How can you get your bees for free? Let someone else's loss become your gain by capturing a swarm from some other beehive in your area. Or better yet, a feral swarm of survivor bees that may be more resistant to diseases and pests. Either way, a swarm will be strong and determined to survive and thrive, and obtaining one may be easier than you think!
So, what exactly is swarming?
To better understand swarming, it helps to understand bees not only as an organism, but also as a super-organism. Each individual bee is an organism, and reproduction of the organism is accomplished when the queen bee lays an egg in a cell and then the larva, and later the pupa, is cared for by the worker bees until a new bee emerges. The entire bee colony is a super-organism, as no one bee can survive for very long on it's own. In this way, think of the bee colony as a single living thing which will also reproduce. Because, each year, a number of bee colonies succumb to disease, bad weather, attacks by pests and predators, etc., bees would eventually become extinct if they were not continuously creating new colonies. The reproduction of a bee colony begins when the bees prepare to swarm. Once the decision has been made to swarm, the queen lays eggs in several swarm cells that the workers have built at the bottom of one or more combs within the nest. The larvae in these large, peanut shaped cells are fed a strict diet of only royal jelly in order to cause them to develop into queen bees. The swarm typically occurs after these swarm cells are capped. The queen bee and approximately 60% of the worker bees leave the existing colony and set off to create a new colony elsewhere. When the new queens emerge from their cells, they will usually fight each other to the death. Sometimes, a newly emerged queen may kill several of the others while they are still in their cells. Only one young queen will survive and take over egg laying duty for the colony.
Locating a new home
When a swarm emerges from a nest, they aren't likely to fly very far at first. They often gather somewhere that is only 40 or 50 feet away. They cluster around the queen and send out between 20 and 50 scout bees to find a suitable new nest location. When everyone agrees on a location, the whole swarm takes off and flies to it. This new location will almost always be at least a hundred yards away from the original nest, but it could be as far as several miles away! This is where you come in. Swarming bees are extremely vulnerable. The only food that they have is what they took with them in their honey sacs. They need to find a suitable home and they need to find one fast! Using swarm traps with pheromone lures is a highly effective means of attracting and catching swarms. Simply mount them on tree trunks, suspend them from branches or mount them on the side of a building. You can put one in your backyard, one at your friend's house, even one at mom and dad's. Check the traps twice a week and when you catch a swarm, use it to populate your new hive.
This photo shows a swarm that has already built a substantial amount of comb in a trap, and demonstrates why it is so important to check your traps frequently. It is much easier to transfer the bees into your Warré hive if there is only a very small amount of comb already built in the trap; simply open the trap and pour them in! These bees were probably in this trap for almost a week before being discovered.
Swarms frequently consist of 4 to 5 pounds of bees and sometimes a lot more. As long as the weather is fair and there is nectar to be found, these bees will prosper from day one. If the conditions are poor, you can install a hivetop feeder to help them get started building comb.