Q: What is swarming?
A: Swarming is a natural bee behaviour which occurs for a few reasons. Reason 1: There is a space issue for the colony, and they need to split in to two so they can continue to flourish. Reason 2: The location of the hive is undesirable and the bees choose to look for a better location. This is usually because of issues with: moisture, amount of sunlight, disease issues, location to water sources, and nectar sources.
Q: Is swarming bad?
A: NO! This is a misconception about beekeeping which has been perpetuated by the media: swarming is dangerous; they will attack and kill you. In fact, swarming is a safe, calm and organized behaviour for bees. They all cling on to one another by latching hands and feet, surrounding the queen because without her they will not be able to survive. The scout bees fly around the area looking for a new nesting site. Then, the bees follow the pheromone scent of the scout bee which has found the best location. Think of swarming as a ferry taking the queen from one island to another: slow and methodical.
Q: Do TBH (Top-Bar Hives) encourage swarming?
A: No. TBH’s are recreating the natural habitat for honeybees, and allowing the bees to refresh their native instincts. It allows them to decide their comb size, shape, organization, brood density, and above all else, location of that brood chamber. Because of this, the honeybees are capable of building a new queen, swarming when populations grow too high, and or staying put for the season. It’s their choice. The responsibility of the TBH bee care is to remain observant, and watch what they are doing. If they are going to swarm, what actions do you want to take? Let them then catch the swarm? Split the hive in to two? These are the choices you get to make. It is important that these choices are educated and rationally considered.
ABC Bees offers educational courses to give the beekeeper the information to make decisions such as these about bee-care practice. It is up to you to make the best decisions possible to keep the bees happy, healthy and flourishing!
I would like to mention that here in Calgary, of the bees which here hived this year in TBH’s, none have had any swarming. It seems that the bees really do like their new homes!