By J. Orem
There is an old beekeeper’s saying, “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.” From the mid 17th century it’s meaning rings as true today as it did then; the later in the year it is, the less time there will be for bees to collect pollen and as such are less likely to survive the coming winter. Contrarily, spring swarms are much more likely to prosper throughout the summer and have enough honey stores to survive winter. Some spring swarms have even been known to provide a fall crop of honey prior to winter. No doubt there is something special about a spring swarm; it’s knack for survival and its ability to outperform both nucs and packaged bees their first summer seems almost mystic in nature.
July and following, swarms are altogether another entity. Not only are the swarms less likely to increase in size and thrive, they are less likely to have enough honey stores in time for winter. Additionally, these swarms just seem to be a little “off”. What do I mean by “off”? Well, for starters, they are usually just plain crabby; they try to go in places we think they ought not to be and even turn down perfectly good hives in favor of running off to parts unknown. It is for this reason that many beekeepers simply don’t bother with swarms after June. In the event that such a beekeeper is called upon to catch a swarm after June, they almost always pass it by telling the caller to leave the swarm alone and let it fly off.
I don’t know why bees swarm in the summer. Although there could conceivably be a number of different reasons, I speculate that it may have something to do with overcrowding in the parent colony – a form of crowd control. Whatever the cause, it happens. And when it happens, the bees that swarm are in danger of not being able to survive the winter. This then brings us to swarm traps and swarm calls.
Why do I still have swarm traps out? To mitigate the loss of bees and keep those swarms that may occur from ending up in undesirable locations. These swarm traps are set out at places where cut-outs have been performed or previous swarms have been retrieved. Likewise, I still retrieve swarms from swarm calls for the same reason. What do I do with these swarms once caught? Typically I leave them be until fall and then combine them with a strong hive and give them a fighting chance at surviving old man winter.
So please keep those swarm traps out there ‘till the first frost and help keep the bees out of trouble. I don’t like hearing those “bees moved into my house, car, grill so I had to kill them” stories. Yes, the wax moths are eating up the bait comb. Yes, the roaches, spiders, ants, and mice will be in there as well; this can all be cleaned out later. You are helping the bees that are helping us all.