Swarm season is fun and exhilarating. Much has been written about swarms. They’ve been studied, photographed, pursued and just… watched. But what does the beekeeper do with the parent colony the next day? What do they do with the swarm after...
Swarm season is fun and exhilarating. Much has been written about swarms. They’ve been studied, photographed, pursued and just… watched. But what does the beekeeper do with the parent colony the next day? What do they do with the swarm after they’ve caught it and put it in a box? In today’s episode Jim and Jeff Ott (from Beekeeping Today Podcast) talk about… what should you do, After The Swarm?
Listen as Jim and Jeff talk about the post swarm queen. Which queen? Both! Either the new queen in the parent hive or the old queen in the new swarm. If you are wanting the colony to make honey or even make it through the next winter, those considerations must start now. You have some time to think about it, but not weeks or months.
It’s an interesting discussion and one you don’t often hear.
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Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott
Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jim: Listeners, who of you have not hived a swarm by this stage of the game, in your bee career? Isn't that exhilarating? Boy that swarm is settling down and you realize you're about to get free bees. It's just one of the sweetest times in beekeeping. What I want to talk about with you here for a while today is what do we do after the swarm, when life moves on and that swarm's in the box, it's when they need something as is the parent colony. I'd like to talk about that for a while. I'm Jim Tew.
Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Jim: We're coming to you on Honey Bee Obscura, where we'd like to talk to you today on what to do, what to expect in the life of the hive after the swarm.
Jeff: It's a great topic, Jim. I'm looking forward to this. I go back and forth one moment, I'm top of it. Next minute, I'm behind the ball, so let's get to it.
Jim: All right.
Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media. The folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things, honey bees.
Jim: Jeff, the thing is, I said that in the opening, this it the most satisfying time is just the moment you realize that swarms going to be yours, that it looks good. It looks like it's going to stay. That's just the stuff where you just rush all over town, telling people who really don't care that I just got a swarm. I just got a big swarm. I just picked it up. There's that, but right now, Jeff, in my case, swarming is gone probably four weeks ago. In the case of my beekeeping friends in the Southeastern US, they don't even remember swarming, it's been gone so long. What happens, Jeff? What management procedures do we need to do to help the bees after they undergo this fission process where they split themselves?
Jeff: It's funny you should mention that Jim, because your family and friends, they don't remember their swarm season. Yours is about four weeks past and we're right in the middle of our swarm season here in the Pacific Northwest. We are living that dream or nightmare if it's your own swarm, you see going up into the 50-foot tree and later leaving the county. It is difficult, and it brings up a whole sorts management issues, as you mentioned, which for the parent colony and for the swarm. What was your question?
Jim: Was going to say Jeff, what you're doing. You're getting all that swarm energy going, because you're still experiencing that. I could see you doing that while I was watching you talk. He's picking up swarms. He's still excited. He's got bee swarm fever.
Jim: That's not the topic, Jeff. The sweet pain of swarm biology. No, that's not the topic.
Jeff: No. It's managing the depression of watching all the swarms leave.
Jim: You know this. You put that swarm in the box. Every book will tell you, I tend to agree, that that queen is about to be asked to do the last huge job of her career. That old queen that packed up, lost weight, moved, went with a swarm, bivouacked is now going to be expected to really build up a population. Most of the time, before she's run a cycle, two cycles are brewed through about all she can put out, they're going to replace her. One of the things that we need to watch for is the odd potential that there is for that beautiful swarm to go queenless in just a few days, just a few weeks, or that aged queen not be able to get the job done. That's where we come in.
Jeff: That's true, Jim. As exciting as swarming is, it's perplexing too, because how do you manage that swarm afterwards?
Jim: As you talk again, I have the urge to get involved in the swarm discussion. That's not what we're talking about, but I keep wanting to get involved in the swarm discussion because it's such a huge part of beekeeping, both in natural beekeeping and in management beekeeping that we try to do. That swarm goes, that old queen probably is not going to hold up. People like me would tell the listeners, oh, you need to replace that queen.
Here's the brutal truth, Jeff, the Queen's going to be pricey. She's not going to be the easiest bug to get. I know she's not a true bug, entomologists, but you know what I mean. She's not going to be the easiest bug to get. If it's working, why would you fix it, but the recommendation is consistently, you need to re-queen that colony while you have things under control.
Not later in the summer, not later in July or August in our case, I'm not sure when it would be in your case. You're so far away from me here, but when the bees do it, then there's not a guarantee. You don't have any control over the queen they choose, the stock they select, when they do it, middle of the flow. The first thing we're saying to do is to monitor the activity of the queen in the swarm. You okay with that?
Jeff: Yes. Sounds good.
