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2nd Year Beekeeping

Welcome to the NEW 2nd Year Beekeeping Blog. For those who have sucessfully kept a hive going through the winter we will be here to help you keep your hive thriving through it's second year.

We hope that none have experienced the unfortunate cycle of a beehive swarming but inevitably as the colony continues to grow it will succumb to this fate unless you are able to catch early signs and prevent them from swarming. Having a colony swarm may evoke feelings of failure but swarming is the natural process for a colony, as a superorganism, to reproduce.

Prime swarm season is late spring and early summer as many hives become overcrowded or other triggers send scout bees off to find a new location for the swarming hive. Various factors contribute to the tendency of swarming behaviors, including:

Congestion. Bees love to be crowded but not overcrowded. A well populated brood chamber allows the bees to maintain brood temperature, prevent robbing and manage pests. Once a hive becomes congested, the population can support being divided in half without compromising the survivorship of the parent or the swarm. A well populated hive indicates a healthy and growing colony. Continue to add boxes onto the hive to accommodate your colonies expansion. The reduction of available space can trigger their swarming instincts.

Abundance of resources. A desire most beekeepers anticipate for spring and summer in order to extract honey but can easily clog the brood chamber. Cells are filled with pollen and nectar as new bees emerge and the available space for the queen to lay is packed with the resources the bees need to survive. As space becomes less available, the level of pheromone produced by the queen decreases and the reduction in pheromone prompts swarming. Replacing the honey filled frames with empty frames offers the queen the space to build the brood nest and prevents a honey bound hive.

The strain and age of Queen. The genetic race of the colony is a factor in swarming. Italians and Caucasians have a moderate tendency to swarm, whereas, Carniolans and Russians build up rapidly and have a high tendency to swarm. A queens pheromone levels will decrease as she ages. A two year old queen is 3X more likely to swarm than a young queen. This is not to say a younger queen will not swarm but rather as she ages the potential increases. Replacing an older queen with a less likely to swarm strain or race of queen will reduce the likelihood of a colony swarming.

It is hard to anticipate when a colony might swarm. Determining the possibility of your hive swarming requires close inspection of your hive. A good indicator of swarming will be developing queens reared in swarm cells along the bottom of the frame but other, less obvious, indicators will be present.

Honey bees instinctively decrease the size of the brood nest in preparation of swarming. If a full colony is capable of caring for full frames of brood, then, after swarming, about half of the colony will only be able to maintain half the brood; therefore, the broodnest will begin to shrink.

The queen's diet is reduced to slim her down for flight and workers will gorge on honey. The actual process of swarming is quite stunning as a mass of bees will cluster on an object within 100 meters of the hive. The swarm will remain at this location until scout bees locate a new site. It is not uncommon for bees to transfer to multiple locations before a final destination is chosen. You have essentially obtained a new hive if you are able to successfully capture a swarm.