Creating a new colony with an unmated queen, introducing a mated queen to an established colony, and I get a second colony


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Apiguard Thymol, Bee feeders, Beekeeping advice, Requeening re-queening | Posted on 05-10-2010

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

18 September, 10am: Robert calls, out of the blue, asking for directions. He’s coming over. It’ll be the first time he’s seen the place. “Can’t you just tell me what to do over the phone?” I squeak. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.” I can’t very well add, “…And I don’t want you standing over me while I balls things up” so stifle the urge.

He says it’s too complicated. It will take less time to actually do it. He hangs up. I bark at Mrs S and the kids. “Robert’s coming!” I feel like adding, “Get up, paint the house, vacuum the carpets, mow the lawn, start baking,” and only barely stifle the urge. Mrs S gives me an understanding look. The kids ignore me.

He arrives shortly after midday and steps out of the car with a lit smoker, which is a pretty neat trick. With saturation coverage on TV of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK it’s hard not to draw a parallel.

Pointing to where the hive is I help him carry his tools and a mini-nuc to an area just around the corner from it. Then we lift the lid off the super and discard the second Apiguard tray which has been in there for two weeks. The tray’s nearly empty. The rapid feeder I placed alongside it is also empty so I run inside and ask Mrs S to fill it.

We set about finding the queen. Thankfully it doesn’t take long. The last thing I did before closing the hive was mark her with a blue dot. I’m still taken by how small and dark she is.

Robert scoops her up and puts her into a traveling cage. Then he brings the mini-nuc round and sets it down beside the hive. He opens it to reveal that it contains only frames – no bees. Taking a couple of frames from my hive he swaps them with two from the mini-nuc. They’re covered in bees. He then picks up another frame from my hive and shakes more bees from it into the mini-nuc. The more quick-witted among them immediately high-tail back home next door, but enough stay to provide the basis for a new colony. I still have a few drones, so we carefully pick out five or six and drop them in. Finally, he picks up the traveling cage with my unmated queen and carefully places her onto the side of a frame before quickly sealing the box.

All this is happening at a fair old lick. Robert doesn’t hang around. He suddenly produces a second traveling cage. Does he keep them up his sleeve, I wonder? This is a mated queen he’s told me about over the phone. She’s apparently been in the cage for two weeks waiting to be collected, poor thing. At least she’s alive, although probably only just. The workers that came with her are definitely dead – and covered in candy. There’s a little reservoir of it at the end of the cage. They all seem to be jammed in there, drowned in food.

I ask Robert if we can mark the queen. He carefully picks her up and takes the blue pen I offer him, but points out that she’s so covered in sugar that the workers will probably lick it off. Nevertheless, having endured two weeks in a plastic cage, caked in sugar and with only the bodies of half a dozen dead worker bees to keep her company, he duly grabs her by the legs and daubs her in blue paint. Who would be a queen, eh? Then he gently eases her into an old hair roller with a cocktail stick stuck through one end.

Home-made Butler cages: on the left my effort made of wire and gauze; on the right an old - and more effective - hair roller

Home-made Butler cages: £2.50-worth of wire and gauze on left, 10p hair curler on right

This bit I’d read up on so I’m ready-prepared with small squares of newspaper and elastic bands. I’ve also produced my own home-made Butler cage. Thorne sell them for £1.58. Mine cost £2.50 in materials alone, plus an evening spent stabbing myself with bits of wire. Robert takes one look at it and suggests we use his. He seals both ends with newspaper, tied with elastic bands, and then pricks a few tiny holes each side. Then he suspends the hair roller vertically between two middle frames in the brood chamber, with the cocktail stick forming a bridge across the top.

I ask him how long it will take the workers to eat through the newspaper and release the queen, thinking that if it were me I’d probably want a few days on my own before being potentially mauled to death by the sisterhood. “They’ll have her out in an hour or so” he says.

Robert has always struck me as one of life’s gentlemen, and it’s now that he reinforces that view. Walking back to his car with the mini-nuc containing my unmated queen he opens the tail-gate and swaps it for another mini-nuc. “This will be your insurance policy,” he announces, before marching back to the hive. He sets it down beside my hive and explains what’s going to happen next.

Mini-nuc placed beside beehive

My insurance policy: Robert's mini-nuc placed beside the hive

The mini-nuc contains a mated queen and four frames. The bees on them are weak because they haven’t been fed. Robert holds up a frame and explains that if he were to gently shake it the bees would all fall off. Even without doing so one or two take a tumble. He takes a frame of capped stores and pollen from my hive before brushing off all the workers. Then he scrapes some of the cappings with his hive tool to release the nectar and places the frame in the mini-nuc. The undernourished worker bees in the mini-nuc pounce on it enthusiastically. To be on the safe side though, he instructs me to feed them as well. Mrs S is asked to make up an additional batch of sugar and water.

Robert tells me to check in a week whether the queen has been accepted. If I can’t find her I should wait another week to see whether there are any eggs or larvae. If there are, then we’re in business, if not it’s because the workers in my colony have killed the new queen. If that happens I should place the spare colony where my hive is currently and my returning bees will treat it as home. So that’ll be 50,000 puzzled bees trying to cram themselves into a mini-nuc. Cosy.

On the other hand, if the queen is accepted then I’m to wait for her to start laying before removing a couple of frames of brood across as many weeks to help build up the weaker colony.


Comments (1)

Are you around Andy – I have a swarm!!

Write a comment