Beekeeping – I knew it was too good to be true

Our bees have been ‘bee-having’ themselves fairly well so far this year. They had looked like swarming at the end of April so we split them first thing in May. That all seemed to go well and by the end of May we had a new laying queen and the colony with the original queen was building up well. Too good to be true as we aren’t often successful at getting queens to mate.

Too good to be True

It was indeed too good to be true as last week whilst checking the hives there were queen cells present once again. It looked as though they wanted to swarm again. The newly mated queen was still in her hive so I knocked down the queen cells in that colony and hoped that they might change their minds – I know that won’t work, but I didn’t want to have to split them again as we don’t really have enough room for more hives.

The colony with the original queen in also had a single queen cell too and as I was checking it out, out popped a fully formed queen. Now what do I do? I popped her into a plastic tub whilst I looked through the rest of the hive. There were no other queen cells and I couldn’t see the original queen anywhere in the hive. I checked through several times but there was no sign of her. Maybe she had already flown off in a swarm and we had lost her? The only thing I could do was pop the newly hatched queen back into the hive and hope for the best. We do a lot of ‘hoping for the best’ in our beekeeping antics!

This time we were hoping that despite begin a week into July that this newly hatched queen would have time to mate successfully and start laying so as to build up a decent sized colony by the start of winter. I was however worried that she wouldn’t manage to mate so we would end up with a queenless colony and that meanwhile the new and laying queen in the other hive would swarm too and we’d end up losing her as well.

Swarming

This all changed yesterday though when I noticed a swarm emerging from the colony with the newly hatched queen in it. I followed the swarm as it flew through the air, across our garden and into a neighbours garden where it came to rest on a branch.

Honey Bee Swarm
Honey Bee Swarm

I soon set into action. A number of my family had just arrived for a holiday so I asked Max and Ryder if they wanted to help catch a swarm. They were quite excited by the prospect so we donned various bee suits and headed off into the neighbours garden.

I propped a nuc box up on the branch next to the cluster. I then carefully scooped up a few handfuls of the bees and placed them into the nuc box. Before long the rest of the bees were making their way into the box as well and it looked as though it had been a success. That was the easiest swarm I’ve ever caught! We even saw the queen nonchalantly wandering into the nuc box.

In they go
In they go

We were about to go to the beach before the excitement of the swarm so we left the straggler bees to it and headed off for a play in the sea.

2nd time lucky

When we got back, the bees were still there. Only they were no longer in the nuc box but were back out in a big cluster hanging from the branch. Stupid bees!

Catching a Swarm
Catching a Swarm

I left them there until about 9pm and then went out and tried again. Once again I carefully placed several handfuls of the bees into the nuc box and once again the others duly mobilised and wandered into the box on their own accord. I didn’t see the queen this time but within half an hour all of the bees were safely inside the box. I then moved the box to the apiary and once again hoped for the best.

Honey Bee Apiary
Honey Bee Apiary

Who knows if they’ll stay put this time. It was actually quite a big swarm so I might move them into a proper hive later today or tomorrow if they are still there. If we can keep hold of this swarm then it does at least give us some options.

Beekeeping Options

We currently have three ‘colonies’:

  • The swarm I caught yesterday with the original queen – we’ll call that the ‘swarm’
  • The colony with a newly hatched queen from which the swarm emanated – we’ll call that the ‘virgin colony’
  • The colony with the newly mated and now laying queen – we’ll call that the ‘newly mated colony’

Anything could happen from here.

  1. If we manage to keep hold the swarm. If the virgin queen does successfully mate, if she starts laying and they build up a decent sized colony. And, if the newly mated colony doesn’t swarm then we could go into the winter with three colonies, two with new 2019 queens. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ though but would be the best scenario.
  2. If the colony with the newly mated queen doesn’t swarm, if we manage keep the swarm but the virgin queen doesn’t manage to mate then we’ll re-unite the swarm with the virgin colony and go into the winter with two colonies, one with a 2019 queen. 2 if’s and an OK scenario.
  3. However, the newly mated queen is looking a little swarmy. So, if the colony with the newly mated queen does swarm and we lose it, but we keep the swarm I caught yesterday and the virgin queen does mate, then we’ll end up in the same position as with option 2. We’ll have two colonies, one with a new 2019 queen.
  4. If however the colony with the newly mated queen does swarm, but we keep the swarm we caught yesterday and the virgin queen doesn’t mate then we’ll end up going into winter with just a single viable colony with an old queen. Not ideal but quite likely at this stage of the game.
  5. Things could get worse than that though. The colony with the newly mated queen looks like it might swarm which means we’ll lose that new queen. The swarm that I caught yesterday doesn’t look as though it will stay put so we could still lose that, and the virgin queen is unlikely to mate as it’s a little too late in the year so that could end up being queenless. If all of those come true then we’ll end up going into the winter with nothing.

Why is beekeeping never easy!

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting Alan, and spare suits as well. You do have all the kit.

  2. Mum x says:

    Ryder and Max were excited to take part in ” such an adventure”
    We also enjoyed the rest of our holiday too x

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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.