What is Bee Swarming?
Beekeepers today try to control their hives and not let them swarm. Some may ask, “What is swarming?”
Very simply: Swarming occurs when a new colony of bees have been formed. Most often the old queen will leave with her worker bees and search out a new “home.” There is never room enough in any house for two queen bees! So, one has to go.
If there has been enough food stores over winter and then early on in spring, a new brood will hatch and the old hive becomes too small for all the bees.
When the bees are almost ready to leave the old hive, they will send out “scouts” to look for a new home before they all leave out. These scouts will lead the new swarm to their new home.
This can be a sign to watch for if you want to “catch” your swarm. Another sign they are wanting to leave may be bees hanging out on the front of the hive (this also happens when the weather is very hot).
When Do Bees Swarm?
You can look for swarms in early spring. We have them usually beginning in early May (we have had them to swarm as early as the last of April). We are located in western North Carolina. You can look for them to swarm on hot and muggy days. Most of ours start swarming anywhere from 11:00am to 3:00pm.
The bees will fill up on honey for their travels and can survive for up to 3 days on these stores. This means the swarm, if it is to survive, needs to find a place on their own or needs to be “caught” by the beekeeper. The bees are usually calm and pretty harmless when they are filled up on honey stores
How to Catch a Bee Swarm
To “catch” a swarm may not be easy in the beginning to someone who has not tried it before or seen someone else catch one.
When you realize the bees are coming out to swarm and not just “working” hard, you can try to “settle” them. Now, I know there will be beekeepers that will read this and say, “No, that is just an old wives’ tale.”
Well, I say, this is something we have always done and it works for us! When the air becomes thick with bees, you can get a metal pan and spoon and start banging on it — this helps to “settle” the swarm into one place instead of them leaving. If they leave your sight, it will be harder to follow them and try to collect them when they do settle somewhere else.
You can also have another empty hive set up somewhere near the old hive and sometimes they will put themselves in the hive. You can rub peach or apple leaves inside the empty hive to entice the scouts.
My husband, Alan, and I come from beekeeping families. So, we tend to stick to the “old-fashioned” ways. We don’t medicate or use chemicals on our farm. We use herbs that the bees can get to and “work” and medicate themselves.
We also don’t use artificial foundation in the frames. We let the bees make their own comb. We don’t use an extractor — we use a “straining” method and the honey is not heated. We leave a full super of honey on each hive for winter and we don’t feed sugar water.
Swarming is a natural process and we try to make our “beekeeping” as natural as possible!
Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting “workshop stays” on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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