Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Not worth a fly?

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay;
a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon;
but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.

Or so the saying goes.  This swarm came from a large colony with a prolific queen and very bad-tempered bees. I split the colony in early May at the first sign of charged queen cells but the queen soon got back into her stride and filled 8 frames with brood.  I progressively added three supers to give them room but by mid June there were again queen cells.  As a way of re-queening in the hope of getting better tempered bees on 15th June I removed the queen.  Seven days later (22nd) I removed over 20 queen cells, leaving just one sealed cell as far as I could see.  I guessed that a new queen would emerge in the last week of June.

Yesterday morning (2nd July), before 10am, a large swarm emerged.

A short video clip.  Excuse the shake - the nearest camera I grabbed had a heavy lens and the image stabilisation wasn't switched on.

As is usual they flew into my neighbour's garden and settled deep inside the top of a hawthorn tree.  I climbed up a double height ladder to retrieve them but couldn't get any useful photos because of their position.  I managed to cut out a branch holding 90% of the bees and shook them straight into a nuc box.  Although they didn't all go in, most did and the others followed, showing that the queen was inside.

This was the scene at the entrance.  Most of the bees are already in the box.  Note a few carrying pollen, presumably returning foragers swept along with the emerging swarm.

In the afternoon I had a look in the hive they had come from and found an opened queen cell and five sealed queen cells.  I removed three and put them on the roof of the next hive.  It looked as though two contained larvae and one a developed queen.  While I was deciding which of the last two queen cells to keep I glanced across and saw a queen walking about the roof of the next hive!  As she looked good I scooped her up and slipped her in amongst the bees.  I then removed the last two queen cells.  I was surprised to find that one contained a clear liquid but no pupa and the other was completely empty.  So if I hadn't grabbed the queen the hive would have ended up queenless.  I still can't work out the timing here.  There was no queen in the hive after 15th June and yet there was a developing pupa in a queen cell 17 days later which looked as though it still had a few days to go.  Also the bees were able to produce another five queen cells after seven days of being queenless.

This was the one queen cell I had left and which presumably belonged to the queen that swarmed.

This was the cell which produced the queen I kept.  You can see she had begun to chew her way out.

This was the cell that was completely empty.  I see now why it is best to choose an unsealed cell with a healthy larva if you have the chance as you can never be sure what is in a cell that is already sealed.

Yesterday evening I brought the swarm back and set up their nuc about 2m away from where they had started. To check they were OK I peeped inside and found this many bees inside the roof.

This was the top of the crown board

and this was underneath.

Inside the box every seam was crammed with bees.

The last thing I wanted was for them to decide there wasn't enough room in their new home and to take off again so I added a second 6-frame nuc box.  Now they are set up in a palatial two-storey 12-frame home so they have no excuse for making off again.

I have set them up next to another bad-tempered hive so if they turn out to be better behaved I shall probably unite them with the bees next door.  Given that they were such vicious thugs beforehand it was interesting to see how polite and passive they were in the swarm.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will turn over a new leaf with their new queen.  Obviously her mother was a baddy but I just hope her father was sweet and gentle.


  1. Fascinating Chris, we've done two lots of swarm control on some of the queens at the HBKA apiary and also at home on those that were artificial swarms in early May. I think the girls have obviously decided it's a good year and swarming twice. As for your queen cells without a queen in the hive, could they have come from outside? We know workers move eggs around the hive, do they move them between hives? Have you seen Ian's post on the BBKA Facebook page about drone brood in the supers with a proper newly mated queen below? I'll share it to HBKA page. Sue

  2. If you remove emergency cells after 7 days you run the risk that the bees may attempt to make new emergency cells on the older unsealed brood that remains. According to Mark Winston in his excellent book “The Biology of the honey bee” caste is fully determined by 7 days, so the resultant bees may in fact develop as workers, or if slightly younger as inter-caste bees. It would make sense to me that such individuals, although sealed inside an emergency queen cell would still be undeveloped at 17 days.

    1. You could be right, although the pupa I could see looked very like a queen and came from a cell immediately adjacent to the queen that emerged. It is a pity I didn't take a photo but there was a lot going on.