Green Lizard's Blog

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Swarming today

There was great excitement at the School in the Eco Garden on Wednesday as the bees from the hive there started to swarm… 

A quick thinking eco enthusiast called the beekeepers (including yours truely). When bees swarm they are looking for a new home. They focus on caring for the queen. They are not inclined to sting or attack in this natural phase of behaviour. The bee keepers carefully contained the swarm in a bag out of its peaceful resting place on a tree in the afternoon. 

A bee colony has so many clever survival strategies. The school bees have had a very successful year. Since arriving in the Eco Garden after our bee keepers collected a swarm locally, the bees have gone from strength to strength. 

They have created plenty of comb in their trough shaped top bar hive and used the space to increase the size of the colony. A healthy colony should have around 40,000 bees.

When the colony expands, the bees make plans for the future. They can create additional queens by feeding larva with royal jelly. Then when the weather is warm they make plans to relocate part of the community.

The old queen prepares her worker bees. They collect honey stores from the hive in their bellies. This has the interesting effect of making the bee abdomen swollen which makes delivering a sting almost impossible. Then they fly away from the hive. Often this is not very far. The swarm congregates around the queen. Their focus is to keep her warm and protected in large numbers. They can sustain heat in a traditional clump or swarm.

From a tree or similar object the very quiet swarm then dispatches a few bees in search of a suitable new home. They know they are very vulnerable so prefer not to attract attention. In days gone by this would have been a hollow tree or stump. Now in modern Europe, hollow tree stumps are rare which is why wild bees are also unlikely.

The bees in the main part of the swarm are conserving energy and trying not to burn their precious honey reserves. They may stay in the same tree for a number of days but their chances of success diminish quickly.

 It is vital to the colony that a bee keeper helps them at this point.

Ideally they should be swept, knocked or brushed in to a bag or basket. Some bee keepers do this without protection as the risk of sting is so slight. Then as soon as they find themselves in a new container, the bees make communication with each other. They want the whole swarm back together. So the bees form a fanning party at the entrance to the new home. They want to transfer the queen’s pheromones into the air so that all the remaining bees can find her and come home.

At the school the main part of the swarm was put into a shopping bag. This took five minutes. They were then placed in a spare hive. The airborne bees and the bees remaining in the tree joined that hive within ten minutes. The whole process was calm and smooth as if the bees preferred to be helped than do their own house hunting.

 In the space of just a couple of hours what was formerly one bee hive has now become two! The colony, established last year is strong and healthy which is great news for the local ecology in the Eco Garden…..

If you hear of a swarm at this time of year remember it is not a threatening event on the bee’s part. Contact your local police station and they will inform a local bee keeper who can help.

It’s not an emergency!


6 comments on “Swarming today

  1. jpeggytaylor
    June 6, 2015

    How wonderful – a new colony of bees! … and fascinating to learn a little bit about beekeeping.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lizard100
      June 6, 2015

      It’s amazing. It was a great collection too. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jpeggytaylor
        June 6, 2015

        Your tale reminded me of a Postman Pat story I used to read to our boys when they were young called “Postman Pat and the bees” – they collected a swarm in a basket in the story 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • lizard100
        June 6, 2015

        I didn’t know that. I’ll have to look it up!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. solarbeez
    June 7, 2015

    Even though the bees are not supposed to sting when they’ve recently swarmed, don’t count on it. I speak from experience, that sometimes they do. I’m glad to see you’re wearing your bee suits. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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This entry was posted on June 6, 2015 by in beekeeping and tagged .

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a blog by a multilingual expat-since-birth, linguist, researcher, mum of three, living in the Netherlands and writing about bilingualism, multiculturalism, parenting abroad, international life...

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