Chaos In The Apiary

Chaos In The Apiary

Grateful for thoughts on my analysis below.

The Events

  • Big week at work: which left me only 15 mins to catch swarms during the day, no time to analyse and just having to combine colonies during the evening without too much thought
  • Swarms (that I suspect were casts from south facing allotment hives) on 22, 24 and 25 May – but I had no time to count days since artificially swarming and since the combining to analyse what was going on
  • Ran out of nucs on 22 May
  • Combined two farmer field hives of unknown queen state using newspaper method to free up a 14×12 brood box
  • Put two separate swarms in to two supers and combined on top of a hive that in the end had 3 separate colonies separated by newspaper
  • I peaked at 10 colonies for a few days but am back down to 7 colonies
  • I’ve done my analysis in the last few hours and feel a bit more in control and that I know what might have happened

24 May Swarm

Swarm In Apple Tree
Swarm In Apple Tree

This swarm escaped 10 minutes later and appeared as two swarms? Is this because of multiple virgin queens? Or just because sometime swarms just do this before deciding on one location to hang from?

Two Swarms In Apple Tree?
Two Swarms In Apple Tree?

Series of videos on the day:

My Last Nuc Box On 22 May

Swarm in nuc box - Steve/Suki allotment
Swarm in nuc box – Steve/Suki allotment

The Analysis

I had family obligations Saturday and Sunday and so it is only today, Monday 29th May, that I can actually read back over my hive notes and understand what happened.

The Swarms

Please read My Apiary notes for 22 May to 28 May 2017 for all the detail.

I had a quick look in the middle hive that had not been artificially swarmed as it had been starving earlier in the season and was in recovery.  I could not find the unmarked Queen but this hive had new eggs in it.  If this hive had swarmed it would have been the first large swarm on 22 May which I put in the nuc box n the farmer’s field.

I suspect all three, or at least the other two swarms, were casts, headed by virgin queens, from both of the two south facing hives.

At least the swarm on 24 May was a cast as I found two virgin queens and there could have been more.

I artificially swarmed these south facing hives on the 7 May and they were queen-less at that point (I know this as the queens were definitely left in the nucs). They would since have raised at least one queen and in this case, evidently more than one. This was 15 days ago. It takes 16 days for queen honeybee to hatch from an egg, so if they created a emergency queens with an egg that was already laid, we are in the right time frame, or if they had already started a queen cell we are also in the right time frame. Worker bees can hide virgin queens from other queens so that they can then create a caste with that queen up to a few weeks after they have hatched out.

The Combined Hives In Farmer’s Field

Please read My Apiary notes for 22 May to 28 May 2017 for all the detail.

In summary, I discovered that both boxes had laying queens before I combined 6 days ago and that the North facing hive must have always been Queen-right and the South facing hive must also have been Queen-right … when I had been sure both colonies had been Queen-less due to no eggs or brood.

Is My Analysis Correct?

Have I drawn the right conclusions? Were they more probably prime swarms rather than casts? Were the field hives always Queen-right?  Please comment.

The Outcome

  • The field hives look to have combined OK and I hope will have let the 2017 queen survive. (Though I am a bit concerned why they are already raising more queen cells – which I removed)
  • The stack of three colonies on one hive … looks to have combined OK, again, hopefully with a 2017 Queen leading the colony
  • I have a spare nuc box again! Phew!
  • One of the allotment hives looks to have complete 2 supers of honey with thin foundation! Wow! My hopes are once again raised for a large summer harvest!
  • All colonies look on course to be productive in July
  • Senen and I scraped out some honey from the supers where the swarms had been captured:
Roger & Senen Eating Honey From Comb (28 May 2017)
Roger & Senen Eating Honey From Comb (28 May 2017)
Enjoying Spring 2017 Honey From Comb
Enjoying Spring 2017 Honey From Comb


  • According to the “track and trace” function on the transport company website, on the 1st June I can expect my two new Thermosolar Hives to arrive. These are much needed. I can then put the 2 nucs in the allotments into 2 full 14×12 hives and put the south facing colonies into the Thermosolar hives! Very, very exciting.  I will then be able to fully try out killed varroa without chemicals in these two hives.  I will also be able to free up a further 2 nuc boxes.
  • I have got the two field hives into a good position to put into the Beehaus when it arrives early summer
  • Add supers and put my feet up in June and July??? I guess not!

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Beautiful Swarm For The Beehaus

Beautiful Swarm For The Beehaus

I had my first swarm of the year.

It was 16C, so I went down to the allotment to do a quick 12 noon scan for a swarm.  80m away I spotted that a fence post in the farmers field was a darker colour than the other posts and wider at the top.  As I approached it was clearly a swarm. It was very contained, just a few bees flying around. And very calm, the bees did not bother with me at all.  It was a classic, beautiful swarm.

