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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Strange Swarm Behavior

    I'm in my first summer of beekeeping, so I apologize in advance for any noob mistakes.

    First week in May I installed a 5 frame Nuc into a hive in my back 'pasture.' They have done very well, multiplying very quickly. I have 2 10 frame deeps that they've been working on filling in the last 2 months. The queen has been laying nicely, lots of capped brood but still 3 to 5 empty/partially filled frames in the upper chamber - as of 2 weeks ago. At that time I added a foundationless super (shallow) to try and make comb honey.

    I was out working on some fencing when I heard a distinct buzz coming from my mini-apiary. I wandered over to see thousands of bees pouring out of the hive and filling the air. Quite an impressive site, but saddened to see my first & only hive swarming. I quickly cobbled together a makeshift swarm trap (old duck nest w a couple frames of wax foundation (not drawn out) and hung it in a tree nearby. After about 10/15 minutes of swarming slowly they started retreating to the original hive, bearding on the outside. I quickly opened the hive to check the super - thinking they had filled it - but they had hardly done any work on it. I did use a small strip of cut foundation (1/4 inch) at the top of each frame to give them a starting point, but they hadn't done anything with it. A couple of lower corners had the start of some comb building, but nothing significant. There were still plenty of bees in the hive working away.

    I did not fully break down the hive for inspection (time constraints) to check for queen cells or anything, but plan on doing that soon.

    Do swarms ever return to the hive like that? If they swarm again and leave for good time, is there enough time to get the population to overwinter well?

    Should I add another brood box w/foundation frames between the 2 deeps and super to give them more room. I don't have any open drawn frames to put in so it might be too late no matter what right?

    HIve Swarm.jpg

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
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    Clinton, Iowa
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    2,509

    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    I'd go in and look for queen cells as they are probably ready to swarm and that was a practice run. If you have the boxes, find the queen and take three frames of brood with NO queen cells on them and place them into a new brood box with a frame or two of mostly honey/pollen as well. Then empty frames to fill the rest of the box. Shake a couple other frames of bees in with them and close them up.

    In the main hive remove all but 2-3 queen cells that are located close together and close them back up. The idea is to make them "think" they swarmed by removing the queen and some bees and letting the mother colony finish raising a new one.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes. It would be a shame for you to lose all of those bees!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    19

    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    I'm trying to think what I can cobble together to split the hive.

    I do have an extra bottom board & two 10 frame shallow supers I can assemble fairly quickly. The two shallow supers = 1 deep broodbox correct? Maybe I can use the 2 shallows as temporary housing until I can run to the local Bee supply store and pick up more true deeps for the hive. I don't think I'll have much foundation to work with though - maybe 2- 3 sheets. Do you think they'd build out on foundationless frames or is that too time consuming for them and they might bolt again?

    I don't have a telescoping cover, but I can probably concoct something up quickly. Just thinking outloud to see what I can do.

    So I want to move the 'established' queen right? Make her think she's moved & has more room. Leave the old hive body with 2-3 queen cells close together & see what happens, eh?

    Thanks for the info.

  4. #4
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    Feb 2014
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    Clinton, Iowa
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    That's what I would do. But if you find capped queen cells you may be without queen already. In that case I still like the idea of splitting, but you could even split by box if you want in that case leaving queen cells in each. That also gives you at least two shots at ending up with a laying queen vs. the one shot you'd have now. It's tough once they're in swarm mode. I think two of my hives swarmed after being split. And one of them is still trying to it's best to do it AGAIN. They were top bar hives, but those have been eliminated at this point and they're all in Langs.

    Regarding frame size. I wouldn't get to hanged up on that. It's not like the comb is useless once it's had brood in it. You can certainly get by with a piece of plywood on top until you get something better lined up.

    Gotta have boxes on hand! I have gone through an incredible number of boxes this year... and I thought I'd had more than enough coming out of winter.

    Wrong.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    Yeah, realized not having boxes is a problem

    Can I set them up a few feet away from the current colony?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
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    Clinton, Iowa
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    Absolutely, you'll lose most of the field force, back to the original colony, but the queenright split will build quickly. I'd assume you have a decent flow going, elsewise you should be careful about robbing. If you are concerned you can feed. I put a pollen patty on the queenright split I made in early June.

