We have actually been into the bees a few times since our last inspection but things have got in the way of me blogging about it – primarily real paid-for work! There’s a lot to update you on but its far from all being great news.
Swarming has been our main problem caused mainly by us not doing as many inspections and swarm prevention as we would have done if work had not taken me away from home and the hives so much. My filming work depends on the good weather as much as my beekeeping does, so when the sun shines I’m normally out and about taking advantage of it. The bees on the other hand seem to get up to all sorts of scheming and planning when its too cold and wet to inspect them – and the moment the weather turns its seems they instantly go into swarm mode.
Whilst this is not exactly great beekeeping, swarming is really only what the bees would be doing naturally to expand. The queens were all only a year old – so not tired. They also had plenty of space and stores so its not as if conditions were poor either. This means either that we have a strain of bees which are prone to swarming – or our bees are so happy and naturally balanced that they want to spread themselves about. The latter is of course wishful thinking – and whilst we probably have got a “swarmy” set of colonies Tiff and I both think its time we had a swarm prevention refresher course.
Anyway – after all this here’s a report on where we are now.
Yes, there is now a Hive 1! This is actually housing a swarm that popped out of Hive 2 some three weeks ago (more on which later). I was around at the time this one came out and it conveniently gathered on the hedge, at head height, next to the apiary. A few snips with the secateurs and it dropped into a waiting cardboard box. We then took out a couple of framed of eggs, larvae and stores from Hive 2 and put those into the new Hive 1 which was otherwise made up with new foundation 14×12 frames. The box was then shaken in.
On our last inspection it was doing well, with a mated queen yet to be spotted and marked but seemingly laying well. She had started laying on at least four frames. We had originally housed this in full hive with a dummy board in to restrict the space – but with its rapid expansion we have now moved the dummy board to let them spread throughout. With the way work is at present it looks like I’m going to be away more so I also added a super to give them AMPLE room.
Three weeks back when we opened up Hive 2 to get the frames for the Hive 1 swarm it was evident that this was the source of the swarm. This was obviously a secondary swarm (or cast) as the colony was extremely small and there were a number of hatched or ripped down queen cells in there. This was despite our efforts on an earlier inspection to remove queen cells. There was no sign of the old clipped and marked queen – and no sign of a new mated queen and there were no eggs. Our thoughts were that we had a resident virgin queen and thought it was best to shut up and let nature take its course and for her to get mated.
Going back into this hive on this most recent inspection revealed a queen-less colony, with only a handful of bees. Our hopes of there being a virgin queen in there were dashed instantly. The only positive to come from this hive were that there was plenty of stores in there and no visible signs of disease.
Hive 3 was rapidly expanding last time we inspected and we managed to spot and mark the queen. No such luck this time, plus obvious signs of swarming (hatched queen cells) and a depleted stock of bees. We took one frame out which had an un-hatched queen cell and though it was worth placing this in Hive 2, along with its eggs and brood after shaking off the bees. But just as we lowered it in the queen hatched. It was too late – she was out and into Hive 2 before we could do much else.
We closed up both hives and are presently hoping for the best – but as the weather has turned wet and cold again I’m not convinced there was enough bees in Hive 2 to keep the queen and eggs alive. We will see.
There’s common thread developing here! This colony swarmed a couple of weeks back but again the bees settled nicely on the hedge. Knowing this was probably going to happen I’d prepared our 4-frame nuc box to house it in. With a snip and shake into waiting cardboard box, the bees were then shaken into the nuc box with the entrance blocked so they didn’t come straight out again.
The main difference here was that the nuc was full of fresh foundation and no pre-drawn frames with eggs and brood from another hive. This obviously made all the difference, as when I unblocked the entrance that evening by the morning they were all outside hanging off the front of the nuc box! Not really having the space to put another hive up I called one of our beekeeping friends to see if they wanted a swarm. They did, and collected it from its hanging that evening – by which time they’d even started drawing out comb on the front of the nuc box!
As I said – its time for a refreshment course on swarm control – and also time we re-queened all the colonies to a strain less prone to swarming. I don’t hold out too much hope for a good honey crop this year – though I’m hopeful for our rapidly expanding swarm in Hive 1.
As soon as time allows and things settle the plan is to consolidate down to two hives to go into winter with. Hopefully that will give us more time (and room in the apiary) to deal with potential swarms.