Roe Valley Beekeepers Association
An account of swarms, methods of taking them and methods of hiving them
Bees swarm when the conditions within the hive result in a reduction in distribution of queen pheramones. This may be as a consequence of a failing or exhausted queen, or as a result of overcrowding in a hive in which the brood chamber is insufficient, or as a consequence of lack of ventilation. The beekeeper who has failed to initiate swarm prevention measures and fails to recognise the signs of imminient swarming will lose part of his colony. In anticipation of swarming the bees will have produced a queen cellfed a larva with royal jelly and will have sealed the cell at day 8. At this point providing the weather is suitable the flying bees will leave the hive accompanied by the queen. They will have consumed a good quantity of food to provide for their needs until re-established. The swarm will usually rest within 50-100 yds in a cluster, and will send scout bees to find a suitable new home. The swarm is relatively benign at this point and are relatively easy to take. When a suitable home is found they will move to relocate and this site will then be established and developed to suit the colonies needs
Swarms can be captured and placed in a vacant hive. The beekeeper will require a selection of equipments to achieve this, including a skep or strong box, a cloth, a pair of secateurs and a beekeeping suit and smoker. A frame of brood may also prove useful. Taking swarms may result in the beekeeper exposing himself to risk from climbing injuries, and a helper would be useful. Not all swarms can be retrieved because of the risk of injury or of physical damage to the property, for which the beekeeper may become responsible. When the swarm has landed on a shrub or bush it could be shaken directly into the skep, or a branch may be cut off with secateurs. Where the swarm has landed on a fence post it can be collected by holding the inverted box or skep over it and gently smoking the bees. Where this is not possible in other situations eg high on a wall, another option is to introduce the brood frame and brood to the bees, and shaking them off into the skep bit by bit. After collecting the majority of bees the remainder can be collected by leaving the skep or box with an edge propped up by a brick, and returning after an hour or two. The skep can then be wrapped up in the sheet it has been placed upon, and taken away.
It is wise to place a freshly collected swarm in quarantine outwith the apiary until it can be established that they are disease and pest free. Bees will readily enter a hive prepared for them. This should contain a brood box with foundation and if possible a frame of drawn comb. A frame of brood will encourage the colony to stay. The bees can be knocked directly into an empty super placed above the brood chamber, or they may be shaken out in front of the hive and permitted to walk up as ramp into their new home. The colony will need to be fed with immediately available (emergency feed) of 50% strength, as they may have depleted their reserve, and will have no other source of food until the colony is established. They will also need to draw comb for which substantial energy is consumed. The bees can be examined at intervals to asses the presence of varroa infestation, and of carriage of brood diseases (AFB & EFB) and nosema. This period of quarantine will also provide the beekeeper with an opportunity to asses the temperament of the colony, its productivity and of the nature of the queen leading them. If laying begins within a day or two the queen is an old mated queen in a primary swarm. The swarm my however be lead by a virgin unmated queen and this will require mating and a period of two to three weeks before laying begins.