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CHAPTER VIII Edit

WHY BEES SWARM HOW TO HIVE A SWARM Edit

HOW TO CONTROL SWARMING Edit

ALL insects have some natural means of reproducing themselves, and bees are no exception to the rule, their method being that of swarming. While swarming may be a perfectly natural act on their part, it cannot be said that beekeepers generally view it with any degree of pleasure, especially when they consider the possibility of losing valuable swarms that may emerge in their absence, which means a distinct loss of the entire working force of the hive and a consequent loss of honey.

Swarming usually occurs during the months of May and June, though they will frequently come out earlier and later than this, owing to the season, and the reasons for swarming are as follows. Brood is present in large numbers in the hive, the blossoms in the field are yielding up a heavy tribute of nectar, and under these conditions the colony becomes overcrowded and makes preparations to decamp. An examination of the brood nest just before a colony swarms shows us practically every cell occupied with honey, pollen, and brood, and, realizing that no further work can be done in such crowded quarters, the colony decides that it is time to seek another home. In some mysterious way this idea is passed from one bee to another until all obey it.

Fortunately for the beekeeper, however, the colony usually gives some premonitory signs of its intention to swarm, and these if heeded will enable one to head them off and in many cases break up the fever entirely. Often for several days before swarming the bees will cluster in large numbers on the front of the hive, and an examination of the brood nest will reveal the presence of queen cells, and it is by taking advantage of these signs we can often prevent swarming by giving enlarged storage room. If we fail to forestall them, then we may look for a swarm to come forth some beautiful day in May or June, and the way the bees will come boiling out of the hive is a revelation to the tyro. Out they come literally by the thousands until the air is filled with them and their roar can be heard at a considerable distance. The swarm is not, as is popularly supposed, made up of young bees, but is composed principally of the old bees arid the old queen, and with the exception of the time she flies as a virgin to be mated, this is the only time that her majesty comes forth. For several minutes the swarm will swirl about in the air, and with rare exceptions, will in a short time begin to cluster on the branch of a tree, and often at an inaccessible height, and will hang there probably for an extended period.

The safest plan, however, is to hive the swarm as quickly as possible, for in all likelihood they have sent out their scouts to find a congenial home in the heart of an old tree or under the weatherboards of a house, and in some cases they often have their objective point picked out days in advance, and unless hived will eventually go away.

In the majority of cases the swarm will cluster on the lower limb of a tree or on a bush, and in fact I have had them cluster on a post, but in any case they are easily removed, and that without attendant danger of one's being stung, as every bee has filled its stomach with honey, realizing that it will be needed to build their combs within their new home, and it is this condition that renders them largely incapable of stinging, as they cannot bend the abdomen to do so.

If you are wise, you will have had your empty hive body with its frames of full foundation all ready for just such an emergency, and as soon as the swarm comes forth it will be the easiest thing in the world to set the hive in place, and if the swarm is on a tree or shrub, the branch to which they cling can be cut or sawed off and the swarm shaken in front of the empty hive, which they will be glad enough to enter.

If the swarm has clustered on a tree that you consider too valuable to cut, or on a fence or post, then take the new hive and place it under the cluster and shake the bees in front of it; or if on a post, brush them down with a brush or whisk broom, both of which are made for the purpose, and in a few minutes all of the bees will enter the hive. Let them remain there until toward evening, when the hive can be gently lifted and placed on its permanent stand; and in the morning you will find that they have their sentinels posted, with the field bees going and coming to and from the fields. In a few days one or more of the queen cells in the old hive will bring forth a virgin who in time will become mated, and thus you will have two full colonies, each with a queen at its head.

Do not fail, however, to examine the old hive in about ten days and make certain that the virgin has mated, which can be quickly told by the presence of young eggs in the cells, and if for any reason she should have become lost in her matrimonial flight, give them another that you have reared or secured from some reputable breeder. The method of introducing her will be treated under the chapter on Queen Rearing. It will occasionally happen that when one or more virgins hatch at the same time an after-swarm will also emerge, but as these are very small, and incapable of doing much in the way of building up for the winter, it is best to throw them back into the hive from which they emerged, and let the surplus virgins fight it out to the survival of the fittest. The professional beekeeper looks upon natural swarming as a nuisance, especially if he is running a system of outyards, for it often happens that swarms will come out when he is not there to attend to them, and it seldom pays to keep a man watching for them. This has led to a long-expressed desire for a race of non-swarming bees, but no such race is in sight, and beekeepers generally have taken up the next best thing, namely, preventive measures.

