“A Swarm in May….”

End of May Roundup.

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We reach the end of 2 consecutive months of consistently bad weather for beekeeping in Nairnshire, but swarm prevention inspections have gone ahead in our apiary. I’ve just not taken too long about it. It has paid off with one colony making good swarm preparations last week and the old queen is now in a nucleus box. When I went through the parent colony to remove queen cells this week I noticed that the emergency cells had no royal jelly in them, unlike the chosen queen cell which contained a large white larva on a thick bed of royal jelly. I marked the frame with a red drawing pin and shut up the hive.

Another colony flies despite the rain and increased to fill a brood box with 10 frames of brood so I’ve given them a second brood box and now they have 8 frames in each box flanked by double insulated dummy boards. They can fill the supers next when the weather warms tomorrow, if we believe the forecast. On Thursday this colony was flying at 05:30 on another overcast day but there was no action at the entrances of the others.

Copy of forecast by Mac Card.

Grumpy Bees.

I think that this weather has made some colonies tetchy and defensive and one in particular has been unpleasant and making unprovoked assaults on anyone who dares to sit in the new rocking chair out the front. They have enough stores and are not hungry which is the first thing I check when mood changes like this. I weigh this colony on a regular basis to check on the nectar flow and general condition. They put on 5kg in 22 days and the super is filling.

I’ll be keeping careful records and re queening though if things don’t settle when it warms up. BTW, the rocking chair was rescued from a friend’s skip, with permission of course, and is a great addition to the side apiary. I can watch the hive entrances in great comfort, usually. When we lived in Hong Kong it was quite the done thing to pick up anything you fancied from the roadside on rubbish collection days and we scored a perfectly good bicycle for our then small son once.

New Beekeeping Supplier.

I’m very pleased to discover this month that a friend has pushed the boat out with his beekeeping business and expanded to supply bees and equipment locally, https://www.facebook.com/Lochnesshoney. Mac is going to be stocking products from well known and reliable firms thus saving us from the massive postage tarrifs that we have to pay for the pleasure of living in the Higlands. Companies in the south sometimes refuse to ship goods to us up here, and, if there is an offer of free delivery on bulk orders, as soon as our postcodes are registered they slap on £25-30 or more for carriage. I think that the demarcation line is around Dundee because another friend down there has offered to have things delivered to him to save me postage. Beekeeping must be one of the best hobbies for networking and sharing information that I can think of.

What I also like about Mac’s business is that he sells bees but teaches beginners the basics to get them started safely (for the bees) and offers support for the first year. This has to be the way to go to address the issues around the popularity of beekeeping and the pressure on formal training due to the increasing numbers of new beeekeepers and lack of capacity for local associations to meet training needs. Having worked in New Zealand with a commercial beekeeper, Mac has come into this business with experience and an insight into how it all works. I congratulate Mac and hope that his business is successful.

Website Host Change.

Since I started this week’s blog, there have been changes to the site which was down for 24 hours and most of my blog was lost. I’d started a blog about what you can learn from watching goings on outside the hive but will delay this till next week when I shall start over again with it.

Meanwhile, the weather forecast was not wrong and the temperature rose to the dizzy heights of 14 degrees Celsius on Thursday. Looking through Cynthias’ bees down at the distillery was interesting. They had a healthy number of queen cells charged with royal jelly, including some sealed ones, but no sign of the queen initially. The weather till then had been too poor for swarming but they had clearly been planning it because we found queen cells that had been recently torn down. We noticed the long gashes in the sides of the cells from where the maturing queens had been pulled out. As we were planning what to do next re swarm control, the queen appeared and we made a nucleus with the her and 3 frames of brood and stores, and 2 empty frames for her to lay in. Because this nuc was not staying at the distillery we didn’t shake in 2 extra frames of nurse bees. Cynthia planned to feed them later.

Connie’s Swarm Saturday.

Looking on the swarm surface for the queen.

Connie (9) arrives on her pink bicycle just a few minutes later than planned and explains that she spotted a beautiful butterfly on the way over and stopped to watch it. It’s already quite hot and still at 10:15 as we get into our bee suits for swarm inspections. As we reach the back garden apiary a swarm is leaving the hive of the colony that flies in the rain. We watch them pour out and marvel at the roar. Connie is terribly excited and asks how long it will take to catch them as she has to be home by 12:30 today. We go over to the hedge where they are milling about and settling around adult head height. Connie is a little apprehensive about them swirling around her like a snowstorm but I reassure her that the sound is not an angry one and that they have taken down a load of honey and are full and unlikely to be grumpy. She tells me that if she eats too much at lunch she sometimes feels too full and grumpy. I tell her it is different with bees and she comes closer. She tells me that watching a swarm is a good learning thing for new beekeepers because it makes them more confident listening the loud noise but knowing they are not going to sting. She asks if she can get the small ladder from the kitchen so that she can get closer and spray the bees with water once they have settled and it is time to shake them into the straw skep.

