28 May 2013

A swarm in May

On Sunday afternoon I was busy frame making. Yes, I know new frames should have been made up during the winter, but thanks to the constant rain of the previous several months the bee shed had been surrounded by a sea of mud and a moat, so was well nigh inaccessible until recently. I'd put the my workmate outside the shed - it's nicer to be outside on a rare sunny day - and was tapping away with my tack hammer when I spotted some movement in an old conifer about thirty yards away.

Swarm in conifer
Just above head height, glinting in the sun, was a lovely swarm. This is the first swarm to land in the small apiary in many years. Perhaps it was attracted to our bees but it's more likely they were lured by the lingering scent from a now vacant (and recently blocked with insect-proof mesh) long-standing feral colony's site. How the bees chose this particular tree is a mystery, but I am grateful they clustered in such an easy-to-reach spot, so could be quickly removed and marched straight into their new home.

I'm fairly confident that this swarm didn't come from any of my colonies. They are in large boxes; still have plenty of space; I haven't yet seen any swarm cells - and these bees are the wrong colour. So it looks as if either a local beekeeper (there are quite a few) has lost a swarm or one of the local feral colonies (there are quite a few) ran out of either food or space and decided to seek a new place to live.

I had been planning to run one colony on shallows-only to see how it works out. This seemed an ideal time to start, so I've put them into a shallow (super) box, containing 10 MD shallow frames. The hive looks tiny compared to the others in the apiary, but it's about 40 litres capacity, which Tom Seeley's research showed to be the best size for a swarm.

I'll leave the varroa board in for a few days - to keep them dark and so I can count dropped mites and assess the level of infestation - and will do nothing more until tomorrow, when I'll give them a jar of light (1:1) syrup. This should give them long enough to use any food they carried with them, and seal any disease pathogens in the wax. They can't get out to forage because it's raining.

Contact feeders seem the best way to feed a swarm. I know that in nature a swarm of bees would be left to their own devices, and could easily starve if the weather continues to be cold and wet. I like to cosset my bees if I can, and believe that with a contact feeder the syrup is closer, so is quicker and easier to access, than the so-called 'rapid' feeders. This means that getting food takes a little less time and uses slightly less energy, letting the swarmed bees concentrate all their efforts on wax making and comb building, which helps them settle more quickly into their new home.

If you are looking for somebody to remove a swarm from your property please check this post, where you will find the relevant information.



  1. Great photo! It's incredible how the bees organise themselves into a swarm - it looks so perfect. Reminds me of the Himalayan bees on the mountain sides - the natural colonies look like swarms and make the most incredible honey.

    1. I was lucky to take this swarm, luckier still that it was low enough to the ground to be able to photograph.

      One of the interesting things about a swarm is that they always have their wings pointing downwards, which would quickly shed any water that falls on the cluster.