The dangers of losses from swarming have led a majority of beekeepers to devote their yards to the production of extracted honey, as by this plan the honey can be extracted as soon as the combs are nearly filled, and thus additional room can be given to the bees. When the apiary is devoted to the production of comb honey, the problem becomes more serious, as the combs must of necessity be left on the hives until entirely sealed over, or else they will not be salable, and leaving them to be sealed impels the bees to swarm. To overcome this, a new plan was tried out some few years ago, and generally it has resulted in practically a complete control of swarming, even when the bees are kept for comb honey; it is known as the "Shook Swarm Plan." About four days before the swarm is ready to come forth, and their purpose can easily be told by the presence of queen cells and the actions of the bees, the beekeeper lifts the hive to one side, say two feet, and in its place puts a new or empty hive in the frames of which only starter strips have been placed, not full sheets; and then lifting the frames from the hive about to swarm, all or nearly all of the bees are shaken at the entrance of the new hive, being sure of course to shake the queen. In some cases it may be best to put a queen-excluding piece of perforated zinc between the hive body of the new hive and its supers to restrict the queen to the lower chamber, and then the surplus bodies are removed from the old hive, bees and all, and placed on top of the new hive, as it would be the height of folly to leave them on the original hive, as the working force will be in the new hive.

The question arises, What is to become of the old hive with its brood and few remaining bees? and the answer is that it can be left beside the new hive until its brood has hatched, when the bees can be shaken in with the bees in the new hive, and the combs can be removed and such honey as remains in them extracted, and the combs cut out and rendered into beeswax. It will be well in cutting out the combs to leave a strip of comb about an inch wide at the top of the frames, as such frames the following season will have starters of comb instead of foundation for colonies that may be shaken on them. By shaking the bees on starters only, we compel them to rush their honey up into the supers just where we want it, as they have no storage room below until the frames are filled with comb. Seldom will a colony swarm after it has been treated in this way, and this method has this apparent advantage over all others, namely, that the beekeeper swarms his bees at his own convenience and does away with all possibility of absconding swarms.

Some men have said that the reason that the swarm shaken into the new hive seldom swarms again is because it has had the swarming impulse satisfied by being run into a new hive like a natural swarm, but the real reason is that a colony of bees will seldom desert a hive until it is completely filled with combs in the brood nest, and by the time the swarm will have filled its combs the honey flow is usually over and the cause of swarming a thing of the past.

There have been advertised from time to time a lot of automatic hivers, but he who invests his money in them but illustrates the old adage that "the fool and his money are soon parted." It is a good thing to go over the apiary and clip the wings of every queen after she has mated and has begun to lay; this will save many a swarm, as a swarm will never run off without its queen. If a swarm should come out with a clipped queen, it may cluster on a near-by tree, while the queen in her inability to fly will be found hopping about in the grass in her endeavor to join the swarm, and can be picked up with the bare fingers, as she will not sting, and removed to the house. A new hive being placed on the stand occupied by the one from which the swarm emerged, and the old swarm having returned and entered the new hive, the queen can be thrown in at the entrance; thus the hive swarm is hived without the owner having to handle it at all. The "shook swarm" plan insures the beekeeper an abundance of beeswax after the combs have been rendered, and as this can be exchanged for sheets of foundation, it is an item worth considering.

The late Captain Hetherington of Cherry Valley, N.Y., one of the most extensive keepers of bees in his day, whose apiaries, scattered all over the country, numbered as many as three thousand colonies, had a plan of swarm control that he found satisfactory: the removal or caging of the queen during the swarming season. Some beemen contended that a swarm would not work as well with its queen removed or caged as one whose queen was present, to say nothing of the loss of brood during the period that the queen was caged, but the captain met this by the statement that any eggs she might lay would be so long in developing that the flow would be over before they were field bees.

The old-fashioned practice of ringing bells and banging on tin pans to cause a swarm to alight is really laughable, and as a matter of fact had no influence on the swarm whatever. That they did soon alight was only a coincidence, as they would sooner or later have done so. It has been said that the custom dates back to the days of Alfred the Great of England, who, in order to stop the disputes among his subjects as to the ownership of swarms that came forth, decreed that when a man's bees swarmed, he should ring a bell or make some other noise to notify his neighbors that the swarm was his. Another amusing custom still in vogue in some parts is the placing of empty hives in the woods as decoys for swarms to enter, and some have even resorted to the ridiculous practice of placing little red flags on top of them to flag the passing swarm and notify them that a welcome home awaits them. While it is true that a swarm has on rare occasion taken possession of some of these hives, yet it was a mere coincidence, and the flag, or the sprinkling of the hives with anise oil, had nothing whatever to do with it.

Before leaving the subject of swarming, it will be well to state that shade boards placed over a hive, and an extra current of air given them by elevating the entrance of the hive will be important factors in swarm control, but often, in spite of all that can be done, a swarm will come forth when the fever possesses them, and the only thing to do is to accept the situation philosophically and get them into a modern hive as soon as possible.

The proportion of swarming in comb honey production as compared with that of producing extracted honey is about two to one where the "shook swarm" plan is not practised, as the free use of the extractor enables the beekeeper to remove the honey from the combs and give the colony additional storage room before the bees feel that they are crowded.

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