Jim: All right. Are you okay with this? One of the second things that beekeepers can do is to monitor the activity of the new queen developing in the parent colony.
Jeff: That's the thing that's often overlooked I believe, because I think beekeepers will tend to say the bees will manage themselves and be able to get that queen going. It's good for the Varroa break also. I'm just going to let the bees be bees and I'll check on them in 21 days.
Jim: Yes, yes, yes. I agree with everything you just said. I probably am that person, bees know what they're doing. Here's the reality of that. Not always, Jeff. A lot of time, bees die, in trees, hanging out in exposed locations where they've started nest building. They will start replacing a queen in the third week of September. You think you are really one dumb bunch of bees, but I don't know why they would do these things, but bees seem to have absolutely no fear of death.
What we're trying to do is to manipulate the bees and keep them as healthy and as productive as we can by us managing the queen. That way, the bees don't have any hand on it. There's that dark period in that parent colony, and in my case, I'll open it up. I know this colony swarmed. I saw it leave and I hived it. The swarm is not over here. I know this colony has no queen, it's been four weeks ago, three weeks ago. Shouldn't you have brewed in here by now?
You look through what's left of that parrot colony, and you don't see a queen. Jeff, at that time you monitor the behavior of the bees. Are they flighty or are they moaning? The way the old master says the bees moan because they can't find the queen or are they quiet, because if you can't tell for sure that she's in there, are you going to rush off to your supplier and pay $25 or $30 or $35 for another queen? Try to introduce that queen with a queen inside the colony, what a mess you're making there.
Jeff: The other challenge, and that's true, those are the questions that keep me awake at three o'clock in the morning when I'm thinking about my bees. Then the other thing that comes up is in the meantime of the swarm, having left the parent colony, the parent colony continues to bring in nectar and store it. Then you start seeing that the brew chamber gets honey bound.
Not only do you not see eggs because they're starting to store honey in every little nook and cranny, there's no place for even any old queen or new queen to start laying eggs because they're honey bound. You have this after swarm parent colony, and you have the honey-bound hive sitting there, what's a beekeeper to do? That's a challenge.
Jim: You're painting a real dark picture here.
Jeff: It's not, I don't mean it to be dark.
Jim: What is the Beekeeper to do? No, everything you're saying is right. Those things do happen. Jeff, this whole honey-bound thing is perplexing. It's hard to read, hard to understand, hard to expect. Let's take a short sponsor break while you, and I think about it, get our thoughts lined up, and come back and discuss it.
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Jim: Jeff, we're talking about bees being honey-bound and we have described that well enough. You're really having a beautiful nectar flow, its colonies swarmed just a week or two ago. Now, they've really done a great job of bringing in so much nectar that even if you had a fertile queen, she'd have no place to lay. You're saying that that's going to be a bad situation. Colony can't thrive, no place to lay.
Jeff: It's a challenging, challenging spot to be in.
Jim: I would agree with that. I have not had that happen often but what would we do if I did have that kind of a flow here in the Midwest? You got to do something. You see, we're keeping the bees in an unnatural situation with all this space, all this genetics, all this extra feed, all this help that we're doing. They're going to be a bigger colony than they would be in the wild.
We may have to step in and physically give them empty frames or give them frames of young brood that will entice them to build their own brood nest in the middle of all that bound-up honey. Then give them space on top to put this nectar they're still bringing in. Then to possibly move that nectar up top if they had more room to put it but you've got to get a population built up enough that they can go into the summer and then the subsequent fall and winter and pass that winter.
Jeff: A few episodes ago, we talked about queen excluders and I think that's one of those times when I take off the queen excluder if I think that the colony is honey bound and the queen's having a hard time finding a place to lay. I do exactly what you suggest is put some empty frames down below in the brood box, take off the queen excluder so that the bees can quickly and easily move up top, hopefully not the queen. Then she lays down below, they start storing, freer to store the honey up top and life is good again. Doesn't always work out but that's one approach in that situation.
Jim: Life is good again. No, I would say life is as good as it gets. It may not be good again. Here's this, I've got a colony right now. If I stood up and looked out the window and opened the gate back to my yard, I could see it. It would not stop swarming. I picked up two nice swarms, I think there was a third swarm that went at least or maybe more. This colony that started the spring season as one of my beautiful units is now literally swarmed itself into one of my lesser smaller colonies. It missed all the nectar flow. It didn't really bring anything in because it just could not stop swarming.
What game is afoot there, were those bees genetically preparing themselves for surviving in the wild with these multiple swarms because they were not putting aside food sources. It's like I changed colonies because now I've got two nice swarms that have built up and are rock-solid colonies but the parent colony is depleted, run down, missed the season, and if you can say it, demoralized.
