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Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

The emergence of a queen

Have you ever wondered just how a queen bee emerges from her cell and leaves such that precision exit cut familiar to every beekeeper?

Here’s how it happens as brought to our attention by a Bulgarian bee blogger. The original video is by Franz Obedorfer.

As our Bulgarian bee blogger says the video has a certain sadness about it because the queen emerges outside the hive, but it is fascinating. The whole process takes a few hours, but here’s the 7 minute version.

 

Getting the right bees for the artificial swarm

As Vita’s guest beekeeping blogger, I’m always on the lookout for foolproof swarm control techniques. But that’s like looking for the holy grail!

I’ve practised several swarm control techniques over the years — often they work, but uncomfortably often they don’t quite go to plan! I could blame the bees (or myself) for not reading the books, but perhaps the relatively high failure rate is because when I create an artificial swarm I inevitably do it with the wrong group of bees!

Swarm catcher. Photo courtesy of Hampshire Beekeepers Association

I’ve yet to see a precise breakdown of the ages and roles of bees that comprise a naturally created swarm, but it must include a lot of wax builders, many young bees and maybe not as many foragers as you’d expect. Artificial swarms because of the way they are created usually contain a preponderance of foraging bees, many of which are approaching the end of their lives and many of them past their best home-making days.

So I suppose it’s little wonder that my swarm control sometimes doesn’t quite work out one way or another. Often the old queen wants to swarm again, or the queen-making colonies are keen to create caste or secondary swarms despite my best efforts to cull queen cells and reduce the colony size

The challenge is to create an artificial swarm that closely resembles the demographics of a natural swarm. I know of an older beekeeper whose swarm control technique is to sit by the colony on likely swarming days and catch them as they come out.  I don’t really have the free time to do that, but for sure the demographics of his caught swarms will be as perfect as they can be!

Vita’s new swarm lures and the recent research seem to offer me hope if I can check my apiaries daily. By pinning a lure to a suitable and accessible branch, a large proportion of the primary swarms should gather there. So instead of searching for the old queen to be able to start to create an artificial swarm, the first stage in swarm control might be a daily stroll around the apiary. I like the sound of that!

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

 

Solid brood

Now that spring has arrived, the bees can show off. Here’s a lovely solid block of brood on a Langstroth frame — great hopes for this colony, just as long as the swarm impulse can be managed! (I also like the way the bees are working with the fresh nectar at the top of the frame.)

Vita’s guest beekeeper blogger

Full force spring

No prizes for guessing what pollen this is disappearing into the hive to feed the brood!
(But you can guess in the comments section anyway!)

With temperatures at last becoming spring-like, a second full inspection of the bees has become possible in Hampshire, southern England. All the colonies look healthy and varroa mites aren’t obvious — but some are bound to be there. The colonies, regularly treated in alternate years with Apistan and Apiguard, were treated last season with Apistan since there is as yet no obvious sign of resistant mites in these colonies.

All the colonies came through winter, so there has been an embarrassment of riches 😉 To cut down a little, one colony was given to another local beekeeper and one was united with another existing colony because although it was very healthy, it was just a little too defensive for so early in the year.  Today, the united colony under a new queen was in perfect temper. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a queen exerts her influence on thousands of bees!

The united colony is of course bursting with activity and was the only one to show new comb building. This has been the slowest spring in my beekeeping career!

Vita’s guest beekeeper blogger

Seeing varroa early this year?

The parasitic varroa mite up close.

We are hearing and seeing some reports of apparently high levels of varroa early this season, so here are a few management options that we hope will help.

If you are already seeing varroa, it is important to monitor carefully and be ready to act quickly to ensure the colony’s strength and survival through the season ahead.

Firstly, check if there is a daily drop of varroa mites – what you are seeing could just be debris that has built up over the winter.

If there are varroa falling at this early stage, we recommend:
1) feeding your colonies with Vita Feed Green, which will give them a good boost to strengthen the colony and can help with varroa
2) a full six-week treatment with Apistan which can, if necessary, be left on during the honey flow and when supers are present.

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