Without a doubt, warm and sunny weather is ideal for maximizing bee populations and honey flows – but it’s also ideal for swarms! While most beekeeper’s hope for what I call “Swarm & Honey” weather during the peak honey flow, preventing swarms is the best way to maximize your honey production.
There’s an old beekeeping rhyme that goes:
- A swarm in May is worth a load of hay
- A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
- A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly
A swarm at any time of year is “suboptimal” so to speak – unless they happen to arrive from somewhere else (ideally in June) – then you’re unquestionably ahead.
Keep the hive on “simmer”
Our Provincial Apiary Inspector says “you need heat to make bees” when explaining best practices for optimizing the hive space the bees need at various times of the year.
Based on what he’s told our beekeeping organization over the years, I’ve determined the best analogy is to think in terms of cooking soup on the stove – you want it to heat up and cook quickly – but you don’t want it to boil over.
So the idea is to let the colony build up in the spring, without adding supers before they’re really needed, to minimize the space the bees need to heat. This means you also have to keep a keen eye out for the first signs of swarm cells and act accordingly – either cutting out the swarms cells or making a nucleus colony with a frame or two of bees with the swarm cells on them.
Unless your hives are close by, where you can keep an eye on them, it can be risky to let them get too close to the the “boiling point”.
Swarming effects on honey production
Unless you’re lucky enough to catch them, a hive that swarms is going to produce less honey.
There’s an excellent article by a veteran beekeeper on the Jefferson County Beekeepers Association website that describes how swarming effects honey production. Hugh Feagle’s Surefire Recipe To Maximize Honey Production includes charts that show the colony population results from 5 different beekeeping scenarios.
Two of the primary reasons why bee hives do not produce bumper crops of honey during the honey flow is swarming and failing queens. The following charts graphically show the effects of each of these on hive population which directly determines the amount of honey produced by the hive.
These charts are computer simulations made by inputting the number of eggs the queen lays each day and the number of days a worker bee lives.
In the event of a failing queen or a hive that’s swarmed, Hugh’s recommendation for maximizing honey production is to re-queen the the colonies with a 5 frame nuc. One look at his chart will explain the reasoning behind this.
Visit the Honeydoodles Store for more “Swarm & Honey Summer” products and other fun stuff for beekeepers.