Bee swarm

Asked April 17, 2020, 5:55 PM EDT

Hi, My name is Martin, and I live in rural Oregon City near Redland. My bees swarmed out of their hives! The bees were put in on Tuesday 04/14/20 into a new Warre and new Top Bar hive from the nucs. Today first the bees from the Warre swarmed and hour or so later the bees from the top bar hive swarmed. I found one swarm way up in the tree. I’m looking for the second swarm. What went wrong? What should I do about the swarm? Thank you, Martin

Clackamas County Oregon

7 Responses

Hi Martin, welcome to beekeeping. Sometimes bees do not like their brand new boxes and leave. I am assuming that when they swarmed that all of the bees left the hive. If there are still bees left behind, then perhaps there is young queen with the left behind bees who will begin laying soon.

As far as the swarm goes, why don't you contact the Portland Urban Beekeepers' swarm line https://portlandurbanbeekeepers.org/. Scroll down the page to their swarm list. Call them and explain your situation to see if one of them would be willing to come out to help you retrieve the rascally bees. If so, see if they might also help by at least loaning you an old frame so the hive will smell more like a home and less like a lumber yard. Good luck!


Thank you Anna, this experience left me breathless. The swarms moved since and the hives are empty, but there are some combs left behind (photos attached). Will these combes make new bees more at home this time?
I've seen people altering their nonstandard bars so they fit in established Langstroth nucs or hives, then they move them to the Warre or Top Bar. Is this a good idea?
Top Bar question: Where in the hive should be the feeder placed? My feeder is placed inside the hive by the front entrance with crawl space to the hive (photo).
Warre question: How many frames/bees from Langstroth size nuc should be installed since Warre is smaller than Langstroth in volume? My concern is overcrowding/ overheating, could that be a possible reason why my bees left?
FYI, I'm working with professional beekeepers, however, they don't have much experience with nonstandard hives, but I believe that between all of us, I'll get my bees buzzing this year :)
Thanks, Martin




Edit: An empty Top Bar with 3 days worth of combs.

Martin, those combs are lovely and I think your bees were quite ungrateful for the good home and food that you had provided. Because there was no brood yet in the hives, the bees were not too invested in their new home. If you purchased bees in nucs and have nuc frames, those could be cut down to fit into your existing hives, (at least a frame or two, which you could later remove). The brood pheromone provides more of an incentive to stay. If you purchase more bees in nucs, get some of the brood frames into your boxes. Colonies are very reluctant to abandon their brood. Also, your nucs could have been on the verge of swarming prior to coming to your place and they were just derailed for a few days.

Whether you should alter your non-standard top bars to fit a Langstroth or cut down a Langstroth frame to fit into your hives is interesting to ponder. I think either would work, but both could be messy. But then cutting out bees from a wall cavity involves securing wild comb into Langstroth frames with rubber bands which the bees accept. If you cut down a Langstroth frame when bees are not present would be easier.

Now I had to do some math-not very precise math-but math nonetheless. A deep Langstroth frame, counting both sides, has about 264 square inches of space. This times 5-frames (nuc), equals 1320 square inches of space for the bees. A Warre frame, counting both sides has about 155 square inches of space. It takes 8.5 Warre frames to equal the same amount of comb space as a 5-frame nuc. Yes, they would have been crowded, if they didn’t have to build comb, but they needed to build comb which should have kept them occupied.

I would put the feeder in a top bar hive at the back away from the entrance rather than at the entrance. I am presuming that you have some sort of follower board, so the bees didn’t have the entire cavity to worry about.

Two good reference books for you on top-bar beekeeping are “Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom and Pleasure Combined” by Dr. Wyatt Mangum and “Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honey Bee Health” by Les Crowder and Heather Harrell. Both of these books include information about foundationless frames; correcting problems, how to get bees from nucs into top-bar hives, etc. A lot of the information will transfer to Warre hive management as well. These books might be available at either the public library or the bee club library. Currently, you have a better chance of obtaining a book from the bee club library.

Well, your adventures continue. May your next bees have more sense and stay put.

Thank you for all the info. It took a lot of reading and now I'm on the crossroad of making the right decision when installing bees to the Top Bar. The first photo "tb nuc" looks good, but my concern is the process of finding the queen and making sure she is in on the top bars. It looks too distracting.
The second photo involves the process of putting Lang nuc frames parallely to the TB hive until the bees build enough combs on the TB bars, and on that point, the bars are reposition cross side to the original place, the queen is moved, and the bars are separated by extruder till young hatch in the Lang frames. Some say that the bees may build weirdly shaped combs. Not sure what direction to take from here.
For the Warre hive, I've forfeited the Warre frames into the Lang frames. These frames will sit in the Lang hive/nuc till ready for transfer.
Its been a great journey and I'll appreciate any thoughts or leads. Thank you, Martin



Hi, it's me again:) I also have the Lang hive for about three weeks, and the bees are doing well, bringing pollen and growing. They drink plenty of syrup from the top feeder, but I've noticed just yesterday a comb inside the entrance to the feeder. Are they running out of space? Should I discourage them from building the comb?
I'm getting mixed messages on the timing when it comes to the first super. It seems like my bees are on all ten frames. Is it time to add super? For how long should I feed them with the syrup and the pollen patty giving the warmer and dryer weather?
Thanks, Martin

Hi Martin, I'll answer in reverse order. Once you see stray white comb, the bees need more room. If they are in a single deep, add the second deep. Keep feeding syrup until all the frames are drawn. If they are already in 2 deeps, then add a honey super without the queen excluder as you want them to draw the comb first before worrying about excluding the queen.

Inspect the frames, if there is a lot of stored pollen then you can discontinue the pollen patty. If they look short of pollen, and they are still eating the pollen patty, then keep feeding them.It doesn't hurt them. If they don't need it, they will ignore it.

Now to the next question. Both of those tb methods look labor intensive to me. Have you thought about purchasing package bees? That way you don't have frames to worry about. I think both ways would work, but there would be a lot of manipulation and queen finding which can be daunting. What if you attached one or more of your top bars to the underside of a Langstroth deep, ( I would use wire or maybe zip ties.), put them in the Langstroth hive for the bees to draw and the queen to start laying brood. Once there are eggs in it, you could transfer them to the tb add some shakes of nurse bees. You have just made a queenless nuc. At that point you could add a mated queen, which of course, you would have ordered prior to all the splitting. To me that seems the easiest route to get bees into the tb without the bother of Langstroth frames.

The Warre hive adaptation look like it will work. Once again, when the bees have drawn the comb and the queen laid eggs in them, transfer the frames to your Warre hive. You then have your Langstroth frames back for that hive and you have a colony of bees firmly installed in the Warre hive.

Let me know if this makes sense and you can picture what I'm describing.

As you say this is a grand adventure.