A September swarm it was

Joan-Johnson-swarm
The swarm left the hive and rested in this tree for about two hours. Photo © Joan Johnson.

Yesterday, shortly after I posted “Bearding or swarming?” and asked for your opinion, Joan wrote back with this photo:

I went out to the bee yard Sunday morning at 0600 and those bees were still in the bearding position. I thought then that they must be robbers/visitors. Frantically I tried searching online what to do. I just didn’t believe that I had that many bees. Mid afternoon, checking them for the billionth time, they had swarmed to the same exact tree and limb that my May swarm did.

Now I was really upset, still trying to locate some help/advice whereupon I went back out and they were gone. I would say they hung out two hours on that limb. So I suited up and prepared my smoker as there were still lots of bees flying. Sure enough there were still lots of bees in the hive.

After considering all the comments and seeing the photos, my opinion is that the swarm was not hers. I think the swarm was attracted to the scent of her hive and landed there. Then, after reconsidering, it regrouped in the nearby tree before finding a permanent home.

I agree with those who said the hive didn’t seem big enough for all those bees, especially since the top box was just a feeder housing. Plus, Joan says the original hive is still quite full. Yes, I could be wrong, and those who point out that overcrowding could cause a late summer swarm also have a good point.

At any rate, it is an interesting case. There is no way that swarm is going to survive a Pennsylvania winter at this late stage unless they end up in a hive that already is full of stores. Maybe that is what they were thinking when they descended on Joan’s hive.

Comments

Aram
Reply

Should be pretty easy to check for swarm cells, just to be sure.

Jason
Reply

I agree. Swarm cells would be a prime indicator and/or eggs after Wed of this week. If I am thinking right the queen cells, if there are some, should be unhatched for at least a few more days. I had a hive swarm here in TN on the 23rd of August. Missed all the indicators. Didn’t find the swarm but had 6 swarm cells in my top box when I inspected. Started a nuc with some of the cells.

Nancy
Reply

My neighbor and bee helper just reminded me that my strong hive looked “coated with bees” back in July. I had already pulled 5 frames of eggs and brood from them, two for neighbors and the rest for an unsuccessful split.

I thought it was the heat and said, of course, “Too late to swarm.” But they must have done so, on a day I wasn’t home to notice. When we pulled a super, I didn’t want to “bother them” checking for brood. Three weeks later, they had a laying worker. They must not have left a viable queen cell behind: we found several empties.

After the “haul and dump” exercise for laying workers, they rejected a purchased queen. Next I gave them a frame of eggs from one of my spring packages. They’ve made a good queen cell which we’ll be checking shortly. If that doesn’t work out, at this point I’ll combine.

Along with “Never too late to swarm” the other lesson here has to do with “How often should I check my hives?” For me, that has a short answer: soon enough to know if you’ve lost a queen, and that should be two weeks, maximum.

Best of luck, Joan, and thanks for adding to our store of knowledge on what bees will and won’t do!!

Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

carol
Reply

I, too, am seeing unusual late swarm behavior in my two hives (Wisconsin). Feeling I was safe from swarming, I stopped inspecting the hives on a 10 day schedule the second week in July. The last week of July one hive swarmed and the first week of August the other one swarmed.

My post swarm inspection showed there were only a few cups and one swarm cell with a flap dangling, but the hives were still bubbling over with bees. My inspection yesterday showed one bottom-of-the frame sealed queen cell on the hive that swarmed the last week of July (none on the early August swarm hive) and about 6 empty queen cups in the middle of two frames, lots of empty brood cells, two frames of solid pattern sealed brood and a general defensive behavior (just do, don’t think!).

Now I am trying to figure out if the sealed queen cell is a misplaced supercedure cell or if they are about to issue another late swarm. We are also in moderated drought (feeding syrup) so it seems they would not swarm under these conditions.

I am a third year beekeeper. None of this behavior is covered in any of my zillion books, and the frustration of trying to do what’s necessary is leaving me just shaking my head! All this after about 100 pounds of honey extracted from each hive. What am I missing here?

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

I’m nearly through my fourth year of blogging, and one thing I consistently notice is that if one person is having a problem, hundreds of others are having the same problem. This year seems to be the year of the late swarm.

Your capped swarm cell could be a supersedure cell . . . or not. If you think the colony might swarm, you could split the hive for awhile, moving the old queen into the split. Then later, you could recombine by removing one of the queens and using newspaper. Remember, though, it is late for a virgin to mate. I wouldn’t trust a queen to get properly mated at this time of year, especially in the north, so I would be wary of using the new queen. I would stay with the old one.

You could also try cutting the cell and putting a queen excluder under the bottom brood box. I wouldn’t use this method earlier in the year, but with the days getting shorter and colder, they may soon give up on the swarming idea.

You could also cage the queen and leave her in the hive. Then cut the cell and watch carefully to see if they build another. If they don’t, you could just release her again.

You could also build a bait hive nearby and hope that if they swarm, they go there. (Lots of wishful thinking here.) But, if you see a lot of activity around the bait hive, that might be a clue of an impending swarm, and then you could take one of the other steps.

