Elizabeth – The Queen bee in waiting…

Another busy weekend in our apiary.  Spring is finally here in all it’s glory and the blossom is out on all the apple and pear trees in the orchard where we keep the bees. All the hives have been really busy in the bright sunshine and so we are on the lookout for any signs of swarming.  All the hives in this apiary have 2012 Queens that are in full lay, creating plenty of fresh workers and now the male drones are beginning to appear in big numbers hoping to mate with any newly emerged Queens.

As we went through the hives, we were looking for any sign that a colony might be preparing to swarm.  Before a colony swarms, you need three things to come together, drones, an active Queen and charged Queen cells with a larvae inside.

Yup - This colony will definitely swarm very soon!
Yup – This colony will definitely swarm soon!

All the hives we opened today had young Queens and lots of drones but only one had fully formed Queen cells with several already sealed.  This is because we had initiated Bailey comb changes on most of the hives in this apiary a couple of weeks ago which had diverted the colonies efforts into creating new comb in the empty space above the main colony. A few colonies had a couple of empty play cups, but nothing more.

We also had a few late Queens from last year that had not been clipped and marked, so we made a special effort to find them with mixed success.  We found all but two Queens, but given that both hives had very fresh eggs (they stand upright in the cells for about 24 hours after being laid) we decided to leave them alone and look for them again another day.

Hive 5 part-way through a Bailey comb change but with sealed Queen cells.

The one hive that had sealed Queen cells looked ready to swarm at any moment and so we had to take immediate action.

Having marked and clipped the Queen in this hive, we removed the lower box with the Queen cells, brood and nurse bees across to the other side of the apiary as the start of a new colony using a spare floor and roof.

The current Queen was placed in the top brood chamber that had new frames of drawn comb and then placed back on the old floor and hive stand.

Old Queen on new comb and foundation.
Original hive 5 with old Queen on new comb.

The returning foragers that were away from the hive when we conducted the split will come back to the site of the original hive, join their Queen and continue the building of new comb to allow the Queen to start laying the eggs that will become the next generation of bees.

Now that many of  the bees that formed the previous colony have been moved with the other brood chamber and there is a lot of new comb to build, this colony will in effect act like a newly housed swarm.

The moved lower chamber of hive 5 with sealed Queen cells ready to hatch

Meanwhile, the original brood chamber has been moved onto a new hive stand and floor at the other end of the apiary.  The younger nurse bees will stay with the eggs and larvae previously laid by the queen and build up the colony.  The ripe, sealed Queen cells will hatch within the next few days and eventually a single virgin Queen will leave the hive on her mating flight.  Once serviced by 10-20 individual drones she will hopefully return to the colony and start to lay eggs to create the next generation of bees.

Elsa has already named the soon to be hatched Queen, Elizabeth but we won’t know if things have worked out for her for another couple of weeks or so when we should see fresh eggs indicating that the new Queen Elizabeth is now in charge.


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