Cooling Off.

I always carry a water spray to gently mist a swarm to cool it and prevent take off for new nest site. We never know when decision to move from the cluster site has been made and the swarm is ready for take off. But what we do know is that a swarm will not take off till all the bees in the cluster temperature reach 35 degrees C, so we can sometime prevent departure by using water to cool them down.

Pruning the Hedge.

Linton snips off bits of hedge as the cluster is dispersed somewhat and too difficult to shake all at once into the skep. We hive the swarm at once into the new hive and watch for bees at the entrance fan and waft Nasonov pheromones about. Then we get on with one hive inspection before it’s time for a drink and our traditional oatcakes and honey treat before Connie goes home.

Swarm Call.

I’m about to check on the parent colony when Connie’s mother arrives to tell us that a swarm has just arrived in her garden a quarter of a mile away. Connie is beside herself with excitement apparently. She arrived home in time for her play date and, just as her friend arrived, so did a roaring swarm that obligingly settled not too far up a tree. I find a bee suit for the friend to wear and we arrive within a few minutes to collect this swarm. The two little girls help carry equipment and Connie confidently handles a cardboard box that contains the small cluster of bees we found nearby.

We guess that this swarm has come from rows of over 30 migratory hives in nearby OSR fields.

This swarm is also shaken into a new hive which has a queen excluder over the floor that I will remove in 3 days. I like the traditional method of hiving a swarm that involves shaking them onto a sheet over a ramp up to the entrance and watching them march in. However, time is tight today as we set off to help a new beekeeper near the moors. After that we check the out apiary and attend a barbeque so it is all go. Tomorrow (Sunday) I shall check the rest of the home apiary hives as not enough hours in one day for them too.

The Parent Colony.

Meanwhile, back at the parent colony I discover that I’ve messed up my timing of inspections. I should have inspected 7 days after the last time but instead I’ve mistakenly left it 8 days because I didn’t read my notes carefully. This means that as soon as I shut up the hive after the last inspection, the colony decided to make queen cells. Had I looked on Friday (day 7) I could have prevented the exodus. They must have sealed the cell on Saturday (day 8) and been itching to leave.

Wall Chart.

I’ve been staggering inspections rather than doing them all on the same day. Partly this is so that I can have some colonies to inspect quietly with Connie and I can choose the less busy ones. I’ve noticed that she is not comfortable around really busy bees that “fizz” up to the top of the frames, and I want to encourage her and raise her confidence for when she keeps her own bees next year. I will get a wall chart and record when to check each colony in the future. Always something to do differently!

6 thoughts on ““A Swarm in May….””

  1. Great to hear about the mentoring for bee buyers, a really good way to assist those resistant to joining an association but who really need the guidance keep them properly.
    We have no osr near us this year and the beekeeping is a lot less urgent, not as productive but more relaxing.

  2. Hello Ann, Lovely account of your “beesiness” during swarm season. One question. You mention that you have a colony “that flies despite the rain.” Are the workers in this colony darker than those in your other colonies, suggesting that this colony’s workers have a large dose of the genetics of Apis mellifera mellifera? Thank you.

    1. Hello Tom. Yes this colony is very dark and came in as a swarm last season from the west where there are migtratory colonies on OSR. This year another swarm came from the same direction and it is also dark. As I was shaking the bees into the hive from the crown board, where that had clustered overnight, I noticed a virgin queen so was excited about that since they have a better chance of overwintering with a new queen. The weather is excellent now so good chances for successful mating. I took the queen excluder off the hive floor as soon as I saw pollen going in which was 24 hours after hiving the swarm. I could have these colonies genetically tested but the process is still fairly expensive here.

  3. A nice insight into your busy beekeeping life. I feel that I am on the same wavelength with swarm calls and inspections to do – it really paints a good picture.

    1. I’m glad that you think so, Stuart. My key message here was to keep track of events if you manage colonies in your garden and other places where swarms may impinge on the public. I now have 11 colonies in 3 gardens within an 8 mile radius. I’ve created a wall chart which is really a daily to do list. It is so easy to get side tracked when you are mentoring several people in swarm season. It’s rather like putting your own oxygen mask on first before helping others in an aviation emergency, you have to sort your own apiary out first as a priority.

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