Wisdom of Purchasing a Swarm
By Cleo Hogan
Editor’s Note: One of our favorite, very experienced beekeepers, Cleo Hogan, was asked about the wisdom of purchasing a swarm. He shared his answer to “Jake” with us. Thanks, Cleo.
Jake, don't take this as criticism of what you did, but you made a bad decision to buy swarms unless you plan to kill that queen and replace her with a new queen.
As you know, the old queen always leaves with the swarm. Thus, the swarm hives you bought had old queens, at the end of their productive lives. We don't know how old, but old. Any time there is a dearth of nectar and robbing begins, the first thing robbers do is to try to kill the queen. Being an old queen, the bees will not defend her as vigorously as they will a young queen, because, they most often want to replace her as soon as they can anyway. If she hasn't laid enough eggs in order to make a new queen before dying/being killed, the hive is doomed.
If this swarm queen is still good, and the hive swarmed because the hive was crowded, or they just wanted to make more bees in the world, you stand the risk of losing a productive queen if you don't catch the swarm, and you have split the honey producers, thus reducing your harvest potential.
If that isn't bad enough, the new swarm will most often kill an old swarm queen, as soon as she has laid a few eggs to make a new queen. If robbing occurs during this time frame, robbers may destroy the queen cells, or kill the virgin queens, and your hives become queenless. Even if one or more virgin queen emerges, it is not guaranteed that they will mate successfully and make it back to the hive. The mating flight is fraught with perils for virgin queens.
If you buy a swarm, or catch a swarm, you should always allow the old queen to get established, lay a few eggs to keep the hive going, then determine whether she is a good or bad layer, and if necessary, replace her with a new, bred queen if she is not laying a good pattern. If she is laying a good pattern, mark that hive as one that will certainly need a new queen the next year.
Next month, we’ll continue with more of Cleo’s insights, in an article on splits as a hive management tool.