" THE cause or causes which determine the issue of a swarm seem to be enveloped in obscurity ; probably there are none which can be said to determine the point absolutely. The crowded state of the hives in hot weather has been generally considered as sufficient to account for the issue of swarms ; but on the one hand bees, as is well known, will cluster out sometimes for weeks during the height of summer without swarming at all ; and on the other hand, affording room in whatever direction will not certainly prevent an issue, neither will it always encourage comb-building. This latter will depend upon the productiveness of the gathering season ; for, if the hive contain a sufficiency of cells for the reception of eggs, and the prospect of the honey harvest is not such as will require additional store-houses, no fresh combs will in all probability be constructed. Looking at these two well-known facts, viz: the uncertain result of clustering, as well as of affording room, I was led to think, in common with some of my apiarian friends, that some preliminary steps were adopted by the bees in contemplation of swarming, which determined the point so absolutely that no after proceeding on the part of the proprietor could arrest its progress ; that if this step were not taken, neither a crowded population nor a high temperature would induce a swarm to issue ; and that if it were taken, no accommodation in point of room would prevent it. This theory, which, had it been correct, would probably have led to important practical results, must however be abandoned, for subsequent reflection and experience have shown that it is not well founded."

The experience of Bevan, which is that of every practical lee-keeper, very forcibly illustrates the uncertainty attending natural The following experiments will in some measure solve the mystery and illustrate the principle.

Take a number of acorns, and plant some in soil having all the elements necessary to induce germination, except that of water ; let others be planted with this element added, but at an undue depth; this would partially deprive them of air and heat ; others again are planted at midsummer, in conditions that would seem to insure their growing, except that it is out of season ; while others are planted so that they have the combined advantages of season, soil and location ; the result is that only the latter planting grow, showing clearly that all things are governed by natural laws, which cannot be violated without failure. Swarming is the result of natural laws, but it only occurs with a favorable combination of those laws.

The question might here be asked : Is not the system of dividing bees a departure ? We answer that the transferring of a tree is a departure from those laws, but it is done successfully if nature's laws are properly observed ; so with that of dividing a family of bees.


When the hive is full of comb, with a large proportion of it full of brood, and all the spaces within the hive crowded with bees, if the pasturage is abundant and drones have made their appearance, swarms may be expected at almost any time. (I have in a few instances known them to swarm when their hive was not over half full of comb and bees in proportion.) These, however, are exceptions to the general rule. During the summer of 1858, 1 had two swarms issue under the above circumstances, out of one hundred hives; but in 1859, out of four hundred colonies formed, not a single swarm issued in the natural way, eithel from full or partly filled hives.


The natural period of commencing to swarm in this vicinity, (Sacramento) is from the first to the twentieth of April ; but in some very favorable localities they will occasionally swarm earlier. First swarms usually send one or more swarms during the same season, and instances have occurred where still another generation has appeared. The main swarming season usually terminates by the 20th of July,[1] but where late pasture abounds, it sometimes continues later.


For some days before the time of swarming, the bees may be seen clustering at the entrance of their hive mornings and evenings, at first in small numbers, and finally in large clusters.! A swarm may now be expected at any time, except in the months of July and August, when it is usual for them to cluster on the outside of the hive during the very warm weather, jet it does not indicate swarming.

This clustering preparatory to swarming is mainly for the purpose of secretion of wax, of which large quantities* are immediately required to construct combs as soon as the bees become located in their new habitation. If, during the natural period of swarming, any hive that is crowded with bees is observed to remain clustered in a quiet manner, with but few going forth to labor, while those of other hives are working and storing honey diligently, it is an indication that it is preparing to swarm, and may be expected to do so at any time.


There is but one sign or indication of after-swarming that proves true in a majority of cases, and that is " piping." On the seventh or eighth day after the first has departed, on applying the ear to the hive, the piping of a young queen is heard, resembling the sound of the words pea-pe-pe-pe, spoken in succession in a pitiful manner : sometimes two, or even three may be heard at a time. When this piping is heard, it is usual for a hive to swarm in from one to three days.


