At times, being a beekeeper can be inconvenient. I’m on a flight to Dallas today for a conference, and in all that has to be done to go out of town on business, the last thing you need to notice is a swarm in your yard.
Nonetheless, yesterday evening I was working through my to-do list quite well. I had even made time to look for tadpoles with my son. Unfortunately, as we walked away from the pond, I could hear a telltale hum from the bee-yard. I held my breath and crossed my fingers that I was wrong, but sure enough, I found a swarm in one of our trees.
As a beekeeper, I react differently to seeing a mass of roiling bees than perhaps the average homeowner would. For years we’ve collected bee swarm for people out of trees, shrubs, and front porches. When I started doing it, it was merely to add to my bee-yard and protect bees that were in harm’s way. I quickly learned that it was a great opportunity to educate the public about honey bees in general. Here are answers to some of the most common questions I have heard over the years.
FAQs About Bee Swarm and Honey Bees
What is a swarm?
A swarm is nature’s way to control population levels in the bee world. It is most often an indication of health, unless the bees leave because their hive is destroyed or sickened. In the summer, a hive of honeybees can average about 60,000 bees. There is one queen and her family living there. Every day, the queen is making more family members.
At some point, if all is well, there is more family than there is room. At this point the workers will begin feeding a few baby bees with the idea of raising up a new queen. One day, the conditions are right, the new queens are close to hatching, and the old queen gathers about ⅔ of the hive. We might imagine that she chooses the adventurous members of her family, leaving behind plenty of homebodies to keep the old hive going, and they all fly out in a big black cloud to look for a second home.
Are the bees in a swarm angry?
The real answer is that it depends. If it is the first day, the bees are stuffed with the honey they gobbled before they left home. This tends to make them calm and happy. As soon as the queen decides to stop somewhere and take a break, all the bees drop out of the air and cover her in a moving mass. Scout bees are then sent to look for a suitable location to move in, while everyone else hangs out in this temporary rest shelter. If their house hunt takes a few days, or there are storms in the area, the bees can become testy and may be less understanding if we disturb them.
Will the swarm make a hive on my porch?
It’s not likely. The bees are looking for some sort of cavity. This may be a hollow tree, or it could be someone’s attic (if there is an entrance from the outside). They don’t tend to build their comb out in the open, so they aren’t the ones responsible for the paper nests that we see hanging from trees in our favorite children’s stories.
What should I do with a swarm?
If you can’t get a beekeeper to come fetch the swarm, and the bees have stopped somewhere that you can avoid for a day, they’ll likely fly away as suddenly as they came all on their own.
Local beekeepers love to come get these colonies, so don’t hesitate to call one for help. This is a great way for us to increase our hives without ordering bees from the South. There shouldn’t be any charge for the service unless the bees are inside a structure or tree and require special equipment and much more time.
As for my own swarm, I was torn. It’s always great to see this sign of health and we need to expand our bee-yard, but it meant I had to nudge a few things to the bottom of my to-do list. I coaxed them into a new hive quickly and got on with things. It is very satisfying to know that as I fly away from home, they are settling into their new one.