December Swarm

It was the afternoon of December 17th when I happened to glance outside and to my surprise I saw a swarm taking place in the backyard.  I couldn’t believe I was witnessing a swarm in mid-December, but here in Florida it has been rather warm this winter, so I guess it is possible.  I had to take a video of it happening.

The swarm decided to settle on one of our hives which caused me to worry about what was going on. Was this a swarm from my own hive? Was this a feral swarm trying to invade my hive? Lots of questions swirled in my head.  I approached the hive after things started to calm down and saw some bees fighting, not a good sign.

Swarm beginning to settle.

Swarm beginning to settle.

Swarm finally calmed down.

Swarm finally calmed down.

A few days later my husband and I opened up the hive to do an inspection.  The behavior of the hive had completely changed. They were no longer our quiet calm bees, but instead they were very antsy.  Not aggressive or trying to attack us, but moving around as if they were restless.  Our efforts to find our marked queen that day were useless, so we closed up the hive and decided to wait another week.

Finally on December 28th we opened the hive again to find the same restless behavior.  We also found eggs, but in a random laying pattern and then…there was a new unmarked queen!  Bad news for us.  This means that our hygienic queen was probably forced out of the hive or killed by this feral swarm and they moved into the hive.  So we took immediate action.  We killed the feral queen and combined the hive with another one of our stronger hives to save any of the remaining worker bees.  Combining hives has been a very successful tactic for us in this type of situation.  Once spring arrives we will be able to split this hive and give them a new hygienic queen.

Combined hives.

Combined hives.

If you are wondering why we have paper between the two hives, this is so the bees can smell each other and accept each other.  You put down a sheet of paper on top of the strong hive that has a queen, you cut small slits into the paper and then place the weak queenless hive on top.  The slits allow the bees to smell each other and then they begin chewing through the paper and become a single hive.  They eat through the paper pretty quick, usually within a day they are combined.

Invading Africanized Swarm

A small swarm of Africanized bees tried to enter and invade one of our European honey bee hives.  This is the second time we have been able to witness this interesting and natural phenomenon. The first time we witnessed a swarm trying to enter a hive was a year ago.

When we arrived at our bee yard and got out of our truck, we were met by a few aggressive bees.  We thought this seemed odd since our gentle honey bees usually don’t chase us unless something is wrong, so we continued as usual to inspect our hives.

We opened up the first 2 hives and everything looked normal – the bees were calm and we saw eggs, a sign that the hives had a queen.  We closed up the hives and moved along to our next set of hives about 25 feet away from the first set.  Within about 10 mins I saw bees swarming – a cloud of bees flying around.

We rushed back over to see what was going on, and found that one hive was being attacked. There was a gathering of bees on the back of the hive and bees in the front of the hive were fighting.

Swarm on back of hive

Swarm gathered on back of the hive.

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

As my husband took a closer look at the bees gathered on the back of the hive, he saw a queen!  This was the queen from the small swarm.  What are the chances we would see that!

I caught the queen to make sure she would not enter our hive and try to kill our good queen.  In the meantime, the worker bees continued to fight.  I put the queen to the side and after about 15 minutes the swarm gathered around the trapped queen and things started to calm down at our hive.

Africanized queen

Queen from the swarm caught!

Swarm around queen

I put the queen aside and the swarm gathered around her.

As I walked around I found where the swarm originated from in a small tree close to our hives. Africanized bees usually have small swarm clusters that are capable of invading established hives and taking over.  This is part of their natural behavior.

AHB-Swarm-3

Tree where the small swarm was hanging out.

Since the swarm was close by they probably smelled our hives when we opened them up for inspection and were attracted to them.  Before we left, we had to take care of the swarm queen. In order to make sure she would not invade our hive we had to kill her.  Sad, but necessary to protect our hive.

Splitting a hive

Two new splits.

Two new splits.

This weekend we split two of our strongest hives and created two new hives.  We did this to increase the number of hives we have, but to also prevent swarming.  Spring is prime swarming season, so we do what we can to reduce the chances of that happening.

There are several ways to make a split, and every beekeeper will have different methods and advice.  I will explain the method we used, but before making a split of your own always make sure the hive is strong enough to split, that you have the necessary equipment (including ordering queens ahead of time if you go that route), and that the weather is warm enough.

