It's a smart idea to let the hive swarm so they get to increase their numbers. Swarming is reproduction for bees and no reason to thwart that. That said, it's also better for the bees to have a good size healthy swarm when they head out into the world, so encouraging many swarms isn't as good as encouraging one strong healthy swarm. In practicality that means making sure the colony has enough room to grow decently large and then when they swarm out and take 70% of the old hive with them, that will be a number that gives enough help to get a new home started.
Here in Seattle, there's a concern that with growing numbers of urban beekeepers we'll get more and more swarms. Inevitably, a percentage will end up inside structures and require an expensive cut-out job. If it gets out of hand, there might be a backlash against urban beekeeping, probably accompanies by heavy-handed city ordnances.
I've heard there are tons of swarms in Portland. Is the general attitude towards urban beekeepers still positive?
This is a difficult issue. Finding a balance between letting the bee pursue its species-specific and health promoting behaviour, in this case swarming, and keeping colonies out of buildings is not easy.
It can cost the owner up to $500 and that's if they don't have to hire scaffolding. But is it right to prevent species-specific behaviours just so one can keep bees in a city? Those who keep chickens, and even pigs, on the balconies of blocks of flats/apartments obviously see no problem in preventing species-specific behaviours.
As it happens, the bees in buildings problem is not confined to urban environments. The biggest densities of calls I get are in the vicinity of relatively rural apiaries of a dozen or so frame hives. These are people practising swarm control and doing so primarily to maximise honey yield.
Those who work with swarming could minimise the risk of infesting buildings by doing the following:
1. As Jacqueline says, give the bees plenty of space.
2. Position bait hives in suitable places
3. Watch bait hives several times a day. They also serve as indicators of swarm issue or imminent issue.
4. Tell all your neighbours around swarm time that there is a reward (pot of honey?) for any swarm near your hive reported to you and give them your home/work phone numbers.
5. Have your swarm taking kit handy at all times and try to arrange to take time off work when swarms are issuing (it has been said that if a beek cannot be available at swarm time they should consider whether beekeeping is a suitable occupation for them).
6. Have a receiving hive ready at all times. If you already have enough colonies, have potential recipents of swarms at the ready.
Maybe others could add to this list.
This seems a better strategy than that of a frame beek I know with a dozen colonies on the edge of a nearby town who tells me that his colonies never swarm. He lives 15 miles away and does not get to hear about his colonies that I remove from the town's buildings or catch in my bait hive placed right in the middle of the town.
Hey Paul. I'm new to beekeeping. What is the maximum height up from the ground that I can have a hive? Also, do you think bees would do well in a vertical farm? I'm researching the concept, and designing a model of one that incorporates permacultural techniques into its operations.