Conditions are now right for a colony to rapidly expand. It is easy to get caught out because growth is exponential when temperatures jump. Why is this? It is simply that there is moisture in the ground and blossom trees are in full bloom exuding nectar in abundance. This is particularly so the higher the temperatures climb.
So what does your Queen do? She starts pumping out up to 2,000 eggs a day. Do the calculation yourself! In a week you have 14,000 larvae and in three weeks 42,000 larvae/young bees. Prime conditions for swarming and the propagation of that colony’s genes. Those of you who book a week’s holiday at this time of year lose their bees because what looked like a small colony suddenly transforms itself. It is almost as if they knew you were going away, and they hatched a plan to counter the plan you had made for them.
We can do some things to hold back swarming. Removing a frame of stores and placing a frame of foundation next to the brood nest. They will draw that out and it will keep the young bees busy making wax. Not to be done, however, if you have a small unit.
Once the bees are covering nearly all the frames in the brood box add a super. Initially perhaps without the Queen excluder. But make sure you put it in once you see nectar in the super frames.
Don’t put all drawn comb into the super. Give them some foundation to work on. Place above the brood nest which is the warmest spot.
If you have not already marked your Queen, do so now. Perhaps bring out your spare floor, brood box and roof and have it in the apiary ready for the inevitable. If you are going to take out a nucleus, put the box in your apiary and read up about making up a nucleus. Be warned it needs lots of young bees as a lot will go back to the original box. Make sure you understand how to get young bees 🐝 into your nucleus hive. That is where most people go wrong. Also make sure the nucleus is nowhere near your original hive, otherwise the bees will sense where the Queen is and all try and go into the nucleus box. And that could be disastrous.
Finally have a plan of action (the Pagden method is my favoured option). Never, never, never dig out queen cells until you know where the queen is. If you have sealed queen cells in all probability ‘She’ has gone with over half the bees. That is the time when you can start to choose a Queen cell BUT not before. By thoughtlessly destroying all Queen cells before ascertaining whether the Queen has gone or not, you risk rendering a colony queenless (sometimes the biggest pest to honeybees can be the beekeeper themselves, particularly the ignorant ones). You may think that it is impossible that the Queen has gone when confronted with so many bees but just do the calculation above and accept that you have cocked up for this year.
Regrettably your honey crop has flown off over the hedge!
There is a lot of variability between colonies and some will be building up on the huge nectar flow we have at the moment. I have colonies with just one frame of brood, which I have had to place in nucleus boxes. They are under special measures and have been fed. On the other hand I have one colony with 9 frames of wall to wall brood. I gave them a super and in three days they had filled it with nectar.
One piece of advice - look for frames clogged with granulated ivy honey. The bees have uncapped the honey but are finding it difficult to get out of the frames. It almost looks as if the bees have put fondant into the frames. Move this sort of frame to the outside of the box and try and put one with empty drawn comb next to the brood nest. That will create room for the Queen to lay.
Happy swarming season everybody. I went through all my boxes yesterday and marked every single queen. Let’s hope this is the year I get completely on top of swarming. I doubt it, but there is always hope and I relish the challenge!
Malcolm - 20th April 2018