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Worlds smallest swarm?


#1

I caught 7 swarms a few weeks ago… it was enough bees for me and I stopped taking calls to catch more and passed them on. But today I got a call and the fellow sent a picture. The swarm was so small and cute I decided to investigate. Could there really be such a small swarm?

At location it was even smaller than in the picture. I thought maybe it was part of a swarm that got lost or left behind queenless. I decided to catch it. I used a frame with honey on it to entice half the beard- and when I put it in the hive- I was surprised to see the queen!

I prodded and goaded the stragglers in and by sunset every last one was in. At a guess the swarm would not quite fit in a teacup.

I’m feeding them tonight- I’d give them a frame of brood - but could they keep it warm enough? I’m going to experiment and see if I can build them up to a proper colony.


#2

The brood will be a good idea if it’s emerging brood. If it’s only just capped it will probably die. If you dummy them down to just two frames then they have a chance. Probably a cast. Good catch.


#3

Hi Jack, you can build them up to a proper colony. It takes a little bit of manipulating, bit it can be done. One way is to, during a bit of a honey flow, move one of your other swarms to a different location in the yard & place the tiny swarm in that spot. In that case, you may have to transfer some of the brood into the new swarm. It really is a great way to balance the populations of colonies. I did this 2 days ago myself.

You can think of it as averaging. Say one colony is only a one out of 10. The other colony is a five. You can turn them both into 3’s simply by doing this method.

This video shows my method. The bloke told me that this swarm was the size of a football, by the time we got there an hour later, it shrunk to the size of a base ball.


#4

PS, I just arrived home from checking those two colonies. The stronger one of the two is doing fine. They were both weak colonies. I did the same as @Dee suggests, I added a full frame of emerging brood to that colony.

With the weaker colony, I swapped it for a much stronger nuc. That nuc was nearly a full box of bees. What I did with that nuc was remove 3 of the frames of brood so that the leftover bees will have less to care for. Two of the frames went to the really weak colony while the third frame went to another nuc that I’m building up.


#5

Hi Jeff, just noticed that when you shift your brood boxes are your bases screwed to the brood box. Ta Tony


#6

PPS, I checked both hives just on dark. The tiny colony was bursting with bees. The other colony still had a good covering of bees & nurse bees covering the brood that I left them with. I didn’t want any more bees to leave that colony, so I brought it home. A very pleasing outcome.


#7

Hi Tony, yes I only fasten them with 2 nails, so they are easily removed.


#8

update on the Worlds smallest Swarm:

I dug out a frame covered in emerging brood and gave it to the swarm. I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough bees to look after the brood - so I moved the hive into the location of another one for half an hour so foragers bees entered it. Turns out this may have been a mistake as I heard a lot of commotion inside and maybe queen tooting. I smoked them good to try and stop any fighting. I left it alone for a week and had another look inside: no sign of a queen- but one perfectly formed capped queen cell on the brood frame. The cell looks a tad smallish to me- I think the bees would have only just managed to make it with so few bees- it was lucky they found an egg on that frame I think as it was 80% capped brood with some honey and pollen stores… bee numbers are still perilously low- but bees are still emerging from the brood frame… will have to see if that queen gets mated, etc.


#9

Jack, I would look for another frame that might be 1/2 full of emerging brood & add that in a few days time. Then another one a week later. If you had another stronger colony making queen cells at the same time, I would destroy that one cell & then add another frame containing multiple queen cells from that stronger colony. I did exactly that the other day. Don’t persevere with that single QC. She might be a runt. You will be amazed at how much difference it makes with that emerging brood. Especially once they’ve been feeding up & grown to normal size.


#10

I might do that Jeff- as is they are too weak maybe to cover two frames… I’m inspecting my long hive this week- if it has queen cells I’ll donate one- as they are more novel Italian bees. Otherwise I’m tempted to very very slowly see i can build up this tiny swarm. Sometimes those runts can become something special… a mutant- hybrid vigor. And I’m happy if this one build up slow.


#11

One thing we have on our side at the moment is time. Plenty of time to build a week colony up & plenty of time for them to make a new queen.

“too weak to cover two frames” is basically how strong the colony in my observation hive normally is. It doesn’t take long for them to build up to the point that I have to weaken it out. A week ago I moved them into a bigger box, I added a frame of emerging brood. It has a young queen, now it’s a good sized nuc., full of young bees rearing to go. A bloke’s picking it up tomorrow evening.


#12

Crazy! I’ll bet you gravitate towards the runt of the litter as well!

Keep up the good work!


#13

I don’t have any photos. This morning I picked up the worlds easiest swarm. They were 3 deep supers off the ground on a branch in a narrow spire shape. I simply placed 2 empty supers under it. Then I had a brood box set up with one frame of open brood & the rest were drawn comb with little bits of honey in them. I gently lifted the branch higher while putting the brood box in place, then lowered the branch onto the tops of the frames. They instantly started crawling into the box. After a little while I gently shook the rest of the bees into the box, then put the lid on.

The thing that amazed me was that not one bee returned to the branch which was covered in wax deposits & I guess pheromones.

We were in for a deluge of rain, which wasn’t far away, so I taped up the lid, blocked the entrance, then took them to my bee site. I only left a few behind.


#14

It’s really nice when the swarm seems relieved and eager to move straight in. I had a few like that this year- where the bees pretty march marched directly into the hive as soon as it was offered to them. I had one swarm capture that failed- it was large and in a tree. I shook them into a Nuc box- and that wen’t well- only a minute later they all flooded back out of the entrance. It was amazing to see how fast they came out- they literally flowed out like water- straight back to the tree. Clearly the Nuc was too small so I came back with a ten frame box and caught them again. This time they stayed- but when I went to pick them up the next morning; they had all left- before leaving they built one tiny piece of comb.


#15

I don’t know that he was the runt- but the cat I chose from a littler of kittens I found- was very unusual and a bit slow looking. I call him ‘Smudge’:


#16

Hi Jack, a frame of open brood increases your chances of holding a swarm. The second thing after the frame of brood is to take the swarm out of the area as quickly as possible. I have had a swarm leave brood behind in the same spot. I’ve have never bad a swarm leave brood behind after moving the swarm away from the area.

We have to give the scout bees a lot of credit for their enormous powers of persuasion. THAT is why it’s best to take the swarm away asap.


#17

yes don’t leave overnight but collect in the evening as soon as all the foragers are home.


#18

Hi Dee, yes, that’s what I normally do… In this case, I was amazed at how few bees were still out flying. They must have known that rain was coming. There was a stack of bees sitting outside the entrance, so I went & lit my smoker to drive them in. By the time I did that, most of them were inside. With the heavy rain & storms forecast for the rest of the day, I decided to take them then. It wasn’t a bad size swarm either.

There IS one circumstance why a beekeeper should take them quickly & not wait til the evening, it’s if there is a lot of serious waggling going on by the scouts. If that is evident, it could mean that the swarm could be getting ready to take off after the scouts to a new location.

The week before last, I got a call about a swarm. The lady also had bees in her wall for the past two months that she wanted removed. In the short time it took me to get ready to go & get there, the swarm was gone. I had a nice frame of brood with me, plus all that I needed for the trap out, so I started on that. It was later in the afternoon. I prefer to do a trap out in the morning, however enough bees came out to look after the brood for the first night. It’s due to get picked up now.