3 min read

When uniting goes wrong

A swarm turned up in a bait hive built from two Paradise/ModernBeekeeping poly supers a month ago. The bees were steady on the comb and the dark queen was laying reasonably well. In the same apiary I had a failing queen in a colony in a double brood box so decided to unite them with the swarm. I’ve done this many times before … what could possibly go wrong?

Since these poly boxes are non-standard you need a thin wooden shim or eke, a bit larger than a National box, to stand them on. I moved the queenright swarm on top of the de-queened hive, separated by a sheet of newspaper with a couple of small holes made with the hive tool. After a few days there were scraps of chewed up newspaper outside the hive entrance and bees were apparently moving freely through the holes with no sign of fighting.

Queen cells …

Despite being a shoulder-high stack of boxes, there were only a moderate number of bees in the hive. The failing queen had been laying slower and slower and the swarm had been covering perhaps six or seven frames. I therefore rearranged the eggs, larvae and sealed brood into the bottom box, making sure the queen was with them, before adding a clearer board underneath the remaining boxes. On checking the colony a week later it was clear that all was not well. There were no eggs in the bottom box and no sign of the queen, but loads of freshly sealed queen cells. Grrrr! I suspect I’d been a bit hasty in rearranging the colony. Perhaps, despite the holes chewed through the newspaper, the workers weren’t mixing properly and the queen had still been ‘protected’ in the upper box. In my defence, I was a bit pressed for time preparing colonies for moving. Alternatively, the requirement for the shim to unite these Paradise/ModernBeekeeping boxes (with standard Nationals) means the boxes are – of necessity – more widely separated than usual, possibly restricting the mixing of bees.

All gone …

However, here’s a photograph of a poly nuc that I united at about the same time – the bees have removed almost all the newspaper between the boxes. Since these nucs are Langstroth sized, when filled with National frames and stacked the spacing is very wide, suggesting it was my haste in combining the boxes that caused the problem.

All scientists know the importance of doing a controlled experiment so I shook through the colony containing queen cells and ensured I’d destroyed all of them (a colony is unlikely to accept a new queen – certainly during normal queen introduction – if there are queen cells present), then added more newspaper, the shim and the two poly supers. Using a fat dummy to fill up some of the space I added the contents of a spare five frame nuc containing a laying queen and left them to get on with it.

Uniting a nuc with a full colony …

I checked the colony a week later and everything was OK. The queen from the nuc was laying well in the bottom box (she’d started in the top one) and so I reorganised the colony back down into a single brood box. This colony missed the van North so were donated to friends in exchange for a nice bottle of wine 😉


To read or contribute to the discussion you need to be a subscriber to The Apiarist. Free and paid tiers are available. All subscribers receive the weekly post from The Apiarist as an email newsletter. You can opt out at any time and your email is not used for anything else.