A Happy Swarm

On or about the 31st of January, one of our bee colonies swarmed. Or, another bee colony in the neighbourhood did. Either way, we captured the swarm. It’s now 2 1/2 weeks later and we needed to get that baby colony into a more weatherproof box and check on its health. We stand in front of the hive spying on the darned thing all the time and sometimes we are heartened at the amount of activity and sometimes we worry.

So, off to the beekeeping supply shop to buy a few items like a new box, some spare frames and a bottom board (when will the expense side of this hobby end – oh right, never). Then home to move the swarm-colony into the new box, one frame at a time, inspecting as we go. We wanted to see: a) Were there many bees in there? b) Was the queen laying? c) Have any pest/disease/other problems developed in this tiny colony?

Step 1: Remove the lid and breathe a sigh of relief – there are a lot of bees in there (“a lot” being relative). The small colony is growing.

Swarm after 2 1/2 weeks in nuc

Swarm after 2 1/2 weeks in nuc

Step 2: Inspect the frames. It looked to us like the bees are both storing nectar on its way to becoming honey and eating the store of honey we provided. I suspect in the first few days they did more eating than gathering and hopefully that balance has changed as their numbers increase. The frame below was about 75% capped when we moved it to the nuc, now it’s maybe 50% capped.

Honeycomb in nuc - about 1/2 capped

Honeycomb in nuc – about 1/2 capped

Step 3: Check out the brood. Some of the old brood has hatched and new larvae & eggs are in its place. We spotted the queen (woo hoo) and she is laying on the frame next to where the old brood was. We saw bunches of eggs on the frame where we found the queen. It looks like all is well with her.

Below is a photo of the honeycomb with eggs – they are those tiny rice-grain-like white things in the bottom of some of the cells. The curly fat white grubs (left side) are the larvae. The pupae are under those light brown caps (upper left). And, of course, there are mature bees walking on the comb. The one pointing down is very young – you can tell because she still has a lot of hair on her back (thorax) which will fall out through wear and tear as she ages.

Honeycomb with eggs

Honeycomb with eggs

Below is a photo of the queen. She’s the long golden bee. The photo is a bit fuzzy because she doesn’t like posing for the camera. You can’t see her head, it’s buried under a pile of worker bees.

Honey bee queen on frame

Honey bee queen on frame

Step 4: Empty the temporary nuc of all 4 frames and install a new divider board (to replace the styrofoam) in the new box to keep the hive a manageable size (for the bees) until the colony grows and we can add more frames. The bees probably could handle a couple more frames now but we need to prepare some with foundation.

Nuc with divider board

Nuc with divider board

We’re very happy with this little swarm and are sure it will keep building up nicely. Of course we don’t really want it to build up because we don’t want 3 hives. But we don’t want it to die either. The plan is to merge it back into its original hive in autumn. Unless we bump into someone who’s keen to start a new hive. We’ll see how we go. Until then, this little one-box hive sits happily in our “bee garden” and does its bee-thing at its own pace.


Bee garden with new nuc for our swarm


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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21 Responses to A Happy Swarm

  1. this is so interesting – great for you to point out all the different stages. You certainly have become professional bee keepers.

  2. This is a real baptism by fire. I may want to go slow but my bees are pushing me up that learning curve!

  3. So interesting. The colonies don’t mind being right next to eachother? They don’t fight with eachother?

    • No, they don’t mind. They aren’t significantly closer than where the swarm had opted to set up house so I’m sure they’re okay with where we’ve placed them.

      As for fighting – bees don’t exactly fight. What they do do is rob honey from each other. But that generally only happens when it’s easier to steal honey than to collect nectar. Bee hives all position guard bees at their entrance to protect the hive. They protect it from any inavsion be it human or animal, including bees. Each bee as she lands at her hive is challenged by a guard and is sniffed (or something like that) to make sure she’s in the right hive. All bees in a hive share a scent which is mainly their queen’s pheremone. All foreign bees are attacked by the guard.

      Sometimes bees can move hive in a process called drifting. I honestly don’t understand how this happens but when several hives stand in a row – the outside hives typically grow in strength as lazy bees don’t bother finding their hive and just takes the nearest best. I suppose they bribe the guards with mouthfuls of nectar (bees pass nectar from mouth to mouth communicating the quality of the flow).

  4. vuchickens says:

    I agree, beautiful photos! I’m glad they are doing well!

    • I am pretty pleased with my photos and I’m thrilled they’re doing well. I’ve become a protective mother to this little brood. Of course knowing I plan to get rid of it does put a damper on my enthusiasm 😦

  5. The photographs are great, it’s so nice having a peek inside the hive. Do you think your other hive will swarm soon?

    • I hope the other hive never swarms. We do everything we can to prevent it. We harvest the honey before they run out of space, we move brood frames up into the super and put empty frames into the brood so the queen has more than enough space to lay. But in the end, it’s up to the hive. If it thinks it can swarm, it does. There is something in their nature driving them to reproduce.

      It’s pretty late in the year though so I susepct any swarming activity will now wait until Spring. Things should start slowing down in our little bee yard soonish. I hear it’s normal to take the last harvest in May and then leave the bees to themselves until about August. So far our bees have exceeded all expectations so I’m not counting on too much of a hiatus, but surely they won’t swarm in winter!

  6. Bee Mary says:

    Great photos, particularly the photo of your beautiful queen.

  7. Emily Heath says:

    Pretty golden queen! You got a good shot of her eggs too.

    • I just wish I could see the eggs out in the bee garden. My eyes aren’t good enough to spot them through my veil. Maybe if I was more patient and held the frames at the right angle to the sun, as it is I rely on my husband’s eyes and my camera!

      • Emily Heath says:

        Maybe try keeping a magnifying glass in the hive?

        • I’ve just made up my mind, next time I’m grabbing the brood frame from my husband (I hold the smoker and the burr comb jar, he wields the hive tool) and am having a good look to see if I can actually manage with my glasses and the right angle/lighting. Surely I don’t need a magnifying glass (or, with my deteriorating vision – a microscope).

  8. Pingback: hexipuff madness | vuchickens

  9. Just catching up with what happened to your swarm (it’s been a very busy Feb!). Glad to see there was a happy outcome.

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