Invitation to a Swarm

Our population of bees is booming.
Backyard Bees: See how honeybees in our backyard formed a new hive. Click on the photos to see the captions.

 
You know those interoffice e-mails that you get about mid-afternoon: Please be aware that the refrigerators will be cleaned on Thursday … Well, we got one the other day that started out kind of like that. Very perfunctory, but then it changed: … it appears the bees have swarmed — left the hive, that is — and are all in a clump on the arborvitae. This shouldn’t pose any problems, but just be aware. Thanks.

It was one of those moments when you think: Only at Gardener’s Supply. See, we have a set of hives in our 3-acre backyard, ensuring that all of the flowers and crops get pollinated. Bill Mares, president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, keeps the hives there for workshops throughout the summer.

Related Information

Bees will swarm when a hive reaches a point where there’s not enough room to support the population. The existing queen leaves the hive with about half the bees to find a new home. In this case, it was a group of about 25,000 bees, clustered at the base of a shrub. Most of the bees remained in a mass (about a foot across) but a few were “scout bees”, looking for a new place to nest. “Swarms are not unusual,” Bill says. “In fact, a swarm is a good thing because it’s a sign of a healthy population.”

The bees remaining in the hive produce a new queen. Beekeepers don’t like this process, Bill says, because during this four-week “re-queening,” the hive doesn’t produce much honey.

After a few hours, the breakaway bees began to leave the spot at the base of the tree. Within 10 minutes, almost all of the bees were about 12 feet in the air, flying in a holding pattern of sorts. The buzz was surprisingly loud. Eventually, the bees regrouped on a branch near their original location.

If the breakaway group is clustered on a tree branch, the beekeeper can sometimes cut the branch and shake the bees off into an empty hive. The important thing is that the queen must be in the group that ends up in the hive. In this case, Bill decided to attract the bees into a new hive by placing it nearby with a new queen inside. The plan worked, and the bees moved into the new space.

As far as we can tell, the bees and their new queen are quite happy in their new home. And if there any more swarms in the future, we are sure to be notified — by e-mail.

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3 Responses to Invitation to a Swarm

  1. Kendria says:

    Thanks for the great post and pictures. I just have one question. You said that you attracted the swarm to new hive with a new queen inside. What happens to the queen that broke off with the original group? Does she return to the old hive?

  2. Hi Kendria, I checked with Bill Mares, the beekeeper, and he says that there can only be one queen in a hive. Kind of like other societies we're more familiar with.
    He says: “There's only one queen in that hive — there are never two — and she is laying fine. The original queen may or may not have gone in that hive. If she did, she was probably killed.”
    -David, Gardener's Supply

  3. Anonymous says:

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