Murder, swarming and too many queens ….

What a month May turned out to be with plenty of activity in the apiary and the bees have hardly had a chance to leave the hives! It seems to have pretty much rained since the last week in March and as we enter the second week in June the heavens have only teased us with occasional glimmer of sunlight through the clouds and in  southern England we have been given more flood warnings and are set to experience even more rain into this weekend and next week.

The National Bee Unit (NBU), part of FERA, have again issued a warning this week for beekeepers to check their hives and feed the bees thin syrup if in any doubt about the amount of stores in the hives. This is of particular importance if the hive is made up from a split or a swarm this year as there is a very real chance that the bees will starve if they cannot fly.

The Apiary early June 2012

The Apiary early June 2012

All this rain has also hampered the ability to get into the hives and properly assess what is going on, colony splits were made back in early May and new queens introduced to those colonies that required them but having ended April with 5 hives in the apiary we are now up to 11 hives following a serious of both artificial swarms and natural secondary swarms called  casts. Each ‘parent’ hive had at least two or three queen cells left in and as the new virgin queens hatched they will have fled with a small number of workers, if they stay in the hives there is a very real risk of one of their siblings killing them.  In nature these ‘casts’ would have little chance of surviving in the current weather conditions but my bee buddy Paul has been busy collecting all the swarms and re-homing them in his vertical top bar Warre hives (as below, click on the images to enlarge).

Paul's Warre hives

Paul’s Warre ‘vertical top bar’ hives

Cast swarm re-homed in a nucleus hive

Hatched queen cells line the comb, each virgin queen may have led to a swarm taking place.

Hatched queen cells line the comb
(in this case there were 5), each virgin queen
may have led to a secondary swarm taking place.

The inspections that have been carried out are to see if, and how many, queens have hatched from their cells, whether they have successfully mated and are  laying healthy worker brood. For those that have survived they seem to have been unable to get out on their mating flights so are in the hive but not egg laying yet and this will only widen the gap between the workers produced by the previous queens and those who will eventually be laid by the new queens, meaning far smaller colonies than in previous years and I am hoping that the bees produce enough honey to feed themselves over winter (this is preferable to sugar syrup) and I will be lucky if I manage to extract an excess of honey this year, but then that was not the reason for taking up bee keeping in the first place.

My inspections this week saw new virgin queens being marked in two of the hives (the queen is temporarily ‘trapped’ beneath a cage that she is too large to escape from and a coloured dot is put on her back to make it easier to spot her in the hive during subsequent inspections), a third hive has the queen donated to me by Bob Fitzpatrick and although I couldn’t find her the hive if full of eggs and brood so I know that she is mated and in there somewhere working very hard. The other two hives that I checked had no sign of the queen, no eggs or brood but it doesn’t mean that she is not in there so I will return in 10 days or so and re-assess how they are getting on.

The inspections are also to assess the overall health of the colonies, and other than a little ‘chalk brood’ ( fungal infection) in one of the hives they all seem pretty good so far this year.

The bees are still managing to get some foraging in and there is plenty of flowering plants and trees around the apiary and adjoining agricultural and woodland to feed them when they get the chance, including the borage plants planted all over the forest garden.

Honey bee on borage

Honey bees forage on the borage

The apiary at the end of June 2012 with hives everywhere!

As ever I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog, feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.



3 responses to this post.

  1. I wish bees could be more boring, this year has been far too dramatic! We have had murder and regicide too, swarms and now a starvation risk alert from the National Bee Unit… when will it end? Great photos of the hatched queen cells.


  2. […] I am a beekeeper based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK. I am relatively new to beekeeping with 2010 […]


  3. Great photos and interesting bog.


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