Why do my bees swarm?

Bees swarm to reproduce and to spread to new territories. Swarming is a natural reproductive function of nature utilized by both healthy and dying colonies. This can be frustrating for beekeepers.
When bees swarm, they take the old queen, and about half the bees with them. The bees that remain have to shift their focus to reproduction for survival and honey production is no longer the priority. At this point many beekeepers throw up their hands due to the reduced honey flow. We must stop looking at swarming as a disaster and take advantage of the swarming situation to start working with the bee’s natural instinct.
In commercial beekeeping, they often cut off one of the queens wings to prevent swarming. I find this practice, not only ridiculous, but it doesn’t work! It is not the queen that decides to swarm, it is the colony. When they decide it is time to swarm, the queen will usually fall on the ground and eventually die. Another trick commercial beekeepers use to prevent swarming is to check the hive once a week and kill all the queen cells. This is devastating to the colony. Often the hive will have a hidden queen cell that the keeper missed and they will swarm anyway!
There are several reasons that bees swarm. One of the reasons is overcrowding; something a savvy beekeeper can prevent. With my hives, I add empty top bars in the brood chamber during spring build up. This will give the queen more room to lay, to build up a larger colony, so when the nectar flows they can handle it. Sometimes during the flow, they bring in so much nectar that they plug up the brood chamber. So the queen is forced to slow down her laying. This is another opportunity to add top bars to the brood chamber.
After giving the hive plenty of room and they still want to swarm, then let them. Our goal is to try to catch the swarm when they do. Last week we had a swarm, and it was as exciting to my family and myself as when we have baby chicks hatch. We almost got hit by lightning, but I’ll have to save that story for another time.

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