My beekeeping March is best summed up by a phone call I recently made to our County Extension Agent: “Please take me off this year’s swarm catcher list. All my available slots for new colonies are filled, and all my spare equipment is now in service. I can’t run an animal rescue shelter for homeless bees”. For some reason the extension agent thought that last sentence was funny.
As for the month’s totals, I normally figure on catching 2 or 3 swarms in a season. This year I caught 10. I started out March with 13 colonies, and now I have 20 (three swarms were given away to other beekeepers). All the increase came from swarms. Yes, I had a few of my own (see the picture), but most of the swarms came from another beekeeper who had 6 swarms come out of 4 colonies. As these folks have no spare equipment of their own, I was called to get the swarms. You have probably heard the line “First time funny, second time passable, third time nuisance”. Well, this deal went on for six swarm calls, and I ended up trying to gently nudge this beekeeper to consider going into the package bee business. He is obviously very good at producing large quantities of bees early in the season.
As I recall, the prime swarm season for Montgomery County runs roughly April 15 to May 15, however for swarm catchers the preparation part of the season is now in full swing. Step one is to make sure you have equipment ready to put into service when you return home with that box full of bees. My personal thought is that small established beekeepers should have at least one starter hive’s worth of equipment as an available spare; larger beekeepers typically have about 10% of their equipment as available spares.
Don’t forget your swarm catching gear. If you are like me and use printer paper boxes for handling swarms, now is the time to scrounge them out of your printer center at work.
So much for catching and keeping swarms, you also want to try to keep your own colonies from swarming. While no swarm prevention measure works all the time, I have found that reversing and adding a drawn comb super does frequently delay swarming long enough for the nectar flow to start. I don’t mind if some brood gets started in the super before the start of the nectar flow; that brood will hatch out and the bees will fill those cells with nectar during the flow.
The start of the main nectar flow normally causes the colony to switch out of swarm mode and go into nectar gathering mode. You’ll note I use the word “normally”. Bees don’t read the books. The very first “Letter from the South” I wrote featured a picture of me staring at a swarm in the fence around the Farley Nuclear Plant where I work – that picture was taken in August.
I thought I would end my letter there, but I just got a phone call from one of the other Farley beekeepers. He was thanking me for the fine swarm he just caught where we have our bees at the plant. I daresay that swarm came from one of my colonies.
Have a happy swarm season – catch many swarms from other people and have few swarms from your own colonies.