I found a play-cup today (2nd May). This is a natural stage in the build-up of the colony and often occurs at the outer areas of where the queen is and thus not leaving her pheromone foot-print there. It does not mean a swarm is imminent. As this is the first season for this young queen and the colony has more than enough room to expand, I would not expect to find queen cells with larvae in them but that does not mean that this will not happen, so each inspection must be thorough with special scrutiny of the edges of the frames, any little excavations in the face of the wax and areas covered thickly by bees.
There is drone brood and a few drones in the hive suggesting that the colony thinks it has reached a stage in the spring build-up when it can afford to produce and ‘support’ drones. It does not mean they will swarm just that they can. However, the presence of drone brood means that the Varroa mite population will start to grow more quickly.
I watched a forager on the forget-me-not flowers. The corolla changes colour from yellow to white when the nectar has been extracted as an indicator to the bees and sure enough she avoided the flowers with white centres. I never cease to be amazed and delighted.
It is now mid-May. The colony is steadily building up but quite slowly and there are still many un-drawn frames. I noticed that the cream flowers are out on the horse-chestnut trees. Their yellow guidelines will turn red as pollinators deplete the nectar.
As the month draws to a close I have been able to carry out all the planned actions including: the addition of two supers and a short frame for drone brood and a health check and commencement of Hive-Clean treatment. Checking for queen cells remains a priority as this is the swarming season. The weather has been cold and wet. A total disaster for honey production. I checked my records for last year and at the end of May there were two supers full and capped on the green hive. This year 1 super only is filling.
Queen Cells and Swarms
Last week I was contacted by a friend whose bees had swarmed at the Primary School where she works. The swarm was in two clusters fairly high in a tree however, her husband and I managed to house it successfully without anyone being stung or frightened.
I also had offers of a swarm to replace my lost colony and on the evening of 22nd May I collected a small swarm in a polystyrene travelling box and left it on a stand in my garden with a plug of grass in the entrance. By 8.00 a.m. the bees had released themselves and were happily orientating themselves in the morning sunshine. I moved them into a wooden nuc box with frames of undrawn foundation comb. I spotted the queen who is small and not yet mated. Later in the day I saw a drone enter the hive so hopefully the queen will leave on mating flights in the next few days. She is capable of being mated for up to three weeks. The weather looks good so hopefully this will happen soon. She will not start laying until 3-4 days later so I would hope to see eggs by 12th June. I will not mark her until I have seen that she can produce worker brood. Brother Adam, recommended leaving queens unmarked until the next spring!
SWARM NUC DIARY
22nd May – small swarm collected in the evening and left on stand in travel box with grass in entrance
23rd May – 8.30 am grass at entrance already dislodged and bees flying. Transferred bees to a nuc box with 3 foundation frames and 2 with stores only. Small, un-marked queen seen. Later in day saw drones entering nuc and heard the queen tooting.
24th May – poor weather, syrup added but colony not inspected. Queen orientation flights could start but unlikely given poor weather.
25th May – poor weather, all syrup taken and replenished.
26th May – better weather, syrup not in need of re-filling Pollen being taken in.
27th May – in theory queen mating flights could start today and then on up until 12th June depending on ‘success’.
28-29th May – sunshine and bees flying but have kept syrup topped up.
30th May – the earliest day when the queen might start laying depending on when she was mated. The weather is cold and dull but a few bees flying.
31st May – cold with torrential rain. Syrup topped up in a break in the rain. These last two days were definitely not days for mating flights but she has up until 12th June to complete these.
1 – 2nd June – cold again. Little syrup being taken down. A very quick look in the nuc shows that a small amount of wax has been drawn on the side of one frame, enough to store some nectar but no sign of eggs or larvae yet but another three weeks to go before it is too late for there ever to be brood. I resisted a more forensic look for the queen.
Other beekeeping related activities
This has been a busy month. I have contributed to two practical sessions for novices at the Association Apiary and worked with others on the committee to re-vamp the education programme and prepare the kit that we take to festivals. I attended the Global Pollinator Strategy discussion at Parliament. I have visited other teaching apiaries in Herfordshire and Hackney Wetlands. I have also been tending my pollinator garden that is developing really well. Finally, I have been cleaning up frames and processing the wax to use in furniture polish. A very full bee-focussed month.
Priorities for June
- Health maintenance,
- Maintain weekly Hive Clean treatment and monitor effectiveness via varroa drop on board
- Cull and inspect some drone brood on the short frame
- Monitor bee behaviour and brood cells for signs of disease
- Swarm control
- add supers ahead of need to ensure bees have space
- 7 day checks for signs of queen cells, equipment ready to do an ‘Artificial Swarm’ if required
- New colonies
- Carefully monitor nuc hives and the laying quality of the new queens
- Add brood frames or move to full sized hive as appropriate
- Feed as required