Might There Bee a Swarm on the Horizon?

This year I wanted to be ready for any swarms that come around. I noticed that some bees were flying around, like as if they were looking for a home, so I got to it and decided to start readying the second hand Langstroth hives I had stored away (and that needed some cleaning). I modified them into simple top bar style hives. I did this by just removing the wire where the wax sheet normally sits against and along the top bar creating a groove (if there isn’t one there already – usually is for the wax sheet to fit into at the top) and then applying some bees wax along the groove with a large 100ml syringe (available from most chemists).

Not really a line, more like a flow 😉

I put these hives at quite a distance from where the existing hives are, where I guess you could say they’re set up is quite conventional in the sense that the hives are placed in one particular area and in lines (like maybe 20 hives or more, some belonging to me and most belonging to Harry, my beekeeper – a little exchange deal we have). Although that is good for commercial set ups I wanted to try having the hives scattered around in various locations to see they would each fare in different locations and help me understand what spots might be better than others for them. For the moment I’m not so interested in the convenience of harvesting all at once. I’d rather just take as I need, and also experimenting with trying to create something resilient.

I looked for places that would be shady and reasonably well sheltered from the wind while trying to comply to the rule of making sure that they were either south facing (towards the sun) or east facing (where the sun comes up) and of course making sure they have a clear flight path. Inside the boxes I put some old comb and along with that some honey, to attract any scout bees. The way it works apparently is that bees from all over come to steal the honey. When bees are looking for a new home and they swarm, some of the scouts ‘remember’ the hive location, and are quite likely to choose this in preference to other holes in trees etc.

Facing the rising sun. Runway cleared and ready for landing.

I read that in many places that when a colony is preparing to swarm they will travel great distances to locate new nectar, pollen and water sources’ so it seems favourable to have the hives at least as much of a distance as possible from each other, especially if the intent is to get back some of your own.

I also read that there were some studies showing that placing a swarm box several feet off the ground (ranging from 5ft – 9ft) produces the best results however it seems that many beekeepers have had swarms move into empty equipment that is just laying on the ground so this doesn’t seem like it’s reliable data and probably not worth the effort, especially if it’s not an easy thing to achieve, however I do like the look of some swarm boxes I’ve seen for sale, that can be hung up in trees. I found this one and I thought perhaps it could be made quite simply with some kind of paper mache (newspaper and flour/water paste) using a bucket as a mold and then coating it with bees wax. Something I’d definitely like to try anyway …
Photo courtesy of www.honeybeesuite.com
Most sites recommended rubbing lemon grass oil on the inside of the boxes, for inviting and attracting bees to the vacant hive. Harry also suggested rubbing some fresh bee balm (melissa officinalis) or lucia lima (aloysia citrodora) leaves on the inner hive walls. The lemony scent of both of these also attracts swarms because it has components of queen bee pheromone in them. I’ve not been able to find any of these however so I’m resorting to the basics of old hive boxes, with some old comb in them and some honey.