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Swarming - newbie questions

Posted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 4:50 pm
by reedyfork
Spoke to both Rob and Mark briefly today to report a swarm on a tree in my next door neighbor's yard... I have no idea if it came from my two brand-new hives (packages in March) or was just "passing through". It was gone within an hour, so who knows where it is how. I just got home and at first glance my hives seem perfectly normal and regular activity outside the hives. A few questions:

Can/will a new package swarm? I have been adding supers regularly, no queen excluder, and no bearding or other indicators (I don't think).

When I open up hives this weekend what should I look for - other than only half the bees left?

Now that I'm freaked out, what else can I do to prevent it next time, if it was from my hives?

Re: Swarming - newbie questions

Posted: Wed Jun 26, 2019 5:51 am
by Jacobs
We are toward the end of traditional swarm season and at the beginning of when bees abscond because of things like starvation, hive beetle infestation, or other problems with the home hive. There will still be some swarms when bees get nectar/honey bound and feel crowded. Open, drawn comb gives them additional space--undrawn foundation is not really useful additional space until they draw comb. Package bees will swarm--some because the bees do so well that they become crowded, others because they have a genetic component that makes them more swarm prone.

You may or may not be able to tell if your hive swarmed. With reproductive swarms in swarm season, the old queen and over half her workers leave shortly before new queen(s) are due to emerge. Later swarms/absconds tend to be smaller. Some hives are really strong when they swarm and will still have lots of capped and uncapped brood in them so that population drops are barely noticeable while a new queen emerges and gets mated. If I know a hive of mine has swarmed, I don't like to go in it right away. I want to give time for the hive to sort out its queen situation. Others folks my do something different. Swarm cells are usually along the bottom of brood frames, so if you do go looking, a quicker way is to break apart the supers and look at the underside of the frames. If you see a row of queen cells and 1 or more have a neat circular opening at the bottom, a queen has emerged from it, and it is a pretty good indicator that your hive has swarmed recently.

You cannot always prevent swarming. Making sure the bees have usable space helps. If I see swarm cells and am lucky enough to find the queen, I can move her into a nuc with several frames of bees and a few of feed, and HOPE that is enough to cause the original hive to act as if the swarm happened and just let the new queen situation sort itself out.

I am hoping other folks will chime in--there is a lot more that can be said.

Re: Swarming - newbie questions

Posted: Wed Jun 26, 2019 6:00 am
by Wally
""" Open, drawn comb gives them additional space-"""

But only if it is in or adjacent to the brood nest. The queen will not travel outside her contiguous brood nest to use empty space. She will swarm first.
If you are going in to the hive, do it today, not this weekend. Look for queen cells. Otherwise, leave it closed for a couple of weeks like Rob said.

Re: Swarming - newbie questions

Posted: Fri Jun 28, 2019 4:40 am
by reedyfork
Great info - thank you both! I have not had a chance at all to open the hives yet, so will plan to sit back and wait a couple weeks. Being brand-new to this, having open drawn comb sitting around is not an option (I have only been able to add new supers with foundation until now). I guess that opportunity improves over the years...

I have been feeding continuously since I brought the packages home, have only seen a few hive beetles (each super has a couple beetle blasters), switched the entrance reducer back a few weeks ago to its smallest opening when I noticed a bit of probing, and am not aware of any other problems with the home hives. I'll go in with a plan and a camera handy to document anything I see!

Re: Swarming - newbie questions

Posted: Sat Jun 29, 2019 12:49 pm
by reedyfork
So now I've gone and confused myself! I went ahead and opened the "weaker" of my two new hives today to do an inspection while I waited a couple weeks to open the "stronger" hive that I suspected may have swarmed this past week (Tues).

I didn't look at every frame, but I did not see the queen and I did not see eggs or larvae. I DID see foragers bringing in pollen, capped brood, some drone cells, and a handful of queen/swarm cells. These were located on the bottom of the frames - some were capped, some were not, and I swear some looked like they had emerged (looked chewed at the tip). I also heard a noise that I describe as a "chirping" sound intermittently from the hive - I thought it was a bird or something nearby at first but I think it was coming from inside the hive... Not sure what the heck it was.

Now what??? Do I assume this is actually the hive that swarmed for some reason and it is in the process of making a new queen? Other than sit back and wait before looking in either hive again, is there anything else I need to be doing?

Re: Swarming - newbie questions

Posted: Sat Jun 29, 2019 1:47 pm
by Jacobs
Sit back and wait. Let the bees sort things out for awhile. It sounds like you had a newly emerged queen piping a challenge to other queens that may have emerged or are about to emerge. You may want to follow the Bush Farms link on our home page and check out his bee math sheet. It gives a fairly helpful set of "if you see this. . . how long until this. . . . " scenarios.