Our priority this year with beekeeping is what beekeepers term ‘making increase’ that is to say we want to end the year with more colonies than we started so priorities are focussed more on splitting hives, rearing queens and increasing the number of bees we have rather than on honey production.
Plans are afoot
With this in mind we’ve been waiting for the bees to show signs of swarming so that we could split them and had decided to split them anyway this weekend whether they were ready to swarm or not.
We were away all weekend during which time the weather was perfect for the bees to swarm. It was by far the hottest it had been all year, there was wall to wall sunshine and barely any wind. Where we were in the SE not far from Windsor. I kept checking the online weather station located in our back garden to see what the weather was doing there and although a little cooler it was still, hot, sunny and still. The perfect weather for bees and the ideal conditions for them to swarm. There were a number of news stories about swarms in unusual places around the country popping up on Facebook, Twitter and BBC news bulletins and I was paranoid that our bees were going to swarm whilst we were away.
It is supposed to take at least a week for them to get their act together and actually swarm. We had checked on them on Tuesday and there were no signs of swarming, but it was now 5 days later and I’m convinced they can swarm in that time if they decide that’s what they want to do. The last thing we wanted was for them to swarm whilst we were away as we would lose them. We’ve never had so many bees in a hive before, it’s been looking really strong for weeks now and we certainly didn’t want to lose them now. Ideally we wanted to split them ourselves as there were enough bees in there to make two fairly strong colonies, both of which would then have a good chance of success this summer.
With this in mind we rushed home on Sunday after our weekend away and set to doing a bee inspection and hopefully splitting the colony.
An Artificial Swarm
It was still hot and sunny as we donned our bees suits and got the smoker going. Anna’s Mum who was staying with us retreated to the conservatory while Anna, Morgan and myself manipulated the bees.
Things were looking good when we opened up the hive. The super was filling up nicely. There were loads of bees in it and about 8 frames of honey. Some of this is from the sugar syrup we’ve been feeding them in the Spring but they only had about 4 frames full last week, they had doubled that now.
We removed the super and the queen excluder and were fairly certain from the number of bees present that they hadn’t swarmed. Phew, it looked as though we could make increase ourselves. In order to do so though we had to find the queen so we started making our way through the brood box, inspecting each frame in turn trying to find her.
There were a few frames that had the beginnings of queen cells on, and one or two that already had larvae and royal jelly in them so they were definitely about to swarm. it looked as though we had caught them at the perfect time. We left these queen cells as they were as we would need them later once we had found the queen.
Where’s the Queen?
Finding her was proving difficult though. The bees were as calm as calm could be and were simply moving out of the way with little fuss when we wanted them to. However, with probably around 60,000 bees in the hive looking for one individual that is just a little longer than the others is never going to be easy. We went through every frame but there was no sign of her, even with 3 pairs of eyes looking. We checked the super for eggs just to make sure she hadn’t made her way up into that but it was clear. She had to be in the brood box somewhere and we needed to find her so all we could do was look again.
The frames were two deep in bees from edge to edge and in places they were literally dripping off the frames, but eventually I spotted her. At last, we cold now start manipulating the to get them all where we wanted.
We carefully checked the frame she was on for queen cells. Typically she was on the frame with the best of the queen cells that already contained larvae and royal jelly, so we removed all trace of these and when we we’re sure it was free of all of swarm inducing queen cells we placed it into an adjacent empty hive that we had already set up. We then shook the bees off a couple of other frames into the hive with her. These frames contained a good balance of eggs, larvae, pollen and honey so we checked them for any queen cells, destroyed any that we found and popped the frames in with her too.
We then swapped the position of the two hives so that the new hive with the queen and a few frames in it ended up back in the position of the original hive. We placed the queen excluder on this, and popped the nearly full super back on it too and closed it up. This hive in the original position now had the old queen in it, three frames containing brood, eggs, larvae and some stores, a number of empty frames and a super full of stores too. Any flying bees that were out foraging return to this hive as well. We were also certain that it didn’t have any didn’t have any queen cells either.
