The Apiary in May

As we move into the warmth of spring with longer days and plenty of blossom, the season has really started well with many strong colonies surviving the winter.  But beware – start those 7 day inspections or you will be chasing swarms and casts all over your neighbourhood.

It never fails to surprise me how soon folk find out you have started to keep bees and become the local expert – especially when they have ‘your swarm’ in their garden!

The bees are not the only insect getting busy as the Queen Wasps and European Hornets have also had a good winter and are breeding well.  This doesn’t bode well for Autumn predation  but more advice on that another time. The below picture was taken when a European Hornet decided to have a rest on my stack of supers she was one ‘big girl’ so I left her well alone!

European Hornet Queen taking a rest …

As the Queens start to breed at full speed and the nectar flows, make sure you have plenty of supers on, either drawn frames or foundation. If you don’t, you the Beekeeper, will just force them to swarm as they fill the Brood chamber with food and the number of worker Bees increases as time passes.

On the other hand they may just take the initiative after collecting a couple of supers full of spring honey and then decide to go.

They don’t always wait to cap  Queen cells before they leave, but an early sign is the breeding of drones.

As a lot of Beekeepers say that their bees never swarm, mine have caught me out this month on several occasions!

Running in a swarm

If on one of your 7 day inspections you find Queen cells with grubs in, floating in a white bath of Queen food, you have to take some sort of action or they are going to swarm.

I will first move the Brood chamber full of Brood and Queen cells to another site nearby and put an empty Brood chamber on the original site.  This helps to reduce the number of flying bees I’m dealing with and gives me a chance to find Her Majesty before she leaves with a swarm.

Then I find a comb with Grubs  and Brood, shake all the bees off  so I can find and remove any Queen cells, put that comb back onto the original site and fill the rest of the Brood-chamber  with Foundation.

The trick is then to find the “Marked Queen”  and put her back onto the original site with a spare Queen Excluder under the Brood-chamber so she cannot escape.

If all goes well I leave it to settle for a couple of hours and then split the original Brood chamber into Nuc’s ready to breed this years’ Queens.

But as we all know they don’t always follow what we think they should do, and go and swarm anyway – normally at about 1300hrs.

If you find a swarm in the garden carry out the above  procedure and run them back into the brood chamber on the original site and the comb of Brood should, hopefully, persuade them to stay.

Place the full supers back on with a spare one underneath and the workforce in the hive with no Brood to look, after will fill another super and draw out all that foundation in the broodchamber.

But if they do swarm and you miss them, please don’t ignore what is left behind in the hive or you’ll get small casts leaving on a regular basis debilitating the remaining colony which may not survive the Autumn wasp attack. 

Cast Swarm

You can either split the colony into Nuc’s or go through and choose a beautiful big Queen cell and destroy the rest.

Once I’ve found my best Queen cell I check the rest of the frame carefully and destroy any others I find.  I then go through all the remaining frames shake all the bees off and destroy all the other Queen cells.

You then leave well alone, after reducing the entrance, for two weeks and if weather has been fine the one Queen cell you left hopefully will have hatched, mated and started to lay.

This is the time to find and mark her when there are few workers in the hive to hide amongst.

As we approach the end of the month we may find we run into the “June Gap” when there is little nectar about as the spring flowers fade and the summer flowers have yet to bloom.  The Oil Seed Rape will by this time have faded and finished, so time to start the first extraction before it chrysalises in the comb when it becomes difficult to spin out and the entire comb has to be melted down.

Last year there wasn’t really a “June Gap “  before the heat of the summer arrived and dried everything up, but if you have small Nucs and take the first crop of honey off be aware you may find hungry aggressive bees in your hives.  Feed weak syrup if necessary

Cleaning a Poly Nuc

Those of you that over wintered bees in Poly Nuc’s have the problem of how to sterilise them before you use them again this season.  I will use a steam wall paper stripper to start the process, scrape off any excess and then soak them in Soda Crystals for 24 hours.   Well, the ‘Plastic Dust  Bin’ the local authority provides is ideal and it also ends up much cleaner and ends up smelling much better!

Cleaning Poly Nucs

The only problem is you have to weigh down the ‘floating Nuc’ with bricks or other heavy objects as the lid will not close.

When finished I take up my man hole cover and bucket the dirty soda water down the drain.

Wash the Poly Nuc down with a hose leave it to dry and all is ready for that Queen breeding in June.

When we plan our season ahead, planning what and when you intend to take action depends on the weather and what the bees have decided to do in that season.  Those of you who intend to follow the Association Apiary example and breed from your best dark local bees need to plan ahead ready for next month.  If you don’t ‘Failing to plan is going to lead to planning to fail’

The person who planted these two Yew Trees outside the door of the Church just didn’t plan far enough ahead……

Next month – Queen Breeding.