Question of the Month
A difficult occurrence for bees and beekeepers is swarming. About 80% of all swarms occur in spring (April-May). Beekeepers will try to prepare their hives to prevent swarming. What are the best practices to reduce the tendency of swarming?
It is hard to anticipate when a colony might swarm but a good indication is swarm cells. Swarm cells are obviously produced in preparation for swarming and are typically located along the bottom edge of the frame. At this stage it may already be too late to prevent the colony from swarming. Beekeepers want to be proactive and prevent swarming before it even begins.
Full frames of brood with some pollen and nectar around the edges is a great sign of a healthy hive that is queen right. The brood nest will consist of the majority of the central frames in the hive and will include all stages of the brood process (eggs, larvae and capped brood). If it is obvious the brood nest is shrinking and more frames are consisting of pollen and nectar (similar to a honey bound hive), it is a good indication your hive is preparing to swarm.
Honey bees instinctively decrease the size of the brood nest in preparation for swarming. If a full colony is capable of caring for full frames of brood, then after swarming, about half the colony will only be able to maintain half the brood, therefore, honey bees will shrink the brood nest in preparation for half of the bees. There are three conditions which can induce swarming preparations:
Congestion. Bees love to be crowded but not overcrowded. Having your brood chambers well populated allows the bees to maintain a constant hive temperature, prevent robbing and manage pests. A well-populated hive will be a healthier hive. Once a hive becomes congested (i.e. heavily populated), the population can support being divided in half without compromising the survivorship of the parent or the swarm, and they will swarm to a new location to better satisfy their needs. Continue adding supers to accommodate your colonies expansion. Once the two outside frames are beginning to be worked, it is time to add the next super.
Abundance of Resources. During a heavy nectar flow, bees are gathering the resources they think they will need to survive during the winter months. This is what beekeepers hope for so that honey may be extracted but beekeepers do not want the abundant resources to overrun the brood chamber. Once bees are hatched and the cell is filled with pollen and nectar, the queen will not have room to lay. Replace some of the honey filled frames with empty frames, allowing the queen to build up the brood nest.
Old Queen. As a queen ages, her pheromone levels will decrease. A colony will have previously prepared queen cups along the bottom of some frames. If a colony notices a drop in her pheromones, the queen will lay eggs in these partial cups and the workers will close them off. Workers will then slow the queens laying by reducing the amount she is fed, slimming her down for flight. Queens going into their second laying season are more apt to swarm and to help prevent swarming, beekeepers will replace them. A two year old queen is 3X more likely to swarm.
Beekeepers will split their hives to accommodate an abundance of resources and a growing population. Using frames (filled with brood) from the mother hive and a new queen, beekeepers are able to create a split and begin raising a new colony.
If swarming does occur, have your cardboard nuc handy and go out and capture it (if it can be captured safely). To successfully capture a swarm, the queen must be obtained. After capturing the swarm, transfer to your new hive as soon as possible.
Flowering plants are beginning to bloom as spring settles in. This is great for bees as they are able to bring in pollen and nectar. The colder temperatures though, have disrupted the bee’s capabilities to forage for nectar and pollen. Bees are consuming their food stores and the feed that has been provided. Beekeepers need to be prepared for cold spells and ensure that their hives have easily accessible feed.
Honey bees will cluster in the center of the brood chamber during colder temperatures. New packages and hives, that have depleted their food stores, will need a feeder that can be placed on top or next to the cluster. Fondant is a semi-moist, hard feed that can be flattened out and put on wax paper above your cluster. The Bee Farm developed a fondant feeder that worked great as an emergency feeder during colder temperature and is being refined to better suite all hives. Cold spring temperatures can be devastating to beekeepers. Ensure your bees have the feed they need.
For newly installed packages that have new foundation in the frames, the bee’s main objective is to begin drawing out comb. A feeder is essential in the package’s survival for the first couple of weeks, until they can begin foraging for their own food supply (even then, a feeder is recommended for those rainy days).
An entrance feeder is great for a new hive because it can be checked and refilled without disrupting the colony. When supplying an entrance feeder for your colony, reduce the entrance away from the feeder to help prevent robbing. A pail feeder is another great option but requires the use of an additional deep hive body to enclose the feeder.
Hive top feeders are great for NUCs that have been transitioned into a hive or for an existing colony that has drawn out frames. A package will draw out comb from the highest point in the hive and can build comb in a hive top feeder.
Keep a check on the feeder, your bees will be relying upon it until they can sustain themselves and remember, if it gets cold and the bees cluster, they cannot access a feeder. So, be fondant ready!