A Three Queen Summer
Shortly after lunch in mid-June my wife gave me the message that it sounded as if the bees were swarming. Being allergic to stings, she had moved towards the house and was intent on going inside, out of reach of the bees, as quickly as possible.
I found the bees swarming in a laurel bush, luckily in an easy position to capture. As I had a colony which I believed were queenless, I decided to take the swarm into an empty brood chamber, in the hope that I might find the queen when the bees had settled on the combs. I then hoped to catch the queen and put her into the queenless stock, assuming that the remaining bees from the swarm would then go back from where they had come.
I shook the vast majority of the swarm into the brood chamber and put a crown board on top. There were a few bees on the top of the crown board, and even without my glasses, I spotted a queen bee amongst one small group of perhaps 20 bees. I put her in a matchbox, ready to put into a queen cage and then into the queenless hive.
There were a few bees that had returned to the laurel bush, and rather than take the crown board off the ‘captured’ swarm, I decided to shake them into a small nucleus hive that had a brood comb of honey in it. The nucleus I left on top of the crown board of the brood chamber.
The queen, which I had placed in the matchbox, was transferred to a queen cage, the open end of which was blocked off with candy, before I put it into the queenless hive.
I returned to the swarm in the brood chamber at 9pm, expecting that all the bees would have returned to the hive from which they had come, but…
I looked in the nucleus box and saw a few bees in there. I thought that these bees were most probably robbing out the brood comb full of honey. I decided to lift the nucleus hive to one side and deal with it later. As I did this I saw, again without my glasses, a queen on the top of the crown board. Perhaps she had been trapped under the nucleus box? I picked her up, fearful she might fly off, and put her into a matchbox.
The brood chamber also still had bees in it. The bees here were covering some 4 or 5 frames, so I moved them and the brood box to the position I had reserved for a swarm and gave them a brood frame full of honey. Was there a queen in here also?
I decided to put the queen found on the crown board with the bees in the nucleus hive so that I would have a spare queen for later in the year in case of need. So now I had a queen in a queen cage in the queenless hive, a queen in the nucleus hive, and the possibility of a queen in the brood chamber.
My text books suggest that a queen leaves the hive, provided the weather is good, 5 to 8 days after hatching, and that she then starts to lay some 2 days later. They two parts of the swarm had unmated queens in them 10 days after the swarm, and I saw the first eggs 14 days after swarm. I believe that the queen used to re-queen the queenless hive started to lay about two days earlier. Interestingly, none of my text books on bees mention multiple queens in cast swarms. Graham Platt told me that he once saw three queens on a cast swarm.
Perhaps there ought to be a prize for the maximum number of queens found in a swarm in a season! But how would you substantiate it?
The hived swarm had a mated queen. She laid up two frames and then stopped laying and appeared to have died. A further queen was added but the bees never accepted her, so this hive went queenless. The nucleus hive went ahead smoothly, with the queen laying well and building up nicely.
I am a bit of a fair weather beekeeper and dislike going through the bees in rain, and particularly in times of high wind, although I do ensure that I go through my hives to remove the drone brood, which I use to assist in varroa control, from the brood chamber on time. So I was a little late going through two or three hives away from home in a temporary out apiary, and consequently I found a number of queen cells in one hive. I decided to leave two queen cells, and the other three I cut out as carefully as I could, putting them in a matchbox so that I could look at them later.
When I got home I opened the matchbox – to find three queens running about! I needed one queen, so decided to put one into a queen cage in a nucleus hive. By the time I had got my queen cage ready, one queen looked very dead – perhaps killed by one of the others? I put a queen into the queen cage, and she moved into it of her own accord, but when I took the cage to the nucleus there was no sign of movement from her! Had she just been stung and killed by the third queen?
I seem to remember reading that virgin queens less than 12 hours old could be put straight into a hive because they had no smell (I marvel at how anyone could find out such a thing!) Anyhow, I decided to put the third and only remaining queen into the nucleus through the front door. I saw her go in with few bees running over her but didn’t see any out and out warfare – and the nucleus now has eggs, grubs and sealed brood!
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