How Do I Save a Late-Season Swarm?
Ask the Expert!
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Paul E Marcum asks:
I am a newbie, I caught two swarms in April and they appear to be doing very well. I caught another very small swarm in the middle of August. They are surviving, but I don’t think they can make enough honey before winter to survive through the winter. Should I take a brood frame from each of the other hives (along with nurse bees on the frames) and put them into the August swarm?
Rusty Burlew replies:
Deciding how to handle a late swarm can be difficult, even for an experienced beekeeper. Although late swarms have a very low survival rate, they can be helped along with additional resources. The problem is that each time you remove a frame of brood from your strong colonies, you are weakening them. It’s easy to get into a situation where you lose all your colonies in an effort to bolster a weak one. In light of that, you need to make a careful assessment of all three before you do anything else.
First, look at the small one. Does it have a laying queen? Even if it started with a virgin queen, she should be laying by now. If she’s not, maybe there are not enough drones in your area for her to mate. Or maybe there is no queen, and the swarm is just a ball of bees that will soon die. Such queenless swarms are common in the late summer. If you have a queenless swarm or a swarm led by a virgin, your best bet would be to combine it with one of your other colonies.
If you see an actively laying queen, then look at your strong colonies. How much brood do they have? Many colonies have very little brood this time of year. Unless they have multiple frames of it, I wouldn’t risk taking any away. But if you have a colony with multiple frames of brood, you can try transferring a single frame to the small colony. Two frames may be too much for them to keep warm, so move only one to start. Any foragers adhering to the frame will fly back to their original hive, leaving you with just nurse bees, so after a couple of days, you should look in the new colony to see how many bees you actually ended up with.
If you think there are enough bees to completely cover the brood, you can try moving a second frame into the small colony as long as you’re not risking the donor colony. Keep the new colony well fed at all times, otherwise, it will fall behind and the brood will die.
There is no right or wrong way to handle your situation; it’s simply a management decision that only you can make. Just don’t jeopardize the bees that can overwinter for those that probably cannot.