Well, I’ve had my first swarm of the season, which is about a week early. As predicted, the moment that the weather started to improve, swarming commenced. I found it at about 2 pm, and by just after 4, it was making it’s way into it’s new home, but more about that later.
As a natural (ish) beekeeper, I leave my bees to swarm naturally. I’m able to do that as I have no neighbours close by, and am able to check for swarms every day. It isn’t something that everybody could do, as leaving swarms to potentially occupy cavities in people’s homes, is irresponsible. My circumstances allow me to leave my bees to swarm. The swarms cluster within 30 meters of the hive, often closer, and then scouts go out to find a new home. This process can take up to three days, if there is a shortage of available sites. Here, the time spent clustered is usually considerably less, but I haven’t lost a swarm yet.
The reason that I leave the hives to swarm, is that I am humble enough to believe that the bees are better at dividing themselves than I am. The conventional approach, designed to maximise honey production, is to create an artificial swarm. Here the beekeeper, after a couple of attempts to prevent swarming by killing unhatched queens, divides the colony into two, allows a young queen to hatch, mate, and start to lay, then kills the old queen, and unites the two colonies. Now if the world was being overrun by honeybees this might be sensible, but killing healthy queens, and keeping the number of colonies the same, does not make sense.
A natural swarm contains everything that the colony needs to establish itself, with the bees ‘psyched up’ to start from scratch. This swarm were carrying three different types of pollen, and were acompanied by drones. Back in the original colony, the same applies, but with a perfect queen, growing in a proper queen cell, not an emergency one on the face of a comb, made in response to an emergency created by a beekeeper. The bees have decided who goes, who stays, when to go, what to take, and what to leave. They are better at it than me. The best that a beekeeper can do is shake comb, and hope that they can get mainly older bees in one box, along with the old queen, and younger bees in the other, along with a healthy queen cell. If I was a gambling man, I know who I would be putting my money on.
Economically it makes sense too. The cost of bee colonies is going up. You have to do a lot of work to make as much money producing honey, as you can get from selling bees, and you’re working with what the bees are trying to do, rather than trying to force them to comply with what we want them to do. Most of my colonies produced three swarms. Two early,and then the original swarm then swarmed again. That’s a lot of bees.
As for the swarm today, I didn’t keep it to sell, but gave it to a fellow beekeeper in the village. They were a strong colony, who have done well for me, and hopefully they will do the same for him.
All of the best