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The Beehive: Swarms of bees are a mixed blessing for beekeepers

A swarm looking for a new home. Brett Kent / For the Enterprise1 / 2
A queen cell is on the bottom of a frame of bees. Brett Kent / For the Enterprise2 / 2

Welcome back to the third edition of The Beehive.

The past three weeks have been busy ones for the bees. I've been doing hive inspections and was able to inspect all 42 hives this week. I am finding that the bee populations within the hive are booming.

This is what the beekeeper wants, but it also poses another problem in the weeks to come. If the hive gets too robust, the queen will decide it's time to swarm. A swarm is Mother Nature's way to keep the bee population propagating.

To do this, the queen will lay an egg in a queen cell that the worker bees have made, and the process of making a new queen has begun. Just before the new queen hatches, the mature queen will fly out of the hive, with approximately half of the bees.

This is really a spectacular site; thousands of bees flying around in seemingly mass chaos. Then the queen will land on a tree, or an object, usually close to the mother hive. The rest of the bees will follow and land by the queen. They will form a ball of bees.

Sometimes this ball is as big as a basketball. The swarm will sit there from anywhere between a half hour to two days. They will stay there through all kinds of weather. It is at this time, the scout bees are out looking for a new place to live.

They will fly up to 2 miles away to look for a suitable location. This is the time the beekeeper has to move in to reclaim the bees. If the scout bees return before the beekeeper acts, the swarm will follow the scout bees to their new home.

One of the ways a beekeeper can prevent swarming, is to do regular hive inspections every seven days. During these inspections, the beekeeper checks to see if the hive is queen-rite, meaning that the queen is alive and laying eggs.

Secondly, I look to see if there are any queen cells and if they are developed. If the hive is queen-rite, the beekeeper destroys the queen cells. This will set swarming activities of the bees back and give the beekeeper a little time to figure out why the bees wanted to swarm.

The reasons could include over populated or honey bound. If the hive was over populated, the beekeeper needs to add some supers to the hive.

If the hive was honey bound, meaning that the worker bees have filled all the brood nest frames full of honey, this can be remedied by pulling those frames and replacing them with empty frames, so the queen has somewhere to lay eggs. Now, just when you think you have a handle on things, they swarm anyway.

I've learned one thing in my beekeeping experience. The bees are in charge.

If you folks ever see a swarm of honeybees, please do not harm them. The bees are just looking for a place to live. I ask that you call me or any other beekeeper to come rescue them. Capturing swarms is fun and exciting, and sometimes very challenging. I was lucky enough to capture 7 swarms last year and these bees have turned out to be some of my best hives.

Thanks again for your interest, and please send e-mails and questions to