As usual, swarming time sneaks up on me and i am surprized. i received a call a week ago from someone about 20 miles away. By the time we got there, it was gone. A few days later, one of our hives swarmed and lit on a small tree – so i was able to capture it. then, another call from total strangers about 15 miles away and another one of our hives swarmed at the same time. Swarming season indeed!
Swarming is the way that honey bees have babies or procreate – make more of themselves. A hive swarms only when it is full of bees and food. The bees decide that it is time to make another hive because there are enough bees and food to do so. they start several new queen cells and prepare to divide themselves. A few days before a new queen is due to hatch, the old queen and perhaps a quarter of the bees leave the hive – this is very high energy. The bees swirl around the front of the hive in a whirlwind (similar to bats emerging from a cave at dusk) gradually lifting higher and building energy and there is a hum/buzz in the air. Witnessing this is very moving. Often they land on a small branch of a tree and gradually settle into a sphere about the size of a basketball with the queen somewhere in the center. Scouts are sent out to search for a new home – if a suitable place is found, they take off for their new home – it could be a hole in a tree, an abandoned farm building, under the eaves of a house in town, etc.
What about the bees back home? they go about their business, raising brood (babies), collecting pollen & nectar. When the new queen hatches, she takes some time getting used to everything, and after a few days to a week, makes her “maiden flight”, mates with several drones and returns to the hive to be the new queen of the hive: lay eggs and set the general tone of the hive.
The photo is of a swarm last Saturday – a rainy day. Usually, the bees would leave to go to another location. This time (due to the rain?) they huddled under the lid of the hive. We brushed them into a box to begin a new hive.
Because we’ve had several swarms, we check all our hives and most have queen cells inside – indicating they are ready to swarm. I am seeing more swarm cells than I can remember in 28 years of beekeeping. I do not know why.
For me, this spring is cool, wet, and dampening of my spirit. In contrast, the bees appear exuberant and are multiplying themselves in anticipation of abundance. GO BEES!