I was disturbed from my quiet, contemplative afternoon of picking berries when I became aware of a commotion in the air. May and June are known as the swarming season for bees, and true to form, our bees were on the move. So loud was the buzzing of these small creatures, I could clearly hear their plans from 300 feet away.
As the days grow longer and the temperatures get warmer, honey bee activities begin to increase, as they prepare for the spring nectar flow. The bees are busy building up their numbers in order to have enough workers to gather the nectar. At this time of year, bee colonies will increase their numbers at a furious pace and can quickly become overcrowded.
These overcrowded conditions can stimulate a phenomenon called “swarming”. I like to think of it as the “Rebirth of the Hive”.
Worker bees, known as ‘scouts’, are sent out in search of a suitable place to start a new hive. Once satisfied with the new location, they report back, and fetch the waiting bees to build a the new hive. In order not to lose the bees, the beekeeper must act quickly to provide a suitable home ahead of the scouts choosing one for themselves.
A swarm is truly an amazing thing to watch. A dense, black cloud of bees circling high above the hive grows steadily thicker and noisier. The bees circle around, looking much like the funnel of a tornado before suddenly heading off in search of a new home. The volume of so many buzzing bees has to be heard to be believed.
Today the swarm chose to settle in a huge cluster about 25 feet up in the spruce tree beside the workshop.
We hastily built a new super in which to rehouse the bees and then John went up the ladder to capture our homeless bees. With a mallet, he knocked the branch and the mass of bees dropped as one body into a bucket held below. The heavy ball was shaken into the super and we left it for any stragglers to have a chance to find their queen. By evening they had settled back down to an orderly colonial life.
Only a week later, I heard the familiar sound again. This time the bees chose to settle in an apple tree at a more convenient height. So again we built a super and gathered up the bees. On close inspection, we were unable to find a queen and since a bee colony will surely die without a queen, we joined them with the earlier swarm. One strong hive will have a far greater chance of building up numbers and a sufficient stockpile of honey to survive their first winter.