Beekeeping tips for May

Beekeeping Tips May 2016

Last month I was talking about opening your hives for the first inspection, and touched on swarming. The season has been so slow getting started here in the south, that swarming has been the last thing on the minds of my bees. One thing is for sure, if there are no drones (male bees) in the hive, your bees are very unlikely to swarm, but the numbers of drones are beginning to build up now and my bees have been practising. They will build small cups on the surface of the comb, but most of these come to nothing at all. You can destroy them if you if you wish. I tend to, because I will then know on my next visit if there are any new ones.

Once there are a healthy number of drones in the hive, the weather becomes a little warmer and the queen has laid eggs in a good proportion of the brood frames, the bees will turn their thoughts to swarming. The first indication that they are thinking about it is the appearance of a small queen cell somewhere around the edge of a brood frame. If it appears in the middle of the frame, then it is most likely not a swarm cell. If you see a cell that you think could be a swarm cell, check to see if there is an egg in it. If there is, it’s time for action.

Eggs stand vertical in the cell for the first day, then keel over on the second. On the third day they hatch into a larvae, which become feeding machines, then just grows and grows, surrounded by a sea of royal jelly, which is the food source. There is an incredible time lapse video of worker bees developing at Queen bee larvae are fed more royal jelly and so their physical make up is different. Strangely they will hatch in a shorter period of time than the other two castes. If a new queen is needed, the bees cannot afford to wait too long. The future of the colony depends on it. 

You have eight days between the egg being laid and the cell being capped with the fully grown larva inside. If the bees have allowed that larva to reach this stage, then they intend to put it to use. That could mean swarming if the cell is around the edge, or supersedure of the queen if in the middle.

If your bees are thinking of swarming, there are several measures you can take. You could make a nucleus colony. Remove all but two cells and then place the frame with the queen cells and the contingent bees, gently into a nucleus box and surround it with a frame of brood on each side, and a frame of stores on the outside of those brood frames. You should keep as many bees as you can from the donor hive. Move this nucleus box a good distance away. All the older flying bees will go home, and you have a new colony of younger bees, to be headed by a new queen.

The most drastic measure, and one that I do not advocate, unless you were thinking of changing the queen anyway, is to cull the queen. I emphasise that this is extremely drastic, and may only be a temporary measure.

Finally, you could, as mentioned last month, perform an artificial swarm, which is demonstrated in the video which I uploaded to Youtube last month, and can be found here.

Be sure of one thing though, you may think that your bees are not prone to swarming, but you would be wrong. Some are just more prone than others. You may also think that you have all the time in the world, and you would be wrong there too. Bees will do what they want to do – and in their timescale, not yours.

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