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The Beekeeper's Guide to Swarm Prevention

The Beekeeper's Guide to Swarm Prevention

At the end of our last post, we made a brief mention of swarming and swarming activities. Today we’re going to dive deeper into the subject of swarming and what you can do to prevent it from happening.

The average temperature in South Carolina on a warm February day is 47°F, and bees don’t leave the hive for their cleansing flights until temps get into the 50s. Although you won’t have to worry about swarming until temps get a little warmer, it’s time to get prepared as the bees may be running low on food stores or can be overcrowded after a long cold winter – two common reasons that bees swarm. Warm weather is just around the corner and that means so are swarming activities.

Common Reasons Bees Swarm

The queen bee will be the one who signals to the rest of the bees that it's time to find a new home. But why would she do this? Common reasons bees swarm include:

  • Overcrowding
  • More than one queen is present in the hive after the original queen has been superseded
  • Lack of food or water
  • Frequent disturbance by animals or humans
  • Parasite or disease infestation
  • Poor ventilation in the hive

When bees swarm, all of them may abscond, or a smaller portion of them may leave, depending upon the reason the swarming activities are taking place.

How to Prevent Swarms

Once the bees leave the colony, they form a cluster around the queen near the hive. These clusters can include tens of thousands of bees. Then, scout bees are sent out to look for a new place to call home. Once a new home is located, the scout returns and the colony leaves.

There are some things you can do to help prevent this from occurring, but it’s important to remember that none of them work all the time.

Things you can do to lower the risk of swarming include:

  • Frequent hive inspections (but not too often) – every week during the swarming season (temps must be 45° or higher when doing inspections).
  • Place hives where they will not be in direct sun. When a hive becomes too hot, bees may swarm.
  • Make sure bees have an adequate water source.
  • Add new frames to the hives if the bees are running out of space. When nectar is available, they need room for expansion.
  • Split hives that have high populations.
  • Look for signs of pests. Install mouse guards, if needed. Raise higher if skunks are the issue.
  • Shield hives from windy conditions.
  • Make sure your hives have adequate ventilation.
  • Look for queen cells during your hive inspections. When queens cells are present, swarming activities are likely.

Some beekeepers replace their queen every year to reduce issues in their hives since queen problems are known to cause swarms.

A Technique to Stop Swarming Activity

If you see a swarm beginning to take place in your hive, the author of a swarming article for Mother Earth News suggests beating a metal container with a heavy metal object to create sound vibrations that cause the bees to return to the hive. If you see your bees swarming, what do you have to lose? Well ... except the respect of the neighbors, that is. But your hive is worth it, right?

Catching Swarms

If that doesn’t work, you can always place a swarm trap in a tree near your hives ... providing the bees with another home alternative. Once the swarm has been captured, you can rehome them into another hive. If you already own a swarm trap, make sure you have plenty of swarm lure to attract them to the trap. You’ll want to have swarm traps, lure and additional hives available before your bees decide to swarm. Additionally, you can use a swarm trap to catch someone else’s bees who have swarmed and just happen to be passing your way.

Swarming season is just around the corner. Time to get prepared. Timely inspections on those warmer spring days will also help you know if your bees are preparing to swarm. Join us next time as we cover a few more aspects of swarming activities ... yours and the bees. Until then, continue reading and learning all you can about the "sweet" hobby of beekeeping.

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