It’s Swarm Season

14 June 2023

A Swarm in June is worth a Silver Spoon

It’s swarm season which (apart from the sticky mess of extracting honey) is what beekeepers live for. It’s so much fun!

Colony numbers have expanded rapidly since April so that the foraging force will be at its peak by the time of the main nectar flow.  For the bees at Bannockburn House this is late June when the lime trees in the grounds flower.

When the hives become congested the queen and flying bees take off in a swarm to a new site that the scout bees have already identified.  This prime swarm leaves behind the as yet not able to fly nurse bees and developing queen cells, one of which will head up the new colony.  The first queen to emerge rushes around the hive and stings the un-emerged queens until they die.  If several queens emerge at once there is a royal battle with one (hopefully undamaged) victor. Or – the first virgin queen to emerge takes off with some of the flying bees forming a cast swarm. Subsequent virgin queens will form smaller and smaller cast swarms that ultimately are not viable.

Beekeepers do swarm control measures to prevent swarming but it’s very easy to miss an early swarm cell – and off they go.  Our beekeeping team is part of a local volunteer swarm collecting initiative and so far this week have been called out to 7 swarms! 3 have been collected and 3 were inaccessible for safety reasons. And the 7th? Well – we arrived at the same time as another beekeeper, helped him and rather magnanimously let him keep the swarm (all the while raging inside of course!).

 All three swarms collected so far were cast swarms with a virgin queen and are currently hived in a quarantine apiary.  Once we are sure they are disease free they will be moved to the Bannockburn House Apiary.

The virgin queens will mate with drones (male bees) from colonies near the quarantine apiary and bring genetic diversity to the apiary. The warm dry spell of weather we are currently experiencing is perfect for honey bee mating.

Post by Ilona
Ilona is the Head Beekeeper and leads the Apiary team.

Catherine Bradley.<br />
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