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John the BeeMan's Blog - May 2015 - Swarm control & timescales after a swarm

BBKA News April and May 2015

There are several points to make:

  • The Homer’s articles on varroa must be read.   Never assume that the mite level in your colony is OK and don’t treat, especially in the early autumn.
  • Swarm Collection – do you know what to do when your bees decide to swarm?   Prevention, collection and hiving.   Have you got the collection kit handy?   Have you got spare equipment at the ready?
  • !!!! Included with the News was a catalogue from “Mann Lake” with a very comprehensive shopping list of all the stuff you should need, at seemingly very cheap prices.   I have tried offers from other similar suppliers and found them lacking and, consequently, would not recommend anyone to use Mann Lake without trying a small sample of a basic hive and frames first.   Get these checked out by an experienced beekeeper before you buy any more. !!!!

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Apiary Up-Date

March stayed cold until the end, and it was only at the end of the Easter weekend that beekeeping weather kicked in.   I was at last able to check out all my colonies.

A mouldy frame removed
A good frame of stored pollen
A mouldy frame removed
A good frame of stored pollen

I was not very happy with my findings.   Out of my 8 colonies there were 3 reasonable ones, 3 weak and 2 that are on the way out.   Not up to my expected standards!   I have swapped the reasonable ones with the weak, hoping to level them up and get 6 colonies up and running.   Plenty of pollen had been stored.

In the failing colonies, one was missing a queen and the other had a very sad queen, see photo, no wings and missing 2 legs.   There was no brood in either.

A sad looking queen, no wings!
A sad looking queen, no wings!

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May Planning

It all starts here – especially swarming.   Swarm action takes experience.

1. Swarm Control:

  • If you see any queen cells during May & June, there will be plenty more, find them and take action.
  • Artificial Swarm:   There are many variations of this.   I would suggest two types.   Firstly the traditional one when you split up the colony into 2 hives with the original hive (without supers) with 1 open queen cell only moved to one side of the original.   On the original spot, put a fresh brood box with floor etc with either empty drawn brood frames (or with just foundation) with the old queen on a frame of brood.   Supers + the bees go on top.   Check out the full details on line or from your beekeeping book.   Alternatively use the “Nuc Box” method as detailed on our website.   For either to be successful you must follow the guidelines or there could still be a swarm emerging.   (There is quite a good YouTube clip on “How to Perform an Artificial Swarm).
  • To help delay swarming you might like to clip the queen’s wings which can give you 2 weeks between inspections rather than the normal weekly ones.   Practice on drones!

2. The swarm!

  • It’s bound to happen sometime, so get used to the idea and learn what you have to do.   There is a very clean account of it on page 121 in the April BBKA News.   Most important is safety if the bees settle near public areas such as streets and gardens you must take measures to keep people well away when you are collecting it.   Your own safety is also very important.   If in doubt, leave well alone and allow the swarm to fly away naturally.
  • Below is a simple swarm sequence, from the swarm in a tree, collecting it in a cardboard box, the box on the ground below the swarm site, and the hiving of the swarm late in the evening.

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Time scales after a swarm

The prime swarm is ready to fly as soon as the first queen cell is capped.   So how long will you have to wait for a new queen to hatch, be mated and start laying?   It will all depend on the weather!

  1. The virgin queen will hatch in about               7 - 8 days
  2. The virgin will be ready to mate in about         3 – 5 days
  3. In simple terms, she must mate before she is 21 days old
  4. When mated she will take about                     5 to 10 days to start laying
  5. From swarm to new queen laying can take       20 – 39 days
  6. By which time all the brood will have hatched

You have to be patient.   If you are worried that the queen might be lost, or that laying workers may take over, insert a brood frame with eggs and young larva.

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Whether you are collecting a swarm or doing an artificial swarm, you must have spare equipment ready to use.   The very minimum would be a Nuc box/hive with frames.   Collecting gear is also needed, see the article in the BBKA News.

Forage for May:

This is the month when colonies get under way with loads of foraging possibilities, building up to an abundance of bees as the month progresses.   I think that the cold March and early April may have delayed some of the flowers, but it has also probably delayed the build-up of the colonies.   It should level out.

  • Sycamore
  • Hawthorn
  • Many garden plants and shrubs
  • Horse chestnut
  • Many bulbs, daffodils, tulips etc
  • And lots more

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