Re: Treat swarm as new, or established colony?
I treat any colony that is less than a deep and a medium as a starter. I say that because I captured swarm last summer that filled two deeps. So I have just set some guidelines according to size and strength that determines what is a starter and what is a production colony. once it is 2 boxes full it is a production hive. Some of my swarms, I captured 13 of them last year, never made it to being production colonies last year. others where at production strength in 6 to 8 weeks. One, the large one, actually attempted to swarm again. I was able to harvest a medium of honey from them by the end of the season. I never treated that huge swarm like a starter becasue it never acted like a starter.
I was very fortunate with the first swarm I ever captured. I placed it in a top bar hive that was mounted on a stand with a screen bottom. I was able to observe this swarm through that screen every day. Now nearly all beekeepers are familiar with the cluster a swarm makes. but I am not sure how many realize that cluster does not stop when they find a cavity to build in. the cluster simply moves. but the bees remain. clustered. It is in the center of this cluster they begin to build a comb. As this comb is enlarged they will start adjacent combs. the entire comb network expands and the queen is actually filing every cell with brood. it is not until that brood emerges that bees will start using any of that comb for stores. all resources go toward building comb or producing brood and feeding the members of the colony. I was not able to actually see comb for almost three weeks. it was entirely concealed by the cluster.
Since then I have been aware of what I now call, clustering on the comb, behavior of a immature colony. It is one of the significant behaviors I watch for to determine when a colony has matured. A starter or immature colony will be clustered. an immature one will not. I have observed it time and tie again. place even a large swarm in a box full of already drawn comb. and at least for a short period of time they will pick a location. usually some corner and cluster in it. Over time the queen is in that cluster laying as the brood space expands the bees spread out. but they will not break up this cluster. In the case of a mated queen in a box with a large swarm and all drawn comb. this may take only days.
The huge swarm I captured never clustered. They went directly to building a proper brood nest and within a week I had 7 nearly perfectly filled frames of brood and the nicest brood nest I have seen in any hive. The queen then moved up to the next box and eventually had 12 frames of brood. Within weeks that colony had 4 boxes and produced a medium of honey for me to harvest. In comparison to my first swarm. it spent an entire summer and never reached production strength. It nearly failed over winter and was re queened the following spring. it completely built out the top bar last Summer and I actually took a couple of frames of honey from it.
How you manage a swarm can vary widely. But as a rule treat it like a starter or package. Watch for that clustering effect. I personally think it is one of the most reliable indications of just where a colony is and what they are ready for. Also notice as the cluster breaks up the bees begin to gain attitude. To me that is actually a welcome sign. it means the bees are moving out of mere attempting to survive to having built a hive and defending it.
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