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Pros and cons of swarming for mite prevention

Bee hive on a stump

I go back and forth on the issue of swarm management.  For years, I very successfully managed my hives so they wouldn't swarm, but this year I toed the Warre line and let my hive release a swarm.
Bee swarm
Before I go into the results of that swarm, I figured I should back up and tell those of you without bees a bit about why hives swarm.  If it's healthy, most bee hives have the impulse to reproduce in the spring, but they reproduce at the super-organism level.  So, rather than producing an apple like a tree does, a bee hive produces a swarm, complete with everything needed to start a new colony (queen and workers).

Unfortunately, a hive that puts all that energy into building a swarm tends not to put away much honey.  Which is why so many beekeepers manage hives to prevent swarms.  On the other hand, my autumn varroa mite counts confirmed the big benefit of allowing swarming in a chemical-free bee hive.  Our mother hive (which released a swarm this spring) had a grand total of 6 varroa mites on the sticky board after a three day count, and the swarm we caught dropped only 1 mite during the same three days.  In contrast, the sticky board beneath the package we purchased this spring contained 86 mites.

Mite sticky boards

To put those numbers in perspective, you have to estimate how many mites that would be per thousand bees in the hive (or at least guesstimate the relative size of the colonies).  This year's package hive is one of the strongest I've raised, so it's to be expected that more bees would host more mites.  However, I can't imagine there are more than twice as many bees in the package hive compared to the other two colonies, so swarming definitely helped break the pest cycle in the other two hives.

Whether the benefits of swarming will outweigh the lower honey yields on our farm is yet to be seen.  I'd really love to eventually develop a beekeeping method that both keeps bees alive without chemicals and provides sweet treats for the beekeeper.

Our chicken waterer is a tried and true method of making backyard hens easy and clean to care for.


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Just putting a note here so I won't forget. I was a bit concerned about the hive with 86 mites in early September, because sometimes mite numbers grow out of control in the fall. So I tested again this past week, taking out the sticky-board this morning after 3 days in the hive, and found 78 mites. That's a hair fewer than were there three weeks ago, so it looks like there hasn't been any mite population explosion --- good news.
Comment by anna Sun Sep 29 10:30:18 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime