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Swarm Management In July

As per the last post, it appears that the Geronimo hive either already swarmed or was preparing to swarm at the end of July. After making that post, I did a lot of online research and found that it is actually quite natural for bees to cast a swarm at this time, even though the odds of survival are low. It is very much as I wondered in the last post, ‘we will throw one simply because we can, and if they make it, we have performed our role in the grand scheme of Darwinism. If it does not make it, we are still strong enough to go into Winter with a good store and continue on next year, possibly even swarming again in the Spring.’

A chart of average/typical hive population actually shows this situation by having a brief population increase going into July/August and then a bit of a drop thereafter. There are a lot of interesting things to consider with this theory. To begin with, this could be considered a form of Varroa mite control. In a swarm condition, you might have 1 to 4 weeks without a single egg being laid. The mite breeds and reproduces in the egg cells, so a lack of said cells (containing fresh eggs or larva) means there is no place to reproduce. This is what the experts call ‘interrupting the mite cycle’. Since July and August are big times for mite increase, it is the perfect time to cast a swarm (probably a small one) and set your mites back just before you have to amp up to go into Winter. The overall theme of my thoughts here is that this type of behavior might be a type of ‘resistant’ gene behavior. It is not illogical to theorize that those bees who were most prone to swarm, when the Varroa mite first appeared on the scene, were the ones to make it through that devastating time. They managed mites by ‘breaking the cycle’ automatically.

You also have to wonder if these bees are not simply prone to swarming. As per  my posts this past Spring, when I discovered that I did not have a marked queen, I had not really found that marked queen since July of last year. It was probable then (and even more probable now that I have seen this swarm activity in action) that they cast a swarm last July too. Perhaps these bees simply are prone to do this? In such a dire time (I have hardly had two inches of rain in both June and July, here in central Virginia – plus, June was the hottest June on record and we broke several ‘daily’ temperature records in July), why would bees swarm unless it was simply something they were going to do regardless? Do these bees ‘re-queen‘ themselves automatically?

Add these thoughts to the discovery over the weekend that the Albo Hive was not showing any inclination to swarm (although I will check them again in 10 days or so). They also had very strong stores (without any feeding whatsoever). Why were they choosing not to swarm (a logical decision in my mind, but still a question to ponder in light of Geronimo’s hell bent behavior to the opposite effect!) The real question was ‘what is different, outside of genetics’?

The primary difference is location. The Albo Hive was moved in late June or early July. Did this upset the balance of things? I am fairly certain that they also swarmed last Fall (although maybe it was later, so I have that to look forward to in the next 4 to 6 weeks.) The move could be it, but I am more inclined to believe that it was accidental swarm management on my part, while the hive was at the Wilton apiary. To begin with, I stole a frame of brood & honey from the Albo Hive in early April to catch my first swarm (which became the Westover Hive, and also the later split, the William Byrd Hive – I would call that a good investment). I took another frame from them for my first cut-out (a horrible investment for bees, but pretty good for lessons learned with the Southside Hive) and three more frames from them to do my late June split for the new queens (the jury is still out on whether this was a good investment or not – created the Bob Hive). Effectively, the Albo Hive lost a quarter of their brood frames (5 out of 20 frames in two deeps). When I looked into them this past weekend, they still had three frames to finish drawing out (although, to be fair, they were already storing resources in all frames – they simply were not fully drawn out.) Was this a swarm management tool? Only time will tell, but perhaps creating a late-June Nuc from a hive is a good way to do a bit of Fall swarm management.

At any rate, I have definitely learned one thing that I am taking to the bank (all previous comments are only theories at this time). You  should go into your established hives in mid-July and maybe late-July/early-August (in central Virginia) for full inspections, regardless of how brutal the weather is. I did not do this last year and, it would seem, the bees were able to swarm/supercede, raise a new queen and go on with production without me even noticing – until the following Spring! I will be a bit more watchful in the future.

2 comments to Swarm Management In July

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