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Prime swarm preparing to swarm again?

 
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pam waterworth
New Bee


Joined: 12 Jul 2015
Posts: 8
Location: United Kingdom, Lancashire

PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2016 11:58 pm    Post subject: Prime swarm preparing to swarm again? Reply with quote

My lovely big prime swarm which I collected and hived at the beginning of June appears to be making swarm preparations. There are at least two queen cells (empty), lots of capped drone brood and a few drones. They have plenty of space and are currently on bar 8. They have 4 more empty bars. There appears to be plenty of stores above/around the brood and they have access to a syrup feeder.
A fellow newbie beekeeper got their first bees also at the beginning of June - again a prime swarm. They have since swarmed again.
Is this usual? Are my bees ready for the off again?
Thanks
Pam
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Barbara
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Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1563
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 1:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Pam

I had never heard of this happening until a few years ago, but I've had at least 2 swarms from my own hives do it since then and I read about it happening to other people not infrequently, so I think it may be becoming more common. There may be a number of factors contributing to this and many may be associated with "Natural" beekeeping. For instance:-

The use of top bar hives with follower boards limiting the space initially available to the swarm.
Conventional framed hives are usually supered which pretty much forces the swarm to continue expanding rather than swarm as the void above them must be filled if they are to survive winter..
Unless empty bars are checkerboarded in the brood nest in a TBH, horizontal expansion beyond a viable colony size for over wintering of say 6-8 bars may not be seen as necessary by the bees.
Resurgence of native bees with their increased tendency for swarming and
possible preference for smaller colony size compared to Italian bees. Dark bees don't need a large colony or significant store to overwinter because they are frugal.

Possibly global warming.... Weather and forage conditions will play a big part in this as the bees need to build up quickly enough to swarm again before it's too late in the season. It seems to take about 6 weeks from hiving the swarm to them swarming again. If the initial swarm is put into a hive with drawn comb (perhaps from a previous "dead out") it can occur more quickly and is more likely.

Feeding prime swarms will also increase the likelihood of it happening in my opinion and/or close proximity to large acreage of nectar rich crops, like rape and beans.

In my experience, bees will swarm when they are large enough to be able to afford to and there is a good nectar flow. It's all about the urge to reproduce and conditions being good enough to enable it.

I hope most of that makes reasonable sense, as I'm burning the midnight oil, so not at my most focussed

Good luck with your bees and keep us posted on what happens.

Regards

Barbara
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pam waterworth
New Bee


Joined: 12 Jul 2015
Posts: 8
Location: United Kingdom, Lancashire

PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Barbara, it's really interesting to hear that you are familiar with this and that it seems to be a new behaviour. No wonder I couldn't find any mention of it in any of my books and would have had no idea without you sharing your experience and views. Do you think it mainly happens with prime swarms or might a cast swarm consider itself ready too? These bees really are endlessly fascinating! Thanks again.
Pam
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Barbara
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Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1563
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes mainly prime swarms, largely because of time scales.... Prime swarms leave the hive at least a week earlier than casts and the queen is of course mated and ready to lay, so that puts them another week ahead of a cast. The British "summer" probably isn't long enough for a cast to get to what I call "critical mass" in time, unless it is put into a hive with plenty of drawn comb as that gives them a huge boost.....

I think it is probably a natural and fairly common phenomena in feral colonies in small cavities (although I know of no study on the subject) but it would no doubt be considered bad management in conventional beekeeping, where the imperative is to grow the colony quickly to maximise honey production, so they are given large volume hives to fill. The increasing popularity of "Natural Beekeeping" maybe why we are starting to see it and talk about it because of course we would be unaware of it happening in feral colonies as it would not be witnessed.

I have come to the conclusion that from a bees perspective (at least here in the UK with our difficult weather) that a small cavity hive is preferred. They over winter better, swarm earlier and that then enables the swarms to swarm again, if/when conditions allow.

The first of my swarms that did this actually threw a prime swarm and a cast and the parent colony from which it came had also thrown 3 viable casts, so, in effect, that parent colony spawned 5 new colonies that season and it is just in a 9 bar bait/conservation hive. It never gets fed and overwinters without any insulation and I never have any worries about it's survival. Of course it never produces a surplus honey harvest for me, but from a bees perspective it is achieving all it's goals.... winter survival and propagating. Large hives are for our benefit to increase honey production, so that we can take a cut. We therefore need to "manage" the bees and reduce the likelihood of swarming if we wish to harvest any honey.....opening up the broodnest at the appropriate time and creating space above in the form of a super, is how it is achieved. In a top bar hive, inserting empty bars here and there (chequer boarding) in the brood nest is the way to keep them expanding. Just moving the follower board back and giving them a few extra bars at the back will not achieve the same result as there is no necessity for the bees to fill that space at the back like there is in the brood nest.

Regards

Barbara
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pam waterworth
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Joined: 12 Jul 2015
Posts: 8
Location: United Kingdom, Lancashire

PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for sharing your experiences in so much detail Barbara. I really appreciate it. You have given me a lot to think about, particularly around cavity size. I have little interest in harvesting honey and am going to re-think a few aspects of my management now. Lots of discussion ahead too I think.
Pam
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pam waterworth
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Joined: 12 Jul 2015
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Location: United Kingdom, Lancashire

PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 10:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They swarmed! A large swarm emerged on 22nd July, 8 weeks after they originally swarmed.
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Barbara
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did you manage to capture them????
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pam waterworth
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Joined: 12 Jul 2015
Posts: 8
Location: United Kingdom, Lancashire

PostPosted: Tue Jul 26, 2016 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

No Sad The last time that gang swarmed they were about 25 feet up and our ladders could reach. This time they were at about 50 foot and right out at the edge of the canopy. They stayed in the tree for about 24 hours and then headed off towards the woodland behind our home. Hopefully they will have found somewhere suitable - its an unmanaged bit of ancient woodland. So much for my lovely bait boxes!
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