Before moving to Tacumshin, South Wexford, I was living in a housing estate and my bee hives were always on someone else’s land. Not being able to look out the kitchen window and see the bees meant all to often, they swarmed before I had a chance to gather the box and other bits to capture the swarm and hive a new colony.
Now we have moved to the country and are blessed to have the remnants of an old orchard at the back of the house where my one and only bee hive was brought from Balbriggan last year. I was all set to split this hive when one day recently I realised it was too late. Thousands of bees took to the air and circled appearing like the vortex of a mini tornado. All I could now do was wait an hour or so until they had settled on a branch or a post temporarily, while scout bees were sent out to find a new home for these runaway bees who had swarmed with the old queen from the original hive.
In the meantime, I found a large cardboard box, an old curtain and a bee brush. Protected by gloves and bee suit, I found it quite straightforward to hold the box under the resting swarm and knock it off the branch into the box held below. Then the box was put upside-down on the open curtain on the ground. When all the stray bees found their friends in the dark corner of the box, I tipped them in to the spare empty brood box I had prepared ( in ‘Blue Peter’ fashion) earlier.
The beekeeping advice is then to remove any spare queen cells by inspecting the old hive, other than one or two so that a replacement new queen will hatch to carry the old colony forward. Unexpectantly, however, another swarm appeared a couple of days later. This is known as a cast-swarm, I am told. It is a smaller secondary swarm accompanying a newly hatched virgin queen. Being smaller and the queen needing to mate before laying can begin, means cast-swarms often don’t make it through the winter as they are often not big enough to stay warm in the cold months.
However, I am hopeful that the three hives we now have will survive if the fine weather continues and all three can go into the winter with the health and numbers to make it through the cold months ahead. Swarms caught in May stand the best chance of surviving as they have more summer weather ahead
to build up numbers and stores. As the saying goes, ‘Swarm in May worth a load of hay, swarm in June worth a silver spoon, and swarm in July not worth a fly’!