Beekeeping: When swarming causes losses in the trade

Mary O’Riordan writes on the travails of the beekeeper when swarming causes the loss of a hive of bees and a crop of honey

URING the months of May and June most beekeeper thoughts turn to swarming, especially the big strong stocks with last year’s queen still in residence.

Ddifferent patterns emerge during each inspection — in one particular apiary, they have made no effort at swarming, so far, while in other apiaries there has been swarming galore, some were near oilseed rape which always brings on swarming when the crop goes off.

In some swarm situations we take out the old queen and make up a “nuke” with her — this new nucleus will consist of two or three frames, one of brood, one of food, some empty drawn comb, and a good shake of bees, and let her get on with starting a new colony.

We then have to go through the original hive and decide what to do, if the cells are mature and they are a good breed of bee, we put the cells in cell protectors , take them home to be put in an incubator.

In a short while, there will be newly hatched queens , which will be put in an apidea box (a mini nuke with approximately a cup of bees, and some feed), these are kept indoors in the dark for thirty six hours and then put out, depending on weather.

The queen gets mated in a week or more, and goes on eventually to make a new colony, we usually leave one open cell if there is one, and if not, a closed one with the original colony, and go back again in a week or so to break down any more cells they have built.

If that does not work out we will have new laying queens in the apideas. With the arrival of the varroa mite, and some bad over wintering in recent years, we are slow to break down queen cells and make use of them in this way.

There have been pages and pages of articles written about swarming, and if you put 30 beekeepers in a room talking about swarming, they would all have different ideas.

A lot depends on what you want from your bees — do you want a crop of honey, or do you just want to observe what happens with a hive of bees?

Swarming is the natural means of reproduction — swarms can be a nuisance to the general public, if they land on cars, or post box’s, or in compost bins, or in someone’s roof — or a wonderful gift to a beekeeper, that is if the swarm is not from one your hives.

There are two types of swarms, a prime swarm, and a cast. A prime swarm consists of anything from 30- 70% of the colony’s bees, and is headed by the incumbent queen. If she is not clipped, and they take off to your neighbouring beekeeper (who more than likely has a catch hive out waiting for swarms), you can say goodbye to the crop of honey from that hive this year.

After the swarm has departed, there will be casts which are much smaller, and there can be a few of these. The whole hive can be decimated if there is no intervention by the beekeeper. It happens to an awful lot of beekeepers

The weather on the whole has been good this year for the bees, and there is a nice crop of honey on the strong hives. Queen rearing was a bit slow in May but improved very much in June.


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