Sunday, May 2, 2010

Forget catching swarms! I found FOUR swarm cells in my own hive!

Today was just plain muggy. The temperature made it up to 92 degrees here, and the relative humidity held out at 47% -- meaning it was sticky hot. As I mentioned before, we've gone from a hard winter to summer, then back to spring -- and now back to summer. Since the weather was hot, I decided to go ahead and do an inspection since it had been a couple of weeks. Good thing I did because I found some interesting developments since my last peek under the cover.

Even the beginning beekeeper should recognize this -- a swarm cell.  Not one cell, but at least four of them. Two of the cells were on one frame, and the other two cells were on individual frames. Was I surprised? No. This colony has been absolutely booming after making it through the winter, so I knew that the congestion would eventually lead to swarming. I was hoping that they would hold out until I could do a split with a bred queen from the apiary in Chapel Hill, but as you can see, the bees had a different idea.

A few of the frames I pulled out had burr comb beneath them, some attached the frame in the middle chamber to the frames on the bottom chamber. I did the best job I could of not pulling the comb open and exposing the larvae and pupa, but it wasn't meant to be in some cases. No matter how hard I've worked to keep the burr comb to a minimum, just letting them go a couple of weeks can leave a mess for you to clean up. But as you can see in the picture to the right, this burr comb is intact including the obvious swarm cell. The pupa I did expose was collected and dumped into the creek behind the house. The creek is full of small fish so they had a nice Sunday snack.

Here's one of those frames I mentioned above with the exposed pupa. But you can see yet another swarm cell on the front, and when I looked up into it (it wasn't capped) there was a very lively larvae inside. So making sure as best I could that the queen wasn't on this frame, I moved it over to the empty hive next door. I did that with all the frames holding swarm cells. Doing the best I could to make sure that the reigning queen wasn't anywhere on them, I placed them in the empty hive along with the bees on those frames. I'm just hoping that her highness is still in the mother hive and didn't get moved over. I'll have to check in a few days to see if there are new eggs in the mother live.

A mixture of cells, what I believe to be drone cells and swarm cells too. The one on the bottom had a larvae inside and was almost completely capped. Some of the cells above that are drone cells. But to the other side of the frame, it appears that the oblong shaped cells were swarm cells as well. So now we're up to at least four swarm cells on the bottom of the frames, all of them in the middle chamber of this hive. The box I placed above it weeks ago, including frames with Plasticell foundation -- the bees had already started drawing out with comb. Two of the frames were drawn on one side and they had started on a third. And that's without me feeding them syrup.

So what did I do? As I mentioned above, on the advice of beekeeping guru, Richard Underhill of the Peace Bee Farm, he said that if I found swarm cells, I needed to move them to a new hive and do a split. Some other beekeepers told me that a split should also include capped brood and eggs too. So acting on the information I had absorbed from everyone, I moved the frames with the swarm cells to the new hive, and I added some capped brood and egg frames. Some of the capped brood frames had larvae too which was even better. I also found a nice frame of newly laid eggs, so I put it there too. And to top it off, I added some pollen frames and one full frame of honey for them to use.

I would be lying if I said that I'm completely comfortable with everything I did. I just pray that I did everything right. Even if the queens don't emerge or they don't make it, maybe they'll still have enough in this new hive to make a new queen. Although I included pollen and honey frames, I decided to go ahead and add sugar syrup to give them more food since the nurse bees have never left the hive. Then when I check it again in a week or so and things hopefully look okay, I'll possibly add another chamber with empty frames so they can start drawing comb. I placed the empty frames that are partially drawn back on the yellow hive which is the mother hive, so that should possibly keep them busy now that the swarm urge has hopefully dissippated with the disappearance of the swarm cells.

I am open for critiques here. Let me know if you think I handled this okay. With great advice from longtime beekeepers like Richard Underhill and others, I feel like I did the right thing. I'm just hoping that the bees have the same idea. So let me know what you think.

I'll BEE waiting to hear from you!


  1. Sounds like your split strategy is a good one. Keep us posted. I'm going to have to do one myself. If it will make you feel any better I'm never comfortable with anything I do out in the beeyard - even if I know I'm right.

  2. Mark,
    Your procedure looks good to me. You gave the bees all of the resources that they need to create a queen and start a new colony. I wish that I could take credit for this procedure, but I borrowed it from L. L. Langstroth. Now that you have two hives, you will have great flexibility in managing the colonies. Best wishes.
    --Richard Underhill

  3. Steve: Thanks! Good to know I'm not the only one who gets nervous when I do things "under the hood" as they say.

    Richard: I am honored that you stopped by and I thank you for your patience and advice. Now I'll have to wait it out and see what happens. I figure I'll check both hives in a week and see what's going on. The girls in the mother hive are still all on the front of the hive, but its after 11 at night and the temperature is 82 degrees and almost 60% humidity. I placed my ear against the new hive a little while ago and can hear them buzzing away. I'll keep you posted. And thank you again so much for taking time to advise me.

  4. Mark I think you're doing awesome just to recognize the situation and go from there with the splits. That's my plan if/when I see the same this year.

    Thanks for describing things so well!



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