A honeybee colony is considered to be a super-organism and swarming is the way that they reproduce. When a colony swarms the existing queen flies off with about 60% of the workers to find a new home, leaving the existing hive to raise a new queen. When this happens the existing colony has so few bees that they will not store any surplus honey for the beekeeper to harvest.It seems to me that the bees can sense a new nectar flow and start making swarm preparations prior to the flow by constructing queen cells in which they raise the new queen that will take over the colony after the swarm.
Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, we have two major nectar flows that produce a honey crop – the first one being “wildflower” and the second being Sourwood. Wildflower is what I call a “bees blend” of everything that blooms during April through June. The Sourwood tree blooms in July and produces the world famous premium Sourwood honey. Last year immediately before the Sourwood trees bloomed around the first of July most of my strongest colonies decided it was time to swarm and did. Invariably the swarms flew off into the top of a inaccessible tree and then into the surrounding forest never to be seen again. This year since I was now living at our new home in the mountains right next to our bee yard, I was determined to try to prevent the swarming of my colonies or if they swarmed to be able to somehow lure them into a trap.
One of my goals this spring was to grow the size of my apiary. So I developed a two pronged strategy to do this and still produce honey – especially the Sourwood honey. The first prong was to inspect the hives on a frequent basis during the spring wildflower flow looking for queen swarm cells. When found, I removed the existing queen along with four or five frames of brood (baby bees), nurse bees, pollen and nectar and put them into a new hive in a different part of the beeyard, leaving the “parent” hive in its existing location to raise a new queen. In essence I was creating an artificial swarm – but the main difference was that it was controlled and I didn’t lose the swarm to the forest. Since the queenless colony remained in its existing location, all the forages returned to it keeping its total population very high. During the course of the spring, I ended up making eight splits this way – even splitting one hive three times! All eight of these colonies were strong enough by July to actually make Sourwood honey.
The second prong was to make swarm traps in which to catch any swarms should I miss finding a queen cell during my inspections. I was inspired by a March 2015 article in the American Bee Journal entitled “A Swarm Trap in Every Tree” written by Dr. Leo Sharashkin. In the article he presents the plans for his trap design, why it is so effective and how to set it up. Here is a link to his website where you will find much of the same information. In June of this year I constructed eight traps of his design, and hung two of them in the vicinity of my bee yard. The traps were baited with one frame of old dark comb and lemon grass oil. The remaining five frames in the trap were foundationless frames.