They’re smart you know. Temperatures are below average but the bees still know it’s spring and they are planning shenanigans. May is around the corner you see. Swarming season. Don’t think that your bees are not already taking little notes with the jotters and pens that they keep hidden somewhere in the vicinity of their pollen baskets. Notes of places that might make a suitable new home for 60% of the hive to leave your cosy set up to start a new colony and deprive you of a honey crop. The winter bees (for more on winter bees see blog post A winter tale) are dying off now being replaced by lighter, limber young bees. These are exploring old abandoned hives, like those not removed by beekeepers or in eves of houses and sheds or in a wall or tree cavities or dustbins or tyres! for stores they can rob. A lazy, opportunistic lot that they can be, why get pollen from a flower when it’s already packed into an abandoned hive? Yerra what do they care if it might have a few diseases they will carry back to the hive, it’s worth the risk. Shur, won’t the ladies back home clean it up for sure. Yeah right! It’s a risky business robbing out hives. Beekeepers please take away and clean out your abandoned or dead-out hives to prevent spread of disease. Not saying that your bees were diseased, but I don’t know why they abandoned the apparently excellent hive you provided. Let us all proceed with “an abundance of caution” this swarming season. [Groan, how often we’ve heard that phrase these days.]
Meanwhile, the bees are putting notes about these wonderful caverns in their tiny jotters as a potential new home as they waggle dance to tell their sisters where the goodies are. Bees, I’m watching you. Well, I would be if the weather was warmer. There’s not much I can do just now as it’s too cold to be annoying them with in-depth hive inspections. All I can do is LEAVE THEM ALONE.
Standing in my shed I look around at the neat stacks of clean boxes chalked-marked so that I know which have no frames, wired frames, unwired frames, drawn comb (I’ve marked “June” as these will make fine honey supers). Clean frames are hanging neatly all in a row. I twiddle with my thumbs, what have I missed? What will catch me out this year that I’ve forgotten to do in advance. Should I put the foundation into the wired frames now or wait? Hmm.. I’ll wait, better done fresh.
Trying to think like a bee is hard work but given their penchant for shenanigans I’ve already put some bait boxes out to catch stray swarms looking for a good home. Hopefully, I’ll be able to prevent my own bees from swarming this year! It’s a tough jog though, they are just too smart. A few years ago I was approaching a hive with a spare box to remove frames with queens cells and bees to prevent the hive swarming, just to see many, many more bees flying out of the entrance than should be expected. I was witnessing a swarm emerging from the hive. What a privilege to see this. I stood fascinated, simultaneously awed and depressed to see them leave and fly off in a cloud of bees. My bee-mentor was with me and was quick off the mark following them as they landed only 50m away on a low branch (full of thorns). It being swarming season May/June I had in my car a branch-loppers, bed sheets and a cardboard box which all were immediately put to good use. I still picture him hugging the cardboard with a thorny branch clustered with bees sticking out of it as he carried them to the empty hive we set up. What a glorious sight but such a pity that it was not the time for posing for a photograph!
Note to self: Put in car
Spare complete hive box
Related – my blog post Swarm catcher
Swarm landing at a bait hive (12 sec video)
Below photos are the bees rescued by my mentor going into their new hive. See their tales lifted to show the Nosema glands to release the ‘come hither’ pheromone to attract the queen and their sisters in.