Our Bees Have Swarmed – We Think

After some pretty poor weather for the bees last week, Friday was a scorcher – 25ºC and wall to wall sunshine and it was our normal day to do a hive inspection, exactly 7 days after the last one. We were hoping the bees would be out and about all day in the sunshine and we’d get the chance to do a good inspection.

We couldn’t do it too early though as Anna was at work and Morgan at Holiday Club so I had to wait for them to come home. I did go to get some things out of the ‘beekeeping shed’ in preparation during the afternoon though. While I was there I noticed a number of honey bees taking quite an interest in the shed. I watched for a while to see what they were up to and sure enough, as well as buzzing around the shed, one or two were going in and out through a little gap between the doors. Were they after the wax in there? What were they up to? I decided to investigate but got quite convincingly buzzed at so backed off and thought I’d wait until I had my suit on later to take a proper look.

I watched them on and off throughout the afternoon and started formulating plans. My thoughts were that maybe one of the colonies had swarmed that morning as soon as the weather had improved. This swarm would now be hanging in a tree or somewhere else nearby and the bees I could see investigating the shed were scout bees looking for a suitable location to set up the new colony.

Anna and Morgan came home so I told them that we might have another ‘bee situation’ on our hands. We donned our protective gear and set about first checking the shed and then inspecting the hives.

There wasn’t a swarm in the shed so maybe the bees investigating it were indeed scouts.

Opening the Hive

Opening the Hive

We checked through Clettwr first, our strongest colony and all seemed OK. There were plenty of bees, plenty of stores, room for them to expand, eggs were seen and larvae at all stages but we didn’t see the queen. There was also the beginnings of what could have been a queen cup. We weren’t too worried here though as we were pretty sure this colony hadn’t swarmed and most things looked well.

We then checked Leri and there seemed to be a distinct lack of bees in this colony. There was no sign of Alice the queen despite a fairly thorough look and there were lots of queen cells, some of them sealed. It is supposed to take them 8-9 days to seal queen cells so we’re not sure how they are doing it in under 7 days, but they certainly seem capable of it if they deem it necessary.

Looking for the Queen

Looking for the Queen

We’re still very much beginners at this beekeeping malarky, but we were fairly sure they had swarmed. We put things back together and sought advice from friends in the beekeeping association but couldn’t get hold of anyone. We also looked around to see if we could see the swarm anywhere and put out a nuc box with a few frames of wax near to the shed the bees had been investigating. This was only an off-chance, but such a ‘bait hive’ can be used to catch a swarm. It was getting later in the evening by now though and this didn’t work.

We were then away all day Saturday so couldn’t do anything with the bees but on Sunday, after a chat with Jim, we took another look. As we were fairly sure the bees had swarmed our next task was to prevent a cast swarm. We once again donned our bee-suits and inspected both hives.

Clettwr was looking fine again. There were no queen cells and we managed to spot Ffion, the queen. There were stores, eggs and brood and also lots of pollen stores which we hadn’t really seen much of before. They hadn’t quite filled all of the frames in the brood box, but to give them a little extra room for expansion we decided to add a super to the hive and will keep a close eye on it for signs of swarming over the next few weeks.

Frame with good laying pattern

Frame with good laying pattern

What's on the Frame

What's on the Frame




Leri was once again very quiet. To prevent cast swarms we destroyed all but two of the best looking sealed queen cells. Hopefully a new virgin queen will hatch from one of them, the second is just an insurance policy. We put everything back together and once again we will keep a close eye on it to look out for the emergence of a new queen.

 

We also removed the feeder that was on the hive. We aren’t sure why the bees in this hive keep swarming, they have plenty of space with about 5 completely empty frames, but there is a possibility that they don’t have enough pollen to draw out the new fames and because they have had plenty of sugar syrup in the feeder they have filled all available drawn comb with syrup leaving no room for the queen to lay. It could be this that has caused the swarming. Also, with half the bees gone with the swarm there should be plenty of stores left for the remaining bees anyway.

Hive Inspection

Hive Inspection

This may not be the best situation as ideally we don’t want to lose half of our bees in a swarm, but we are learning a lot when these things happen. It’s not the end of the world, we still have half the bees and hopefully viable queen cells that will produce a new queen. We’ve also learnt that maybe we need to inspect more than once every 7 days at this time of year and that we need to be extra vigilant in looking for signs of swarming. We’re also going to buy a nuc box today so that we have some equipment ready should we need to intervene and perform an artificial swarm.

If we put the bees in the hives and they did exactly what we wanted them to do with no interference from us and no ‘management’ needed then we wouldn’t really have learnt much. They maybe giving us the run around but seeing such things happen is the best way to appreciate what we need to do to become better beekeepers.

We’ll keep you posted on their progress, but don’t expect any honey for a while!

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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