The Queens are Mated
I’m so happy to be able to tell you that I now have mated Queens in both my hives! Just look at all the sealed brood cells on the frame above, aren’t they lovely? Each of those little circular chambers are cocoons where baby bees are going through a metamorphosis from shiny white larva to brand new worker bee. Within twelve days of being sealed, the workers will emerge and begin their first few days of life helping to clean the hive. They’re fairly feeble when they first emerge so the other bees in the hive help to feed them until they’ve matured enough to be able to take care of themselves.
Though I planned to leave the hives alone after I introduced the unmated Virgin Queens in on the 27th of June I had no choice but to open one of the hives last week in order to take a frame of honey out. However my reluctance to disturb the bees quickly turned to elation when I discovered eggs, larva and sealed brood across most of the frames – I nearly did a happy dance right then and there!
This is similar to how the swarm looked – photo courtesy of Bee Informed
What happened is that last Thursday evening I was in the kitchen preparing to make a batch of May Chang soap when I heard a knock on the door. It was my neighbour who has the hive in his garden – the same one that my Virgin Queens came from. He came to tell me that Mr. Pest Control, who owns the hive, was away on holiday and unable to deal with a situation – his bees had swarmed and a small clump of them were hanging on his neighbour’s washing line.
I’ve never caught a swarm before but since I had the empty nucleus box I thought to lend a hand in capturing the bees and seeing about merging them with one of my current hives. Since my own bees haven’t had any babies in the last month their numbers were down and could use some reinforcements. Excited at the thought of both capturing my first swarm and boosting the health of my own hives, I threw on my beekeeping gear and scampered down to the washing line in question.
After being tipped into the nucleus, the bees started emerging from the entrance to cool themselves down
Capturing the bees turned out to be incredibly easy and I feel confident that I’ll definitely be able to do it again. What I did was to first lay a sheet on the ground under the oblong cluster of bees hanging from the line. Then holding a woven basket in one hand directly under the bees I then gave the line one good shake with the other hand which launched the whole colony downwards. Seeing them fall was rather like watching a skyscraper collapsing to the ground in a demolition. With most of the bees in the basket I slowly turned it upside down on the sheet and left it for a few minutes so that some of the flying bees would make their way inside. There were still a few bees flying around when I tied the sheet up and took the bundle away but I’m sure that none of them was the Queen, so they’ll just end up flying home to their original hive. With the bundle safely lodged in the front seat of the car, I drove to my hives as quickly as I could – beekeeping suit still on of course.
It was getting quite late by the time I arrived so I had to literally dump the bees into the nucleus rather than allow them to walk up and into it on their own accord. To make the nucleus box more attractive to them I had to put a frame filled with honey inside – hence having to open one of my other hives. There ended up being more bees in the swarm than I was originally told and I had some doubts over whether they’d stay or not, it all depended on the weather really.
My two hives with the swarm housed in the nucleus box to the right
Sure enough when I went to check on the bees yesterday, about 75% of the swarm had vanished leaving the rest to take care of the few brood that were on the frame of honey I put in the nuc. Though we’ve had rain for weeks on end, Saturday dawned sunny and warm so the bees must have used that day to scout out another more attractive place to build a hive. Though it was a shame that they took off I did take the opportunity to check my other hive to see if I could find sign of a Queen – which I’m happy and relieved to say I did.
I then searched the remaining bees from the swarm for a Queen and found none so I decided to go forward and introduce them into the hive that had the fewest bees. The process is that you lay newspaper down over the top of the brood box of the bees you wish to merge the new ones with. Then you place the new brood box filled bees on top and wait for them to chew through the paper. By the time this happens the immigrant bees will have acquired the scent of the new hive and will be accepted.
It’s been another exciting week with the bees but I really hope that things start to settle down around here now. It’s getting late in the season and I need for both the colonies to bulk up their numbers and lay down enough and honey to get them through winter. I’ll leave both of them alone for another ten days before I go check on them again but have a lot more optimism today than I’ve had in the last few weeks.