It’s that time of the year again… Bee swarms
By Thea Vierling, beekeeper
Honeybees are building up their populations at this time of the year and when they do, their hive boxes or their tree homes get too small for the huge number of bees. The queen can lay 2,000 eggs a day, which also means that 2,000 eggs per day can emerge as adults and start eating and looking for food. In one week’s time the population can go from a small hive of maybe 3,000 bees to one of more than 20,000. Pretty soon they start looking for a place to send the old queen and half their bees, leaving behind a daughter queen to keep the old hive strong. The bees will make a new home and become a healthy and happy hive. From one hive, they make two hives. This is the most important way that bees reproduce.
When honeybees leave the mother nest to swarm, they will cluster just about anywhere, hanging from a branch in a tree while they search for the ideal place to make their home. The critical time of the year is now, because it gets cold at night and the queen cannot tolerate temperatures below 53 degrees. The bees usually hang in a ball for a few days while the scout bees are searching for a permanent home. If the queen has to hang out there for more than a day, she might die, and a hive without a queen is not going to survive.
Bees swarm to the most unusual places. Remember, they are looking for a home and they don’t always find the best places to hang out while they are looking. It is becoming more and more difficult to find a good home because people fill up all the holes in their houses and barns. They also cut down trees that have nice hollow places where the bees would love to go. The picture above shows a swarm which went into a pickup truck. The owner parked his car and had lunch, and when he came back he had a big surprise. Thankfully, he called a beekeeper and they were able to get those bees out of the truck and placed them into a healthy set of bee boxes.
This is the time of the year to keep an eye out for swarms. Here are some other places that swarms like to hang out: telephone poles, high up in a tree, on an old fence, on grapevines in vineyards, the edge of a picnic table, rose bushes, under the fender of your car, under the eaves of your house, and even in your irrigation boxes or your water meters on the sidewalk.
Unfortunately small holes in the walls of your houses are one of the places where the bees love to go. When you see a swarm or if you see bees going into a place after they have swarmed, call a beekeeper right away. If you wait too long, the bees will set up housekeeping and then it is very expensive to get them out! Swarms are truly awe-inspiring and can be scary to some people, but they are harmless, unless they are disturbed! If you see a swarm or know of a swarm, call a local beekeeper as soon as possible. Do not wait, because the bees are in their most vulnerable state and in a hurry to find a home, and more than likely if we do not find a home for them, they will not survive, or worse, they will find a place in your home and it will cost you lots of money to get them out. More than 80 percent of swarms are not successful because people, out of fear, destroy them, or the swarm cannot find a good home in time. Please remember, bees are not pests. Honeybees are not the yellow-jackets, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes, fire ants, rats, mice or termites. Don’t exterminate them. Keep your eyes peeled for swarms!
You can go to the Sonoma County Beekeepers website, Sonomabees.org, and go to the swarm list to find beekeepers in your area who will help you. If you have trouble or questions, call Thea at 483-0426.