It’s that time of year. The swarming season. It starts when the first dandelion bursts into flower and lasts until the summer solstice is over, just over a month from now. So why do bees swarm ?
A swarm of bees is simply the reproduction mechanism of bee colonies: one colony splits into two. There’s a bit of commotion around the hive as the old queen bee leaves with a retinue of forager bees and a large haul of honey, which is needed to supply the energy for the bees to build the wax for their comb at their new des res. The other half of the hive stays put, waiting for one or more virgin queens to hatch, fight to the death for supremacy, get mated and start to repopulate the colony. A real-life “Game Of Thrones”…
To avoid this happening, we scrutinize the wax comb on the frames for queen cells. These cells point downwards, rather than outwards, as all the worker and drone cells do. When built, it looks rather like a peanut shell, but there are 3 distinct sorts of QC: swarm, supercedure and emergency.
Swarm cells will mostly be found on the bottom of a frame, with several side by side:
Supercedure cells are single cells, often found in the middle of the frame:
And emergency cells are stubby cells, hurriedly cobbled together when a queen bee has unexpectedly died or been killed:
The other key factor is what is inside these cells. If it is an egg on its own, that is a warning sign that the bees may be preparing to swarm. But if there is a curved white larva, afloat on a sea of milky royal jelly, then it is a sure sign that the bees are about to swarm. Before that queen cell is sealed, after 8 days, the old queen and the flying bees will have swarmed.
Fortunately, if we spot these queen cells charged with royal jelly, we have several management options to prevent the bees from swarming. What sort of beekeeper would you call yourself if you could not “keep” your bees, instead allowing them to swarm away?
An Airbnbeekeeper, I’d suggest.