Having spent a large part of last month chasing swarms around the county, and having convinced myself that this year’s swarmy season had at last subsided, I decided to take myself off to glorious Devon for a week. Arrived at the holiday cottage with not a bee in sight, great. The only objects resembling bees that I want to encounter this week are those that I take out of my fly box when I’m sitting in my boat on Wimbleball Lake.
Before leaving I had checked, quite meticulously, as I thought, each colony. Checking especially for any signs of queen cells and making sure that all had plenty of room, so imagine my surprise on arriving at Mendip “C” the day after I returned, at being greeted by the owner with the words, “I’m glad you’re back Geoff, I think the bees are swarming again”. And, she was right, one of the hives had attempted to swarm but instead of decamping to one of the garden shrubs as they had on previous occasions, they were clustered around one of the legs of the hive stand. The way that they had positioned themselves suggested that the swarm had issued with a queen that, for some reason, had been unable to fly, and which had then crawled up the stand leg in an effort to return to the hive. But, as there was a possibility that this was someone else’s swarm, I decided the first course of action would be to get them into a nuc. In addition to the bees clustered around the stand leg, there were a large number up under the floor of hive four, which not only made their removal a lot easier, as removing bees that have clustered around a pole, or similar, is not the easiest of tasks, it also gave a pretty good indication that this was the hive from which they had come. So, first step, position a nuc. with frames as close to the bees as possible and gently remove cluster from under the hive and deposit into the nuc. So far so good, now wait to see whether the rest would follow.
BEES JUST BEGINNING TO ENTER NUC.
At this stage, success always depends on whether you have managed to get the queen into the nuc. and plenty of bees fanning at the entrance is always a good indication of success.
THEY DID EVENTUALLY START FANNING, HONESTLY!
Satisfied that there was little more to be done at this stage, I left them to it and made for home to finish my unpacking. The following morning, “C” was once again my first port of call and pleased to see, no more bees clinging to the hive stand instead, all happily coming and going from their new home. I took a quick look up under the hive just to see whether there were any bees left and was surprised to find quite a considerable sized comb hanging there, suggesting that the bees had been there for a least a few days. I removed the piece of comb and inserted the floor slide just to deter any bees that might have had second thoughts about their move and proceeded to open the hive. The number of sealed queen cells confirmed that this was the colony which had swarmed.
THE NUMBER OF QUEEN CELLS CONFIRMED THAT THIS WAS THE COLONY WHICH HAD SWARMED.
I briefly considered putting the swarm back into the hive but discounted that idea after going through the colony which showed good numbers of bees had decided to remain. Past experience has shown that once bees have decided to leave, re-introducing the swarm to the hive does little to deter them and a new swarm generally issues within a day or two. I decided to wait until they had accepted their new queen and she had started laying and then to probably re-unite the two colonies. I removed all but the best looking queen cell and boxed them back up.
On the way to my Station Apiary, I couldn’t help but wonder, had I missed the frame with the queen cells in my haste to begin my holiday. If not, they must have watched for me to turn out of the drive and started preparing to swarm the moment I turned out of sight. Probably the former I decided but it makes you think doesn’t it! At the Station the first thing I noticed was that the grass was at least two feet higher than before I had left, no need to guess what my first task was going to be. The second and almost unbelievably, hive three had swarmed and in exactly the same manner as the hive at “C” and had clustered around the leg of the stand.
HIVE THREE HAD SWARMED IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS THE HIVE AT “C”
I decided to deal with these in exactly the same way as with the swarm at “C” and in fairly short order had most of the bees into a nuc. which I positioned adjacent to the hive entrance. I waited for the flying bees to settle which thankfully they began to do almost Immediately, most responding to their sisters fanning at the nuc. entrance by deciding to join them. Leaving them to get on with it I decided a cup of coffee was now the order of the day and made my way down the row of hives to my bee-shed, pausing momentarily at each hive just to observe the activity at each entrance which thankfully, looked pretty good. Over my cup of coffee I couldn’t help wondering what sort of odds I would have got from Ladbrokes on two colonies, some miles apart, behaving in the same way as these had. Making my way back to the car, I paused at the nuc. just long enough to check on how it was progressing. I could tell by a quick heft of the nuc. that most of the bees had by now entered, and a quick look through the vent in the crown board confirmed that this was the case. There were still a few stragglers on the leg of the stand which I brushed off before leaving for home wondering what to do with another swarm. That was a job for tomorrow I decided.
The following morning I went straight to “C” and immediately to the nuc. and the hive from which they had swarmed. The nuc., thankfully was looking really good, with it’s occupants behaving as though they’d been their for ever. I moved them a couple of feet away from the hive stand and turned my attentions to the hive and the frame of queen cells. So, how many cells to leave and how many to remove, always a dilemma. Most books on the subject recommend the removal of all but the strongest looking cell citing as the reason, leaving more than one cell will often result in the first queen to emerge issuing with a caste. So, who was I to fly in the face of so much expertise, although in the past I’ve invariably left the best two cells and they’ve seemed to sort themselves out ok, on this occasion, I removed all but the best looking cell. This was a particularly strong colony and I had no wish to lose any more of them so I departed, certain that on this occasion, one cell was the correct decision.