Catching a Swarm

Today we visited our furthest apiary which is located in the foothills of the Preseli Mountains. The weather was beautifully sunny and its a joy to get out together and do some actual beekeeping following days inside potting honey. It was time to put clearer boards onto the hives in readiness for collecting honey tomorrow. The blossoms were slightly later to bloom in this location than our coastal sites and therefore is one of the last apiaries to have its Spring honey collected.

The first thing we notice on arrival is a cloud of flying bees and a swarm starting to settle in the tree not far from the hives. We decide to leave collecting the swarm until the end of the other beekeeping work in order for them to fully settle.

Swarming is a natural behaviour of healthy colonies of bees and is simply their method of reproduction. The complexity of all their different behaviour boils down to wanting to successfully pass on their genes, they can only do this by budding off a swarm or by raising drones who successfully mate with a virgin queen on her mating flight.

As beekeepers we breed from our least swarmy stocks but obviously we want to maintain strong, large, healthy colonies and despite our best efforts these booming colonies will occasionally get the swarming urge.   There are ways in which to control the swarming impulse. In order to collect a good honey crop it is vital to try to control swarming as much as possible.
Multifactoral triggers for swarming means that the colony of bees biologically recognise when it is a good time to swarm. The triggers can be due to internal and external conditions.

Swarm Control

1. Size of the colony,  brood nest congestion, space for queen to lay, maturity of queen.
2. Space for nectar processing and storage, have they got enough supers ?.
3. Biological factors and cohesion of the colony due to the queens pheromones or lack of.

Internal

1. Time in the season, usually peaking around May and June
2. The weather-obviously weather has a major influence on nectar flows and these govern the inputs a colony receives, bees will often swarm preceding an upturn in conditions following a period of low flying activity and confinement.

External

Our swarm could have been as a result of one of the colonies being so large and healthy that they had outgrown their space, and following a good period of weather in May when lots of honey was collected. Then there where not enough supers/space, followed by a period of poor weather so little flying time for about a week.
There is always a specialised ventilated box in the van ready to collect any swarms we come across. The swarm can then be introduced to an empty hive in an apiary a few miles away.