Matt Evans hosted an event for the North Central Beekeepers Club to show the attendees how to start a nucleus hive (a.k.a. a nuc); however, as so often happens, the bees had other plans…

El Nino and/or global warming made it possible for bees to get an early start this year, so many of the honeybee colonies in Indiana have been collecting pollen, laying eggs, and making wax and honey since late February or early March. While getting an early start may seem beneficiary, it has brought one major repercussion: uncontrollable swarming!

Swarming happens when a bee colony outgrows its hive. It is the method that honeybees use to create more hives and further spread their genetics. When a colony decides to swarm, it begins preparing the hive to survive without the current queen. The builders (female worker bees that are about 12 days old) build vertical swarm cells on the outer surface of the honeycomb. These cells are built differently because the queen will develop into a larger bee than the worker bees, so the cell that she will develop in must be larger. Once two – 20 of these cells are built, the queen’s control group will have her lay an egg inside each one. The eggs will be fed royal jelly, which will cause the ovaries to develop, essentially crowning her queen. On the eighth day, the developing larvae will be sealed inside their cells, and shortly after, about 60 percent of the worker bees will fly from the hive with the original queen. They may only fly a few yards before resting upon a branch, fence post, or car. Scout bees will be sent out to find a new, suitable location, and within a few hours or days, the bees are typically situated and busily building a new hive.

When the workshop began, the beekeepers were abuzz (yep! I just did that…) about two swarms in the bee yard. There was a small one in the front yard and a bigger one in the backyard. They were both about 25 feet from the ground. We opened a few nucs in the front yard, focusing mostly on the visible signs and effects of swarming, and then broke for lunch.

As we sat talking and eating homemade meatballs, burgers, and about four different types of broccoli salad, another swarm departed its hive, showering the sky with a slightly chaotic mass of bees. They gently floated upward and landed in the same backyard tree that already held one swarm (pictured above).

As soon as we finished lunch, we immediately opened the hive that the swarm had come from. Inside, we found a small number of bees and many capped (or closed) swarm cells. As Matt was telling us his plan for this hive and showing us a healthy queen cell that would possibly secure the hive’s future, the capping of the cell began to break apart and a tiny, majestic head began to emerge. Matt used his hive tool to knock the capping off the cell so that the new queen could emerge more easily.

Just as the head popped all the way out of the cell, another virgin queen came tearing around the corner of the frame, frantically trying to find this newest emerging queen. Moving with intense speed and purpose, she did several sweeping, ambitious circles around the uncapped queen cell. At that point, Matt put the frame back in the hive and closed it up so that the virgin queens could duke it out naturally and without the threat of them flying away (to temporary safety and certain death). May the strongest queen live!

There is no better way to learn about beekeeping than to watch another beekeeper work his or her hives. The bees will likely dictate what you learn, but it’s always interesting and worthwhile!