Bee Keeping Master Class

 Bee Keeping Master Class - May 2009



As a new beekeeper who gained his first two swarms at the end of the swarming season last year, I was a little taken aback and found myself totally unprepared for this season's onslaught of activity.

Up until the weekend of the 9th of May, I had two hives:  One in a 14X12 brood box (yellow marked Queen), which also had its original national deep brood box on top, along with a super. Ostensibly, the bees were supposed to be cleaning the honey residue from their old brood box, having recently expanded into the 14X12, they were also drawing wax on the super. The second hive (red marked Queen), in a national brood box, had suffered large losses after the snows earlier this year and was recovering slowly.

We were shipping off to France for a weeks holiday on the 29th of April, so, before going, I went down to my Apiary and checked the bees. What I found was, 6 or 8 Queen cups in hive 1 (yellow) and hive 2 (red) still slowly improving. Both queens were present at this juncture.

I destroyed the queen cups in hive 1, I also moved the excluder up above the brood box; this meant the queen had access to a 14X12 + a brood box. Naively, I did this thinking it would buy me enough time to return from France and sort them out when I got back. Wrong!!!! (My friend, a prominent member of the Bee Keeping Association, advises this will only buy a person about 24 to 36 hours).

I returned mid-week of the following week and phoned my friend on the Friday afternoon in order to arrange for him to visit my hives. When I told him what had happened prior to going on holiday, he said, "I think you will find your Queen has already gone." An inspection on Friday evening confirmed he was correct. But what was even more devastating was the fact that the Red Queen had also gone. I was stunned.

I noted  that the Yellow Queen had colonised some of the national brood box and there were 2 Queen cups, therefore, I split the hive - placing the brood box on it's own and putting the super back on the 14X12 box, which also had Queen cups present.

I then left all 3 hives until Saturday to await my knowledgeable friend's visit.

Saturday the 9th , I went down to the Apiary, strimmed round the hives, did one or two other thing, then he appeared, strolling across the field as if he didn't have a care in the world. He made some quip about the walk to the hives not getting any shorter; we then started to inspect the hives.

A quick inspection confirmed my findings, so we then set about a second inspection.

Part way through hive 1, he casually said, "Can you pass me my box please?" He flipped the lid open, produced a Queen Clip, then without another word, he gently used the hook of his hive tool to ease the cap off one of the Queen cups and out popped a Queen!! He caught this, in his clip, grabbed another clip, did the same again and Hey Presto, two Queens!! Eventually, he ran out of clips and we had to revert to the old method of using a matchbox. This process gave us 4 Queens, the other cups were not fully developed and they were destroyed. We also found 2 hatched cups in this hive. Despite his best efforts he could not see any Virgin Queens in the hive.

Mid way through our inspection, he looked up and said, "There is a swarm over there, I bet that's where the two hatched Virgin Queens are". Sure enough, once he pointed to where the swarm was, I could see it in the bushes.

After gathering the Queens from their respective cups, another bee keeping friend joined us to take pictures of us gathering the swarm, which did, indeed contain two Queens. We ran them up into a prepared hive. Having only ever put swarms in through the top of a box, this was a marvellous sight to see, especially as my hives are fairly high off the ground.

One of the Queens flew off, but only as far as the original swarm site, so we were able to capture her and return her to the swarm. My friend said they will sort themselves out.

We then introduced the Virgin Queens into the other three hives, two by placing them in (because there were related) and one by smoking the hive like crazy, then putting the Queen in. We did leave a Queen cup in the National Brood which came off hive one – as he said "belt and braces".

Master Class over? No.

After clearing up, we went back to our house and I observed my expert mix up some Queen Fondant (Honey and Icing Sugar) and put this, along with the remaining Queen and some workers into a Queen Cage.

I returned the next day to put some Syrup on two of the hives and whilst doing this, I noticed there was still a lot of activity over in the bush where the swarm had been. When I went over to the bushes, in clear view was a small cluster of Bees, the original Red Queen was clearly visible, so I gathered that, and placed her into another prepared hive. It was a small cluster of Bees, probably not viable, but I like to think I have given her a chance; especially as, despite being slow to recover from the winter, she had managed to populate the hive with eggs prior to leaving.

So, I went from two Queenless hives on Friday night to four, possibly five within 24 hours; Four with Virgin Queens and one with a small cluster of bees, so I am 'not out of the woods yet', but hey, not bad for an afternoon's work.