Be sure to let me know what happens!

carol
Reply

I set up a bait hive the day I discovered the capped queen cell. Today, two days later, I am seeing inspection activity around the bait hive. When changing out the feeding jar this morning the hive was much less defensive than inspection day. I couldn’t find the new queen from the late July swarm on the last inspection two days ago (lots & lots of bees in there) so I doubt I could find her today either (5 mediums & 50 frames to go through!).

If, and that’s a big IF, they swarm and take the bait hive I plan on requeening the original hive with the late possibly poorly mated queen. My bait hive is well stocked with stores so I hope it’s attractive (an early dead out from “operator error” last early winter, not disease or mites).

What are your thoughts? Truth is I am approaching burn-out and running out of time to cut and paste the cell or even find the queen to cage her. I have a cut up excluder I could put on the bottom entrance but would I also need to do that with the top entrance? I am assuming the answer is YES so will get out the hacksaw and get on it in case you think this may work to buy me a bit more time.

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

Regarding the top entrance, I never really thought about it, but yes, I suppose if there is an opening anywhere in the hive, the workers will find it and usher the queen through it if they want to swarm.

Your “burn out” reminds me of why I wrote, “I love bees, but beekeeping? Not so much.”

carol
Reply

I did a Taranov split today somewhat spontaneously. I’ve had the board ready since spring just waiting for the swarm season. Little did I know I would use it in September. Anyway, I set it up and started pulling 50 frames and gently brushing off bees onto the sheet. They went air born immediately even after being sprayed with sugar water. Orderly walking up the sheet? NOT!

I decided I would abort the mission after box 2 (of 5) but noticed some were starting to collect under the lip of the board where I had a washcloth stapled. The bees were very defensive but I kept going. Three of the five boxes had brood in a beautiful solid pattern. I ended up with a small collection of bees under the Taranov board, slightly smaller than a package. That surprised me since there were sooooo many bees. I decided then to take box number three with its bees and 3 frames of solid brood and give it to the split. I think I still have time to build the split before it gets too cold for feeding syrup but will probably follow the syrup with sugar cakes.

Now my question is: Will the old hive accept a new queen if I can get one installed before the queen cell hatches? Would the new queen kill the queen in the cell? You said the new queen may be poorly mated considering the season. AND I can’t find the queen amongst all those bees.

Question #2: Am I crazy to have done this?

Carol

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

Answer 1: They will accept a new queen as long as it is introduced in the standard way. If the new queen is introduced before the virgins hatch, she will most likely kill them. If the virgins are allowed to hatch first, you don’t know who will prevail.

Answer 2: No, great idea.

Regarding the small cluster under the board: I would not expect a large swarm this time of year. Remember, the brood nest is shrinking, so the number of nurse bees is also smaller. The nurse bees are the ones who have never been outside and who will cluster under the board instead of flying over the divide. It all makes sense.

Chip
Reply

I caught a small swarm yesterday in Ohio. I think mine was from a weak hive that decided to replace the queen and leave. Two days ago I notice a hive was gone, it was weak and had a old queen. There was nothing left but comb. It also had wax moths so I think they decided to abandon the hive with a new queen. It could also been from another hive but it is only the size of my fist.

The swarm has a new queen and I am hoping they start drawing comb. I gave them food and would like to put them in my observation hive for the winter.

Phillip
Reply

I noticed one of my colonies acting like it was about to swarm today. Bees crowding the bottom board, many other bees very much behaving the way I expect scouts to behave, flying into the few empty supers I had brought along with me. I moved the supers back to my car about 50 yards away and five minutes later I had bees all over the place, in my car, everywhere. I had to roll up all the windows and move the car out of the area, but many still tried to get in. They weren’t defensive, just landing on and flying into everything, even the little milk crate I use for moving my gear around. I’ve had defensive bees follow me back to the car, but these bees just seemed curious. I had to leave all my gear and extra supers behind because the bees were all over it. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I didn’t have time to investigate or deal with a swarming colony even if I did. I put an empty honey super on top and I’m hoping for the best.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

Had the supers been used before? To me, it sounds like robbers looking for food. Of course, if the supers were new that wouldn’t hold.

suz
Reply

There is a swarm in a chimney. If I don’t do anything, they will die. So I’m going to go get them tomorrow. What should I do to give them the best chance? I don’t want to put them into another hive and upset the balance of the hive that has been growing since April or May. I got a nuc in April and split it with a new queen in May, so now there are 2 colonies. I’ve been feeding syrup the last week or two. Would it help if I put a super on top of the old hive.

Rusty
Reply

Suz,

I’m not sure I understand. Which colony is getting syrup? Which is the old hive? Why do you want to super it?

But to answer the first question, if you get the queen along with the bees, and if you manage to get the combs, you can tie the combs into frames and put them in a new brood box and set up a colony from that. If you don’t get the queen or the combs, you will probably have to add the bees to one of the existing colonies, which it sounds like you don’t want to do, but would work just fine if you used newspaper.

Or you can try ordering a new queen for the chimney bees, but it’s getting late in the year . . . but you can try.

Sorry, I don’t understand the rest of it.

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