Editor’s Note: Each month, we review some bee basics for our newbee readers. As it’s swarm season, we’ve turned to a couple of experts to review basics.

Michael Bush: Swarming 101

Swarming is when the old queen and part of the bees leave to start a new colony. Afterswarms are after the old queen has left and there are still too many bees so some of the swarm queens (which are unmated queens) leave with more swarms. Sometimes a colony has a several afterswarms.

Generally swarming is considered a bad thing because you usually lose those bees. But if you catch them it’s a bonus because swarms are notorious for building up quickly. The bees are focused on it already and it’s in the natural order of things. Back in the days of skeps and box hives it was always considered a good thing. It was a chance to make increase.

Causes of Swarming

It’s good to realize that swarming is the normal response of a hive to success. It means they are doing well enough to reproduce the hive. It is the natural order of things. However, it is inconvenient for the beekeeper to have them swarm, so let’s think about what causes them to want to swarm.

There are two main types of swarms: reproductive and overcrowding. There are a variety of pressures that push them toward swarming. These two swarm types were discussed in the April 2012 FAQ section; please see that issue for causes and preventive measures.

Why not just let them swarm, then catch the swarm?

I do love to catch swarms but who has time to watch the hives all the time to catch them? And if you have that much time, then you have the time to prevent them which is a much more sure way to get honey or, if you want, more hives. Not to mention some of the swarms are 60 feet up a tree.

Editor’s note: Michael’s expertise may be found in his books, on his website www.bushfarms.com, on numerous other industry sites, and in our newsletter. Michael will be one of our many enthused presenters at upcoming Field Days.

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Walter T. Kelley: Why Bees Swarm

Swarming is the natural method for bees to increase and so it is difficult to control—but there are factors that definitely contribute to swarming. The natural time for bees to swarm is in the spring during a honey flow but bees may swarm even in the early fall. A crowded brood nest is the most frequent cause of swarming, especially after several days of rainy weather with the weather suddenly becoming hot.

To alleviate these conditions:

  1. Use two of the 10-frame hive bodies for a brood nest and reverse their position once a week.

  2. Remove the entrance block as soon as the weather becomes settled in the spring and the bees have eight (8) or more frames of brood.

  3. Requeen all colonies every fall and see that each colony has plenty of winter stores.

  4. Locate each colony where it has a light shade during the heat of the day. If this is not possible provide each hive with a shade board.


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