It’s swarm season again!
By Thea Vierling, beekeeper
Yes, once again, this is the time of year when honeybees are preparing to swarm. The mother hive becomes too populated, therefore half the bees organize and leave, along with the queen, to make a new hive. Swarming is actually one of the ways that honeybees reproduce. One beehive can swarm many times in a season and each new swarm is important because many do not survive. The swarming season starts more or less in March and runs through June. There are early swarms and later swarms, but the peak swarm season in Sonoma County is in April.
What are your local beekeepers doing to prepare for the swarm season? East county beekeeping coordinators Susan Simmons, Kristina Torres, and Lauri Dorman organized a workshop on “Making and Setting Swarm Traps.” There are many types of swarm traps. Even an empty carton can be used. When honeybees swarm they are looking for a “perfect” place to set up their new hive. Of course, a perfect place would be in a large hole in a tree, but many trees were lost in the fire, or have been cut down over the years because of development or because they are diseased or too old, bees may use something else. Unfortunately, if swarms cannot find a trap or a tree, they might choose a small hole in your house, which is great for them but not for you. There are a lot of holes in and around a fireplace, which is a frequent location found by scouts for their swarming group. If they end up in your house, you will have to call an extractor who will charge a fee to remove the bees. Beekeepers do not charge to remove a swarm if it is hanging in a tree, a bush, on a bicycle, playground equipment, a BBQ, an automobile, a cyclone fence, or any number of places around your home.
Bee swarms send out scouts to find the perfect place and, hopefully, they will choose swarm traps. Swarms often go back to the same places year after year. That is called “genetic memory” which is an amazing trait in many animals. Keep an eye out for our swarm traps.
This winter in our east county community of beekeepers, we have experienced severe losses of our managed hives. The beekeeping community has discussed all the possible reasons, but some of the more obvious ones are starvation, queen loss, extreme cold weather, lack of drones (males) and weeks of rain. January is always a very tough time for honeybees because they need the warmth for their young (eggs and larva) to survive. The hive population is at the lowest of any other time during the entire year. Especially in January, the small existing population has a difficult time maintaining the required temperature of 94 degrees, which eggs and larva need to survive. When the nighttime temperatures get down to 28 degrees several nights in a row, it is very difficult for a small hive to maintain that temperature. They often run out of food or even if they have plenty of honey, they cannot access it because they do not have enough heat to soften it.
We expect that there will be fewer swarms this year than we have had in prior years because of hive losses. We are counting on all of you to help us find swarms. Keep your eyes peeled for a large group of bees hanging on trees, bushes, or other objects. Report swarms to us so we can help them find a home. If you know of a place that gets swarms every year, let us know and we might be able to hang a swarm trap there. Here are some local beekeepers who will respond to your calls:
Thea Vierling - (707) 483-0426
Susan Simmons- (925) 408-4529
Lynn Koch - (571) 332-5655
Lauri Dorman - (707) 859-5798
Darrell Jones - (707) 799-6382
Mato Herzog - (650) 773-2384