The Apiary in May

As we move into May, the nectar flow should have started as the Oilseed Rape and trees are in full bloom. The early flowering fields of Oilseed Rape will soon be over and if we do not get some rain soon it will not produce the nectar flow as was expected following the warm April! If you are lucky enough to have a super or two of mainly capped honey, which will probably be Oilseed Rape, please get it removed and extracted before it sets in the comb and crystallises.

The Association has a number of Extractors Manual and Electric that can be are loaned out to members. As you can imagine these are in great demand at this time of year so please book early and return promptly.

Those of us with full Colonies of Bees that we managed to successfully bring through the winter are now trying to stop them from swarming and losing them to somebody else’s hives or nearby houses. It is essential you keep accurate records about what you find in each colony and at this time of year and to check them once a week. There are many and varied ways to prevent swarming and the most important is to try and find local bees who supersede rather than regularity send out swarms or  casts with virgin Queens.

If you open a hive and find sealed Queen sells, no sign of eggs and the temperament of the colony has changed, for the worse, you can be pretty certain they have swarmed. Please do not shut the hive up and leave them to it as you may create yourself further problems if the first hatching Queen does not turn on her sisters but leaves with a cast to set up home elsewhere.  If you want a couple of 2017 Queens split the combs out of the Brood chamber into two, leave one on the original site and move the other at least six feet, two meters for you metric people, away and establish it as a new colony. The key to this is to go through the combs and leave one beautiful Queen cell in each the others you destroy by pinching them between your finger and thumb.  This will prevent them from sending out casts. Once this all done leave well alone for at least two weeks to allow the Queen to hatch, mate and start laying. This of course will depend on the weather mood of the Queen and availability of mature drones near your locality. It may take longer than two weeks and if it does consider a weak feed of syrup using an inverted honey jar with small nail holes punched  in the lid. Once you find eggs, grubs or brood now is the time to find the Queen and mark her ( clip if you can) which will make managing the colony much easier in the future.

If a hive that has swarmed and has Supers of honey on remember to take it off and get it extracted as there will be insufficient Bees in the colony to keep it warm and it will granulate rapidly.

On the other hand if you go through the brood chamber and find a laying Queen with unsealed Queen cells but with grubs in you need to take some rapid action. This is where having marked Queens makes the swarm prevention process easier.

Step 1 :  Move the Brood Chamber with the brood and unsealed Queen cells a few feet away to a new site.

Step 2 : Put a new Brood chamber with Foundation or drawn comb onto the original site

Step 3 : Find the Queen from the old Brood chamber and put her with one comb of brood ,grubbs and eggs into the new  brood chamber. Make sure there are no queen cells.

Step 4 : If the original hive had supers on, then put them on top of the new brood  chamber with the queen below. By doing this you will prevent swarming and keep your active workforce of Bees on the original site and hopefully filling your Supers.

Step 5: You then have the time for all the brood bees to continue feeding the developing queens and seal the queen cells ready for hatching in a few days.( record keeping essential) Once you have sealed Queen cells you then split this colony into several Nuc’s but only leave one sealed Queen cell in each.

Preparation is the name of the game with swarm control and having Frames with Foundation made up before you find any queen cells  is essential otherwise you will be trying to catch swarms and building frames frantically at the same time not ideal for domestic bliss. I always put a bait hive out in the garden (5 foot up if possible) well away from the established Colonies with some old dry comb in ready to attract scout bees who will be out and about before the colony throws a swarm.

Bait hives server two purposes:

  1. It provides early warning one of your hives may be thinking of swarming so you can get out examining the hives
  2. It may attract a swarm, yours or someone else’s. This can save time climbing trees or ladders 40 feet up trying to get back a prime swarm.

Last but not least a lot of you will be inexperienced Beekeepers so if in doubt “ask”. There are plenty of us who might be able to help explain what is going on with your bees. Note that each season is different and each colony has its own idea of what they call progress including a change in their temperament.

When the rain does arrive later this month we head towards what is called the June gap. In June there is a shortage of Nectar so the bees will not always be in the best of temperaments. Always ensure you are well protected when handling the bees or trying to remove honey. If the bees  are  confined during the June gap but with lots of new bees hatching they will again think of swarming. Ensure you have plenty of Supers on and continue those weekly checks.