Swarming Fever

I am looking out of the window onto my garden, the rain is pouring down and the clouds are black.  To my mind, the honeybees in this part of southern England will be cooped-up in their respective hives hatching plans about swarming.  By the time a sunny day arrives many the hives in this part of the world will be swarming.  But not to fear, Mr Woodley is at hand offer some advice…

Swarming Time!

Beekeepers Journal 1904 - girl with skepFrom what I hear the swarming season is not satisfactory. One skeppist who lives about a mile and a-half from me has not had a single swarm from an apiary of several hives. Others have had a few swarms, but these have been very troublesome, some flying straight away without “settling”, others returning to the hives from which they issued. I have myself lost two or three swarms at my out-apiary and one at our home-apiary. The last-named one was lost after being in its travelling-box ready to send away. It was placed where the swarm settled in order to “gather in” the few flying bees when, without warning, the whole lot decamped. As these annoyances crop-up in fairly practical hands no wonder they are of frequent occurrence in the hands of novices in bee-keeping. To the dealer, however, there is not only the loss of the swarm but also the fact that customers are waiting impatiently for the very swarms which have taken flight to homes beyond our ken.

[NBTW 20 June 1901]

Swarm Decoys

… some time ago [I was] asked if it is possible to attract swarms to certain easy hiving places? At my out-apiary I have light brushwood “bavins” placed in a leaning position against a forked stick, the fork of the stick being rubbed with beeswax. These contrivances attract some swarms every year and are excellent places for securing the bees. I also tie pieces of old worn quilts, waxed and propolised ad lib. on some of the low branches of the surrounding trees. I call these “bee-bobs”, and they also attract swarms. A straw skep which has been occupied by bees is very useful for the purpose if hung on a strong stake or on the above-mentioned “forked stake” with the short wood bavin leaning on it. But sometimes our “best laid schemes” fail, and the swarm will in “sheer cussedness” betake themselves to the church roof a couple of miles away or to the top of a tree beyond reach of either ladder or “climber”.

[NBTW 10 April 1902]

Truant Swarms

Referring to [an] idea…of fixing a temporary hive to catch the bees coming from the hole in the wall, I would suggest that he makes a metal or wood tunnel from the hole in the wall by which the bees may pass out right under the entrance to the nucleus hive; the said tunnel to have a cone-end of perforated zinc. If this fails to dislodge the bees, sulphur fumes from the smoker blown in will kill them.

[NBTW 20 August 1903]

Shook Swarm/Artificial Swarm

There are those who consider that artificial swarms, or “shook swarms”, as they are termed in America, are equal to natural swarms. Personally, I beg to differ on that point. Give me the natural swarm which issues when ready to establish themselves voluntarily in a new home. The “artificial” article lacks the vim, of the natural swarm, which latter make the profitable colonies for starting bee-keeping with, while they are far more safe than established stocks for setting up an apiary with; and, given a good season, will often outstrip stocks a year or two old.

[NBTW 6 April 1905]

“Shook Swarms” — What are called “shook swarms” seem a current topic amongst our American cousins. They have tried swarm-catchers and self-hivers, but have found them wanting in practical utility. Now they are jubilant over “shook swarms”. These, when made at the right time, are to prevent natural swarming, clear out foul brood, increase the “take” of both honey and wax, and enable the apiarist to manage more hives. One enthusiast thinks an apiary for each day in the week (except Sunday) will be possible.

[NBTW 18 December 1902]

Natural Swarms

The swarm congrigates on two branches of an apple tree.
The swarm congregates on two branches of an apple tree.

Natural Swarming. — The foregoing note will make it plain to any one that natural swarms have been few in number so far, and the forecast points to continued scarcity. The greater part of the drone-brood has been destroyed by the bees in trying to save the colony; consequently, one great incentive to swarming has been removed; then, again, in many cases the hives are empty and bare of honey, breeding has been curtailed if not stopped altogether, and these empty cells will be the first to be filled with honey when surplus is brought in. This must, of course, reduce the breeding-space in the near future, and further remove that congested condition of hives necessary to start the so-called “swarming fever”.

[NBTW 19 June 1902]

Swarming Vagaries. — Swarming has been very prevalent this season when the weather has been favourable. On June 26 we had fifteen swarms in about two hours, and a neighbour living about two and a half miles away in a bee-line — Mr. Dyer, of Compton — had five the same afternoon, all five joining together. I twice had two swarms join together, and this means time to separate them, which can ill be spared on a busy day. One of my stocks has swarmed and returned to its hive four or five times at my out-apiary. My man calls it the record swarmer. The season has been remarkable, too, for stray swarms. After two poor swarming seasons Nature is restoring the balance, and a good breeding season is replenishing the reduced stocks of bees.

[NBTW 8 July 1909]

Mr Dyer the Railwayman who kept bee at Compton Crossing.
Mr Dyer the Railwayman who kept bee at Compton Crossing.

I have written several of blogs on Mr Dyer who was a railwayman who kept bees at Compton Crossing.

Multiple Swarms

Collecting a Swarm
Collecting a Swarm

We hived twenty swarms [22 June 1905], and despatched eighteen of them by first train next morning: fourteen at home-apiary, and seven at out-apiary (one returning to parent-hive). The next day we had several more. These sunny days spent in working among the busy throng, with the welcome hum of their myriad wings in his ears, cheer the bee-keeper, and add a keener zest to his interest in the pursuit. [NBTW 29 June 1905]

three of them [clustered] together, as my man worked on the old style of leaving the first swarm where it settled and was hived. I myself, as soon as another swarm is on the wing, and appears drawing towards the same spot, remove the first to a cool, shady place in another part of the apiary. Then No. 2 generally settles on the branch of the tree from where No. 1 has been taken and is hived as quickly as possible. If obliged to use a ladder I shake the bees into a large skep, and hold it sideways, by this means getting a large part of the flying bees to settle in the hive before I bring them down. The swarm is placed on a square of strainer cloth ready to carry away to another spot if necessary. If two or more stocks swarm together and settle together, I shake part into one skep and part into another, and place them a yard or two apart. Sometimes, one is fortunate enough to get a queen in each, but if in a short time one lot gets restless, I hunt out a queen from the other hive and place her with the restless bees (this is only the work of a few minutes), and then equalise the strength of the swarms by giving a handful or two to the weaker lot. There has not been a very abundant honey-flow for the past fortnight, until July 6, when matters improved somewhat.

[NBTW 13 July 1905]

I thank Mr Woodley for his advice.  My beesuit, smoker, nucleus box and bee-brush are packed in the boot of my car in readiness for a phone-call tomorrow to rescue a swarm of bees.

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3 thoughts on “Swarming Fever

  1. Interesting that he says “artificial swarms, or “shook swarms”,”, which seems to indicate he thinks these are two different names for the same thing.

    The terms as I know them are – a ‘shook swarm’ is shaking the bees into a new hive box and destroying their old comb, an ‘artificial swarm’ is something different, a method to split the colony in two to prevent a swarm. I wonder which meaning he was using.

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