Campus Bee Diary 15/7/2015

Pre Carbo – School of Earth and Environment

Highlights for this month

  • Mike gets stung
  • We lose a swarm
  • We gain a swarm

A swarm in May is worth a bale of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
But a swarm in July ain’t worth a fly!

This old saying is often repeated by old beekeepers, and means that if you catch a swarm in July it’s too late for them to build up lots of honey stores for the beekeeper to steal in autumn. But a decent size swarm caught in July will probably build up enough stores to survive the winter and may be next year’s star honey producers. There was some activity around swarms on campus recently. Read on to find out more….

Swarm prevention
Much of beekeeping is about swarm prevention. In the wild, swarms are the natural way for honey bees to procreate, and also a good way for them to control disease and parasites. So why prevent bees from swarming? In the city, feral bees often make their home in unsuitable places like someone’s chimney. Also, we don’t want to lose half the bees from a colony and therefore the potential for a honey harvest, nor do we want a swarm on campus. Swarms are not aggressive, but people are alarmed by them and we have to rush out to deal with it! Carlos collected two swarms last week, so we went to check the hives with trepidation – were they our bees?

Laidlaw Library Roof Apiary
Mike got his first sting this week! He says: ‘Bit of a shock, and I did a bit of a sting dance (a bit like a waggle dance, but less organised) completely my own fault though – it got behind my foot in my boot and got squished so completely justified stinging.’

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Laidlaw 1 (new name suggestion ‘Son of Sticky’)
This colony has been making swarm preparations, evident in the creation of queen cells. A swarm has been prevented so far by destroying the queen cells, as the swarming bees won’t leave the hive until a batch of infant queens (pupae) are safely capped off in their cells to ensure a new queen will take over the old colony. There are other, more elegant ways to prevent a swarm, but this is a last resort in the absence of other options. If the colony remains intact there may be some honey to harvest in late summer.

Laidlaw 2 (a rather lively swarm caught on campus in May – name suggestions?)
This colony has successfully replaced (superceded) their old queen. We found the new queen and she looks healthy, but may not have been on her mating flight yet. We found evidence of the other queen cells (occupants now dead, thanks to the new queen). We’re unlikely to get any honey from this hive this year as they will need what they create now for their winter stores.

Sustainability Action Group Apiary (SAG, Earth and Environment)
Sticky Hive
A common method of swarm control is to move the old queen to a new hive or nuc with plenty of bees, leaving the remaining queenless colony to raise a new queen. The urge to swarm is removed, as the split colonies have more space and fewer bees. That’s the theory…

The Sticky queen was moved to a nuc two weeks ago with her entourage. Last week the remaining queenless colony was very agitated, and raising queen cells, so we left them alone expecting a happy colony plus new queen this week. We didn’t expect them to swarm in the absence of the queen and with fewer bees, so didn’t take the precaution of removing all but one of the queen cells – schoolgirl error. At the next check it was clear that they had swarmed! The colony was much depleted, and at least three queens had emerged (empty queen cells with a neatly cut out lid) and several unhatched queens had been destroyed while still in their cells (a hole chewed through the side of the cell, the occupants will have been stung to death by their sister queen). In addition, an intact queen cell remained. There was no sign of a new queen at large in the hive, so we left the remaining queen cell. We might have missed the new queen, or she may have been on her mating flight. If there is more than one new queen, the stronger will kill the weaker one.

So it’s possible that both the swarms caught by Carlos were headed by a daughter of the Sticky queen. The first swarm is now housed in the SAG apiary and the queen is already laying eggs in newly drawn comb. The second was probably a ‘cast’, or secondary swarm, as it was much smaller, and is at another apiary.