March into April – the arrival of new queens

My beekeeping routine for the year started off well with weekly checks on the hive revealing that the queen was laying well (up to 2000 eggs per day) and the size of the colony was rapidly expanding. The weekly checks are carried out with a few questions in mind, rather than being a sociable visit. Is the queen visible? If not atre there eggs of larva? Capped brood? Do they have enough food stores? Is there enough room for the egg laying? Are the bees behaving normally – this can indictae a weak colony that is under viral or parasite attack. Are there any queen cells, is the hive getting ready to swarm?

The act of swarming is the bee’s way of ‘giving birth’. The old queen leaves with about 20,000 bees, which forms the swarm, carrying about three days supply of honey in their stomachs and they leave behind a number of queen cells in the hive. These are larger cells (needed as the queen is bigger than the workers) that had an egg laid in it but which the worker subsequently choose to feed with royal jelly. This is what will form a new queen but the bees will form several new queens in one go but normally only one of these will survive to head the  colony. Once the first queen has been born she will seek out teh other queens, still inside their cells and sting them to death. Occassionaly she will simply leave the hive with a few worker bees and leave another queen to emerge and rule.

At the end of March my weekly checks reveled a number of sealed queen cells in the hive, and some unsealed, and that definitely meant the instinct  to swarm had kicked in. Some beekeepers recommend destroying these queen cells, but this won’t neccessarily prevent the swarm, and if the old queen leaves you will have no new queen to rule the hive and there is a risk that you will ose the colony. Time to carry out an ‘artificial swarm’.

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