Hives should always be in readiness and at hand during the swarming season. Care should be taken to have them clean and free from any offensive smell which may exist when they have stood for any length of time unoccupied; this is best done by scalding them effectually, which will not only purify, but will also destroy all insects and eggs which may exist in their interior.

A stool about two feet square, and fifteen inches high, is the most convenient thing to place the hive upon while gathering the swarm into it ; in the absence of which, a broad board or a sheet spread upon the ground, will answer a very good purpose.

A light box or basket should be in readiness, to brush the bees into when removing the swarm from the place of clustering to the hive. Have also a wing, as the most suitable thing for brushing the bees, either from the tree or to cause them to enter the hive. A pail of water should also be at hand to sprinkle them with, to facilitate their entering the hive and prevent the issuing of any other swarms while disposing of the first.



PLATE XXXI, p. 239, fig. 56. Swarms of Bees.

For some time previous to the departure of a swarm, the bees cease their labors in a great measure; but few are seen to 'leave the hive, and they, after flying for a few seconds, return again, doubtless to give intelligence to the organizing swarm that the day is fine, and that they can depart in safety. The bees that are clustered on the outside, remain tranquil, while within an unusual movement is perceptible; the sound is changed from a steady roar, as of a distant water-fall, to a sharp and shrill tone ; the movements within become more rapid, till finally a rush is made from the entrance. THE BEES ARE SWARMING!

Mounting on the wing, each bee describes a circle, and circle redoubled on circle, they spread, until many thousands are seen in the air. This they continue from five to fifteen minutes, till finally they collect together and alight in a cluster, usually on the branch of a tree. (See plate XXXI, fig. 56.) They remain thus in a body for about one or two hours, during which time only a few bees are seen to depart; these probably go to seek out a residence for the swarm in the forest ; soon after the scouts return, whether successful in their search or not, the swarm leaves, in a direct line. They doubtless alight repeatedly until a home is found. Thus, long distances are frequently traversed by a swarm before a permanent location is made.

Not unfrequently swarms, after issuing and flying for a few minutes, and sometimes even clustering on a tree, suddenly return to the parent hive ; the cause of which is, that the queen has either not left the hive with the swarm, or after she has left, finds herslf unable to continue her flight and sinks to the earth, and is lost. In the former case, the swarm again issues within one or two days after its return ; but in the latter, not till the ninth day, and is then accompanied by a young, unfertile queen ; it being the one that would have accompanied an after swarm. (This applies only to first swarms.) In all cases where a returned swarm is delayed nine days, as above, an after swarm usually issues about the third day after the former has finally left.


As soon as the swarm is all out of the parent hive, open it and take out one of the side combs, containing honey; brush off the bees, and place it in the empty hive that is to receive the swarm, (this will prevent their leaving) occupying the same position in the new hive that it did in the old one ; then arrange the hive, with the frames all in place and the honey-board on, to prevent the bees ascending ; raise the front slide two inches and open the upper entrance, to allow ample room for the bees to enter ; the stool should be set as near the place of alighting as convenient, and the hive, as prepared, set on it ; all is now ready to hive the swarm. The preparations should be made, as much as possible, beforehand. It is well to sprinkle a little cold water on the cluster, after a part of the swarm alights, as it serves to tame the bees and prevents the tendency to fly away. The branch that they cluster on may be cut off, and, with its burthen, laid at the entrance of the hive ; or, if they are on a valuable tree, from which it is undesirable to cut a limb, take a shallow, light box or basket, and either shake or brush the bees from the limb into it, and pour them out at the entrance of the hive ; (this is done when only a small part of the bees have alighted) most of them will again take wing. Repeat this shaking two or three times, or until many bees are found in the hive and on the stool in front of it. The tree or branch that they alight on is kept shaking, and a smoke is made, or a cloth saturated with turpentine (wormwood or other bitter herbs have the same effect) is put where the bees are realighting ; this drives them away, and they then enter the hive. The bees that collect on the stool and sides of the hive should be disturbed by brushing or sprinkling water upon them, to facilitate their entering. By following the preceding directions, most of the swarm is caused to alight and enter the hive at once ; so that all are fairly within by the time they would have settled on the tree, thus saving fully one-half the time usually spent to accomplish the object. Should the swarm choose a place to alight inconvenient of access, such as a high tree, then resort must be had either to ascending, and cutting off and lowering the limb to an assistant, or to the use of a box, and light poles of suitable length, on which to attach it to be elevated ; then, with a hook shake off the bees within the box, and lower them, and hive as before. A net might be constructed to answer the same purpose. When the principal part of the bees have entered, the front slide is to be lowered, leaving half an inch space, and the upper aperture left partly open. There will be but few bees flying, none having left the hive as yet ; soon, however, numbers of them commence leaving, and after circling around, for the purpose of marking the location of their new home, depart to the fields to labor.


