NLB logo

NORTH LONDON BEEKEEPERS

BBKA logo

John the BeeMan's Blog - July 2015 - Swarming & replacing queens

Forage (end of June)

Iíve just walked around Hampstead Heath and seem loads of flowers for the bees.   The Lime is now out with many buds still to burst, the blackberries have a week or two left and the rosebay willowherb is magnificent.   As a consequence, we must make sure all hives have plenty of space for honey storage.   The sweet chestnut will be out in a few days.

Apiary Up-date

My excitement this month has been the arrival of 4 new queen bees from Ged Marshall.   They came by first class post and, having forewarned my friendly postman, the ventilated envelope arrived in good time.   My method is a tried and tested one which involves introducing them into separate nucs.   I detail this and other ways in my article below.

The arrival of new queen bees
One new queen bee united
The arrival of new queen bees
One new queen bee united

I carelessly lost one when checking them out a few days later and have united the nucs with their selected colonies.   The 3 are now well established and have taken over from the old queens.

I have 2 nucs left with last yearís queens installed for safe keeping.   I have 4 colonies in the Cemetery Apiary with new 2015 queens + a nuc and a hive with 2014 queens.   The amount of honey that I anticipate is very uncertain as the lime has only just started, nearly 2 weeks late, probably due to the colder nights and cooler days than usual during May and June.

My Murphy bees are doing realisably well with 3 supers on each, so Iím hoping for a good crop.   ďDonít count your honey before its capped!Ē

Go to top sign Go to top.

Anotherís Bees

I was asked to check out some bees belonging to someone who had returned to his native Ireland.   I was, to say the least, surprised at what I found.   One colony had obviously swarmed a number of times, leaving a laying queen on 3 brood frames, which will, hopefully, build up before Autumn.

Wild comb under queen excluder
Wild comb from under the standard brood frames
Wild comb under queen excluder
Wild comb from under the standard brood frames

The other colony was fiercely strong in a brood box for 14 x 12 frames, half of which were standard brood with very black & random wild comb beneath them, plus 3 or 4 missing frames at one end with wild comb fixed to the queen excluder.   There was plenty of evidence of a laying queen, although I could not find her.   The only solution to this colony is a shook swarm combined with uniting with one of my nucs as a replacement queen is urgent.   I will do after the lime flow because they filled an empty super in 9 days and now has a super with 9 frames with unwired, thin foundation ready for cut comb.

Swarming:

There have been many swarms reported throughout North London and the few beekeepers who are available to collect them have been very busy.   All beekeepers must be responsible for their beekeeping and must be ready to collect their swarms to avoid public concern and to maintain our good reputation.   In London, any swarm that is allowed to find its new home before being collected may well cause a nuisance to households if they make use of chimneys, lofts and other convenient hollows within a house.

Go to top sign Go to top.

Replacing Queens.

Many queens seem to swarm every year, mine certainly do and that is why Iíve bought in some well bred ones to try to improve my stock.   Most reputable queen breeders aim for bees that;

  • Are good tempered
  • Produce strong colonies
  • Collect plenty of honey
  • Are less swarmy
  • Are resistant to our weather and diseases

Breeders select bees to this specification and have many ways to achieve this.

New queens cost about £40 each + extra if you want their wings clipped, quite an outlay, so you need to be extra careful with them and their introduction.   They will be sent to you by 1st class post in a plastic ventilated cage with about half a dozen attendant workers with one end blocked up with sugar candy.

When I first started keeping bees, I would introduce queens directly into the full colony and had reasonable success, but certainly not 100%.   The recognised way is to introduce her firstly into a nuc.   This can be made up from any of your colonies comprising at least 2 frames of brood with some stores.   Some say that the attendant workers should be removed, others say not.   To remove the workers you slide the top of the cage just enough to let the bees escape.   Do this indoors by a closed window.   The bees will fly to the glass, hoping to get out.   If the queen should also get out, she will do the same and can be caught and returned to the cage.   To hold the queen, it is best to catch her by the wings with bare fingers.

The candy is covered by a flap at the end of the cage, which must be removed. With this end upper-most, jam the cage between the 2 brood frames, add a frame of stores (or feed the nuc) and close up the nuc.   It is best to wait at least a week to allow the queen to be released, accepted and start laying.

Go to top sign Go to top.

Newspaper ready for uniting
Newspaper ready for uniting

Unite the 2 or 3 frames with your colony with its new queen after removing its existing one.   To unite, remove 2 or 3 frames from one end of the brood box (empty ones or with stores) insert a sheet of newspaper vertically against the existing brood frames, folded at each side and carefully lower the nuc frames against the newspaper, cover the top of the nuc frames with newspaper and cover with the queen excluder.   Return any supers + crown board and roof.

Go to top sign Go to top.

Uniting in progress
Uniting finished
Uniting in progress
Uniting finished

Go to top sign Go to top.

Other Methods

The BBKA have prepared an information sheet which you can read from http://www.bbka.org.uk/files/library/queen_introduction_b9_1306864750.pdf.   This describes their methods which are considered the safest way and also details the general principles involved.

Most beekeepers have their own ways.   I once read that if the queen is dipped in water for a few seconds, she can be put straight into a colony.   This is based on the idea that if the general smell of the queen is neutralised she will be accepted.   Another way is to spray (a fine spray) the bees on a few adjacent brood frames, with a weak sugar solution and introduce the queen without a cage.

It is always best to check with an experienced beekeeper or read about it before doing it for the first time.

Go to top sign Go to top.

Breeding your own Queens?

As there are so many ways to do this, Iím not going down that path.   For most of us, the easiest way is to put a brood frame with at least one good queen cell into a nuc box + stores and brood and wait to see if you produce a new mated queen.

Go to John's Blog main page