How Good is Your Swarming Knowledge?
Swarming is the natural program of honeybees for two purposes: to increase the population of honeybees over the world, and for bees to spread out away from home to new territory. Some humans have rendered a truly anthropomorphic reason: two "queen mothers" can't confortably live in the same house.
A main goal of 20th century bee scientists and professional apiculturists was to determine the primary reasons for swarming and formulate colony management techniques to either prevent or diminish the tendency of bees to swarm. Prior to this century, the lack of sound knowledge about swarming often made it necessary to keep 3 or 4 colonies in order to produce 100 pounds of honey each year; but there were some skilled beekeepers who could constantly produce over 100 pounds of Honey per colony every year and almost in any part of the country.
Changing the established procedures of the times and scientifically researching many possible reasons for swarming as well as the management techniques to prevent or retard swarming, much helpful knowledge has been made during the past 50 years to control swarming in order to help a colony of bees to produce 100 pounds, or more, of honey each year.
The following points have been firmly established:
a.) There is a definite SWARM SEASON for all apis mellifera ; which is generally defined as that period in the spring when brood rearing is at its peak; and in most areas, that is the 4-6 week period just ahead of a major nectar flow.
b.) Some races of Apis have 'a higher propensity to swarm than other races. The same can be said regarding the different stocks (strains) of a race: This is not a problem for a skilled beekeeper, but can be a major problem for an uninformed apiarist.
c.) The Number One reason for swarming is over crowding or congestion tion in the BROOD CHAMBER . This has nothing to do with the supers, which is a totally different problem!
d.) The Number Two reason for swarming - is the age of the Queen. In addition to her task of laying eggs, it is her job to produce and spread the queen pheromone (queen substance, also called 'queen odor') which acts as a "glue"' to seal all of her 50-60,000 progeny together as one single functioning unit. Research has clearly proven that the production of this queen pheromone DIMINISHES every day from her mating day, and the older she becomes results in the lesser bees she can control. Bees rarely swarm when headed by aqueen less than a year old
e) It is not natural for bees to swarm during a nectar flow, because they would leave the very thing they are trying to collect to provide for colony survival in the coming winter. However, there must be enough super space to store this thin watery nectar until the bees can evaporate its water content and ripen it into thick honey. If adequate super space is not available and since idleness or loafing are unknown in the genetic make-up of the honeybee, they swarm during a nectar flow. This is totally 100% BEEKEEPER'S FAULT.
f.) Many beekeepers have concluded that swarming is a "sudden happening", or that there were few warning signs to the beekeeper, and swarming is just one of those unfortunate problems of beekeeping. None of these statements have any meaning or truth in them. When the BROOD CHAMBER becomes congested with too much brood, too many nurse bees,not enough laying space for the queen, no space cell space for pollen or nectar, and the .foraging bees "fighting their way through crowd" to get to and from the front entrance, the bees initiate their swarming program. For a period of perhaps 7-12 days in advance of, the swarm issue, bees have to build swarm cells, produce lots of royal jelly to feed the larvae, reduce or even stop the queen from laying eggs so she reduce weight in order to fly with the swarm, send out scouts looking for a new home, and gorge themselves with honey to carry along to their new home. Hence, they partially give up foraging in the field and just sit around the hive waiting for the "signal" to swarm. This is the swarming program in SWARM SEASON before a main nectar flow.
Some Swarming Truths and Falsities
1.) For many years, beekeepers practiced removing all swarm cells about once each week to prohibit swarming- Although that program might delay swarming; usually the swarm issues and leave a queenless colony behind. Further; most often the beekeeper overlooked one queen cell when doing his removal procedure and the bees swarmed right on schedule. REMOVING QUEENN CELLS DOES NOT STOP SWARMING!
2.) Many beekeepers clip a queen's wings so she cannot fly and believe this procedure is a swarm control technique. When the bees find the queen is not part of the swarm, they return to the hive with the idea of trying again tommorrow. This action may happen for a day or so; but usually a new virgin queen emerges and the swarm leaves the old homestead headed by a new virgin queen- CLIPPING THE QUFFN'S WINGS DOES NOT STOP SWARMING!
3.) Not unlike the addiction of some humans to alcohol or drugs; after the bees set their program on the urge to swarm and perform many of their necessary PRE-swarm steps, it is is extremely difficult to stop this colony of bees from swarming unless drastic measures are used- These. measures might include dividing the colony into two parts, removing the queen, removing all brood and other labor intensive tasks; even then they may not, work. If you observe queen larvae floating in royal jelly in a queen cell, the swarm program is well established; and stopping swarming will be difficult. Further; if you see CAPPFED queen cells; you can forget any prevention technique; because that colony will swarm within 24 hours unless the weather is bad. One might Say that "Bees have a one-track mind", and if they have made swarm preparations, it is very difficult to re-orient their thinking to some mundane task like nectar collecting.
4.) Although not often seen here in Maryland, bees may swarm in the summer or even the fall due to certain unusual circumstances. In total desperation, bees may have a "hunger swarm" in the summer if their colony stores are down to zero, caused by either the beekeeper removing too much honey or a very bad, long dearth of nectar. Further, every now and then, a fall nectar flow or September that is intense and long lasting might cause a fall swarm. Although there are swarms that occur at tines other than springtime, if you have sufficient knowledge and skill to prevent or control normal spring swarming, you do not have to concern yourself with these unusual out-the-ordinary happenings.