Thursday, June 25, 2009


Thursday morning about 9:30AM, I noticed that more bees than usual were hanging on the outside of the hive, and doing a lot of flying. I thought it was because they had been stuck in the hive due to the inordinate amount of rain we've had lately.

Then around 10AM my son called me to the back porch, where I saw a sight which leaves beekeepers feeling very empty: my hive was swarming. There were tens of thousands of bees taking flight in my backyard. Here's a video I took of the swarm in progress:

The sound was phenomenal - it sounded like there was a turbo-prop airplane sitting in my backyard! There was nothing I could do but sit and watch it happen, and hope the swarm would land close so that I might be able to capture it.

Well, luck wasn't with me, as the swarm proceeded to fly high high in my backyard to my wooded area, and land in a tree about 200 feet in the air:

No way I was going to get close to that swarm to capture it! (The picture at the top of the post is when they were heading to the tree.) They stayed that way for a while, while the scout bees were out looking for a new home. I did get out my new Nuc and set it on a ladder on my desk, just in case the scout bees thought it would make a good home. No such luck - the next day the swarm was gone and my Nuc was empty.

I feel like a wayward child has left home - these bees, which I have nurtured over the past 2 1/2 months decided I wasn't good enough! There are only a few reasons bees swarm, and I though I had things covered: 1) too hot (I have a screen on the bottom and plenty of shade), 2) Too cramped (I put on a honey super to give them room), 3) An old queen (this is the queen's first year).

The only thing I can think of was that during this terrible period of rain, the bees spent a lot of time in the hive, and they felt too closed in and decided to swarm. Last Saturday during the hive inspection I did not look at each and every frame, so I probably missed some swarm queen cells.

Here's a video after the swarm, and these are the bees which are left over:

It is interesting that there were a lot of bees on the ground in front of the hive. I wonder how the hive decides which bees will leave and which will stay? They say that anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of the worker bees plus the existing queen leave during a swarm.

So this Saturday I'll inspect the hive and see how things are going. One of two things happened: either the bees made a new queen and she hatched before the swarm occurred, or they have a queen cell (or 2) in the works. If they have no queen nor a queen cell, I may have to buy a queen. But the bees aren't acting jumpy like they would if there were no queen (and swarms don't occur without a contingency).

With only about 1/2 to 1/3 of the workers left, plus a virgin queen who has to (maybe) be born and then mate before she can start laying, this event has set back my honey production a lot. It's already rare to get any surplus honey your first year, and this pretty much closed the book on it.

So somewhere nearby there is a new hive of bees... mine.


  1. you'd better start feeding them again. Maybe the queen wanted another level for laying eggs???

  2. Could be. There was a good amount of honey in the brood chambers, but still a lot of space. I think when I inspect tomorrow I may take off the honey super. The bees appear to be bringing in enough nectar, so I don't think feeding is necessary (but it doesn't hurt to put on a jar, especially if the honey supers are not there. They will take it if they want...)

  3. Very interesting. My young boys and I were fascinated to learn more about swarming. We now understand why you are so sad! :(

    Lost some bees, gained some fans.

  4. Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that. I live in fear of that happening to me, and it must be so discouraging that you were doing everything right and it STILL happened. I hope that you get a really great autumn honey flow to make up for it...

  5. Steve, in one of your older posts you showed a frame with large cells towards the bottom of the frame. Could have those been queen cells?

  6. It could have been. This was my first year so I wasn't up on what to look for. Obviously there were swarm cells somewhere...


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