Notes from the meeting of January 11th/ Swarms and Swarm traps

Honey bees (and their wild relatives) are in a lot of trouble. Beekeeping has never been easy, and is now extremely difficult. We hope to be part of the solution, by keeping bees naturally, thus reducing the stress they are exposed to. Of course, this will not help if they are poisoned by the dangerous chemicals our society is addicted to. (See this post.)

At this meeting we started work on our swarm traps. Swarm traps are a method of getting a free swarm of bees. Also, the bees in a swarm might represent valuable genetics. There is no guarantee of this, but at least they represent a cultivated or feral hive which was strong enough to overwinter successfully in the local area. To explain how the traps work, I will have to go into how a beehive works.

A beehive for all practical purposes is one organism, composed of a queen, who lays the eggs for the colony, drones, which are males, and workers, who run the hive and only live for a few months at most. (The queen lives for several years.) An individual worker (or queen for that matter) are helpless on their own. If there is good weather in the spring, a strong hive will raise a few new queens. The old queen then leaves with a large group of workers, known as a swarm, while the remaining bees rebuild their numbers. The swarm finds a convenient branch or post to settle on, and forms itself into a “ball” of bees. Then scouts head out in a five mile radius. They inspect cavities, looking for a new home. They then return to “report” to the swarm, in a special “dance.” The swarm then leaves their temporary resting place and flies to best of the cavities found by the scouts, where they began building comb, in which they store honey and the queen lays eggs.

A swarm trap provides an attractive location for a swarm to start building. It contains top bars, which are interchangeable with those in the top bar hive, for the bees to build on. It has only one easily closable entrance. They are generally hung in trees, and often contain lemon grass essential oil, which attracts bees and make them feel at home.

Once the bees move into a swarm trap, and have built some comb, the entrance is blocked at night, when all the bees will be at home, and the trap is moved to the location of the hive. Then the top bars are placed into the hive. The bees will stay with their comb, which forms the ‘skeleton” of the bee hive super-organism.

To improve our chances of getting at least one swarm, a large number of traps must be placed.  Of course, with the bee population dwindling, it is likely that even with a good number of traps we will not get any swarms. In which case we will buy a nucleus or a split to get started.