Meanwhile we turned the other hive around to face in a different direction, filled the space in the brood box with empty frames and closed it up. Any flying bees in this hive should return back to the original queen in the original location, but this hive now had lots of frames of brood and eggs, a few formative queen cells and most of the nurse bees. It didn’t have much in the way of stores though and somehow we ended up with a frame leftover. We’re not sure where that came from, but nevermind.
A New Out Apiary.
We left the hives like that for the rest of the afternoon, allowing them to settle down before moving them later in the evening. When the time came, Morgan and I carefully blocked up the entrance on the new queenless hive that now contained most of the nurse bees and all of the remaining queen cells. We strapped it up and loaded it into the back of the car carefully brushing off a few bee stragglers that were under the floor of the hive. We didn’t want them buzzing around the car whilst driving them to their new location on a farm in the hills above Talybont.
Morgan kept his bee suit tightly sealed for the journey just in case. I couldn’t as I was driving. We didn’t have far to go though although it took a while thanks to the bumpy, steep track up into the hills which had me driving at walking pace so as not to shake the bees about too much. As we pulled into the field, Ruth and Phil who own the farm were out constructing a little fenced area for the bees. It was nothing fancy, just four stakes in the ground onto which a low wire fence was attached so that the sheep wouldn’t use the hive as a scratching post.
We helped them finish this off and then unloaded the bees. I lifted the roof off the hive once it was in place and there were certainly plenty of bees in there. I then placed a feeder on top of the brood box and filled it with sugar syrup before closing the hive back up and unblocking the entrance. The bees were well behaved throughout and the whole process could easily have been completed without any bee suits at all.
All was looking good. We now had the beginnings of a new out apiary on a small farm in the hills above Talybont. Ruth and phil seem excited about having bees on their land and we’re hoping they will do well here. The hive there is of course currently queenless and has no flying bees, but it is quite strong, had plenty of eggs and nurse bees and so hopefully they’ll use one or more of the formative queen cells to raise a queen, and if not they can build an emergency queen cell anyway. We’ll check on them towards the end of the week to make sure they have done so. If so, we’ll leave them for a few weeks so as to allow the queen to hatch, mate and start laying.
The ‘swarmed’ Colony
Meanwhile, in our home apiary we have a hive containing a colony that hopefully ‘thinks’ it has swarmed. It contains the old queen along with the majority of the older flying bees from her colony. It also has a couple of frames of brood and the majority of the stores from the hive. There are no queen cells in the hive and plenty of empty frames with fresh foundation for them to build out new comb on. They have in essence all of the signs that they have swarmed and are now in a new hive except for the fact that they are exactly where they were before. I’m sure they aren’t ‘stupid enough’ to really think they have swarmed, but hopefully the lack of brood, the plentiful supply of food and the fact that they have plenty of room for the queen to lay will mean that they’ll no longer feel the need to swarm and will start building up once again. We will check these later in the week too just to make sure they have settled down and haven’t built any queencells. Although, if they have we might do another split, moving the queen and a small number of bees into a ‘retirement nuc’ and allow the colony to rear a new queen. That way we’ll have a younger queen for the colony and can destroy the old queen. We’ll keep her in the retirement nuc until the the new queen is laying though as an insurance plan.
If all goes to plan we’ll soon have two strong colonies and at this rate we’ll even get some honey from them. But that is getting a little ahead of ourselves!
Yet more bees.
When Morgan and I returned home from relocating the hive, Anna told us that there was an email from a beekeeping friend saying that they had a nucleus of bees for sale at a very cheap rate. She thought we should get it and that’s exactly what we have arranged. So, we started the day with two colonies of bees; a strong colony here and a smaller colony in our Llandre Out Apiary. We ended the day with 4 colonies:
- One queenright and hopefully non-swarmy colony here,
- A decent colony in our Llandre Out Apiary,
- A strong but as yet queenless colony in our ‘Argoed Farm Apiary’
- A queenright four frame nuc that is currently in Cwm Clettwr.
Not a bad days beekeeping really, especially as ‘making increase’ was our goal this year. Lets hope it continues in this fashion.