Last time we were in the hives, they had almost filled up their second story hive box. Since the weather has been so warm and sunny, they managed to fill out the entire second story! They’ve built out wax on every frame and have even started to store honey in the comb.
As the hive grows bigger, the brood nest will get bigger, as the queen in laying more eggs, so they’ll start to grow faster. Because they are expanding so rapidly now, and the weather has been warm, we want to make sure they want to they have room and enough air flow in the hive. Because they had expanded so much, we add a honey super on the top of the hive. This is a smaller box (so it doesn’t get too heavy) that is separated from the rest of the hive by a queen excluder. The queen excluder is a metal grate that is wide enough to let worker bees and drones through, but too narrow for the queen to fit through. This keeps her from laying eggs and expanding the brood nest into the honey super, meaning that all the wax can be filled with honey.
What’s more is we got to show off our lovely ladies to a good friend, and hopefully got some other people to fall in love with beekeeping too.
In other exciting news in the beeyard, one of the hives swarmed. Swarming is the way that bees “reproduce”. While the queen will lay thousands of eggs a day, the way that new generations of bees are made are through a raising a new queen, and creating a swarm. When a hive is strong and healthy, they will raise a new queen. The old queen will then leave the hive, with about half the mature bees to find a new home. The new queen will stay in the old location and mate with 10-15 drones, creating a new genetically distinct colony of bees. This is how new hives are made naturally.
Typically, hives will swarm earlier in the year, but since the weather has been about a month behind, its possible that the bees are getting their signals wrong. Either way, a large cluster of bees, containing the queen landed in a nearby tree, while scout bees are looking for a new location. In a day or so, the bees will have found a new place to live, and the swarm will go there to start their own colony.
Many commercial beekeepers manage their hives to keep them from swarming, since it will slow down honey production. However, the beekeepers are glad to see the a feral colony is out and about, and hopefully settled in a nice tree hollow, pollinating flowers and helping plants grow.
This is what the swarm looks like, resting on high branch of a cedar tree about 20 yard from the hive it split from. If you see a swarm, remember that bees in this configuration are rarely aggressive, since they have no home to defend. If you find a swarm like this, if you wait a day, they will have moved on to their new home. However, if you find a new hive in a location where it shouldn’t be (sometimes in rafters or under awnings), please contact a local beekeeper as they will remove the hive and find a more suitable home for these little ladies.