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Are my bees preparing to swarm?

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Nurse Bee

Joined: 28 Aug 2014
Posts: 27
Location: Hawai'i, Kaua'i, Lawai

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 7:17 am    Post subject: Are my bees preparing to swarm? Reply with quote

My second hive is a Langstroth with foundation-less frames and I'm waiting on a second box because they're running out of room in the first one pretty fast. This morning there was an unusually large mass of bees bearding on the face of the box above the opening; some of them were massed in a layer 2 bees thick. I see bearding in the afternoon a lot when it's hot, but I don't remember seeing much in the morning before. It rained a good deal during the middle of the day and after it had let up I was over by the hives again and noticed there were a whole bunch of bees flying around the hive; at first I thought they were just stacking up at the opening because all the foragers who got caught out in the rain were coming back at the same time, but then I saw that many of the bees appeared to be circling the hive, not trying to get in but making a scattered cloud of bees orbiting erratically up to 4-5 meters from the hive. Hard to track individual bees in the cloud but it didn't seem to me that they were coming and going in the usual foraging pattern. Having recently read Phil's description of swarming bees "exploding" from the hive, I immediately wondered if they were in fact preparing to swarm. It got dark soon and I'm pretty sure they didn't end up going anywhere but if the weather is nice tomorrow I may have a swarm on my hands. One of my local beek contacts thought it was too soon after the cut-out (hive is from a tree removal) for the hive to be swarming but I'm not sure what else would account for the unusual (in my limited experience) behavior (absconding?). My new box won't get here for another two weeks so I can't give them more space at the moment...
I think I might try to rig up one of those Russian "scions" in hopes of keeping them from going too far and then maybe knock together a nuc to put them in...

Any ideas?
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Adam Rose
Silver Bee

Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 589
Location: Manchester, UK

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 7:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quite likely ! I think you're planning on doing all the right things. Even if they don't swarm, you will have the things that you need if they do.

Keep a close watch. In the past I have put my son on swarm guard when I have had to go out, checking from his bedroom window every 20 mins with strict instructions to call me if he saw anything unusual.

To simply catch the swarm, you don't need anything fancy - a bucket or reasonably sized box will do. That can buy you time to do a proper nux box or similar.
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Silver Bee

Joined: 08 Jul 2013
Posts: 613
Location: Malton, North Yorkshire

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

how are your wood-working skills?
You could always knock up a top bar hive that will support Lang frame dimensions.
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 4:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The orbiting bees you describe are just young bees doing their orientation flights. This usually happens on an afternoon, when the weather is fine and with my hive lasts anywhere from 20 mins to an hour or so. I find that one or two hives will have a mass of bees radiating out from it and half an hour later, that one is back to normal activity and one or more of the other hives is going wild.
Of course it doesn't happen here at this time of year because the number of young bees is so much less than in spring or early summer but I imagine with your tropical climate there will be no significant scaling down for winter.

That isn't to say that they are not planning to swarm anyway, but the behaviour you describe is very typical of an expanding colony doing orientation flights.


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Nurse Bee

Joined: 28 Aug 2014
Posts: 27
Location: Hawai'i, Kaua'i, Lawai

PostPosted: Sun Oct 05, 2014 8:04 am    Post subject: ...maybe not! Reply with quote

Thanks! It looks like they're staying for a while... The orientation flights you describe, Barbara, seem to be what I witnessed! Haven't seen that again since but the bearding still comes and goes in intensity... I think they're getting cramped, and it's hot! I bought the hive off the guys who did the extraction with me and it has a screen bottom with a drawer underneath that houses a pan for soapy water, to kill any hive beetle and wax moth (larvae) that get tossed out or chased down by the bees. The comments on humidity in one of the other threads on bearding make me wonder if this is such a good idea. The trays can also apparently be used with vegetable oil on the bottom to trap the critters and I met a guy today who mixes oil and water- he says the oil forms a skin on the water that stops evaporation but the water means he doesn't have to use as much oil... Anyone else use these kinds of traps? They seem similar in intent to the "sticky boards" I see referenced.[/code]
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Nurse Bee

Joined: 28 Aug 2014
Posts: 27
Location: Hawai'i, Kaua'i, Lawai

PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 7:33 am    Post subject: ...update on stuffed hive... Reply with quote

Just checked them on Sunday; they were starting to build comb between the top of the frames and the inner cover. Definitely running low on space in there! My new hive body is still at least a week and a half away (shipping to Hawaii is either slow, exorbitant, or both).

I decided to throw together an emergency super to give them more space; it's turning into quite a bit more of a project that I had anticipated. I'll post the pictures when I get a chance.

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