Swarm Of Bees On Fence Post
Swarm Of Bees On Fence Post


Swarm Of Bees - Close Up
Swarm Of Bees – Close Up

Catching The Swarm

I quickly got my nuc box, brushed half of the bees in, moved the box 10m to behind the gates (safe from the cows), grabbed a few handfuls of the remaining bees from the post and placed them on walkway up to the nuc entrance. 10 minutes later all the bees had left the post and made their way to the nuc.

The Remaining Bees In Swarm Find Nuc Box
The Remaining Bees In Swarm Find Nuc Box
Ready For Arrival Of Beehaus
Ready For Arrival Of Beehaus

I later transferred the swarm to full hive body and fed a thin syrup.

Ready For The Beehaus

I have mentioned before that the team at Omlet are providing me with a Beehaus (thanks again).  The Beehaus is wide, has 2 entrances and allows for 2 separate colonies.

With 2 colonies facing in opposite directions I am ready for the Beehaus. The plan is to put both colonies in the Beehaus, whilst keeping them separate. Exterminate the old queen and then combine the hives with the new Queen (the hive on the left is the one that swarmed and will have a 2017 queen). I am hoping this large colony become a honey factory with possibly 20+ frames of brood by end May that will become foragers during the main nectar flow in July! I am ever hopeful!


I wrote a review of the Beehaus some years ago, or you can go direct to the Beehaus website.  It’s a super duper hive.  With an aching back the day after my swarm exertions, I am looking forward to using this ergonomic hive.  It will also make swarm management easier.

My Swarm Management Approach This Year

I hadn’t managed to find a convenient time (due to cold weather when I was free) to practice any swarm management on this colony that swarmed.  I was also hoping that the cold weather would delay any swarming till a bit later in May. With my allotment hives, I have given them additional supers below the brood box and am planning to split the 2 strong ones ASAP. The colony which I had to emergency feed is struggling somewhat and no where near swarming.

Videos Of The Swarm

I also took a series of 4 video clips:

Part 1/4 – Found Bee Swarm On Fence Post

Part 2/4 – Some Bees In Box Others Remain On Fence Post

Part 3/4 – All The Bees Find The Nuc Box

Part 4/4 – Close Up Of Bees Going Into The Nuc Box

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Swarm Trap Success

Swarm Trap Success

I am loving the beekeeping.  2 swarms caught and hived in 2 weeks.  It feels like creating something from nothing. Quite magical.

I set up three swarm traps with pheromone lures in the middle of May and a month later, one of them has now attracted a swarm.

The photo and video below look like a big swarm, but in the end they could all fit into a 2 litre ice cream tub.  How many bees is that?  5,000?. Still “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon” – does that mean I’ll get some honey or just that the colony will get to a size that survives the winter?

Swarm 16 June 2015
Swarm 16 June 2015


Swarm Trap Successful
Swarm Trap Successful

Below is one of the better videos as it was shot by a professional TV Director who just happened to be coming for dinner as I was hiving the swarm. Thanks Hannah.  A few seconds into the video you can still see I am a bit jumpy around the bees!

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Attack Of The Swarm!

Forget Godzilla… this summer’s thriller is all about the bees. They have been swarming all over the country; from Topshop in London to cultural statues in Cambridge and now, my lot here in tranquil Gloucestershire are at it!

Like any classic summer blockbuster, the day started so peacefully. My wife and child were out for the day and I was living the dream… pottering down the allotment, checking out my broad beans and blissfully unaware of what the bees were planning. Until of course I heard the roar of them departing.

Suddenly ten thousand bees were on their way out. Man, they are loud. And blooming scary!

I’ve never seen a swarm in action before but I quickly converted into super-hero mode. I donned my uniform and reassured myself I could handle this.

The Swarm

Catching The Swarm

A lot of the neighbours were also in the allotment. I was conscious I had to look like I knew what I was doing.

I rushed back for my swarm capture gear (cardboard box, suit, brush) and being the dedicated blogger I am, my video camera.

In my mind, I expected the swarm to land on the branch of a tree and I’d shake the whole lot into a box in one go.  The reality was more messy.

Swarm - 18th May 2014
Swarm – 18th May 2014

Hiving The Swarm

I hopped over the fence, found the bees congregating in the hedge and shook them into the cardboard box.  I got a few thousand but many more thousands remained in the air, on the grass and in the hedge.

I went back for a spare hive and placed it 1m away.  I chucked the swarm into the hive, placed the frames over them and closed it up with a crown board.