Jeff: I know we're only in the middle of summer but the prospects for very good fall next winter's not looking great for that colony at this point. That's a difficult after-swarm question that we all get into time to time with our colonies.
Jim: I don't know why some colonies do it. It must just be genetics.
Jeff: Do you re-queen it? Do you introduce a new queen, bloodline to that box?
Jim: I think better beekeepers than I would do that but I probably wouldn't re-queen it because there's going to be something else. There's going to be Varroa, there's going to be a sublethal exposure to a pesticide somewhere, there's always something. I probably wouldn't go right to re-queening but I'll bet you that in a perfect world and a perfect beehive, the perfect beekeeper would re-queen that hive. The swarm thing, we need to say this right up front, all swarms are not successful. Even the ones that we hive will not necessarily be successful.
If I left a point with the newer beekeepers, don't just rip into the hives that are working to the successful hives and keep taking their resources to bolster the needy hives because then, you're just going to have an apiary full of needy hives. I lean toward letting the hives that are thriving, leave them alone and then work with the moderate hives and the weak hives to see if you can somehow get them out of either one of those categories. Those swarms sometimes enter those categories, they just don't build up.
I picked up swarms and the queen just didn't make it, they re-queened her almost immediately. At the worst time that they could do it, they try to re-queen themselves and the colony doesn't recover from it. It never builds up. That's one of the times that beekeepers could help.
Jeff: There are different types of swarms and we're talking about swarms again but when we were talking about post-swarm behavior management, we have to realize, as you said, not all swarms survive. That brings up the topic, not all swarms are because the parent colony is a healthy swarm or a healthy colony. Sometimes they swarm because there's disease or stress and those bees are already stressed when they swarm. It's going to be natural that they have challenges in getting reestablished when you're sitting there with them in your box and trying to think that they're going to grow like the books say.
Jim: Yes and beekeepers say, "Should I feed them? Is there a pollen flow on right now?" I don't know. Do you just give it your best guess? Oh, there's throw nectar flow on, you had to go ahead and feed them. What you've just done, what I've just said, there's no nectar flow on. I'd suggest you feed them before you're going to have a problem with robbing. It depends on the season and you just have to accept the fact that not all of these swarms are going to thrive. Some are, some aren't. Can I change the subject to a related issue?
What if someone like Jim Tew told others if you've got a colony that's going to swarm, if you see swarm cells there, split them out. Make splits before they fly away. I took my own advice and I had a beautiful colony that was just a chock a block full of swarm cells this past season. I busted it down to four splits, including the parent colony. I got three out of the deal. There was one of those splits that just could never get its act together and get a queen produced. Just yesterday, I went through the process of combining that with one of the other splits. That's okay, not beautiful but okay. The other two are boomers.
I did stop the swarm but in a way, I had after split management, which is not totally unlike after swarm management. It's like an artificial swarm that I made but it's the same issue. Some of these things don't make it, some of them don't re-queen themselves. I'd love to say the bees always know what they're doing but time and time again, the bees make mistakes back here that cost them their existence.
Jeff: This has been a fascinating topic. What are the key takeaways for the listeners at this point?
Jim: I'll give one then you give one.
Jeff: All right.
Jim: I'm going to give the obvious one. The key takeaway to this is to monitor the queen during the dark periods while they are reestablishing themselves, either the old queen developing a brood nest or in the parent colony, the new queen's coming up, mating and beginning the brood nest too. The beekeepers can help in that regard.
Jeff: I'll say the other is that not all swarms will survive. Not all parent colonies will survive.
Jim: I'm sorry to hear you take that because that was going to be my second.
Jeff: [laughs] Well, it's a sad fact.
Jim: Monitor the queens and know that all colonies will not survive. I would say that a takeaway is to build the colony up as much as you can within the reason. You can feed both carbos and pollen but you can just feed so much. I'm not a patient person. I want to put on a gallon feeder and a two-pound pollen patty. Well, no, you got to bring them along more gently than that. The third takeaway point that I could suggest is that you help as much as you can, realizing at every step, that number two, the one you chose that all colonies won't survive is a very real likelihood.
Jeff: I think that's three good takeaways.
Jim: I wish the story had a happier ending than that but that's enough of an ending, right?
Jeff: I don't think it's a bad ending, I think it's a realistic ending. That's part of beekeeping and that's why we do it.
Jim: Well, I'm winning more than I'm losing this year, he said just before he'd knocked on wood. Listeners, thanks for listening. There's no reason to do a podcast if you're not out there. You don't have any idea how much we appreciate it. Jeff, thanks for sitting in today.
Jeff: Thanks for inviting me along.
Jim: Always glad to have you here.
[00:20:48] [END OF AUDIO]