This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby
It is continuing to be a difficult beekeeping season. As I have mentioned previously I have been wanting to carry out a split on my one remaining hive to try to produce another colony. I was away on holiday earlier this month and I thought it would be prudent to carry out an inspection before I left. What I found was no queen cells but an increasing number of bees. I also spotted the queen.
I am a gardener as well as a beekeeper and regularly follow Monty Don on the BBC Gardeners World programme. Monty has a theory about the best time to carry out certain procedures in the garden such as when is the best time to prune plants. He says the best time is when you are looking at the plants with secateurs in your hand i.e. the best time is when you are there and have an opportunity. This theory went through my mind when I was carrying out my inspection. I was going to be away for a week, there were frames with a lot of bees on them and I had found the queen so I could removed some frames knowing the the queen was not on one of them.
I made the split, taking away two frames where I thought there would be newly laid eggs and placing them into a nucleus box knowing that the queen was still in the main colony. If I was lucky when I returned I would find a queen cell in the nucleus box which would develop into a new queen and produce a new colony. I did not carry out my next inspection for 9 days allowing the bees sufficient undisturbed time to do what was necessary to produce the queen cells. Regrettably when I looked into the nucleus at the end of the 9 days I found no queen cells, the split had failed. Perhaps Monty’s advice is good for plants but it does not seem to transfer to beekeeping.
I placed the bees from the nucleus colony back in the main colony hoping that they would be accepted, they were all sisters after all. A week or so later I looked again into the hive. Luckily there was no evidence of dead bees so I assumed that the sister bees had been accepted. The colony was very much larger, the queen was laying well and the weather was fine. I decided it was time to try another split. First procedure ; find the queen. I looked twice through all of the frames but could not find her. I therefor picked two frame, one with newly laid eggs and one with sealed brood and food stores. I gave them a further close inspection to try to make sure the queen was not on the frames and moved them again into a separate nucleus. Attempt number two.
The next morning I decided I needed to check to try to make sure that the queen was still in the main hive. It was a warm humid morning, not the weather bees particularly like and to say the least the bees were a bit feisty. I went through the frames twice but could not find the queen and the bees were becoming quite agitated. I had come across this situation before when the colony was queen-less. I began to wonder if she was not there. Time to check the nucleus colony. I moved over to the nucleus colony, took out a frame and there she was in the middle of the frame. I caught her in my queen catcher and transferred her back to the main colony. Disaster averted.
Hopefully this second split will work. As the queen was in the nucleus for a good 12 hours overnight she was probably still laying eggs so there should definitely be fresh eggs for the bees there to use to form a new queen. Hopefully this time that is just what they will do. By next months blog it will have been decided.