    Here's her split:

    Three frames of various aged brood. Two feed frames and empties to fill. They are into their second deep now, I've been shuffling empty combs in when I have them and pulled a few frames of brood for other hives. They've come along well. Here they are about a month later. They've got about 3-4 active frames in the top deep and the bottom pretty much full.



    Still laying up a storm:


    You have a lot of bees to work with. The queenright side (if she's still in your hive) will be a comb building monster so be prepared to capitalize on that. The side left to raise a queen will pack away a good amount of honey in the meantime. Just make sure you don't remove all queen cells until you know that that side of the split has the mother queen.
    Last edited by jwcarlson; 07-07-2015 at 06:35 AM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    The weather has been perfect 60-70's sunny with a good bit of moisture all of May & June. Flowers & trees & weed continue to bloom & i suspect they are hitting up the commercial greenhouses across the street for cucumber flowers.

    I'll try my hand at the 'emergency split' tonight - wish me luck.

    Thanks for sharing the pics - you've been most helpful.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    So last night after work & quickly assembling my remaining boxes & frames I headed out to my hive. Since it was early evening (6:30pm) most bees were no longer in the field... which I knew going in, but hoped I could make the best of it.

    The hive was loaded with bees, everybody seemed happy and working away. I was not able to locate the queen in either brood box. Granted I'm no expert at finding her - had seen her once about 3 weeks ago. The frames were so heavy with bees it was hard to get a great scan of each frame as I took each it out.

    I saw lots of capped brood and a decent # of uncapped. I can't say I saw any eggs, but lighting wasn't great and the frames were so crowded with bees. Lots of nectar and a couple full frames of honey on the outside. Saw some pollen cells too, but not a lot.

    I saw at least 4 if not 5 queen cells - two of them capped. One of the capped ones was hanging off the the middle (vertically) side of the frame, making me think suprecedure cell, while the 3-4 others were on the bottom of the frames.

    Since I was unable to visualize the queen and had capped queen cells, I did not split the hive. The last thing I wanted to do was inadvertantly leave the queen behind with the capped cells and not actually move anything but drones and workers to the new hive.

    I guess I'll have to just take my chance and see what happens.

    I had the hive open for quite a while and the bees were quite pissed when I was closing up - only took two stings though (to the hand) early on in my adventure. One in the flesh between my pinky and ring finger - wow did that smart - still swollen today, hahah. I don't like to wear gloves because of dexterity loss through the gloves, but I was sure happy I was wearing the rest of my bee suit.

    Thanks again for your help, I'll take another look this weekend weather permitting and see if I should maybe split anyway.... dunno.

  9. #9
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    Feb 2014
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    Clinton, Iowa
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    If you have capped queen cells your bees have about a 95% chance of already having swarmed and she's gone. Queen cell location means nothing really to their intent. You saw several cells of different ages, which points directly at swarming impulse.

    You can be pretty positive that you don't have a queen at the moment. So If you have decent brood in both boxes you could simply split the hive into two brood boxes, making sure there are a couple queen cells in each one. That gives you a much better shot at getting a mated queen back and it might help reduce the chance of having the hive swarm again.

    Be prepared to have your bees hit the trees again either way.

  10. #10
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    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    That's what I was afraid of.

    I'll take another shot at later this week (have Thursday afternoon off) so maybe I'll get to during a reasonable hour with less bees to navigate.

    Is there any way to tell an open queen cell from an already a hatched one? (i guess looking to see if there is a larva in it eh? Duh.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    Quote Originally Posted by Swedge View Post
    That's what I was afraid of.

    I'll take another shot at later this week (have Thursday afternoon off) so maybe I'll get to during a reasonable hour with less bees to navigate.

    Is there any way to tell an open queen cell from an already a hatched one? (i guess looking to see if there is a larva in it eh? Duh.
    That and the bottom edge of the cell will look a little like a tin can that was cut, edges somewhat hairy because of the cocoon remnants. Cells torn down by a virgin will have the side opened up, tip intact.

  12. #12
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    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    So when I go back and examine the hive later this week I should basically split the boxes - meaning move the top deep onto the new hive and make it the new bottom deep. I'll check each frame for capped queen cells and split them evenly between the two hives. Pop a new upper brood box on each and see how things progress.

