Keeping honey bee hives means you will likely encounter swarms. A natural reproduction process, swarming can happen to any beekeeper, so you should be prepared when it occurs. It is a sight to behold when the swarm is in full flight. The season of swarms is typically in April and May here in the Mid-Atlantic, when bees are building up quickly from all the available nectar.
Humming bees can be heard from about 100 feet away and they come out in a wave that bursts from the hive.
Extra Equipment On Hand
I have at least two hives, sometimes three, but an experienced beekeeper will always have additional hive boxes on hand when a swarm appears. This is your opportunity to increase your bee population free of charge! The problem is catching the swarm as it can be quite tricky.
Honey bee startup colonies are expensive to buy — roughly $150 a pop — so when a swarm emerges from a newly installed hive you see your honey harvest evaporate into thin air. The hive will decamp, taking at least a third of the population along with the queen and move elsewhere.
Close is Better
The swarm may move close enough to capture, but more likely than not, they fly far away to a tree 60 feet high with no chance of hiving them up for a new colony. The remaining bees are a much smaller population and have little chance of producing excess honey for harvest.
Capturing the Queen
Once I had a swarm land on a nearby tree and I simply climbed a ladder and lopped the branch off and brought it down the ladder with all the bees attached and knocked them into the hive box. The key is to get the queen into the hive box and all the workers will automatically follow. For once, the whole procedure of moving the swarm into the hive went like clock work!
Before the swarm leaves the original hive, the queen lays eggs into queen cups, or larger cells that can accommodate the larger growing queen larvae. After the swarm leaves with the old queen, the new queens will emerge from the queen cups and if there are several that emerge, they will fight to the death, until the stronger one and usually the first one to emerge, is victorious.
Way Station Cluster
Queens are too heavy to fly long distances, so the swarm usually will form on a nearby structure or tree branch which scout bees have already scoped out beforehand. They cluster in the chosen spot for a few hours or a few days, until the scout bees determine where the final nest site will be.