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June Hints and Tips - look out for swarming signs!

Posted on 8 June, 2016 at 4:30

Austen’s June Notes


The end of May and first few day’s in June have certainly seen a change in the conditions from relatively cool weather to a bit of a heatwave (at least by Scottish standards). Nectar has been pouring in to hives from the Sycamore and Chestnut trees and next in line is the Hawthorn if it decides to be ‘co-operative’ this year. Notably the first clover flowers are now out in bloom. Clover will yield lots of delicious nectar, but only if the temperature exceeds about 20 degrees C and we have some moisture to refresh it’s roots.



It is noticeable that our cooler spring has brought many of these plants into flower at almost the same time, whereas we might have expected a bit of a stagger in their timings.


In last month’s notes I mentioned that swarming was more often associated with the ‘June gap’ – when early nectar sources had ceased and the later flowers were still to come out with declining day length. As usual the bees do not read the books and I have been informed that several of you have already experienced swarming in your colonies. It is worth remembering the factors which affect swarming in a colony. Firstly it is the bees’ only method of reproducing and forming a new unit. Swarming will be determined by the genetics of the bee strain which you keep. Some will swarm every year and others may seldom swarm. Swarmier types may produce several cast swarms: That’s with one of the hatching virgin queens.



Conditions within the colony are important too. Congestion (either insufficient space for the queen to lay in or for the bees to store incoming nectar) may promote the urge to find a new home. They say that “idle hands make mischief” and so it is with the bees, hence the propensity for June gap swarms in our area. The ratio of field bees and young bees in the colony is often associated with the swarming urge. This aspect can be exploited by the beekeeper in making an ‘artificial swarm’ (more below).


I don’t intend to re write the text books on the subject however if on your weekly colony inspections you see queen cups with larvae in them then you have the possibility that swarm preparations are underway. Later in the season (July/ August) it will almost certainly be supercedure of the old queen but a significant number of cells (say 6+) at this time almost certainly indicates the bees intention to swarm. So beginners will need to keep their eyes well ‘peeled’ during inspections. That doesn’t mean spending an eternity examining every corner of every last comb but if you see queen cell cups (which are common) have a look inside some of them. Eggs may be the prelude to cell development but they are often discarded, however taken to the larval stage then the bees will be unlikely to stop. Action will then be required by the beekeeper.


I might at this stage recall a personal experience many years ago with my bees. I went into the first colony and split the top and lower boxes to look for cells (note beginners, a good minimally disturbing technique for rapid ‘diagnosis’;) Horror of horrors to see a dozen cells hanging down BUT they had all been torn open by the bees. The automatic conclusion was that the queens had long since hatched and that the bees had swarmed days ago. However further inspection showed that there were lots of bees present and that the old queen was indeed still there. That was lucky I thought. I went into the next colony and was met with the same sight and so it continued with every colony in that apiary. All had been stimulated to build cells and all had been stimulated to rip them down again and abandon the swarming urge. Why?, I still have no idea! But it is worth noting that poor weather will delay swarming or the bees may abandon the idea altogether but given a blink of midday sunshine and they will be off. Beware!


OK so back to your colony with the cells. Remember the important little rhyme, “Three, Five, Eight, and a queen can mate”. If you see all open developing queen cells then there is no need for panic as the bees seldom swarm until they are sealed and you can temporally close up the hive if you don’t have the necessary equipment to hand. Bees normally swarm when the new queens are within a couple of days of hatching if the weather conditions are right.


So after the foregoing ramble, what are you going to do to prevent the swarm escaping? Firstly, don’t panic and think with a clear head.

Form a plan of action from the desired outcome (eg do you want more colonies).The simplest technique is to make an artificial swarm. Now, to hark back to the springtime (when of course you remembered to mark your queens??), you now need to find her.


Place the frame with the queen into a fresh box on the old site. Fill up that box with frames of stores (no bees) and/or empty combs. Take all of the brood frames with queen cells and place on a new site (or sites if you want to expend numbers). Shake all of the bees from the supers into these new colonie(s) and close the box up. Return the unsealed super boxes to the original site above your excluder.


So the first thing which the foraging (flying) bees will do is to return to their former home so you have a colony of flying bees and their queen and few if any young bees . ….. so the bees now ‘feel’ that they have swarmed and will work hard to boost their ‘new’ home.


Now note that to save on equipment, you can fly your new colony out of the rear of the existing site and from above a cover board with a swivelling entrance. Once the new queen has been mated, you can either remove the old queen and unite with the top queen via the newspaper method, or take the new colony to a distant site for a week before bringing it back to the home apiary.


Now you are all bored with reading this, you can look forward to the Lime, Bramble, Raspberry, Willowherb and Heather flows later in the summer!

Austen Brown - Chair

Categories: Beekeeping Hints and Tips

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