Bee Swarm

They weren’t suppose to….

I set up our first bee colony on May 9 this year and have been doing everything by the book ever since.  I have been feeding them since I set them up.  The instructions said I should feed them for at least 6 weeks or until they no longer take the sugar syrup.  Some instructions even advised feeding them until August.  They have been finishing whatever I give them, once a day lately.  They forage simultaneously.

By my third inspection, I found plenty of bees in the hive.  The super on top of the brood box was also more than half full.  I decided to add a third super, with a queen excluder set between the second and the third super.  I thought the queen would have enough space in the bottom two supers to continue laying eggs.  At the same time I found a couple of queen cells in the second super.  They looked more like supersedure cells.  I thought I might have smashed the queen by accident, or she wasn’t well so they ‘re trying to raise a new queen.

But this morning, about to leave the garage on my way to work, what to my bloodshot eyes should appear?  A huge swarm of honeybees outside in the clear.  They soon coalesced on a tree branch about 20 feet too high for me to reach.  Nuts.  Lacking a very high ladder or a bucket truck, I was out of luck for reaching them.  The hive split, we still have a viable hive, but it’s smaller now.  We hoped to recover the swarm with their new queen but the only option open to us was a bait box sprayed with lemon grass scent in hopes of luring them in.  It didn’t work.  They hung onto the tree branch covering their queen protectively for about two hours while scouts searched everywhere for acceptable real estate.  Finding something they evidently liked, the swarm left en-masse, not to be seen again.

I thought they weren’t suppose to swarm in the first year.  It’s just two days short of two months and half of them decided to leave.  My friend at work told me, when I called to let her know that I need a day off, that they were too well fed so they populated faster than usual.

I’m still trying to figure out why?  The queen excluder I put in between the second and the third super?  Would they leave if the queen was able to lay eggs on the third super?  Anyway, I’ve stopped feeding them now and am debating whether to harvest some honey from the third super since most of the frames are full.  I’ll decide when I make the next inspection in a week.

Hanging out on the Maple tree 20 feet above the hive.
There are far more bees now than when I purchased them, and this is only half of the population.

10 thoughts on “Bee Swarm

  1. My understanding (limited though it may be as a new beekeeper) is that if the queen should run out of brood cells to lay in because the foragers filled everything with honey, then you are ripe for a swarm. I’ve been told that when there seems to be a danger of becoming honey bound (which is what this situation is called) that adding either empty drawn comb, or an empty frame to the brood box will switch the bees to comb drawing mode to fill the empty frame, or at least this will provide the queen with space to lay in if it’s a frame with drawn comb. The frame should be added somewhere in the middle of the box, not on the outside as the queen does not lay in the outermost frames. The removed frame can either be used in a second brood box, or be given to a weaker hive that needs it. Too bad about loosing the swarm though!

    1. Thank you. We suffered ‘newbie’s mistake.’ The swarm formed in the morning and left before noon. The new (empty) hive arrived by UPS in the early afternoon. They missed each other by minutes. We should have known to give them more space, added an empty frame in the middle for them, something. But we’ll know next time. At least the entire hive didn’t leave. Although I would have been happy if they had given us written notice at the back door before packing up a new queen and leaving. But they’re only bees.

  2. BTW, if you had been able to wet the swarm with a hose, they would have been unable to fly until they dried themselves which would have bought you more time, though it sounds like they were too high for that this time.

    1. We would have to borrow a hose from the fire truck to get that high. Anyway, they were gone by 11:00 am. I’ll keep the option in mind for next time.

  3. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Bees have a natural instinct to swarm once their population reaches a certain point. In a large colony there’s less queen substance to go round and that is thought to be one of the possible triggers.

    A good idea for next year would be have a spare hive ready. Check weekly for queen cells and once you find some carry out an artificial swarm to divide the colony into two. This method usually puts them off swarming and ensures you keep all your bees.

    1. Thank you. I’m still annoyed with myself, but it’s a learning process. If I wasn’t so concerned about keeping them alive and healthy since the colony is less than two months old, I would have interpreted what I have seen during the inspections differently. I added a third super so they can keep their food supply up there and use the bottom two as living quarters…still they swarmed. I looked on the bright side, I still have half a colony. I will definitely keep your advice in mind for next year. Thanks again.

    1. My friend said I over-fed them. I no longer feed what’s left of the hive, but I guess I don’t have to worry about them dying now. They still are happily foraging and probably have more room to stretch their wings in the hive.

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