perchance the cavity may have been preprepared by a late swarm from the previous year that did not survive the winter.  In an apiary, once such a swarm has settled,  it may be hived by the beekeeper.  For many who witness the swarming event, it can be a life enhancing experience; we are present at a time of creation for an organism, the Bee, that is unlike any other.

Heidi Herrmann, of the Natural Beekeeping Trust,  passed me this observation of swarming that she received a few years ago.  It expresses the mystical effect of being present on the occasion of a swarm.

‘Well, honestly, I suppose this swarm was nothing remarkable from a scientific perspective. It’s what bees do, after all. In fact, it may have been our presence (there were about 20 of us bipeds roaming about) that agitated them to swarm. From a personal perspective, though, it was on par with seeing the sun rise over the ocean for the first time, or perhaps standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I had a flash of insight into the oneness of all creation. Could any of us possibly track a single bee in a swarm? For all practical purposes, there is no individual bee. Likewise, there is no single man or woman: all are one, all at once. From the dawn of history to the dim, unknown twilight of our future, all of us together are one. I know this probably sounds completely weird and confirms the stereotype of the crazy religious American. However, being in that swarm was a mystical experience. The bees spoke in a deafening roar that could not be ignored.’

I get called to collect swarms from all sorts of places and I cannot recall an occasion when the property owner and others nearby were anything but entranced by the sight of swarming bees.  The Bee is a truly amazing creature and should be cherished.  The reproductive process- the swarm- gives us a unique insight into its world.

Feel free to post your swarm moments in the comments box below.

Gareth, Cotswolds, 2013


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