My last post was about bees and bee swarms. Bees are not expected to swarm in New Mexico until mid to late April.
My bees apparently do not know how to read the calendar. Yesterday two of my hives swarmed and it is still March. I think they have been fooled by the unseasonably warm weather and the abundance of fruit trees blooming.
Swarming bees leave the hive in a group. If the swarm is large enough, it looks like a river of bees in the sky, and the sound can get rather loud.
Yesterday in the afternoon, my wife came in from the back yard all excited. She said the backyard was full of bees going crazy. She had seen a swarm departing, apparently from one of my hives. They took off, and we do not know where they went. Then I went out to do some gardening and heard a loud buz. I walked toward a group of three hives and saw bees rising in a cloud from a hive. As I watched, they started moving south. I attempted to determine their direction of flight so that I could follow them. I walked to the other side of a plum tree. Suddenly, I could hear them, but I could see no bees. Closer inspection of the tree showed the bees were forming up on a branch of the plum tree.
Unlike the first swarm that had taken off and flown out of sight, the second swarm flew less than 50 feet (15 meters) from their hive to the plum tree. I waited until most of the swarming bees had either landed on the branch or on another bee. A small number of bees were still flying around the branch as though deciding where to land.
Meanwhile I brought my swarm equipment out of storage and made up some sugar water. This closer shot of the swarm shows how the bees are in a cluster on the branch with the queen somewhere near the center. I began by spraying the bees with the sugar water. This makes it difficult for the bees to fly. Then using a soft brush, I brushed the bees off the branch into a large box. One all the bees were in the box, I put a lid on it and carried it to where I wanted the new hive to be. There, I set up a new hive. I made sure most of the frames had at least a little wax on them and a few were almost completely covered with empty comb.
I brushed the bees from the box, into the hive. Now I have a new colony of bees. Unfortunately, the old hive and the new hive are at half strength. The colony will have to raise more worker bees and thus will produce little, if any, surplus honey for me this year.
Two of my hives have swarmed. The good news is that there are now two more colonies of bees than there were on Wednesday, and one of them is safely housed in a hive on my property. The bad news is that the first swarm probably waited on a branch in someone’s yard over night while the scouts were searching for a new home. Days have been warm, but nights have been cool. Thursday night the temperature dropped to 40 F (5 C). At that temperature, they may not have survived the night. Perhaps clustered tightly together, body heat may have kept many of them alive, but certainly the outer layer would have been at risk. Fortunately, I captured the second swarm and located them in a hive box where they were sheltered from the wind and could use their body heat more effectively to keep warm.
Do not be afraid of a swarm of bees. Call a bee keeper or call 911. Most 911 dispatchers have a list of available bee keepers. By calling a bee keeper, you can help save bees. While you are waiting, observe the swarm carefully. You may learn something. You may even want to keep bees yourself.
Reynold Conger is a bee keeper. If you have any questions about bees, go to his web page where there is a form for contacting him. If you become interested in keeping bees, contact him for information about how you can keep bees.
Reynold Conger is also an author. go to his web page for information about the books he writes.