Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Swarm control and colony division

Well it's reached that time of the season when we must all be on our guards.  A friend rang me last night to tell me that her bees had swarmed.  Luckily their bees ended up occupying some cavity blocks underneath their hive stand so we're keeping our fingers crossed that their re-homing into a new hive will be successful.

The weather here, after having had a great March and April, has been cold and windy with frequent showers.  It makes deciding when to open the hive tricky given the blistering northerlies that sweep across the adjacent field.  It's the same wind bringing the volcanic ash plume from Iceland and which is causing all this havoc for the controllers of European airspaces.

I digress.

I took the day as annual leave to guarantee that I could be at home when the weather was at its warmest.  The bees hadn't touched the foundation sheets in the super (added a week ago) so they were removed along with the Q Excluder and resigned to the bee shed for a while longer.

I had been using a brood and a half set-up to give a strong colony.  With 20 odd brood frames to do through I won't be repeating this in future.  The difficulty and awkwardness of the frame manipulation outweighs the advantage of the extra space.  

Within the upper shallow brood frames, I found 4 or 5 swarm cells of which 3 were occupied by eggs.  I marked the topbar above the cells with drawing pins so I can return to them next time.  This means I have 5 or 6 days before they're sealed which would coincide with any swarming.  There was plenty of food and brood at all stages.  There were a few drones about too.

Moving onto the brood chamber proper, on the very first outside frame, I found the Queen.  There she was; clip-winged and looking in fine fettle.  It's only the third time that I've found her and the first time when I've been alone.  I spent around 15 minutes watching her as she raced around looking for empty cells.  Shame I didn't have a camera handy to capture the moment as she laid that precious egg.  Having had her green marking wiped away from the time we adopted her, this seemed to be the perfect time to re-establish her year registration mark.  The Queen and I played "cat and mouse" as she tried to escape my pathetic and desperate attempts to confine her.  My crown of thorns (a fairly lethal looking contraption) failed to stop her to my dismay.  Note to self; keep a matchbox in the toolbox.  At this moment, she seemed to suddenly disappear and to tell the truth I lost my cool thinking that she had fallen off or "flown off".  Not sure why I think she took to the clipped wing!  I returned the Queen's frame and went through the rest of the brood frame.  More brood (eggs, larvae etc,) stores and drones but no signs of Queen cells.   With the benefit of hindsight I should have put her in a matchbox whilst I was checking the rest of the hive.  With the eggs in queen cells at this stage, I think I could have put the old Queen in a spare nucleus box with a frame of brood (without Queen cells) and couple of frames of stores along with bees from a a couple of frames.  

My current position is that I will re-examine the hive in 3 days to look for eggs which will tell me whether she is still in residence.  If she did disappear, it should mean that the swarming instinct will be quashed.  Hopefully, the current Queen cell eggs will develop. My aspiration to divide the colony may have to take a back-seat for a while if she left.  


PhilipH said...

A fascinating post Cliff. "Find the Lady" is something many of us know as a con game, where a few crooks deal out three cards and you have a bet on where the Queen is! You lose of course, should you be mug enough to take part in this scam.

I certainly hope YOU find YOUR lady Queen bee. Good luck, Phil

thistledew said...

Hi Cliff,
It surely has been a difficult spring to open the hives, weatherwise.
As you are probably aware I am now beeless for the first time in fifty years, so it is most interesting to read your posts.
I always used to support the frame on which the queen was found in either a nucleus box or the upturned roof of the hive. If she had dropped off into the grass she would make every effort to return to the brood. This is the main reason that I made sure that the grass around the hive was always kept short, or covered). There is no way that she could have flown off with a clipped wing. My bet is that she ran to another frame and you will surely find her next time.
Meanwhile best of luck, I am waiting to see if a stray swarm comes my way!
David & Meghan

Cliff W said...

Thanks David,

I had a canvas manipulation cloth across the hive body to pick up any "fallers". For some stange reason that I cannot justify when I was looking at the frame (with Queen) I suddenly became aware of a much larger flying body in my peripheral vision. I lost sight of her on the frame and the heavens began to threaten. I guess I was being a bit alarmist. Best of luck getting a swarm. Over here beekeeping is (thankfully) undergoing a real boom and I expect that we'll see a long waiting list for nucleii.
Take care,

İlhami Uyar said...

Dear Cliff thank you for nice sharing,have a good job,your article is very nice and useful for divide colony,I wish very prodactive season best wishes.

Liam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pia said...

Hi Cliff,
We have exactly the same problems with the weather in Somerset - am sitting waiting for the sun to come out (or at least for the rain to stop) as I really do need to check my bees today!
I am convinced your Queen is still in the hive, and have my fingers crossed for you!
What did you use to mark her with that has rubbed off? We used an enamel paint that it is still there - although on reflection, orange was a really stupid colour to use!!

Cliff W said...

Hi Pia, she's alive and the hive is divided. The marking was supposed to have been done before we got her. I need to practise on some drones I think.