May 2021 Apiary Notes from Wally Thrale

Queen Bee
Queen Bee
What a contrast between this spring and last year’s. Last year we had record sunshine amounts – this year record air frosts during April. A cold dry April followed by a cold wet May – not a good combination. I cannot remember such a bad start to the beekeeping season as this one.

However, colonies on OSR have built up strongly but haven’t brought in much of a crop as yet. Some sunny warm days would change all that though. Even so, bees are thinking of swarming; I have collected a couple of swarms locally and carried out a few artificial swarms on my stronger colonies.

As there have been only the occasional days to carry out inspections I have concentrated on my stronger colonies as they are more likely to produce queen cells. As the forecast does not offer much hope for warmer days I am carrying out a pre-emptive artificial swarm on strong colonies that do not yet have queen cells. Most of my queens are marked and clipped which makes carrying out an artificial swarm much easier. When the queen is easily located the artificial swarm process can be carried out fairly quickly. Clipped queens also give me a few days grace when inspections are not possible due to the weather.

As I do not have enough floors and roofs to artificially swarm all my hives I sometimes place the parent brood box on the topmost super of the stack. So the process is similar to a conventional artificial swarm – the box with the brood is moved to one side and the queen placed in a cage. A new brood box is placed on the original location and a couple of frames containing mainly sealed brood and nurse bees from the parent colony are placed in the new box. If possible it is better to add at least a couple of drawn empty brood frames in the new box followed by frames with foundation. Lastly the queen is released in the new box. This format allows the queen to continue laying and will provide a supply a nurse bees to cater for her in the coming days. Supers are returned along with the crown board. However, the feed holes in the crown board are blocked with small pieces of plywood to prevent the two colonies from mixing. A shallow eke is added which has a cutout which acts as an entrance. The eke is placed such that the entrance is the opposite direction to that of the floor. The brood box containing the brood is placed on the eke, followed by another crown board and then the roof. A queen excluder and super can be placed over the brood box as an option.

This arrangement can be left in place until the new queen comes into lay. If the aim is to make increase there are now two laying queens. If no increase is needed the old queen can be killed and the two brood boxes united as per a conventional uniting process. As I keep saying do make some nucs to over winter – many people have asked for nucs this spring which shows more beekeepers should consider making some. When a new queen is available following a successful artificial swarm then it is time to consider placing of the queen in a nuc along with a couple of frames of sealed brood and attendant bees.

The benefit of the above method is that it saves a floor and roof. The downside is the top brood box could become heavy as bees start foraging. This can be a problem if the bottom brood box brings in a lot of nectar and needs more super space. The bottom brood box will also need attention if there are several frames with foundation as bees are often reluctant to draw comb when there are plenty of super frames available above. So it is often necessary to move a frame or two with foundation next to the brood nest to encourage the bees to draw them, otherwise the queen will not be able to lay to her capacity. The last point to make here is the whole stack can become quite tall and require two people to dismantle it. This comes down to a honey flow or lack of. All weather dependent I’m afraid.

We are now entering peak beekeeping time even if the weather isn’t so do be prepared and have spare kit available. Bees often catch us out – they still work to their agenda!