    At what point after this split do I need to worry that I'm staying queenless?

  13. #13
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    Clinton, Iowa
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    Yes, but don't leave the bottom deep with no feed. Outside frames should be feed, but don't assume.

    I'd cut all but two close together in each side of the split. Of course it's possible there is a virgin(s) loose in the hive and they'll swarm when she's ready to go anyway.

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm

    You're going to want to stay out of them for a couple of weeks before checking for eggs.

  14. #14
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    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    I was able to get into my hive yesterday and do another full inspection. Things were very busy and bursting with bees.

    I did not find the queen and no obvious signs of egg laying, but I can see why they decided to swarm (or make swarm prep) - the brood nest was completely back filled with nectar & pollen. Obviously I neglected this significant development in my inspection 3 weeks ago. There were a few open queen cells, didn't see any larvae in them, at least one queen cell that had been opened from the side, and 4 or 5 capped queen cells.

    I split into two boxes as evenly as I could - each one got 1-2 frames of honey just honey, 2-3 frames with nectar & brood, couple frames with mainly brood - making sure that each box got at least 2 capped queen cells if not 3. I then placed an empty deep with foundation on top. I also shook an extra frame or two been into the 'new' hive knowing that most of my field workers would return to the old side.

    I checked this morning and saw a ton of activity at the front of the original hive and diddly at the 'new' hive. I'm assuming this is to be expected with the lack of field bees in the new hive. I lifted the lid on the new hive just to see if any bees remained and I heard a faint buzzing, so there are bees inside. I didn't want to dig further and disrupt an already stressed hive more. I also forgot to put an entrance reducer on the new hive, hopefully I didn't have any robbing develop - quickly slapped one on this AM.

    At what point do I go back in the hives evaluate for them being queenless? 2 weeks? 4 weeks?

    4 weeks puts me at beginning of August which is really pushing things late into the season. Or do I just pull the trigger and get a couple of bred queens from another local beekeeper?

    Also thinking about it now, maybe I should have put some empty frames between the filled ones forcing them to draw it out faster? too late now I guess.

  15. #15
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    Feb 2014
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    Clinton, Iowa
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    Very little activity from a new split because, yes, all the field bees go back home. You could switch positions, but with virgins possibly mating that is not a good plan at the moment.

    Sounds like you did about right. It's still possible (even likely) that they will swarm with whatever virgin is running around in there (since you saw torn down cells).

  16. #16
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    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    I do have some lemongrass extract and swarm lure, maybe I'll set up a box across the pasture and see what I catch

    Thanks again for all your help

  17. #17
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    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    I did just check on them over lunch - hands off observation - ans saw a couple of bees return to the new hive rather than the old one. Looks like some field workers decided to stay. Made me happy. We'll see how things go over the next couple weeks externally and maybe pop in for a look in 3 weeks.

  18. #18
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    May 2015
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    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    I was a good Beekeeper and practiced some patience. I did not go into the hives until 4 weeks after the split. Original Hive (1) is queenless - no brood, larva or eggs to be found. New hive (2) is a bustling place with plenty of brood, larva and eggs. I've definitely noticed a dropoff in the population of Hive 1 over the last days- makes sense since they are not being replaced.

    So I guess I have 2 options - 1) Requeen hive 1 and see if I can get population to rebound enough before winter to be viable or 2) combine hives somehow and make use of hive 1's stores for a strong hive 2.

    I've been calling on queens and can't find any around here until next week. I think that might just put the population too low to make a rebound even possible.

    Thoughts?

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Casey, Il, USA
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    newspaper combine them if you cant find a queen. THIS IS THE REASON I always split a colony when the queen is already gone. It increases your chances of getting a mated queen, had you not done that with it being your only hive you would up been up a creek and hopelessly queenless. just lay some newspaper down on top of the queen right hive and set the other hive on top leave the lid cracked for some kind of entrance and smoke both sections well. Come back in a week and see what you have. you will notice paper being removed in less than 24 hrs but I like to give them at least a whole week to settle.

  20. #20
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    May 2015
    Location
    Michigan
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    Default Re: Strange Swarm Behavior

    Thanks for the quick response. Hopefully I'll get them merged later this week.

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