With July we should have now come to the end of the swarming season – at least that’s what the books say. The bees, as usual, tend to do their own thing. Much of the swarming impulse will now have passed though as the numbers in the colony peak in late June and then start to decline. Bees are very good at planning at least a month in advance and they know that forage will start to become more scarce as we enter August and as it takes three weeks for the queen to lay eggs, for them to hatch, be raised as larvae and then pupate – and another two weeks for them to become productive foragers – the bees don’t want too many mouths to feed by the end of the summer.
A good beekeeper, they say, shouldn’t ever lose a swarm. There are several techniques for what is called ‘artificial swarming’ which means satisfying the bees’ natural impulse to swarm but without actually losing them. You can tell if they are planning to swarm by the presence of queen cells – and if they get to the point of sealing them (ie the queen larvae having reached maturity and the sell being capped with wax while she pupates) then you will for sure be losing a swarm. That means regular visits throughout May/June. Come July the beekeeper can in theory take things a bit easier with the main task being to ensure that there is sufficient space for the bees to store nectar as they start to process it into honey. That’s why you may have noticed the hives at the bottom of the garden starting to grow as I add additional boxes.
Touch wood I haven’t lost any swarms this year (well, I have, but not from the Rosamund Garden) but just in case I’ve had some ‘bait hives’ dotted around the garden. These are small boxes ‘baited’ with swarm attractant and bits of old comb so that if a swarm left they would, hopefully, go into one of these boxes – actually its not unknown for beekeepers to ring a neighbouring beekeepers property with bait boxes if they think that beekeeper might not be paying sufficient attention to his bees and so pick up a free swarm. I of course have never done this…
So I’ve been moving the bait hives and putting them back into storage though you have noticed there’s still one by the loo. You may also have noticed a small furry face peering out. This is because it’s been colonised by some mice and I don’t have the heart to evict them.
Image: Peter delivering at talk at ZERO Guildford titled “The Plight of the Bumblebee”