Malcolm’s Topical Tips – 2019 Apr 08

“How to do an Artificial Swarm” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Just a reminder to everyone about doing an artificial swarm using the Pagden method.

Below is a link to my Topical Tip from last year, which includes a video:

However I repeat to you what I do differently from the video. And I shall explain why.

Once I have the old Queen in a new box on the old site, I add a piece of plastic Queen excluder over the hive entrance (not sure this will work on a poly hive). This is because if I have transferred her to the new box on a frame of eggs and these get chilled, the bees will probably abscond; there will be no brood to anchor them to the box. By placing a  bit of plastic Queen excluder across the entrance they cannot leave as Queenie cannot get out (unless you are a bad carpenter and there is another hole in your box somewhere). Or you have a leaky WBC hive! The disadvantage (there is always a disadvantage) is that the drones cannot get back in. The old Queen in her new box on the old site is the box I feed generously with sugar syrup. Those of you at the swarming session saw how big my feeder was. This is logical; you have put her in a box with frames of foundation and they have no frames with stores  on them.

I remove my bit of Queen excluder after three days.

The youtube video suggests that you should put the super on the old Queen in her new box on the old site. Rubbish. When I did that the bees didn’t bother to draw out the foundation as there was drawn comb in the super above the Queen excluder. They cleared out space in the super for the Queen to lay not understanding that there was a Queen excluder preventing her from getting upstairs. Remember you understand that a Queen is too big to get through a Queen excluder but the bees do not. And you risk the Queen impaling herself on the excluder in her effort to get upstairs. Even if there is one frame of brood downstairs they tend to ignore it. Look at it from their point of view. There is drawn comb already in the top box(super), stores to keep the new brood warm and they don’t need to draw out all that new wax which is stressful for them, particularly as the bees are mainly older foragers and these are the ones that are not such good wax makers. Why wouldn’t they try and make a brood nest upstairs? The only thing that is preventing them is your bloody Queen excluder! And they don’t understand excluders. They are clever creatures BUT NOT that clever.

Helen taught me to put my super on the ‘parent box’- in other words the box with all the brood and the Queen cells (there is a very good reason why I call Helen ‘Our honey Queen’, just remember that).

Why does this work? Because if you do the manipulation correctly and only allow one Queen cell there will be thousands of bees hatching who will have nothing else to do but collect you honey. A virgin takes at least 3 weeks to come into lay (and if you have a big box of bees, sometimes even longer) and so what do the bees do while waiting for her to start laying eggs? They go out searching for nectar. Make sure you give them enough supers though because if you don’t they will fill up your brood box with honey and there will be nowhere for a new queen to lay eggs!

Although you should never disturb a box with a new virgin in it, you can look at the super without any danger of crushing her and if they are filling it up you MUST give them another empty super, preferably just above the brood box.


P.S. I hope the above is clear. It should be clear at the very least to those who came to my talk on swarming. I suspect many of those who are inexperienced and didn’t come to the talk will be blissfully unaware of what is about to happen and what to do about it! Perhaps the video below may help you.

P.P.S. Remember capped queen cells means there is a 95% chance that the Queen has swarmed with half to three quarters of your bees and your honey crop has disappeared over the hedge. Sorry, you cocked up this year, better luck next time!

8th April 2019

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