Back tracking a few months as my beekeeping updates are a little behind. March began with swarm season in fully swing and a month that left me at times, feeling somewhat bewildered. Wondering if the swarm retrieved had the original queen or, virgin queen mentioned in the Bee’s and February post. What about the original hive? After a hive swarms, the remaining bees must have a new queen and lead her out on a successful mating flight in order to survive.
During swarm season bees build queen cells in order to raise new queens…in preparation for the act of swarming, this is how a colony of bees propagates naturally. But as beekeepers, you try to avoid this situation by making an artificial split (when conditions are favorable within the hive) and divide the colony into two.
As you can see from the above photograph, many closed swarm cells (elongated peanut shaped cells) with developing queens inside. This photograph was taken last year and although it wasn’t a favorable scenario for a beekeeper… it certainly was a wonderful insight into the life cycle of the honey bee and what happens when swarming is imminent. Reading and learning from a beekeeping book cannot compare to dealing with real life situations inside the hive.
Hoping the bees wouldn’t swarm, that hive was split by diving the frames and placing the old queen into a new hive and making sure no swarm/queen cells were on any of the frames. Then the original hive (now without a queen) was left with frames that had one remaining swarm/queen cell attached (the rest were cut away) and with a bit of luck, this queen would soon emerge, take her mating flight and head the colony. It all sounds pretty simple but in reality, many scenarios could have played out. This time the artificial split worked and both colonies survived. Frank (helped me with the first few months of last year) was happy too, he got a new hive.
When bees swarm the old queen leaves along with half the workforce (that sinking feeling as you wave them goodbye) and with most of the stored honey, their next priority is finding a suitable home elsewhere. This photograph of bees nesting in a metal elephant was taken when I was in Thailand… so guess when bees find a suitable home…they aren’t that fussy how it looks.
This was a colony of bees (not our native dwarf bees) that set up home deep inside this tree (last year) and solved the mystery of a swarm of bees (not from my hive) that came into our garden. Maybe another beekeeper nearby! The main colony of bees lived in the tree for some months, by August they had all disappeared.
If you manage to retrieve a swarm of bees that’s great news…you have a new colony of bees.
According to the Arabic lunar calendar from 8th of March to 2nd of April (26 days) we could expect the cool weather (Al Ha Mim-phonetically spelt) of spring. March was not the best month for the bees, overcast days, strong winds, more rain, thunder and again, topic of conversation on the Island. And, when you hear the sounds of piping and cackling within the hive (too late to prevent swarming), you know a new queen bee has emerged and the battle between queens begin. Only one queen bee will remain in the colony.
Mating of the queen bee takes place outside the hive when weather conditions are favorable and drones (male bees) are flying. On the few calm sunny days throughout March this provided the window of opportunity needed for the bees. I was aware this may happen and was keeping a close watch over the hives. Mating flights look like the bees are about to swarm, but pretty amazing when you know whats happening and catch the queen leave the hive. Of course, there is this anxiety that she may not come back… a preying bird could gobble her up in flight. You only know the queen has mated successfully when you see new eggs and young larva in the hive. Where I live it’s not an options ordering a mated queen by post to speed the process up.
The beekeeping calendar guideline for March advised, look for swarm cells or supersedure cells. Check surplus honey or add queen excluder and honey supers. Check for varroa mites and hive beetles. In my case a bit late… next year will check for swarm cell in February! There certainly wasn’t any surplus honey, the bees never built into the supers and as for hive beetles and varroa, thankfully nothing yet.
Happy news… during the last week of March noticed a small amount of brood in the new hive, the swarm (above) we managed to retrieve. It did take a few weeks for the queen to start laying, either way hopefully all will work out and the queen in the second hive will start laying eggs soon.