As soon as the swarm is hived, and before the bees commence work, they should be removed to the stand where they are to remain ; any bees that are left flying, will return to the parent hive so that there are none lost. When the swarm is left till night, as is generally the case, on the following day hundreds of bees will be seen hovering around where they had been hived, and had marked their new home, as completely as if they had never known any other. The previous directions, if promptly followed, will enable the bee-keeper to complete the operation and have the hive on the stand within thirty minutes from the time the swarm begins to issue.

A swarm managed in this way, will seldom leave for the woods ; not having received the report of the " committee on location" they have no desire for a change.


If only one swarm in a season is wanted from a hive, it is to be opened on the fifth or sixth day after sending forth the swarm, and all the queen cells removed except one. Immediately after a second swarm departs, all the queen cells but one can be destroyed, to prevent a third. The one left in either case is to supply the parent hive.


All sixteen days from the first swarm leaving, exchange the combs from which the brood has emerged in the parent hive, for new combs from the first swarm, leaving all the bees in their respective hives.

The advantages gained are as follows : the old hive has a young queen that will not be fertile for eight days, and as most of the brood have emerged by this time, the combs remain empty during that period, and much of it frequently for weeks, if the bees have swarmed off bare.

Forty days will elapse before there is any considerable accession of numbers, as the product of the young queen. This gives the moths a chance to gain a firm foothold, if not prevented by the above change or other special care. The first swarm, having the old queen, the newly built combs are supplied with eggs as fast as built, and by the sixteenth day, there is considerable sealed brood. Two or three combs of the most advanced being given to the old hive, soon add to their numbers ; (these new combs must be handled carefully, as the least jar or turn from a perpendicular position will loosen them from their fastenings) the empty combs, being placed in the hive having the fertile queen, are soon replenished with eggs, which in due time become bees so that both hives are benefitted by the interchange of comb. A further gain is had from this practice : the bees are healthier, and winter better on old comb than they do on new. 1 will again repeat the admonition not to place more brood in a hive than there are bees to cover it, so as to prevent a chill.


There are periods when swarms have a propensity to desert their hives, even after they have built some comb ; they also desert habitations of their own choice in like manner ; these periods occur but seldom, perhaps only once in two or three years, and only last for one, two or three days; the cause is altogether unknown ; no writer that I have consulted has even noticed the fact. One of these periods occurred about the first of July, 1851. I was attending an apiary containing upwards of eighty hives ; during the week, the number of swarms per day was from two to four ; all were secured, and apparently did well until Saturday morning, about half past seven o'clock, a swarm that had been hived on Tuesday left their hive with the apparent determination to go to the woods. With the aid of an assistant, I succeeded, after much difficulty, in compelling them to alight, and finally rehived them, when they were restored to their stand. The indications were favorable for a number of swarms ; during the day, pails of water were kept standing as was our practice, for the purpose of forcing hives to defer swarming when two or more attempted to do so at the same time. A short time after the capture of the fugitive swarm as above stated, another one, hived on the same day as the first deserter, commenced to leave in the same manner ; by the aid of water, and closing the hive for a time, they were prevented from leaving. Six different swarms, hived that week, at tempted to leave in like manner. I was then entirely unable to discover the cause or a remedy. The following finally occurred to my mind, and was applied promptly : Most of the hives that had sent off swarms had the top boxes full of honey, or nearly so, while there were but few bees in them. I gave one of these boxes to each of the discontented swarms, and drove a portion of the bees upward into it; after which but one of them made the attempt to leave, and that had probably failed to discover the stores given them. There was no more trouble ; most of the bee-keepers in that section of the country lost more or less swarms on that and the following day. The cause i now believe was a sudden failure in the secretion of honey in the flowers, as there were but few more swarms that season. Information of the above remedy was given to neighboring bee-keepers, and it has been the means of saving large numbers of swarms,* as in no instance has the remedy been known to fail.


