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Jobs for the Month  

  • Continue 7-day inspections for occupied queen cells and take swarm control measures immediately if necessary.  Be aware of the various types of queen cell and react accordingly.
  • Add supers ahead of the bees’ requirements, i.e. when a super is full of bees, not full of honey. Remember: space for bees and space for nectar!
  • Give the bees the space they need to expand and plan on making splits on strong colonies if that’s the route you want to go down.
  • If you haven’t done so already, set up and monitor bait hives. Check out March’s Tip of the Month.
  • Make your desire for a swarm / split known to others in the club. Locally sourced bees are always best as they will be adapted to the local environment.
  • Remove ‘ripe’ oilseed rape honey: give super frames with unsealed honey cells a firm shake and if nectar flies out, leave it a little longer – it will ferment if the water content is too high.
  • Ensure you have access to a honey extractor – they are available relatively cheaply or even better still, either borrow one from a fellow beekeeper or join forces with another to purchase one.
  • Maintain vigilance for Asian hornets. Check traps regularly and release non-target insects (they will not drown if you put a piece of foam or crumpled kitchen roll in the bait reservoir) and look out for possible primary nests.

**Check out the Tip of the Month**

Suggested frequency of visits – weekly

May is usually a delightful month for beekeeping, with orchards, hedgerows, and gardens in full bloom and some very welcome long warm days. In those areas where there is a spring flow the honey will be ripening in the supers and our hives will be full of bees – it’s swarming time! The very thought often fills the novice beekeeper with dread but there’s no need, swarming is what honey bees do and we need to understand why they do it and how to handle it.

Why bees swarm? It’s the honey bee colony’s natural way of replication and without this process honey bees would have died out many years ago. The queen produces ‘queen substance’ (a set of pheromones) from her mandibular glands which is taken up by the worker bees and passed around the colony. All worker bees need to receive a minimum level. this communicates to the bees that they are ‘queen-right’ and it is a stimulus for foraging and other activities within the hive. If the colony is overcrowded, then not only may the queen not have sufficient space to lay, but her pheromones may not reach all the bees in the required quantities – leading to swarming preparations. You will see drones present, or at least drone brood, and the bees will begin to build little acorn-shaped queen cups (play cups) around the edges of the comb. Keep an eye on those queen cups – when they have a rim of new white wax you can be sure that preparations for swarming are afoot.

So what can you do about it? We can manage the impulse to swarm by keeping young queens. It is thought that a young queen will produce larger amounts of queen substance than an older queen. We can ensure that the bees have enough room by supering early. Nectar takes up a lot more space than honey because the bees spread it out to evaporate the water and ripen it so add another super when the last one is full of bees, not honey. Make sure that the colony has plenty of ventilation as this ensures that the queen substance can be distributed easily: it also helps in the ripening of nectar. Repeatedly destroying queen cells will demoralise the bees and will not delay the swarming process for long once the colony has started making preparations. Plus, bees are very good at hiding a cell or two! Work with your bees to your mutual advantage – practise swarm control by performing an artificial swarm or making up a nuc or two. Read up on it or ask for help.

Consider splitting a hive if it appears to be filling very quickly and you are concerned it may want to swarm in the near future, or indeed if you are looking to increase your total number of colonies – but only attempt to strong colonies otherwise you will only end up with two very weak ones.

  1. Move the swarming hive to the side away from the original position (at least 1 metre).
  2. Place a new hive on the original position with a floor and brood chamber should be put in its place with drawn frames or foundation (remove the middle three combs).
  3. Find the queen in the swarming colony and place her and her frame with no queen cells on in the new hive.
  4. With the queen frame in the middle, add a frame of brood with no queen cells on one side and a frame with honey and pollen with no queen cells on the other to the new hive. Add a queen excluder and close up the hive.
  5. Fill up the original brood box with your foundation/drawn frames, add the queen excluder and close up the hive.

As you have separated the queen and the flying bees from the original brood this new colony will resemble a swarm and should carry on with its normal life. The original colony that was moved will now build queen cells to replace the missing queen and should also continue to build back up.

Don’t forget if you don’t wish to have a second colony then let your fellow SWHB members know as a beginner or any established beekeeper may wish to have a colony which they know is locally sourced.

If you do lose a swarm – not all may be lost! Check your bait hives. Have they taken up residence in there? Check your garden and the immediate locality. The bees will not go too far initially and are easier to catch when they have just swarmed as they are full of stores and will want to not use much energy until the scout bees have found a good site.

Be on the look-out for Asian hornet queens. We don’t know if there were any Asian hornet queens over-wintering in the UK this year, but any that have survived will now be out and about searching for sugary foods to build up their energy. Look for them on flowers such as camellias and around trees that ooze sap. These queens will also be constructing embryo primary nests, very similar in appearance to wasps’ nests, so look for the first signs in sheltered spots like sheds and porches. Extend  your vigilance as you  spend more time in your gardens and apiaries and on walks around your neighbourhood.