Hello Fellow Beekeepers,

It’s busy bee time and I am sure many of you are running around getting your apiaries all set for incoming packages and nucs. Or perhaps they have already arrived and been placed in their new homes and your girls are on their way to having another great beekeeping season.

Recently I had made a run down south to pick up some packages, hived several upon my return, and had a brand new experience within days of returning. Knowing we are already in swarm season I was still surprised when a newly hived package left after only their second day in their new home.

To make things clear, they didn’t actually swarm. They absconded.

Here’s the difference…A swarm creates two colonies and is a reproductive process with the existing queen leaving with perhaps half of the colony of bees, and the remaining bees staying behind with a new queen.

Absconding on the other hand is when the entire colony with the queen all go at once. It is not part of the reproductive process.

So what actually happened?

The equipment, frames, everything in the hive where this package was placed was brand new. But apparently, they didn’t like their new digs.

My client, a first-year beekeeper, frantically called me to tell me that bees were filling the sky in her backyard. I thought she might be exaggerating so I ran over and found that she was in fact witnessing her new bees leaving the hive.

The bees congregated only a short distance away in a thicket a few feet off the ground. I found them hanging on a few low branches, cut the branches, and shook them off back in their hive. The next day they did it again moving right back to the same location a few feet from the hive. Grrrr.

My client took some initial action, having done a google search, and spritzed the air outside her hive with a mix of thyme essential oils and water (an attractant), to try and bring them back home. I went over to the house, found them again, and repeated the process from the day before,  returning them back into their deep hive body.

This time I pulled a frame of old brood comb and a frame of comb with sealed honey, from one of my hives, and placed them in their hive box, swapping them out for two of the new frames recently put in the new deep. And … it looks like this did the trick. It has now been 3 days and the bees have not run off. Perhaps this is now all behind us.

So what’s the lesson here? Bees are predictably unpredictable. Perhaps, in this case, they didn’t like the smell of new wood, or glue, or maybe they were bothered by some feral cats that apparently were cruising the hive or maybe one of a dozen other things. Regardless, as beekeepers we have to be diligent, be ready for surprises, make decisions sometimes on the fly, and always bee ready for what is next to come!!!!

This Spring we have the opportunity to continue the good works we have already begun with our existing hives, and to start afresh with brand new colonies in our care. Enjoy the experience. Learn from doing and watching and listening. And share what you know with others. For me, beekeeping is a gift that keeps on giving. I hope it is for all of you as well!  

Rick Glover

President BYBA

April 2021