June 2010

It is now the end of May as I write this and all my colonies, such a short time ago advanced or behind in their development just like our garden plants, have all virtually caught up with each other. So much so that a week ago I had noticed bees checking out my bait hives, indicating that a swarm was imminent. I duly went and checked all the likely contenders but all was in order – no signs of swarming preparations to be seen. I therefore jokingly said to one of my beekeeping neighbours that his bees were about to swarm – but, like me, after having checked, he saw no signs of any intention on the bees’ part either. Then on Friday, the swarm finally arrived, flying in a dark cloud across the hedge and surrounding and covering the external surface of one of my bait hives (see photo). After about an hour the bees were nearly all inside, having decided “this will make a good home” (see the photograph with the bees fanning their “here we are” scent just outside the hive entrance), by which time I had been through my hives again in the search to ensure the culprit was not one of them. But, sad to say, I found swarm cells in one colony, indicating their wish to make life hard for me!

Five days previously I had found no evidence to indicate swarming was imminent, yet I must have missed the beginnings of a swarm cell (which contains the larva/pupa of a new queen) – so easily done when you are trying to look at honeycombs covered in 6 -7,000 bees each! So, after all that, it was my bees that were misbehaving and wanted to propagate the honeybee species – they had obviously read about Colony Collapse Disorder resulting in heavy losses of bee colonies over the winter months and wanted to do their bit to help! Later that evening (it was actually almost dark by the time I started, as we had been out until about 10 o’clock), I blocked the hive entrance to stop the bees getting out and took the hive from its location on the roof of the bee shed, having earlier strapped it up in two directions to keep the components locked together. Holding it by one of the straps, I swung it out over the apex of the shed, about 10′ up, hanging on to the ladder with my free hand (because a beehive with bees is not light in weight!) – when the strap unlocked, sending the hive crashing to the ground! I suppose it saved me having to carry it gingerly down the ladder but the bees were not impressed!

Having said that, the hive stayed in one piece, just becoming slightly misaligned between the boxes – that was how the bees got out – and the bees took virtually no notice of me, just clinging to the outside of the boxes whilst holding their heads to relieve their headaches! I pushed the boxes back into alignment, took the hive to its new location and opened it up. The next morning, they were flying to identify their new location and seemed quite unaffected by their mighty fall. I transferred the bees onto fresh frames in a new hive (bait hives always tend to be old, with old combs/frames so that they smell of the previous occupants as an attractant to swarms) and reassuringly saw the marked queen, whom I was then able to safely ensconce in her new home.

The remaining bees in the parent colony (from which the swarm originated) have made several queen cells, so in a few days time I will separate those frames with cells into smaller units of bees called nuclei. The bees in these nuclei will look after their queen cell until the queen hatches, at which point begins another cycle in the life of a new bee colony. These nuclei will be ready for next year’s honey harvest, if they over-winter safely, and will provide me with more stock that is tolerant of our fickle climate here in Cornwall. Oh, the joys of keeping bees!

PS. Don’t forget to contact me if you see or hear of a swarm. I will arrange for someone to collect it. You can contact me on 01872 501313, alternatively, if it isn’t urgent (i.e. not swarms!) email me at colinbeeman@aol.com.

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