Wednesday, 30 May 2012

2012 Swarms

St. Mary's swarm
-click any photo to enlarge-
Following a peculiar start to the spring with regards to the weather, unusually hot followed by prolonged cold and wet, the recent hot weather has allowed the bees to get their act together. The swarming season has consequently started.

What is a swarm?
To the uninitiated a swarm of honeybees in flight can look and sound terrifying, but in fact they are not. They are just an excited group of between ten and thirty thousand insects just looking for a new home; this is how honeybee colonies reproduce.

What a long way up!
They usually swarm in 2 stages. First they issue from their home colony and set up camp on a tree, shrub or other structure where, once they have settled, they just look like a ball of brown and often go unnoticed. This solid clump of bees then sends out scout bees looking for a new home - this can take from just a few hours to several days. Once identified, the swarm then ups sticks and moves on to their chosen home.

Some stories
To illustrate this here are a couple of our 2012 swarm stories:

1. St Mary's Church bees
St. Mary's bees calling their
sisters to their new home
(they fan a homing pheromone)
At around 8:00pm on Friday 18th May I was alerted to a swarm on the local church which they were worried may swarm during a wedding the following day. Being near to YABeeP HQ it was easy, with help from the church youth group, to get a set of ladders on site.

Using these, plus my long reach swarm catching pole I was easily able to box the bees. By 9:30 95% of the bees were in a Warré box and safely removed and are going to YABeeP members Cathy & Paul for safe keeping. NB: We would usually capture all bees but the high wind an height of original swarm meant about 200 bees were left behind on this occasion.

2. Andrew P and Sacha's bees

Now just one snip here...

While attending the course run by Gareth John this weekend we heard about a local swarm in Worle that needed a home.  Later in the afternoon we went over with Robin and Sarah armed with a box from our Warré hive and Robin’s expertise!

The bees were in a small rosebush in a front garden; the owners of the house had tried ringing several people from the Yellow Pages before contacting YABeeP and so were glad to see us.  Robin carefully trimmed the branches of the bush to get access to the main stem supporting the swarm.  He then cut this and shook the swarm into the top box of the Warré hive before carefully turning it over onto the specially adapted floor. This left a small gap for the remaining bees to enter the box.
Fanning to call the sisters
- click & zoom to see their
bums in the air -

At this point many bees were flying yet not at all aggressive and we were able to stand amongst them and watch those on the box waft pheromones to attract the remainder in. An amazing experience to have been part of, having never even seen a swarm before! We left the bees to settle for a couple of hours and also to allow scout bees to return.
The proud parents

We returned at dusk to collect them and found all but three bees were inside. We shut up the box safely and Andy had the precious cargo on his lap home to Yatton. By the time we got back it was nearly dark, so having let them settle for 15 minutes we carefully assembled the hive to include our newly full top box.  We found a few bees on the floor which we shook onto a ramp by the hive entrance.

Their new home
The following morning they were already flying and closely inspecting the hive and their surroundings.  We hung up a sheet to protect them from direct sunlight for a few days (the hive gets some direct sun between 10am and 12 noon). We have noticed that the bees have aggregated into a small ball inside the hive and are making lots of flights, returning with pollen on their legs. Many thanks to Robin and Sarah for coming with us.

They go in quickly - Just after boxing   /  20 mins after / 30 mins after 

Video of Andrew & Sacha's bee install
(to watch full screen click the YouTube icon in bottom RH corner)
3. One of Emma's swarms
Click here for a great photo set of one of Emma's swarms caught in a skep

4. Jeremy's bees

"Gently put your finger into the swarm, like this, can you feel how warm it is?" said Robin......

It was a virgin swarm apparently, with a young queen hatched this year, found conveniently at head height in a small conifer in a front garden in Nailsea. Robin shook them into the box first time and then we stood watching, surrounded by bees as they gradually homed in on the box, guided by a pheromone they release to broadcast their location.

By the time I returned at dusk they were all safely inside the box and after the short car journey home they were installed in their new hive without incident.

I spent the next couple of days transfixed as they busied themselves with reconnaissance flights round and round the hive, and then eventually some began returning laden with pollen. By day 3 a small section of pale comb was just visible and there was something very comforting about seeing the privet hedge at the end of our street, in full flower and covered with what must have been my bees. Fingers crossed for some warmer weather so queenie can fly out and do her stuff with the boys.

Jeremy's bees new home

Video of Jeremy's bees being boxed in Quarry Road, Nailsea

5. Sarah M's bees - this shows that baiting hives does work!

I have to show you a swarm arriving at my Horizontal Top Bar Hive this afternoon! My original colony had dwindled to near extinction and then some bees arrived. Robbers? Scouts? They bumped off the remaining bees and seemed to be hanging around and guarding, though there were only a few.Then this afternoon, I was talking to neighbour when the sky went dark with bees heading for my hive. It took about 3 hours for them all to squeeze in (I had not got round to enlarging the opening from a quarter cork). So, voila! It seems I have two colonies now, a small cast swarm of placid stripeys in my Warré and what seems to be a big swarm of small, dark bees in my horizontal.
Sarah's swarm moves in - the most 'natural' way to get bees

Best wishes,


6. Fiona's Warré bees

I just had to add this video from Fiona showing the swarm we collected for her. Bearing in mind it was a colder damp day not a bad job. Excellent video Fiona, just a shame the chap in the clip wouldn't shut up!
[Click the Full Screen icon bottom right of video screen]

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