In The Beehive

What's the buzz with Marcus and Shelley Treadwell of Garddfach Honey

Pics above left: inspecting the frames for brood, food, eggs and also to see if there are any nasty surprises. Right: Open hive during inspection, lots of buzzing going on.

The Spring build-up in the beehives continues; the queen will be laying more and more eggs. As we’ve said previously, worker bees live for around 5 to 6 weeks in summer, and with the queen laying up to 2000 eggs a day, (far more than the number of bees which will die), the hives can become quite congested, meaning space within the hives is at a premium.

When the weather allowed and it wasn’t too cold or windy, we did our first inspection. We were intending this to be a quick look, as opening the hive for a prolonged period at this time of year, without a good bit of sunshine, can result in a menacing buzz and the bees becoming agitated.

Top Left: A busy hive entrance with pollen going in. Top Right: A swarm in the apiary. Above Left: Hopefully you can see the eggs in the cells. Above right: Lonely nuc in new apiary.

At first glance the colony appeared very active. There were a good number of bees bringing pollen and nectar back to the hive. On removing the lid, we could see that this hive was already getting fairly full. Therefore, instead of our planned quick inspection, we found ourselves needing to check both brood boxes thoroughly.
We needed to check the amount of space being used for eggs, older larvae and capped brood, whilst also ensuring that there was plenty of food stored in the frames. It seems our queen got to work early this year, we have a lovely rugby ball shaped brood pattern on our frames and the colony needs additional frames to ensure that they have space to expand. Therefore, we selected a couple of frames of brood in all stages, from day old eggs up to capped brood, along with another frame of pollen and honey. We transferred these frames into a nucleus box and added frames for them to expand into, therefore creating a new colony. This process of splitting the colony is a method of preemptive control against the bees swarming. If there isn’t enough room in the hive, this can be one of the reasons why bees swarm.

Swarming is the honey bee’s natural way of reproduction, producing two colonies from one and effectively multiplying the species. Swarming is healthy for the bees, it is what they naturally aim to do. This is not welcomed by the beekeeper, as it reduces the amount of honey that a hive produces and around 25,000 bees will be lost when they swarm. Swarming normally occurs in late spring or early summer and usually before midday. It is the workers that give the nod when they feel the need to swarm, either when they have too little space in the hive or there are too many bees for the queen to control. The workers will take the queen with them. The swarm of bees will typically settle in a tree or on a branch near to the hive they have vacated and may stay there for as little as 15 minutes or up to a few days. Whilst there, scout bees will fly off to find a new hive or home to move into. They will go back and forth to the swarm to communicate to the other bees to come and have a look at the place they’ve found. This continues until a suitable place is chosen and the swarm moves into their new abode. The entrance could be a crack in a masonry wall, a hole in the fascia of a house, a tree or another beehive, they love a cavity with a small opening.

Pics: Two examples of how bees can swarm around a branch of a tree.

It’s a fascinating sight, seeing a swarm of bees. It’s one of nature’s most dazzling displays of coordinated behaviour. If you come across a swarm of bees, there is no need to panic. When honey bees are swarming they are generally calm. They are not as defensive as they are around a hive, because they are not protecting their brood or honey stores. They’re more concerned with scouting for a new home and will stay in a protective cluster around the queen. If they’re disturbed, however, or become agitated they will defend the cluster, and it is therefore advisable to keep your distance to avoid getting stung.
You can report a swarm and a friendly local beekeeper will come and collect it.

Visit http://www.beeswarm.ukjust type in some details of the location, a postcode helps. If you can take some pictures, that’s very helpful and add some contact details. There’s a box to add notes such as whether the swarm is on a high branch in a tree or is accessible from within a house. These notes will give the beekeeper useful information as to what extra equipment they may need in order to collect the swarm e.g. a ladder.

A local beekeeper will be notified and they will contact you.

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FASCINATING FACT:

Honey is not bee vomit! Many people perceive honey as bee vomit as it comes from the bee’s mouth, but this is not the case. The bee collects nectar from flowers using its long proboscis. The nectar is then stored in a separate honey stomach, which is separate from the main stomach for digestion. Enzymes are then secreted into the nectar, converting it to honey.

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