Too Many Swarms

Swarm in progress

A week and a half ago I posted about one of our bee hives swarming. Well exactly a week later it swarmed again. We are theorizing that the first swarm was just a normal spring swarm that most established hives experience every spring or fall. Its just what happens when a hive is strong and growing and fills up all the space it has. The second swarm, though, was unexpected. The hive had just split in two so it certainly wasn’t over crowded anymore. We did some research and talked to some experts and this is what we think happened:

When I have gets full and is ready to swarm, a bunch of baby queens are started. This happens when regular bee larvae are fed royal jelly to make them develop into queens. They feed this royal jelly to a number of larvae to ensure that they will get at least one healthy queen. Once the larvae start to develop the old queen leaves the hive, along with her swarm, to start a new hive.

Now the hive is left without a queen while it waits for its baby queens to grow up.

Swarm in a tree

Usually what happens next is that one of the queens emerges and, if she is strong and healthy, she destroys all the other queen larvae before they emerge. Now she is the new queen and things return to normal.

In our case, the new queen didn’t destroy all the other queens and one of the others also emerged and was healthy. Generally you can’t have two queens in one hive, so one of the new queens took a swarm and left.

The first type of swarm is an inevitable part of bee keeping and is actually a sign of a healthy hive so its nothing to be concerned about. The second type of swarm, though, isn’t good because it means that your already smaller, weaker hive is split in two once again.

So, now that we know that this can happen what do we do now? And how do we prevent it from happening again.

Queen Cells

This evening we opened up the original hive and removed every frame, one at a time, and cut out any queen cells that we could find. Thankfully queen cells have a very distinct look so they are easy to find once you remove the frames. I removed or destroyed at least 10. Some of them had already been destroyed or emerged from but some seemed to be intact. Hopefully this will prevent any additional queens from emerging and creating additional swarms at this time.

Then while we had the hive open we added on a brood super. Before, this hive just had its body and then a queen excluder and a honey super — i.e. a box on top for collecting honey but not for laying new baby bees. The new brood super we added will give the new queen additional space to lay babies. She probably won’t need it for a while now that the hive is smaller, but it will allow the hive to grow larger over the summer without needing to swarm again due to size. This super is also where they will store honey to get them through the winter since we will steal all the honey from the honey super.

This evening we also took the hive that we’d put the first swarm in and combined it with one of our other hives. This hive was started this spring with a box of bees that we purchased and it just wasn’t thriving. We don’t know if the queen was weak or if it was just because the box had less bees in it than the hive we started from a natural swarm and therefore seemed weaker in comparison. Either way, this hive seemed like it could use a bit of bolstering so we decided to combine it with the first swarm. We did this by putting the box with the swarm on top of the other hive body with a couple layers of newsprint in between. This will give them a chance to get used to each other over the next couple of days. Hopefully by the time they get through the paper they will be ready to mingle peacefully. Since we will end up with two queens in this hive we think that what will happen is that the stronger one will kill the other one. Or they may decide to co-exist (doubtful). Or maybe they will swarm again. We’ll see!

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