As my mentor put it, I’m getting about five years of beekeeping experience packed into my first year! My bees officially swarmed today and I was lucky enough to be home and looking out my back window when it started.
I would describe it basically as a tornado of bees that spanned my whole yard that kept twisting and spiraling into a tighter and tighter ball until they landed on a branch high up on one of the trees in our backyard. Too bad it’s so high though as another beekeeper with an extra hive could just take the bees and start a new one. Bees are actually at their most docile once they’re swarmed – which seems crazy after witnessing what they do to get to that point. Here’s a video – but it’s kind of hard to see since they are so high in the tree. That mass in the middle is ALL bees. the branch itself is the same size as the others you see around it – if I had to guess there are probably at least 15,000 bees.
The biggest question most people have is … is that a good thing or a bad thing? And my answer is, it’s the natural order of things. Though it means losing about half of the bees from my hive, it also means that I’ve had a healthy hive that reached a critical mass and needed to split. Those bees are moving on to start their own hive and continue to procreate. It will set my hive back a bit in terms of honey production, but that’s okay by me since it means that we are increasing the population of honeybees.
Now how did my hive get to this point? About two weeks ago, I noticed that I had a huge increase in bee population in my hive. I mean, just looks at this one frame (there are twenty frames in my hive right now)
While inspecting the frames, I saw that my bees were creating swarm cells at the bottom of a few of the frames.
When bees start to feel over crowded they prepare to swarm by creating new queen bees. They create several queens for insurance purposes in case anything were to happen to the eggs or if the queen that hatches isn’t healthy.
Unfortunately for them, there can only be one queen bee though. So once they hatch from the swarm cells, they battle over who will be the ONE queen bee. Usually right before or after they hatch, half of the bees will leave the hive (swarm), taking the original queen bee with them and find a new home.
Typically this does not happen in the first year of a hive, but after speaking with my mentor who manages over 25 hives, she’s seen a much larger number of her hives swarm this year than any other year.
I feel pretty lucky to have been able to witness my first hive swarm in my own backyard. Also, feeling lucky that my neighbors weren’t out in their yards – pretty sure they would have freaked out! I’m planning on going into the hive this weekend to inspect how many are left and to see if we are ready to put the honey supers on (yay honey!) – will keep you posted!
And if you’re interested – here’s fun facts about bees and beekeeping!