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Bee Blog - July 2020

This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby

Following on from my June Blog, in which after a week's intense bee activity I managed to let a bee sting me, it answered a question that I had been considering for the last year, since the last time I was stung and found that I had developer a severe allergic reaction to bee stings. The question was one that everyone in a similar position must ask their doctor: will it be a worse or a lesser reaction next time? Well with me it was worse. I will perhaps come back to this subject later in the year when hopefully I will have moved on with a solution to my problem.

Back to the bees, I started out in mid May with three active colonies each with their own marked green queens and after one very active week I had finished with three queen less colonies and three nucleus colonies each with a queen all of which I thought were my original green queens.

Circumstantial evidence led me to believe that the swarm I had caught in my own garden was the one that had left one of my hives less than a week earlier, I assumed that they had been looking around for a good new home for the last few days. Sometimes bees just start making a colony out in the open just hanging from a tree. My photograph this month shows just such an attempt by a swarm last year. It is unlikely that such an attempt will survive a winter as happened to the colony in the photograph.

I knew the swarm couldn’t be from one of my other two hives, as I had removed the queen from both of them and bees can not swarm without the queen. The only other possibility was that it was a swarm from another remote colony that had by chance landed in my garden, something that has never happened before.

I had housed the swarm in a 5 frame nucleus box. After moving them to the apiary I shut them in and left them for 24 hours. As I learnt from my experience last year if you don’t shut them in and let them become familiar with their new surroundings they can take exception to it and abscond. A swarm of bees takes everything it needs for its survival for a short time with it when it swarms and leaves its original hive. The bees fill up with honey before they leave and as soon as they take up their new residence they will start building new wax comb. Their aim is to provide the necessary environment for the queen to start laying eggs as soon as possible to build up a viable new colony before the end of the summer.

24 hours later I opened up the entrance to the nucleus box but covered the opening with a queen excluder. This allowed worker bees to enter and exit but still prevented the queen from leaving still stopping the colony from absconding. I also gave them a feed of a sugar syrup solution to encourage them to draw out the wax foundation on the 5 frames of the nucleus. 24 hours later I inspected again and saw that they had started to draw comb. I took this as a sign that they had accepted the nucleus as their new home. I didn’t think that they would go to the effort of drawing comb if they were unhappy or intended to leave. I removed the queen excluder from the entrance to give them uninterrupted access.

During this inspection I thought I would have a look through the 5 frames to say hello again to my green queen. I had a quick look and didn’t see her. As they were still new to the nucleus I didn’t want to have it open for a long time so I shut it up and left them to themselves. 

A few days later I looked again. Again the same result no marked green queen. A thought struck me. Perhaps the resident queen was not the green marked queen I had assumed it was. I looked more closely and sure enough I saw a queen, not the green queen but an unmarked queen. This was not the swarm from my hive. Even though I thought the possibility remote, it was from a different colony altogether. This was a very active queen moving quickly over the comb. I managed to catch her however, intending to mark her, but somehow she wriggled free and flew off. All other queens I have handled have never wanted to fly, they usually just walk everywhere. This one decided to fly and I had visions of her flying away into the wide blue yonder follower by all the bees in the nucleus; but no she just flew round in a circle dropped down and disappeared into the nucleus entrance. I breathed again. She knew where her home was. I closed up the nucleus and left things to settle down.

A few days later I looked again, found her and marked her white, as I don’t know how old she is, and left the colony to develop in its new home.