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  • Writer's pictureLinda

Swarm preparations

Cliffe Castle Bee Blog #5 2023

An exciting inspection of the observation hive colony this morning (1st May). Steve and I found several queen cells on the frames, each containing a young larva, floating in a pool of milky white royal jelly. This is a sign that the bees are preparing to swarm!

It was all getting rather too cosy in the small observation hive, with lots and lots of bees

and several frames filled with stores (nectar and pollen) leaving little space for the queen to lay. When space in the nest gets as tight as this, it’s harder for the calming scent signals of the queen to reach all the bees in the colony. So, they begin preparations to find a new nest site, and the queen and half of the bees from the crowded nest will move to a new space. This 'swarming' process is the way that honeybee populations increase.

Before they leave, the younger house bees begin to raise new replacement queens, to head up the remaining half colony in the original nest site (the Cliffe Castle Observation Hive, in our case). These queen replacement preparations were the cells that Steve and I found today.

The two long cells hanging down from the bottom of this frame are queen cells. They need to be this size and shape to provide enough space for the queen to develop properly before she emerges from the cell. The queen bee has a long abdomen and is quite a different shape from the other bees in the colony. More about this next time!

So, what did we do?

We carefully checked the colony to make sure that last year’s yellow* queen was still in the hive. When we found her, we made sure that there were no queen cells on her frame and placed it in a 5-frame travelling box (aka poly nuc). Then we checked all the other eight frames, to find any with queen cells on them. We cut out any queen cells that were already sealed and kept the best, open, cell in which we could see a small larva floating on royal jelly.

From the now remaining seven frames, we chose the ones with mostly sealed brood and put two of these and a frame of stores into the poly nuc with the yellow queen. We put the frame with the chosen queen cell back into the Observation Hive along with the other frames of stores, eggs and young larvae and some frames of comb and foundation, so that all nine spaces in the hive were filled.

The Observation Hive is less crowded now and is queenless. The house bees will have another go at raising queen cells from the eggs and young larvae still in the nest. Steve and I will go back later this week to check them again and make sure we just have the one, good, queen cell in the hive. Fingers crossed that a well-nourished, healthy queen emerges from this cell to become this year’s Red Queen of the Observation Hive.


*There is a system common to beekeepers whereby queen bees are marked with colours (using harmless paint markers), so that it is easier both to find the queen in the colony and to identify and track their year of birth. 2022 was a 'yellow' year and 2023 is a 'red' year.


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