Dandelions are so named because their leaves conjure up the image of a lion's tooth. That may be so, but for beekeepers, they are as gold as spring gets and an important signal of the coming nectar flow. In my area, the last few days of rain brought them to bloom like carpets, covering large lawns and fields. On my calendar, their coming means two things. The first is to inspect all colonies for indications of swarm cells. Second, it's time to put on drawn-comb honey supers.
First indications are leading to an early swarm season but anything can happen in your area. Some of my colonies have eggs in queen cups, so I have those on a swarm watch. To help manage swarms, I'll slow down my large colonies by stealing a frame or two of their brood and donating it to smaller colonies. I'll also make splits housed in nucleus colonies which I'll re-queen or allow them to make a queen on their own - known as a walkway split.
The only way to understand swarms is to read about what to expect, then observe the biology as it occurs in your colony.
- Backfilling the brood nest with nectar - an early indication that the colony is stopping the queen from laying in preparation for a swarm.
- Eggs in swarm cups. Swarm cups are also called buttons or queen structures.
- Larvae in swarm cups- an indication that a swarm is likely.
- Learn the timing of a developing queen. Egg to Larva, to capped pupa, and finally emergence- 16 days total.
- Study images of developing swarm cells and learn what a "ripe" swarm cell is.
- Attend our workshop and learn how to make a split.
There's much more and paying attention to the above during swarm season will boost your beekeeping skills. So, this season, make a commitment to keep your bees out of trees.
Have fun and take care of your bees.