I collected a swarm on May 7th, which was a cast from a beekeeper’s hives. They were low down in a shrub, so not a difficult collection!

I put them in a nuc box and checked them ten days later as they were certainly not tiny enough to definitely be a cast, so I wanted to make sure they weren’t bowling along and running out of room. I saw the queen, and the bees were lovely and quiet, but no sign of eggs, and more worryingly, there was a queen cup on the base of one of the newly built combs. Also, what looked like drone comb on the one of the edge frames. In my experience these are not good signs as they show the bees are trying to develop a new queen, and are of course unable to do so with no eggs. I was disappointed as they seemed such nice bees. I’ve got a video here of that particular check and the subsequent discussion. I know there are lots of drones around, and the weather has been fantastic, so there was no reason for the queen to not get out and mate.

It’s very tempting with swarms – or any new colony – to assume the worst if there is a delay in signs of a good laying pattern, and to then start taking steps to redress the issue with a new queen, or uniting the colony with a queenright one. I have done that in the past, but I am always concerned that if the queen has not mated, or the colony is not doing well and I don’t know why, then for me to foist those bees on another colony, or give them a queen, is a bit counter-productive; unless you categorically know what is going on, then it seems to be muddying the water further, and for what gain?

I decided to check them again, just for information really, and noticed that they were still quiet, and chaining together on the frames building comb, and clustering. If a colony has lost its way regarding the correct pheromone/behavioural triggers, they tend to build weird lumpy comb, and don’t behave as a coherent colony. This is something that is important to keep in mind as well as the purely visual checks, and it pays to notice their demeanour – not necessarily their temperament, more their behaviour. I lifted out a frame, and there were eggs:

One per cell. Upright, so newly-laid eggs. I replaced the frame carefully and closed the box up. So that’s 18 days from swarming to eggs. Of course it could mean that they intend to use those fresh eggs to create a new queen, hence the queen cups, so I will have to see what they do.

It is suggested to wait 3 weeks before checking a new colony/queen as disturbance within this time is primarily thought to potentially interrupt a queen returning from her nuptial flight, and therefore becoming lost. It is a good maxim though, as it allows everything to settle. I checked this one, and because I saw some negative markers, I was concerned that the colony was doomed. They just needed some time though, and it was only my general principle of minimal intervention that prevented me rushing in to ‘fix’ the perceived problem.

2 Replies to “Patience…”

  1. Hi, Jen. During April I collected 8 swarms. But I believe that this year has been difficult for us and the bees. At least here in SW France. I don’t know why this has been the case. Two of our own hives swarmed and we caught the swarm, but the mother colonies didn’t develop well and we put the swarms in thier hive – that is after heavily sugar dusting both colonies. 30 minutes later they were calm and are doing well. Our friends have also found similar experience and so we gave them our surplus swarms. As you say one must have plenty of patience and keep fingers crossed. I wish you safe stay and best wishes for the little ladies. – Kourosh

    1. Hello! Thank you for your comment, that’s really interesting. I certainly find that swarms are not guaranteed by any means, and last year it was about 1 in 4 for me that went on to become viable. And as you say, often the original colony seems to lose its way so it will be interesting to see if this year is different. We have been discussing whether the lower pollution due to CV19 might be a factor in success, but the weather is so changeable and all over the place which I think may be more of a factor. Best wishes to you and yours too 🙂

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