I was away on holiday during March and, even though I was having a fabulous time walking in Patagonia, I was just a little disappointed not to be poking around in my hives for the first time! I needn’t have worried as when I returned in April the cold weather meant I still couldn’t check them straightaway.
All colonies have done well over winter and I seem to be starting the season with five healthy boxes of bees. One is slightly weaker than the others, so I will unite it with one of the nucs – the one with the lovely docile new queen ever the optimist).
One hive is covered in propolis and is sticky… Time for a shook swarm. I have watched and helped G do quite a few, but I thought I needed to do one on my own – ably assisted by A. This was quite a generous offer from him as these bees are fairly stroppy and if you aren’t used to working with bees, a shook swarm can seem quite alarming. There are bees flying everywhere.
It entails moving all your bees from old comb on to brand new foundation, and into a clean hive. Hopefully my diagram makes it abundantly clear!
All was going well and I managed to find the queen quickly but when I picked her up I promptly dropped her (so glad there was no-one watching!). Having checked that she wasn’t under my feet, I went back through all the frames a couple of times, but she was still nowhere to be seen. I was so frustrated at my clumsiness. Eventually we got down on hands and knees and there was a cluster of bees under the floor – and she was in the centre of it.
I got her into a cage, moved the brood box to one side, placed the fresh box of foundation onto the new floor and added a queen excluder. It all went fairly smoothly after that – I shook all the bees in and bagged up the old frames. The queen cage was very soon covered in flying bees, but it didn’t take long before I could release her into the box.
I placed a pollen supplement directly on to the top of the frames and fed two litres of sugar syrup and closed them up. It was then that I realised I had put the floor on back to front and upside down. By then I didn’t care and, as it wasn’t going to hamper their movement, I decided to leave it until I removed the queen excluder a week later. Finally the job was done and the bees only had to make their way back into their new home. In hindsight, I stupidly chucked ALL the old frames and, if I had bothered to stop and think about it, I could have put a couple of them into the weaker colony to boost it a bit. But I didn’t – something to remember next time.
I did top up the syrup with another litre during the week but I didn’t look inside until a week later. I was absolutely amazed to find all frames fully drawn and eggs on three. It is absolutely extraordinary just how quickly they have done this. We have had the advantage of a really warm week, which must help.
My hive with the particularly unpleasant bees (followers) is expanding at an extraordinary rate and I had already added two supers to ensure they have enough room. Despite this, I did find a few queen cells with eggs last week so I wasn’t surprised to find that there were queen cells in abundance. There were a couple that were sealed but I was very pleased to see that the queen was still present. I had prepared a nuc just in case and so I made this up with two frames of brood and lots of non-flying bees (I shook about three frames in). G offered to take these to his garden but they are so unpleasant that I thought this was a bit unfair. Instead I have brought it home to our garden. I stuffed the entrance with grass so that they acclimatise slowly and hopefully don’t all fly back – but most bees shaken in were non-fliers so hopefully they will stay.
Lessons to self. Shook swarms are much easier when well prepared and much quicker with someone to help. And, no matter how much room is provided bees will swarm if that’s what they’ve decided to do.