Catching Swarm - 18th May 2014
Catching Swarm – 18th May 2014

Studying the bees I saw them congregating again in the hedge.  I went back with the cardboard box, and shook them in.  I didn’t want to open the hive, so placed the box near the hive.  My hope was the Queen was in the hive and she would attract all the workers.

I studied the cardboard box to see if I could see the Queen, and after 5 minutes I did.  I coached her onto my fingers, placed her near the entrance of the hive and she walked in.  I studied the entrance for a few more minutes and did not see her come out.

This felt like the moment where the credits of the film would come up – I had surely won the day!

There remained lots of bees on the outside of the hive but after about 4 hours they were in with only a few hundred flying around.

Bees Walking Into Hive - 18th May 2014
Bees Walking Into Hive – 18th May 2014

At 8pm, I moved the hive into the allotment, placed a Queen excluder above and below the brood box, so she couldn’t escape, and gave them 2Kg of sugar as a light syrup.

So me and the bees have survived. It’s been scary but thrilling and overall “Catching A Swarm” has felt like a classic.

Hive One - 18 May 2014
Hive One – 18 May 2014

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My Dad – The Swarm Catcher

It wasn’t meant to be like this.  I was meant to be The Man, or better yet, The Beeman.  But The Old Man is taking all the glory.  To be fair, he is far more relaxed around the bees than me, so he probably did a far better job.  I can only take credit for the fact I gave him instructions down the phone.  After I put the phone down,  for a couple of seconds I thought “Crikey – I hope he’ll be alright” … and then I buried my head in some metaphorical sand, stuck my fingers in my ears and started a mantra along the lines of La La La.  This is the closest I get to meditation these days.

The bees swarmed … yes, again.  It was Friday 20th July and I was at work.  You might be wondering, which hive?  Depending on how well you remember the bee story so far, you might know it as Hive B, or the New Hive or the-swarm-I-hived-near-the-start-of-June.  Yes, they’d only been in there 6 weeks and half of them were ready to take off again.  I’d given them a nice, big, 14×12 brood box and whacked a super on top for good measure.  What was there not to like?  Me?  Anyhow, not to worry, there are still bees coming in and out as I write this – just rather fewer than a few weeks ago.

I told Dad to get the cardboard box and bee brush, don his beekeeper suit, find someone to take photos, brush the bees into the box, flip it upside down with a rock underneath to give the remaining bees space to get in, call the local bee association for them to collect (I had no where to put them), wait a couple of hours for all the bees to go in and then seal them up and put a few holes in the box.  Easy!

Here are a few photos and video clips of my Dad being manly, filmed by The Chicken Man (aka the chap who owns the chicken coop where the swarm landed).

 The Swarm – on a chicken coop in the allotment


Curious Cows – the cows come from the other side of the field to check out the action

Cows watching bee swarm


 Dad – The Swarm Catcher! Brushes bees into box

 Swarm Catcher


 Remaining honeybees find the Queen and rest of the swarm through pheromones

Catching a swarm


Dad fancies himself as David Attenborough


Dad seals bees in the box for collection

Swarm in a box


So yes – Dad not only survived but succeeded.  Thanks Dad!

Someone from the local bee association came to collect the swarm and whilst he was there he looked in the new hive with Dad.  When Dad told me this my Inner Beeman, who is already feeling a bit of a loser, took quite a confidence knock.  Crikey, am I so inadequate that I can’t check be trusted to check my own bees?  Anyhow, he spotted a Queen cell and thinks this is the hive where the swarm came from.

I have not looked in the hive for a few weeks now because (A) I’m a bad beekeeper, (B) I don’t think I have had any reason to check them and (C) it fits my new philosophy of Evidence-Based Beekeeping.  However, I am definitely inspecting the bees this weekend for the following:

  • Check how much honey there is and consider harvesting
  • Check their stores of honey and pollen
  • Make sure both hives have laying Queens, eggs and brood

Amazingly its near the end of the nectar flow and I need to start thinking about getting the bees ready for Winter.  I know the days are getting shorter but I’m still, looking forward to some Summer and I’m not yet ready to think about the colder months ahead.

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Warning – novice beekeeper alert

I inspected my TWO hives on Sunday with some trepidation.

Hive A: My hopes were raised when I looked in the old hive (the one that swarmed 5 weeks ago) and I saw white “stuff” at the bottom of some of the cells.  To a desperate, novice beekeeper, they looked a bit like uncapped larvae. To members of the Beekeeping Forum, with no emotional attachment to my hives, it was definetly granulated honey stores.  In conclusion, there may, or maynot, be a newly-laying Queen. Advice from beekeepers welcome.