In the middle and western States, (and doubtless elsewhere) very nearly all the swarms seen departing for the woods fly in a westerly direction ; this

Since the above discovery was made known, most of the beekeepers in that neighborhood (Lawrence County, Pennsylvania) practice supplying boxes or frames of honey to each swarm when hived, particularly if the weather is warm and dry.

thirty-eight swarms, in the year 1888, only one came out without being caught in the basket.'"1 The above plan having but lately been brought to my notice, I have not had a chance to try it. I believe, however, that it can be made to answer the following valuable purposes:

FIRST. The arresting and hiving of swarms with but little trouble, or danger of their departing for the forest.

SECOND. As the swarms are not permitted to take wing, there is no danger of two or more uniting, as is frequently the case when a number of hives exist in the same apiary. With the above purposes in view, I have constructed what I shall call a swarm net, which is more simple and easier of management than the swarm basket, but on the same principle.



PLATE XXXII, p. 248, fig. 57. Swarm Net aflixed to Hive to catch a Swarm.

Plate XXXII, fig. 57, represents a side view of a swarm net, as affixed to a hive supposed to be swarming. a is the net, made of white mosquito bar, or other thin, open fabric, sufficiently close in the mesh to retain the bees, yet not to exclude the light. The dimensions of the net are, six feet long and fifteen inches in diameter ; (the size can be varied to suit the fancy of the user) b b are sockets, made of cotton cloth; e c are sticks, seven feet long, inserted through the sockets, and extending on either side of the hive, and for the purpose of retaining the net in position ; d d are screws (two seen and two not seen) for the ends of the sticks to rest on ; e, & stick driven into the ground, with a cross piece on the top, to support the outer end of the net.

The mouth of the net embraces the entrance passages of the hive, and is temporarily fastened by means of buttons //, whereby the bees are compelled to enter the net ; g is an aperture in the outer end of the net, and is to be kept closed while the swarm is being caught and confined, and opened to let them out for hiving, as shown in plate xxxin, fig. 58, which represents a hive with the slide temporarily removed, to afford the bees free entrance.

The net containing the swarm, is placed with one end on the ground, and the other (with aperture g open) resting against the entrance of the hive, to allow the bees to run out of the net into the hive. In order to use the net successfully, a strict watch should be kept over the bees, in order to see the swarm as soon as it commences to emerge. The net is then to be immediately applied, and as soon as the swarm has entered it, remove the net ; tie the mouth, to prevent the escape of the bees ; it may then be set away in a shady place, to be hived at leisure. Before opening the net, for the migration of the bees to the hive, they should be freely sprinkled with cold...

  • From the " Newest Illustrated Bee Friend, by Professor Morris

Beyer, and J. F. O. Kuehnor." Published in Leipzig, Germany, 1852.

References Edit

  1. The swarming is mostly over by the 10th of June, except swarms from swarms. As there occurs a scarcity of pasture from this time till the second week in July, few, if any, swarms will issue. About the middle of July, the young swarms are in condition to swarm, and if any old hives intend to do so at a second period, it may now be expected.

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