Swarming Season and Brood-and-a-Half

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The weeks between April and June are known as ‘Swarming Season’ and during this time it’s recommended that beekeepers check their hives every 9-10 days. What we’re doing at these visits is making sure that eggs for new bees are being laid and that the colonies aren’t deciding to swarm. Swarming means that most of the bees fill up with honey, lay eggs for new Queens, and then leave to find a new home with the old Queen. They usually do this for one of three reasons: the old Queen is getting long in the tooth, the hive is too small, or the hive is too hot.

Every year one of my hives swarms and this is partially because I’ve not been diligent enough with my visits. The main reason though is that the hives were deemed too warm or crowded by the bees. I’ve tried making sure that they had extra frames to work on but that hasn’t seemed to be enough. I really don’t want another swarm making its way into the Laxey Flour Mill so I’m planning on being extra diligent with my visits and in spotting Queen Cells this year. These are peanut-like cocoons where baby bees are raised swimming in a rich food, called Royal Jelly, and then develop into Queens. They’re much larger than worker bees and need extra nutrition, time, and space to transform into their royal selves.

Beekeepers check their hives every ten days during swarming season to ensure that Queen Cells aren't being built. If they're found then decisive action needs to be taken #beekeeping
Queen Cells are peanut-like cocoons where Queen Bees grow and develop

Despite wanting to make sure my bees don’t swarm again, I’ve been held up this past month by a knee operation and yesterday’s visit to my Onchan hive might have been too late. There were seven or eight Queen Cells about to hatch and one that looked like it had already. Still, there were eggs laid in cells and loads of bees in the hive so I decided to remove all of the unhatched Queen Cells to stop any further swarming. I caught the colony as a small swarm in late summer 2013 so the Queen should still be young. They must need extra space but adding more honey-storing frames doesn’t seem to have worked.

After I visited my Onchan hive I made my way into Laxey to visit my other two. I was dreading this visit because of my three hives, the original white one is a nightmare. It’s overly aggressive and even the slightest touch on the roof can send bees after me. Early in the season I decided to let the White Hive go to ‘Brood-and-a-Half’ since it was being such a beast when it came time to put the Queen Excluder on. A Queen-Excluder is a mesh that allows worker bees through but keeps the Queen bee out. You put it between the area where you want her to lay eggs and the area you don’t want her to lay them (the frames for honey).

Royal Jelly is the white liquid that a Queen Honey Bee is fed during her time developing in the Queen Cell #beekeeping
Royal Jelly inside Queen Cells that I’ve removed from the Onchan hive and the Green Hive

Instead of lifting up the box of super frames and putting the Excluder underneath, I gave up and put it on top. So this effectively gave the bees 50% more space to lay eggs. I’m now convinced that by doing this the hive is now less aggressive and less prone to swarming. Yesterday the colony was a piece of cake to handle and I didn’t spot even a single Queen Cell inside. I really couldn’t believe it.

The Green Hive on the other hand had a couple fully formed cells and about ten others that were being built. I removed them all but it’s not a sure way of keeping the bees from swarming again. I suspect that going Brood-and-a-Half gives the bees enough space to feel comfortable and so I’m going to move the Queen Excluders on both the Onchan and Green Hives to give them those extra frames to lay eggs on. I always leave a super full of honey on the hives anyway so it’s no bother to give it to the Queen as well.

Beekeepers check their hives every ten days during swarming season to ensure that Queen Cells aren't being built. If they're found then decisive action needs to be taken #beekeeping

My next visit will be in just over a week and I’ll be adding something else that’s a little experimental to my hives as well (more to come then!). A documentary on Manx Bees is currently being filmed and towards the end of June I’ll be taking filmmakers to one of my sites so they can film me with my bees. I hope that the colonies will be working hard on the new additions in time for their Hollywood debut!

Oh and did you notice something a little odd about the top image in this post? Yes, that is a snail in the hive. He learned the hard way that Honey Bees don’t tolerate uninvited guests and by the time I found him he was mummified and glued into the frames with beeswax. Not the nicest way to go but still a really interesting find!

4 Discussion to this post

  1. CJ says:

    A really fascinating post Tanya, I love hearing about your bees and how you care for them. I'm hoping none of them swarm this year. CJ xx

  2. Tanya Walton says:

    We have had some really weird behaviour with our bee over in the UK this year Tanya. Yesterday I went into one of my hives and found a virgin queen which I marked, (swarm control had already been carried out) I noticed numerous capped queen cells so set about removing them only to find that the bees had built and capped them with nothing in…very strange. When I started out with my beekeeping I decided to go deep brood so effectively brood and a half but it doesn't stop them swarming unfortunately!!

    • Really odd behavior! You know, I've been wondering about the amber coloured 'Royal Jelly' in one of the images above. Royal Jelly is kind of white and icky but when I removed the Queen Cells off one of the frames the contents were thick, gelatinous, and golden. I wonder if it's old royal jelly that hasn't been populated with an egg?

      That's unfortunate about your experiences with swarming and brood-and-a-half but my bees are VERY swarmy normally. I'm going to see if it allows them to settle down a bit though I know that swarming will never completely end. It's the natural process 🙂

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