A new box appeared in our observation area this week, a measure by our beekeepers to manage swarming.

When a colony becomes too large, it’s very likely the bees will swarm – half or more of the bees leave the hive, with the all-important queen. The bees that remain will then try to create a new queen. Beekeepers keep a careful eye on their hives, looking for signs that the bees may be about to swarm, so they can put measures in place to manage it.

Why? Well, the departure of the queen and half of the bees takes at least a month out of the bees productive period, as the bees that remain now have to put all their efforts into rebuilding the colony, which can’t happen until there is a new queen to lay eggs. And if they don’t manage to create a new queen who successfully mates, the colony will die out. Also, it’s not necessarily a good thing for swarms of bees to be searching for a new home in urban environments!

There are lots of ways to manage swarming; in this case, the beekeeper has effectively created an artificial swarm, allowing the bees to do what they would naturally but in a managed way. The new box is a nucleus colony, with the queen from the second observation hive and some of her colony. So, the second hive is now without a queen, but has queen cells with a new queen due to emerge in the next week or so. The nucleus colony will be kept in the observation area until the new queen emerges, mates and starts to lay worker brood; its always a good idea to keep the older queen available just in case the colony is not successful in establishing a new queen.

So far, this has been a very good year, with good weather and plenty of forage for the bees; let’s hope it continues this way!

The day after, a very small swarm was noticed on the shed in the observation area:

You can just about see the swarm in the above image, and we have a very short video clip taken much closer:

There’s no evidence they came from either of the two observation hives. The beekeeper came to deal with them, and decided to put them in a small box; she wasn’t able to see if there was a queen amongst them, but this can be checked later. The box has frames inside, so at least they have an opportunity to establish themselves – on top of the shed for now! To make sure the bees didn't come out of the box and congregate in the same spot on the shed, she sprayed some air freshener in the place they had been, to cover up any lingering substances that the bees would have left there that may have attracted them back.