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And then there were four…bee hives

October 17, 2012

A few days  after our first swarm, we noticed another swarm in the late afternoon. This time it was too late to try and catch them. We followed the progress of the cloud of swirling bees as they moved across our backyard, to the neighbours at the back and then the neighbours at the side, then the national park next door. Good bye bees. The kids were spotting from an upstairs window and I followed the cloud around as it moved. Have you ever watched bees swarming? It is an odd experience. There is a really loud humming and buzzing and there are so many bees flying around. Literally a swirling ‘cloud’. One minute there are hundreds of bees flying in tight circles and the next second there are none. Before you can blink they have moved on.

Sam went to the park to see if he could spot them but had no luck. I was really sad to see so many of my bees leave home. I feel like I have nurtured them all year and then they have just abandoned me without saying good bye. (Yes, I know I didn’t really do anything to ‘nurture’ them, and yes they are only following their genetic programming…but I can’t help but take it personally!)

This is what Sam says to me:

Don’t be too sad mum, at least this is preparing you for when I leave home

My 12-year-old. Hmm. “Thanks darling” I said, “but that really does not help make me feel better”!

The very next morning….another swarm! This time Sam and I caught it beautifully. We rigged up a temporary home for them in a cardboard box (I had been told this would work), and easily caught them all. Feeling very proud of ourselves I headed back to the bee shop to buy yet another box and frames. When I got home…they had all flown away again! They didn’t approve of the cardboard box.

We tried to catch them again. This time it was hotter (always makes me more stressed) and we were short of time. And they were back on the neighbours fence. Yes, the one who does not like bees! Oh dear. Very unsuccessful attempt at catching them. We left it and headed off for kids music lessons. I rang David, the guy who helped me last time. David to the rescue again. He came straight over and had almost finished catching the swarm by the time I got back after dropping the kids off. Yay for the kindness of fellow bee keepers.

So now I have four hives. One strong and three weak hives. I really didn’t want four hives, would have been happier with two strong hives. I am half tempted to try to combine two of the weak hives together. I hear conflicting advice on whether or not this is possible. Should I try, or should I just leave them alone to do what they wanted?

Sam and I opened up the original hive that kept swarming to try to figure out what was going on. Normally a hive will make an extra one or two queens if they are getting ready to swarm. A day or two before the new queen emerges, the old queen leaves with the best worker bees. The new queen kills off any other queens not yet hatched and all is good.

But in our hive we saw about 15 queen cells. About 5 had hatched, accounting for the swarms we had seen, and perhaps some we hadn’t. There were still a lot of unhatched queens so we had to cut off those queen cells. Sam wanted to examine them so we put them on the dining table in the house while we continued our work. When we went back inside, one of the queens had hatched! We were too soft-hearted to kill it off so we took it outside and put it near the hive. This week I have to go back and have a look inside all the hives. Check that the original swarming hive has a functioning queen (and no more queen cells!). Check that my strong hive is not getting any ideas about swarming. And check the new hives to make sure they are doing ok. Four hives in spring is shaping up to be a lot of work. Soon they will need more boxes and more frames…sigh!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2012 12:26 PM

    It does seem that keeping bees would keep you busy. They do sound like a lot of work. I have two dogs but they seem to be of less maintenance xx

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      October 19, 2012 4:47 AM

      For the last two years it hasn’t been busy or much work at all. But then I was just starting and had a struggling hive. Oh well, it is only for a couple of months in the year that I have to be on my toes with the bees…the rest of the year they pretty much do their own thing with a check every 4-5 weeks and less in winter. And there is all that honey to look forward to…reward for effort! (Almost good as the adoration we get from our dogs eh?!)

  2. October 19, 2012 12:32 AM

    Aside from the aggravation of trying to capture swarms, I do love watching them. We have a field across from our house, and I had the opportunity with all the swarming in the spring to watch a few of them drift across the field in a cloud. It’s a sign of a healthy, thriving hive, I keep telling myself….Great post!

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      October 19, 2012 4:45 AM

      You have a lovely “zen” attitude to swarms. Must be quite amazing to watch them drifting across an open field. They are amazing to watch. I love how quickly they can just disappear from a spot – you don’t even see them change direction or start to move. And you are right, it is a sign that all is healthy. My sadness at losing the bees just shows how much of a novice I am at beekeeping!

  3. October 30, 2012 8:53 PM

    I’ve never really seen bees swarm but what made me smile was the sage and prescient advice of your 12 year old! Isn’t it funny what they come up with? 😀

  4. November 13, 2012 10:30 AM

    Oh dear – did you figure out why they were swarming? Do you need more brood cells? Should you harvest the honey? I thought it was possible to keep swarming to a minimum but you seem to have had a really bad run.

    Have you thought about selling your unwanted hives? You could advertise on Gumtree or with the local beekeeping club. That way you could recoup the cost of your hive boxes and not end up with too much work on your hands.

    • November 13, 2012 10:42 AM

      We eventually looked in the brood box and found about 15 queen cells (some still with unhatched queens). Apparently it is normal for them to lay 2-3 new queens when they feel like they are running out of room, and it is spring, and they are the type of bees who like to swarm (!). When one new queen emerges she kills off the others, so you tend to only get one swarm. But 15 was unusual and I expect that the poor new queen was not able to kill off all the others, hence the multiple swarms.

      I had thought about combining two of the swarms together (apparently it is possible but tricky) but in the end went for the lazy option and left them alone to do their own thing. I would give a hive away except that my kids have gotten quite attached to them. The first swarm became my daughters hive, and the second swarm my son has decided is his second hive. Hopefully as I get better and more confident at it, it will be easier to manage. This is the first time we have felt like the bees are a lot of work, until now it has been ridiculously easy. Next year I will know what to do to protect against swarms at the start of spring!

      • November 13, 2012 10:44 AM

        Oh dear, you children have each adopted a hive. No way you can ever get rid of them now 🙂

        I’ve not had my bees for long and I already dread next spring. I’ve heard from local beekeepers that this year there were a lot more swarms than normal. Hopefully next year you’ll have lazy bees!

      • spiceandmore permalink*
        November 15, 2012 12:40 PM

        Yes, no getting rid of them now!
        I have also heard that this year has been particularly bad for swarms. I guess after the very wet couple of years we have had, the bees are all ready to expand their populations and make the most of this bumper spring crop of pollen and nectar. Next year I will be ready for them and do a proper inspection of the brood boxes at the start of spring.

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