Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Preparing for Swarming

Redbuds bloom, and beekeeping activity increases dramatically in April. The honey bee colony’s tendency is to reproduce itself each year by swarming, the honey bee’s colony-wide means of reproduction. Through swarming, they increase the numbers of bees and colonies in the area and spread their territory. We can’t stop swarming, but beekeepers can take some actions to decrease the amount of swarming that occurs. For the honey producer, a colony’s swarming means there will be no surplus of honey to be harvested for the year’s investment in maintaining the hive. When honey bees swarm, they divide the colony and roughly half of the colony flies away from the hive to build a new nest. A new queen is produced to continue the old colony, and the old queen flies off with enough bees to establish a new colony. While the act of swarming may only take a few minutes, the event occurs after about a month of preparation.

There are a number of factors which influence the bees to begin making preparations to swarm. Among these are the age of the queen, the number of eggs that she lays, and the strength of the pheromones that she secretes. Crowding of the brood nest is probably the most important factor in starting a colony to swarm. The beekeeper’s choice of the number of boxes used in the brood nest and how the hive is managed are important contributing factors affecting swarming. Honey bee colonies regularly replace their queen through a process called supersedure. When colonies in small hives supersede their queen, they often swarm. Colonies in large hives frequently supersede their queen without swarming. To me, reducing swarming is a great advantage of housing bees in large hives. Either two deep hive bodies or three medium hive bodies house a large brood nest. Click on today’s picture of a honey bee collecting bright, golden pollen from a redbud flower. The redbud tree is a member of the important bee plant family, the legumes.

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