20 June 2013

Two beekeepers try to transfer a cast swarm

Another member of my BKA needed a new queen, and if possible some fresh bees to go with her, to repopulate a queenless colony. I offered him a little cast swarm that had arrived in an unoccupied nuc box the day before. He came to the small apiary to collect the colony before they'd had a chance to get themselves too settled.

It seemed a straightforward thing to do, but the only problem was that the other beekeeper uses National hives, and I use Jumbo Langstroths - the frames aren't compatible. He thought the easiest way to move the bees would be to shake them into their new box, which was a clean but well-used wooden 5-frame nucleus, complete with a frame feeder and some lovely new foundation.


Transfer - fail
If you can imagine, for a moment, trying to get a reluctant dog to go into a kennel, or a reluctant horse to go into a horse box - you're pulling or pushing in one direction, the animal is digging its' heels in and pulling the other way. This will help you picture what happened next, except with a cast of a few thousand.

We put the beekeeper's nuc box onto a large piece of fabric, and shook and brushed the bees off each frame above it. They took to the air and landed just about anywhere but the box - on a nearby hive, in the hedge, on the solar wax extractor, on my kit box. He said he'd never seen anything like it.

We then moved the nuc to where the bees had orientated the day before, removing my nuc from its' stand, but they still refused to go inside his box. We cajoled (scooped and brushed) bees into the box - they left almost as quickly as they were put in. We covered his box with one of my inspection cloths and went off to have a cup of tea, thinking that they'd sort themselves out while we weren't looking.

It didn't happen! Not a single bee voluntarily went inside the little wooden nucleus box that had been so lovingly prepared for them. We decided to call it a day, and put my (Jumbo Langstroth) nuc box back on its' stand - within a very few minutes the bees were walking inside.

They had put up with a lot of messing about so we decided they'd had enough for one day, probably enough for a whole week. If the other beekeeper hasn't managed to get a replacement by then he might take my nuc box away to his apiary, and transfer the little colony only when they've orientated to their new home. It would have been better that way today, but wasn't what he'd wanted to do.

Post script
It had taken a long time, and I had other things to do, so it wasn't until early evening that I collected my gear from the apiary to put it back in the bee-shed. There were about half a dozen bees in my kit box, so I took everything out and put each bee I rescued carefully on top of the nearest hive, assuming they'd find their way home - and then took my kit box to the shed.

Soon everything was tidied away and I was ready to close the shed, it was then that I noticed three bees walking single file across the floor towards the shed door - one of them was a little conker-coloured queen! She looked slightly ruffled and out of sorts, hardly surprising if she'd been separated from her colony for half a day - but I had no idea where she could have appeared from, unless it was inside the hollow handle of my kit box. (Note to self - block handle with a couple of corks.)

I very carefully scooped her and the other two bees into a 'plunger queen marker', sprayed them gently with a fine mist of 1:1 syrup and let them settle for a minute or two. I had to assume she was from the cast swarm, so took her to the nuc box, lifted the lid and let her walk onto the top bars. She quickly disappeared from view.

The reaction of the bees was astonishing - they suddenly made a tremendous noise and those at the top of the hive started fanning and dancing. Within moments the collection of bees on the top bars resembled the closely knit pattern of a winter cluster, but with bees crawling over each other and wiggling their abdomens. They weren't angry - far from it, it looked and sounded as if they were having a welcome home party.

Let's hope this little queen wasn't too messed up by her experience, and that she'll lead a long and fecund life.

I think I might keep her.


No comments:

Post a Comment