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California, Swarms, and the Drought


Continuing the discussion from Vertical slatted rack?:

Hi John,

Are you in California by chance?

I am interested in your comments about swarms being less prevalent during droughts. We are in San Francisco, and I caught a swarm last week, in the middle of a busy city street, but I know that one incidence doesn’t make for evidence of a trend ; -)


Hi Sara,

I’m in Vacaville, CA. I suspect that you have more nectar in the city than I do where my bees are in the country. We’ve been having to feed since mid May. The hives gained weight in February, held onto the weight in March and April but didn’t really gain any and then started losing weight in May. Are you having to feed?

John Banta


My dad’s hives are in Sacramento in Carmichael, and we are not having to feed.

The swarm I caught last week right here in the city went home to Sacramento. I won’'t be setting up a hive in the city until the Flow arrives, next December.

Carmichael is a pretty built up area and they seem to be finding plenty of forage there.

I would have thought that the agriculture around Vacaville would be plenty to sustain the bees. It’s alarming to hear it is not.


The agriculture is feast or famine. Hundreds of hives have been set up recently for sunflowers and safflower pollination. My bees are about two miles from the fields in the Vacaville foothills. A lot of commercial hives were moved to the foothills after almonds. They were all fed until two weeks ago when they were sent out to the fields for more pollination service.

We also have California Buckeyes about a mile and a half away from my bees - so I didn’t want them getting into that.

John Banta


Just curious about your comment, John, about California Buckeye. Why didn’t you want your bees visiting that?

Just FYI, I’m in central CA (Lompoc) and my hive is really thriving. Just did a split. Swarms have definitely been scarce this year though.

Louise Larson


At some (unknown) level California Buckeye is toxic too bees. Leads to deformed wings and weakened colonies.


Sara is right - one of the issues is that if the pollen is stored - the juvenile population can collapse weeks later when they emerge and start eating it. This year the Buckeyes started blooming two weeks early! Usually waits to bloom until the first week of May where a friend has his bees. We have been moving his colonies every year to another friends place for 6 weeks - until the blooms are gone.


Poking around this topic;



Interesting! I didn’t know that. Don’t have much buckeye around me here on the coast; but certainly in foothills of Sierra Nevada. Seems odd doesn’t it as the flower seems to be the perfect form to be attractive to bees…hence I wouldn’t think it would be toxic. Wonder what the “natural” pollena lmz màpff