Garden blogs

Unite and Prosper! by Lynda Christie

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Solving the problem of a queen-less colony

We always need to have a reason for opening and disturbing the bees. The main aim this week is to assess if colonies need to be given more boxes, to process the nectar flow and make honey stores.

If we already know that the colony is ‘queen right’ and has finished with making increase, we do not have to disturb the brood nest quite so much – just check that the queen has enough room to lay.

Supers (shallow boxes) are added where needed and then we move on to the colonies that need a bit more attention.

This week, we are also checking each hive for mite levels. Floor inserts were put in last week, so we examine each board to assess mite drop. Fortunately, most of the boards are mite free and numbers on the others very low so no treatment is needed at this time.

One colony has become hopelessly queen- less. We missed a prime swarm and, even though we took measures to prevent it from sending out cast swarms, the bees still did. This has depleted the colony numbers and they failed to make a new queen.

A test frame of eggs with young larvae was added at least twice to try to entice them to raise a new queen but, after many weeks with no success, we decided to combine these bees with another queen-right colony to boost that colony’s foraging force.

Colonies have their own distinct smell and, if you were to unite colonies directly, they could fight and damage (or kill!) the queen.

This is why we use the newspaper method to combine two colonies. A sheet of newspaper is placed between the two brood boxes and another sheet between these and any supers.

After a couple of days, the bees chew through the paper and, in doing so, slowly combine the scent of each hive and each other to become one colony.

There are still a number of fat, well-fed drones in our colonies. These will be used to mate with new queens that emerge from hives that wish to supersede an old or failing queen.
We are going to use this impulse of supersedure to raise some new queens. Preparations are under way to start this procedure and – hopefully – I will be able to give an update next time . . .