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Victoria beekeeper shares sweet tips on handling swarm season

Clouds of honeybees a healthy sign as Island hives fare well with warmer weather
Spring swarms are not unusual and can linger a few hours or a few days, says Victoria beekeeper Bill Cavers. (Courtesy Bill Cavers)

Clouds of bees staking claim in unexpected places is not unusual this time of year.

On the south Island, more than a dozen reports have already come in to the Greater Victoria Beekeepers Association swarm hotline.

Some were wasps or bumbles but the bulk were bees, says association president Bill Cavers.

It’s most common in the spring, but can happen later in the summer as well.

“It coincides with the bee population explosion as the queen starts laying again,” Cavers said.

Warm weather awakens the hives and the honeybees get going about their business trying to develop the hive.

“They’re going out grabbing nectar, they’re grabbing pollen, the population is booming and it’s really easy for a hive to become crowded.”

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When that happens, the bees tell the queen it’s time, and task her with laying two or three eggs to hatch new queens. Once those get to a pupa stage about half the hive swarms with the queen.

The others stay to maintain the existing hive. When the new queen in the existing hive hatches, it takes a mating flight – just the once Cavers said – then comes back and start laying eggs.

“It’s something beekeepers need to keep in mind,” said Cavers, who has had it happen to him. A neighbour spotted a swarm in their plum tree and knew exactly who to call.

The swarms swirl like a black cloud and the sound is distinctive, “like a throaty lawn mower,” so pretty easy to spot, Cavers said.

READ ALSO: Victoria honeybee hobbyist laments cool Vancouver Island spring

And they’ll land anywhere – conveniently in a low branch of a tree or on your front door.

“It depends on where the queen decides to take a rest stop,” Cavers said. Generally docile, they ball up for a few hours or a few days, sending out scouts to find a new location. Once one is found, they’ll move.

People can choose just to watch them, but it’s nice to call a beekeeper, Cavers said.

“Be nice to your beekeeper friends because 30 per cent of the world’s food production depends on bees.”

While the honeybees locally wintered terribly, with a survival rate around 30 to 32 per cent, and the varroa mite is still a major concern, the warmer weather is improving the situation, he added.

“My hive is booming right now, the population is booming. They go out like fighter jets and come in like fully loaded water bombers,” Cavers said, describing the arrival as a face-plant followed by a waddle. “It’s fun to watch.”

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Anyone looking to have a honeybee swarm removed can call 250-900-5787 and the association will locate a beekeeper who will happily relocate it. They don’t, however, deal in bumblebees or wasps.


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Spring swarms are not unusual, says Victoria beekeeper Bill Cavers, seen here dealing a swarm of his own bees that landed in the neighbour’s plum tree. (Courtesy Bill Cavers)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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