One of the questions set for us to swat up on before this week's course was to describe the process of swarming. I don't know about others in the group, but I find that when I start looking on the Internet, I get pulled into learning more and more about bees and realise there is so much about these little creatures that our course is only scratching the surface and it's for each of us budding new beekeepers to take responsibility and learn as much as we can about them. The whole society to which they all play a part is complex but we could all possibly learn a thing or too and even become better people ourselves!
A queen bee will leave a healthy colony around springtime with about 50% of the workers and if they happen to leave and swarm where there's people, they are likely to be a real nuisance. For beekeepers with bees in their gardens, this could be a real problem to neighbours if the swarm decides to move nextdoor!
Once the swarm leaves, they don't fly away straight away but send out scout bees (bees all have different roles) to find a suitable new home. They each return and communicate with the swarm what they have found. Depending on the level of excitement, determines where they will fly to and relocate.
Swarming doesn't bode well for the half that remain in the colony (nor for the beekeeper). With half the bees gone, this leaves the colony without a queen until a new queen emerges. They will also have reduced food supplies as those that left take a food supply to maintain them until they find a new place to live. Sadly, unless the swarm is captured and rehomed, most swarms left in the wild are doomed due, I believe, to the varroa mite... more on diseases later on in the course. For the beekeeper, there will be less honey, and if this happens to commercial beekeepers, that's quite a substantial amount of profit that potentially is lost.
So in the interests of the colony (and the beekeeper) we'll need to check inspect the beehive in April. This is a time when the colony increases rapidly so regular weekly checks are important from now on to look for queen cells to deter swarming. To prevent swarming, a good thing to do is to make sure there's sufficient space within the brood box and, if necessary, add an additional super to provide more space for the bees. Even if you're not sure if the bees are getting ready to swarm the advice from David, our tutor, is on the first inspection to add an additional super just in case as there's no harm in giving the bees extra space.
I'll take that advice!