The Bees have Swarmed

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Last night I received a message that I’d been dreading: a local beekeeper called in to the Laxey Flour Mill on Wednesday collected a swarm with a red-marked Queen. There’s no way to know for sure if it was a swarm from my bees but it seems like too much of a coincidence considering that the mill isn’t too far away from where my hive is located.

So it’s likely half my colony is now re-homed with another beekeeper and that my own hive is short a mature Queen. This means that even if I have another new one on the way that no worker eggs will be laid for at least another month and that the population slump could equate to a reduced honey crop at the end of the summer. I was pretty much gutted when I heard this news and so expected the worst when I went up to check the bees today. Visions of an empty hive were running through my mind and my fears seemed confirmed when I rounded the bend and caught sight of it with only a couple of bees flying around.

A capped Queen cell built in the top of the frame where the honey is located – this is called a Supercedure cell

It was with a heavy heart that I trudged up and puffed my smoker around the hive’s entrance. You smoke the bees a bit before going into a hive because it tricks them into thinking there’s a fire and causes them to start gorging on honey in case they need to move home in a hurry. Everyone says that smoke calms the bees down but I suspect that they’re just so busy filling themselves up that they ignore any side distractions. In any case I was greeted with a very welcome noise when I puffed the smoke into the hive today – the sound of thousands of angry bees. Hurrah!

I lifted up the roof to find that the number of bees hadn’t really changed from the last time I’d come to inspect. Though I was happy that the bees were still there I was really confused because of what I’d heard about the swarm at the mill. So I meticulously went through each and every frame searching for my Queen but I still wasn’t able to find her. That’s four inspections this week and no sign of her so I’m now sure that she’s gone.

However in the inspection I did find three capped Queen cells and one which is filled with a grub but not yet capped. All were relatively small compared to pictures that I’d seen but I hope that it’s because my bees are British Blacks and so are smaller than other breeds you find around the world.

The hive today after I’d finished my inspection

Once the Queen cells are capped it takes another twelve days for the young Queen bees to emerge so I left them all in place for now. However I’m planning to have a look at them next week in order to weed the smallest of them out. I’ve been told to leave two to three cells to ensure that at least one Queen hatches and makes it back to the hive safely after she’s been out on her maiden flight. Any more than a couple of Queens making their way back and it could mean that another smaller swarm could occur. While some of the new Queens are duking it out between them over who’s going to be the next supreme monarch, one of the other Queens could steal a bunch of workers and leave the hive.

I’m relieved that I still have some bees but have learned a big lesson this year: always make sure that the hive has plenty of space! I now think that my old Queen and some workers left before I came for the inspection on Monday and that they must have been trying to build a new home down in the glen. Last week’s heatwave plus the lack of space in the brood box must have caused them to swarm and if I’d had that extra Super a bit earlier they would probably not have had the urge to leave.

Crisis over for now I think I’m going to chill out with a well-deserved glass of homebrew!

17 Discussion to this post

  1. Nelly says:

    I've been following your bee saga with great interest as we too had lots of swarming problems since we started three years ago. Like yourself we have had lots of conflicting advice. The thing to remember is that this is natural behaviour for honeybees and I think, to a certain extent, we just have to accept it. I have passed on to the Head Beekeeper the tip about not letting hives get too crowded.

  2. Jo says:

    Blimey, keeping bees sounds more stressful than bringing up children. I suppose once you've experienced these things, you'll know what you're looking for on your inspections and you'll also be able to second guess the bee's behaviour, it's all a learning curve at the moment. I'm enjoying the journey with you.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yikes! Scary times. Hope the new lady/ladies work out! Z

    • Me too Zoe! I've just been on the phone with one of my beekeeping mentors and have instructions to still go ahead and split the hive. I feel terrible for disturbing the bees so much but I suppose it has to be done.

  4. Maybe the bees that are left will be more at home.

  5. Glad your crisis is over. I didn't realize how much went into bee keeping!

  6. I didn't realise that beekeeping was so complicated – talk about living life on the edge – I am sure it will all settle down eventually and you'll wonder what all the worry was about.

  7. sylvan says:

    enjoy your home brew I think you have earnt it!
    have a good weekend, & good luck!

  8. Mo and Steve says:

    My goodness, you are learning a lot in your first year of beekeeping! Good luck with the Queens.

  9. I didn't realise a queen was actually born into a hive…I hadn't really thought about it before but I guess i just thought a queen gained status on a hierarchy basis…I'm glad you still have plenty of bees and I hope your new queens hatches. Thanks for again teaching me something I didn't know.

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