Here was our method:

  1. Make sure the strong hive has at least 8 frames of brood.
  2. Move 4 frames of brood and 1 frame of honey into a new hive.
  3. Locate the queen and move her to the new hive.
  4. Make sure the old hive has at least 4 frames of brood, including a frame with eggs/uncapped brood, and 1 frame of honey.
  5. Fill in the rest of the old and new hives with empty built or new unbuilt frames.
  6. Put entrance reducers on the hives.

The eggs/uncapped brood in the old hive will give the worker bees what they need to produce a new queen.  We’ll give them 2-3 weeks to produce a queen. If they are unsuccessful, then we will introduce a mated queen from a local queen supplier.  Alternative method: After the split you can wait 24 hours and then introduce a new mated queen instead of waiting for the hive to produce their own queen.

If you are using new unbuilt frames, then you should also feed.  Feeding stimulates wax production so the worker bees will build out those new frames faster.

Entrance reducers help the smaller population guard the entrance of the hive from pest and other intruders.

I’ve put together a Q&A list of some common questions.

Why to split a hive?
There are a few reasons to split a hive.

  • To discourage swarming
  • To increase your number of hives for honey production
  • To control mites

How does splitting discourage swarming?
When a hive becomes strong, it is a natural behavior for part of a bee colony along with the queen to leave the hive and create a new hive. This is the way bees reproduce in nature.  When you split a hive you are removing half of the bee colony.  This makes the bees “think” they have swarmed.

How does splitting control mites?
When you leave a hive without a queen for 2-3 weeks that breaks the brood cycle.  Mites reproduce by laying eggs on bee brood, so if the bees are not producing brood, mite populations decrease.

Do I need to feed?
If you have introduced new unbuilt frames into the hive then, yes, you should feed.  This will help the bees draw out comb faster. Just use a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. If you are using empty built frames and have enough honey in the hive, then you should be okay not feeding. Bees consume about six pounds of honey to produce one pound of wax.

Here we are with our 2 new hives.

Here we are with our 2 new hives.

Fall Swarm

Prior to the Brazilian Pepper honey flow this fall we made a few splits to try and prevent our strong hives from swarming.  That did help us save our old queens, and they are doing just fine.  What we forgot to check on after a week was how many queen cells had been made in the hives we left queenless.  The strongest hive had several queen cells and after the first queen emerged they swarmed. Darn it!

Not to worry, we were prepared and we caught them.  We are not sure if we will leave them as a new hive yet.  We might combine them with another hive after the honey flow so they won’t be weak going into winter.

A Feral Swarm

We came across a small feral swarm this weekend.  At first we weren’t sure if maybe the bees came from one of our hives, so we did some checking.  All hives have a queen? Yes.  Any swarming queen cells? No.  Are we in swarming season? No.

After we determined that all of our hives looked okay, we noticed something else.  There was a battle going on with 2 of our hives.  Bees were fighting and dropping to the ground.  We could only theorize that a feral swarm decided to setup shop nearby, possibly attracted by the smell of our hives, and then they tried to invade our hives. They could have been looking for shelter or to steal honey.

We tried to catch the swarm, but they kept moving around.  They would gather on our fence and then move up into the tree, then back to the fence and back to the tree.

The swarm when we first saw them on our fence and tried to catch them.

This is when they decided to go up in the tree and we tried unsuccessfully to catch them again.

This video is when the bees left the fence and flew up into the tree.

Queen cells

While inspecting our hive this weekend we found some queen cells – a possible sign that the hive might have been preparing to swarm.  We made a quick decision to attempt a split.  We moved these new queen cells into a nuc hive along with a few frames of brood, bees and food (honey & pollen).  Now time to wait and see if it is successful.

Again? Really!? Yup, they swarmed again!

We almost can’t believe it, but yes, the same hive that just had two swarms had a third one!  So now we have 3 nucs sitting in our yard.

We actually saw when all the action was taking place.  All the bees came out of the existing hive and were flying around our yard, then we saw a large group moving away and towards a palm tree on the other end of the yard.  Sure enough that is where they made their cluster and we were able to easily catch them.