Swarms 101: A Brief Introduction into Swarm Season
Swarms are generally quite calm. The movement of thousands of bees flying until they have landed on that branch outside your home may seem concerning but they are moving with a purpose, and stinging you is not one of them! Before they leave their original home, they fill their bellies with honey. By the time you find them hanging on that branch, their bellies are full and they are preoccupied with finding a more suitable home. They create this hanging basket effect by holding ‘hands.’ Their claws hold on to one another to form a makeshift house where the queen is typically found in the middle, completely protected. Swarms may occur for several reasons but there is one reason, especially around this time of year, that is the most common: insufficient space in the home they currently occupy.
Two weeks ago, we spoke about preventing swarms by giving our hives a little more room. Add an extra super or extra frames to allow the queen space to lay, and to allow the forages enough space to store nectar and pollen. I would suggest doing an inspection once every 7-10 days. This way, you increase your likelihood of discovering a swarm cell - an elongated cell in the shape of a narrow football. The beginning stages of the swarm cell (with a larva at its base) is a strong indicator that your colony is thinking about swarming.
If a swarm does occur and you discover this hanging basket of bees, there are a few options. You could contact the local Bee Club. They typically have a swarm catcher list that you could call and a local beekeeper will take them away. If you are this lovely beekeeper and want to acquire your first swarm, I would suggest bringing a cardboard box (with ventilation), placing a white sheet on the ground and holding the box underneath the hanging colony. With one forceful bang to the branch, the colony should drop in the box typically without a fuss. The white sheet is a perfect backdrop to search for the queen if she happened to fall to the ground during the commotion. Place the cardboard box on the ground with the lid ajar and allow the rest of the colony, that may have missed the box, to make it back to their family. You can be confident that you have acquired the queen if the colony doesn’t fly back to the branch. Take the box home and relocate them to your standardized equipment.
Good luck and happy swarm catching!