Category Archives: Swarm control

The calm after the storm

Synopsis : What can you do with the spare nucs and queens left after successful swarm control? After a ‘month of mayhem’, calm descends on the apiary and there are queens to mark, colonies to unite and – thankfully – a bit more time for everything.

Introduction

The first half of the beekeeping season – yes, for me at least, more than half of it has gone already – started very slowly. The long, cold early Spring seemed to delay colonies from making swarm preparations, though they certainly built up strongly by foraging hard when conditions were suitable and there was a lot of pollen in the boxes.

And, because colonies were strong and running out of space, when things finally warmed up everything went a bit mad.

Fortunately, my apiary visit at the beginning of this week suggests that the ‘month of mayhem’ is over and it should now all be plain sailing until the end of the season.

No longer do I feel as though I’m playing ‘catch up’ all the time, juggling a dozen metaphorical plates to get a good honey crop and not lose swarms, desperately searching for spare equipment, or cursing my lack of frames, or dummy boards or – most recently – those little plastic ‘candy’ caps for JzBz queen introduction cages 1.

Calm after the storm

And, appropriately, these apiary visits were periodically interrupted by some spectacular cloudbursts … but, as I drove home in the calm afterwards it was clear both I and the bees had weathered the storm and things were looking good for the summer honey and the remainder of the season.

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The Hopkins method (and more)

Synopsis : Three short(ish) related topics; the spring honey harvest, queen rearing without grafting (the Hopkins method) and a brief mention of swarm control. And, if that wasn’t enough, a bonus discussion on keeping virgin queens in an incubator.

Introduction

I started writing this post at sunset on the longest day of the year. In my part of Scotland it’s light enough to work outside from about 3:30 am until 11:30 pm which means you can get a lot done … if you have the energy and distant, deaf or understanding neighbours.

With the good weather we’ve had for the last 2-3 weeks the bees have been out well before I’m drinking my morning coffee and don’t stop until after my evening glass of Barolo.

In my experience, some of the earliest to start are the scout bees that appear at bait hives before foragers are really busy. Some might even stay overnight, though perhaps these are scouts ‘lost’ from a swarm that had decided to occupy a different nest site 1.

It’s lucky the days are so long as this is the busiest time of the year for beekeeping … at least for my beekeeping.

West coast apiary

I am, as the saying goes, ”running around like a headless chicken”.

Rather than write an in depth (well researched 2 ) post on an esoteric aspect of the coxa and trochanter of Apis mellifera scutellata or virus replication in drones (though I’d strongly recommend readers check out our latest paper on this topic, published today) I thought I’d write a few notes on three practical beekeeping topics that have been entertaining me recently.

I can’t promise something for everyone, or even anyone, and inevitably the focus will be on the trilogy of queen rearing, swarm control and the honey harvest.

If you’re a beekeeper and haven’t been busy with these three things over the last few weeks then either something has gone awry with your season … or you live in New Zealand.

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Swarm control – it’s not rocket science

Synopsis : Successful swarm control involves regular, appropriately timed, colony inspections and some simple colony manipulations. Understand the principles and you’ll realise it’s not rocket science.

Introduction

The majority of visitors (~85%) to this site are from the Northern hemisphere – the UK, USA, Canada and Ireland. Everyone is welcome of course, but the reality is that the topical posts that appear are in sync with the season in the Northern hemisphere, so they tend to get read more. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the period when our bees are swarming – or attempting to swarm.

I wrote Queen cells … don’t panic! back in June 2018. It described what queen cells looked like and what to do if you find them (Don’t panic!). It wasn’t read much that year but has gradually gained ‘traction’ and last year accounted for ~4% of all visits 1.

Seasonal reading about queen cells

The page views show distinct seasonality, with peaks in May coinciding with beekeepers panicking when they find queen cells our swarm season in the Northern hemisphere.

This year, swarming in the UK made the news with an article on the BBC about Midlands beekeepers running out of equipment. It was an enjoyable read – I used to keep bees there and know the beekeepers – not least because of all the errors made by the reporter. I counted about half a dozen clangers 2 in under 300 words.

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Spot the queen

Synopsis : Swarmtastic! The first swarms of the season and a timely lesson on why swarm control is important and how clipping the queen really helps.

Introduction

Temperatures have finally achieved a ‘typical’ mid-May average of low teens (°C), and on most days the bees are out foraging well. If anything this is making the discrepancy between the strongest hives and the also-rans even more marked. I’ve just put my fourth supers on some, whereas a few hives are struggling to do anything much with the first one.

The oil seed rape in Fife is going over in a few fields, but most still has 10-14 days to go 1 … and the forecast is fantastic, so I’m hoping to still have time to snatch beekeeping victory (or what masquerades as victory for a beekeeper which is full buckets of honey) from the jaws of defeat.

It’s not going to be a bumper spring crop, but it might just about manage average.

I’ll happily take average after my early enthusiasm was so comprehensively dashed a fortnight later.

Of course, the combination of a good nectar flow and overcrowded colonies means that the bees are now busying themselves with swarm preparations. The post today is all about swarms, lost and found, the benefits of clipped queens and the importance of observation.

Or, to put it another way, more tales of slapstick beekeeping 😉 .

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Site and smell

Synopsis : Where should bait hives be located to capture your own lost swarms? 1 Can you omit the old brood frame and still make the bait hive attractive?

Introduction

Social media can be seriously misleading for beekeepers. For months now it seems like I’ve been reading about boxes bulging with bees, third supers being added, swarms swarming and the oil seed rape bonanza.

For a beginner living anywhere north of Watford 2 this must be a major distraction.

Is the season passing them by?

Perhaps there’s something wrong with their bees?

With luck they’ve resisted the temptation to go rummaging through the brood box. Twice, because they didn’t see the queen on the first run through. Or the second. Should they buy another queen ’just in case’? 3

Old lags, by contrast, give a resigned shrug knowing that the season will be along in due course.

In its own good time … 4.

There’s nothing to be gained by trying to force things. Why open the box, why search for the queen, why risk chilling the bees and brood? There’s pollen going in on the few days good enough for flying, the water carriers are water carrying, the hive has stores (or you’ve quickly added a kilo or two of fondant under the crownboard) and things are progressing much as they should be … though definitely not in lockstep with events reported by the Twitterati in warmer climes.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.

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