Swarm Catcher

Ever the optimist I put out bait hives every year. “A bait hive is an empty hive that is set up to attract a swarm during the swarming season. For about a week before a colony swarms it sends out scout bees to find a new home.” http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/baithives.html.

Swarm nestled in the branches this laurel bush

There are pros and cons to catching swarms; you don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know if the queen is old and on her last legs, if she’s a good or ‘bad’ queen or produces cranky bees, or God forbid, if they are riddled with disease! Actually, now that I think of it, the negative list seems endless.  However, catching a swarm in a bait hive is thrilling. The bees have ‘shopped’ around and chosen your bait hive! If all goes well, that is potential for some honey this year from them if caught in May, depending…well on a lot of factors, and the potential for a good crop from a new queen next year (old queens will usually be replaced by the bees).  I’d prefer to catch a swarm than let a swarm take its chances in the wilds as the odds are not good if it doesn’t find a decent home and a caring beekeeper.

Thrill of thrills! I received a call about textbook perfect swarm on a low branch, hanging within easy reach and I was able to drop it into my waiting bee box under it with a simple tap of the branch. Forget your low hanging fruit, what I really want is this…a low hanging swarm.  The downside was, and here I hang my head in shame, that the swarm had come from one of my own hives! “Conceal nature as you will but nature will be nature still.”  Bees will do what bees want to do regardless of what the books say.  

And what happens to the bees left behind in the hive that swarmed?

There should be a charged queen cell left behind and all going well a new queen will hatch, mate well and start laying; the timing of which is as follows:

An egg is laid (by the old queen) and fed royal jelly (by the workers) to make a queen cell.

Day 8 Queen cell sealed  – swarm issues for the hive – Good bye 60% of the worker bees and old queen.

Day 16 New queen hatches from queen cell.

Day 20 New queen mates (we hope there will be plenty of high-quality drones from other hives around and the good weather for this to be successful)

Day 26 She lays her first eggs 

Day 47 First worker bee emerge

So, when a hive swarms in June/July there may not be enough time for the old hive to build back up enough to produce a decent honey crop in August from that hive.

All I can do is my best, brush up on how to prevent swarming and hope I learn and improve every year.


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