While I was playing with my new leetle friends the other evening, Peer was creating an artificial swarm…
In our little village of 400, there are 2 beekeepers. Peer, who has 5 hives (soon to be 6) and the other beekeeper, who has kept bees here for about 30 years and has on average, about 15 hives. His bees are about a 1/4 of a mile away from us.
The other beekeeper stopped the other night and offered Peer one of his queens which he was going to kill off in order to replace her with a stronger one. She’s a good queen, but this beekeeper, who does quite a bit of experimenting with breeding, etc., likes queens who can produce huge colonies…this little queen apparently doesn’t.
Perfect! This would allow us to fill another one of the new hives.
Since the queen would come to us without any other bees at all, we needed to collect enough bees from our own hives to make a good sized colony for her. You can do this by creating an artificial swarm.
This is our swarm box, it’s what you catch swarms in and where they can stay for a short time until you get a real hive ready for them. The hole on the top is where you can put a jar of honey so they have something to eat. We poked lots of tiny holes in the lid of the jar so the honey will drip out very slowly. The screening in the front is a queen excluder. The worker bees can crawl through and into the box, but the queen and the drones are too big and can’t fit through. We need to use the queen excluder to make sure we don’t accidentally add a queen from one of the established hives into the swarm.
So Peer began by smoking the hives really heavily which causes the bees to immediately take up as much honey as they can carry (they think it’s a forest fire and so load up with honey before they are forced to leave their home). In a real swarm the bees are all loaded up with as much honey as they can carry which they will use to feed the hive until they can begin producing food for themselves again. In an artificial swarm you have to fool them into loading up with honey.
After giving them a few minutes to load with honey, he opened our strongest hive and lifting out each comb from the honey room box, he gently brushed the bees into the plastic container and then sprayed them with a mist of water so they couldn’t fly back into the hive. He did this with our 2 strongest hives until he had collected a good amount of bees.
He dumped the bees into the swarm box…
And then the real fun began…
The bees couldn’t fly but that didn’t stop them from wandering all over the place. Peer sat here with his bee brush and his water bottle and waited patiently while they slowly crawled into the box.
This is after 1 hour…
After 2 hours….
I finally went in at this point. Peer ended up waiting for 3 hours before everyone except the drones were in. The drones he dumped back into the hives. The artificial swarm went into the cellar for the night. They need to realize that they don’t have a queen anymore which they definitely realize after a night in the cellar all alone! I checked in on them yesterday morning and they were furious, very agitated and very loud!
When Peer came home yesterday evening he went with the other beekeeper to catch the queen. They then brought her back here and put her into a small cage with a piece of candy to block the entrance. Then they set the cage into the swarm box and put them back into the cellar.
The reason that the bees needed to spend the first night alone is that they have to know they don’t have a queen, if we would have put the new queen in right way, they might have killed her. By the next morning they knew and so were ready to accept a new queen. But still it is best to let them get acquainted slowly. With the queen in a cage, they can sense her and touch her and begin caring for her, but she is still sheltered a bit from them. They will spend the next day or so eating the candy away so they can free her, by then, the hive has bonded and can be put into a real hive together. I peeked in on them again this morning and it is like a totally different group. They are very calm, quiet and content now that they have a queen again.
I think tomorrow they will be ready to transfer into their new home.
As the title implies, we will NOT do this again. While it does work, it is a real pain in the butt and pretty stressful for the bees too. In future I think we will rely on natural swarms to fill the new hives.