Monday 22 August 2011

Another Swarm

I've just spent a couple of hours winkling a swarm out of a neighbour's hedge. I put a swarm box upside-down on top of the hedge, and applied smoke to the bottom of the swarm. The idea is that they move up into the box. They moved, very slowly, but they went diagonally, into the depths of the hedge, and I ended up with a third in the box, a third on the outside, and a third still in the hedge. I found the queen on the outside, picked her up, and put her in the box, with the lid on. That made all the difference; I knocked the bees in the hedge into the air, and before long they were all in the box. They're now in an empty hive.

I split the original hives last week, so I now have five; two with laying queens, two with virgins, which should have hatched over the weekend, and one with a queen which is an unknown quantity. The swarm is probably a cast with a virgin, but it's a reasonable size, and it's been hanging in the hedge for at least a week, so the queen has had time to mate.

Vitally, I have plenty of young drones from Hive 5, which have hatched in the last couple of weeks. It takes 12-14 days before they become fertile, so they're at the right point in their lives. It's easy to arrange for new queens, as colonies produce them any time you take the queen away, assuming they have eggs or newly hatched larvae available. Drones are hard; they raise them when they want, not when it suits the beekeeper.

The beans are at last starting to produce; I've been pleasantly surprised by the runner bean 'Black Magic'. I heard that it was stringy, and had assumed it was going to be a drying bean. In fact, the young beans are stringless and sweet-tasting. I don't like the larger beans anyway, so it's a question of picking them at about six inches long.

My rhubarb got a first at the site show last week; I haven't been well since, but I'll put a few pics up later.

23 August. I went back to check this afternoon, and the swarm was back in the hedge. I've come across that before; they sometimes seem to get wedded to the idea of hanging in a specific spot, and won't stay put in a hive. I'll try again tomorrow.

24 August I didn't have time to extract the swarm from the hedge again yesterday, so I went back today. Naturally, it was gone.

Tuesday 9 August 2011


I went through Hive 3 again today, broke down a lot of queen cells, and got rid of several that were prematurely capped. If they're capped after four days, then they were raised from larvae which were too old to make good queens. I used to have a strain which never did this, so I have to assume it's genetic, and can potentially be bred out. In another week or so, when the bees have had time to build up and strengthen the cell walls, I'll split Hive 5 as well, and give a couple of cells to the queenless side. It's then a matter of waiting while they hatch, mate, and start laying.

Monday 8 August 2011

Bees and Riots

I split Hive 4 - the big one - over the weekend. The brood and young bees are now Hive 3; the queen and flying bees remain where they were. Both splits are extremely strong. I checked them today, and everything is as it ought to be. Hive 3 has several dozen queen cells - more than I like - and not much open brood. That's good; you want lots of young bees, and not much for them to feed, to ensure that the queens get the best possible treatment.

A queenless hive will always produce queen cells as long as it has eggs or newly hatched larvae. Drones are harder. Hives 3 and 4 don't have a drone cell between them, but Hive 4 does have a lot of drones. They'll probably be a bit long in the tooth by the time the queens are ready to mate, but hopefully they'll still be fertile. Hive 5 is better; it has a reasonable amount of hatching drone brood. The adult queen hatches 15 days after the egg is laid, and flies to mate about 5-8 days later, depending on the weather. Drones become fertile about 12-14 days after hatching, so I'd expect mating in about two and a half to three weeks, weather permitting, at which time I should have some reasonably young drones available. That's critical, as bees produce them when they feel like it, not when the beekeeper needs them!

On a more serious note, I just spoke to my daughter in Hackney. She's OK, but they're rioting outside, and she couldn't get to her placement. She's horrified by what's happening; as she says, the damage they're doing will just make things worse.