We inspected the bee hives yesterday. At the house the wild hive was ok but nothing special and the other three were bringing honey into the supers. Lots of brood but, surprisingly, no queen cells. We left them to it and went to our out apiary. There the hive was heaving and with queen cells a-plenty. Since we had no extra equipment with us we went back to the house to get things ready and make a plan.
We have always bottled out of doing an artificial swarm in the past. If you don’t know exactly what you are doing it is disturbing to try and work it out with thousands of honey bees getting understandably angry and pinging you. This time I was determined. The weather this morning was perfect – sunny and almost no wind at all. I took out Clive de Bruyn’s book and made notes. I sat down and talked it through with Max. We prepared a bee hive with a floor, box, frames, crown board and lid and off we went.
Creating our artificial swarm of bees
- Moved the original bee hive onto the ground and replaced it with the new hive. In this new hive were frames of both drawn and undrawn foundations. The drawn foundation was placed so that there was space for one frame between them.
- Found the queen in the original hive. This took some doing but the whole exercise depends on finding the queen. We placed the frame she was on into the new hive together with the bees on that frame. We also checked that there were no queen cells on this frame.
- We then replaced the queen bee excluder, the super with honey, its frames and the lid.
- We relit the smoker! This is a fairly typical exercise but actually, it worked to our advantage as it gave all the flyers time to go back to the new hive and settle down.
- The original hive was placed about three metres away. We then went through all the frames and removed all but one queen cell. We chose the largest cell and were careful not to shake this frame at all as it can damage the larvae.
- We closed up this hive.
So now we have a queen from 2010 in a nearly empty hive but with all the flying bees still going back to this hive with nectar. She has a frame of brood which will hopefully keep them in that hive – de Bruyn says that without a frame of brood they are more likely to abscond – and she has the super with some honey in it.
Close to this hive, we have a hive with one queen cell and frames full of brood and honey together with all the non-flying bees.
Gradually these bees will start to fly and bring in nectar; in the meantime, they have plenty of stores in the frames. The brood will start to hatch to boost the numbers. With any luck the queen cell with hatch, she will mate and then start laying. This will take time. What they definitely cannot do at the moment is swarm – they don’t have a queen and they can’t fly.
And the point of this? Well, if we had left everything as it was the old queen would have swarmed as soon as a new queen had hatched. I would have lost all the flyers and lost a good deal of the honey harvest. I hope very much that I have fooled her and the bees into thinking that they have swarmed already. In a week or so we will check again to see she is still laying and if there are no new queen cells.
Will it work? We’ll see!