• swarm clinging around their queen


By all accounts, the swarming season has arrived with a vengeance. There have been many reports of bees doing what bees do – well, most, anyway.

The question often arises – should you collect other peoples swarms, or swarms of unknown origin which may or may not harbour all sorts of nasty problems, for example, could the bees come from a stock that has Foul Brood? (Strong stocks could have FB), or could they be loaded with Varroa mites? Or possibly both?

My Top Tips are intended, not to panic new beekeepers but to be both helpful and informative, backed by over 60 years of experience.

If you keep bees in an  “At Risk” area for Foul Brood, then it is far better to collect local swarms, hive them in the normal way, but please, please keep an extra special check on the brood for two or three months. European Foul Brood (EFB) affects mostly unsealed brood whereas American Foul Brood (AFB) is at its most visible after sealing of the brood. Perforated cappings are often removed by the bees at the “scale” stage of the disease (see NBU Foul Brood Leaflet). If in any doubt seek help from your local NBU Bees Inspectors.

The other option to collecting swarms of unknown origin is to ignore them. They may then set up home in someone else’s chimney or wherever, and nobody knows if they harbour disease or not – until they die out, and your bees rob out any honey which may be present, and in doing so pick up problems that the beekeeper could possibly have avoided in the first place.

Swarms will carry a number of female Varroa mites, just waiting for a new lot of brood to be raised to enable them to reproduce – a fact that we have to live with – but they are at their most vulnerable in the first 7 to 8 days after the swarm has been hived, there will be no mature unsealed brood to hide in (unless the keeper has given a comb of brood as an ‘anchor’). A dose of varroacide, such as Thymovar, can be applied. A single treatment (one strip cut in two and positioned as per manufacturers instructions) is enough to clear almost 90% of mites, in a swarm with no brood. If you have an Open Mesh Floor, put the slider IN, and check the number of Varroa mites killed over a one week period.

Swarms will benefit from a feed of standard (2 lbs sugar to 1 pint water) sugar syrup, and should build up well in time for winter, and hopefully will be a good, productive stock in 2016. You may be lucky enough to get a small surplus of honey in July this year.

Whatever happens, enjoy your beekeeping.

Don Cooper. 30/05/2015.