By Greg Wechgelaer, Greenburgh Nature Center’s Apiarist
They say that real beekeepers don’t take vacations from late spring through early summer. It is during that time of year that honeybee colonies that have successfully made it through the winter begin a process called swarming. Swarming may be scary to those who don’t know what they’re seeing, but it is the amazing process in which honeybees make new colonies.
As new baby bees are being born in the spring and honey is starting to be stockpiled in large quantities, there is usually a point where things start getting very cramped inside the hive.
Honeybees don’t build the outer structure of their hive, only the inner honeycomb, and they prefer to live in empty cavities, such as a hollowed-out tree, a box that we beekeepers give to them, or sometimes even the empty space under your porch! Eventually they run out of room in their home, and when they do, the colony collectively decides to swarm.
When the colony swarms, the queen bee leaves the hive with nearly half of all the worker bees living inside. The mass of bees, sometimes in the tens of thousands, leave their home behind, and go out into the world to find a new home. While a small percentage of the workers are scouting miles of surrounding area to find that perfect spot, the rest of the colony lands in a comfortable place to wait and basically clumps together to form a giant ball of bees. When a new home is found, which the bees collectively decide, the swarm picks up and flies to its new house.
Back in the original colony, new queen bees are being raised from eggs in special queen cells that were laid by the original queen before she left. Once the eggs hatch, the baby bees will fight until only one queen is remaining, and she’ll become the new queen of the original hive.