Hive B: The newly hived swarm seemed to be doing nicely.  The first thing that amazed me was that they had drunk all the sugar syrup I had given them.  They had drawn out most of the frames and were starting to fill them with nectar and pollen.  I was hoping to see eggs, but it was 5pm, the light was poor and I could not see any.  The only worry about this hive is that Dad report enormous amounts of activity at about 1.30pm and he showed me some photos and it looked like they might have been planning to swarm.  So this might be a Queenless hive too.  Advice appreciated.

This is my first year of beekeeping and it’s even more complex than I originally thought.  Four days of training, some experience and numerous books had not shown me any photos of granulated stores or given me a definitive answer on what to do in the circumstances I have described in a number of posts.  There is a constant uncertainty around not having a laying Queen and further swarming.  I had hoped to be an OK beekeeper in my first year and make 2-3 supers of honey. I am now seeing this period as a huge learning experience.

I am going to phone a friend.

Original hive / brood box frame / no brood / granulated honey in centre / honey stores around the edge:

granulated stores

Newly hived swarm / drawing out new comb:

new hive brood frame

To find out what happened next you might want to read Proud Dad and please subscribe to this blog.

Hiving a swarm … again

I had already hived a swarm which had absconded the next day and I was at the peak of my exhaustion from 14 bee stings the previous day, but when I heard my new beekeeper friend, Pete, had caught a large (size of a football), prime swarm from one of his hives, I was keen to give it another go.

We shook and swept his swarm into my hive and I fed them 12 pints of sugar syrup (1:1, sugar to water) using a 12 pint jumbo beehive feeder. There was some drizzle during the day and the forecast for the next few days was not good, so I hoped they would want to anywhere and they would stay this time. When I got home that evening I had the satisfied glow of a job well done.

Seven days later and they are still their hurrah! A success.

Smoking the swarm (which was caught in a nuc box):

Hiving a swarm 1

 Shaking bees into their new home:

Hiving a swarm 2

 Bees flying everywhere:

Hiving a swarm 3

Postscript: If you want to find out if they stayed this time, please read Warning – Novice Beekeeper Alert.

Easy come, easy go

Photo sent to me from my neighbour, of my newly-hived bees just before they swarmed again and left me:

newly hived bees departing

What’s more annoying than someone who’s told you your hive has swarmed is someone who’s seen and told you twice.  I want to be the first to know.  I want to give the impression that everything is in control.  Do other beekeepers feel like this?  But I have to get over this because it’s actually very useful (so thanks Andrew).

By the time I got home, they were all gone.  They hadn’t even started to draw out the foundation into comb.

I spoke to another beekeeper the same day and he said the same thing happened to him last year.  Phew!  It’s not just me.  The beekeeping books say one could put some drawn comb in the hive, but I don’t have any of that yet.

Hiving a swarm

The thing about swarms is that it can be a blooming disappointing (verging on soul-destroying) when you lose one, but rather brilliant when you catch one. And it can even be pretty good when your beekeeping mentor catches one – and you benefit from it…

At 8.08pm I got a text from Jonathan saying that he had caught a swarm. His hive had swarmed (sad to say, this was music to my ears, see Swarmy Bees post, and made me feel a bit less of an idiot). He didn’t want any more hives and he very kindly thought of me as he knew I wanted a second one to play with. (At this stage he didn’t know I’d partially lost the first colony).

It was only as I was driving home with a box of Angry Bees in a cardboard box in the back of the car that I began to wonder … what would Jonathan have done if I didn’t want them. The Queen Bee is laying about 2,000 eggs a day (I have even read up to 6,000 in the BBKA News, I’m scared to read it these days). That’s 60,000 new bees a month and they only take about 21 days to hatch out.

I have visions of my beehives doubling every year and my life generally getting out of control in proportion to the number of beehives. Is this how people suddenly find themselves with 25 dogs, 13 cats and 8 budgies living in a one bed flat? Am I just going to have to be a beekeeper in-denial and ignore the fact they need to swarm and just let them? Is that what beekeepers do? Or am I going to wake up one day with 100 beehives somehow integrated into my house?

I am going to have to stop writing this post as I’m starting to feel a bit queasy.


OK. I got over it and I’m back. In short, I had another beekeeping session in the dark, with my Dad, and chucked the bees in the hive we made a month ago. There were some issues about me getting in a panic, not opening the cardboard box properly and shaking the bees around and making them angrier. But Dad saved the day. One day … I’ll save the day. One day I’ll be a Dad.

Oh by the way, I should mention my wife is 15 weeks pregnant. The vicar was a bit surprised when I told him the day after the wedding.

Here we are hiving the swarm.

Beekeepers - Dad & I Hiving a swarm

And here’s a video:

Post script: Funny, how looking at my old posts I was worrying about varroa, but I haven’t thought about varroa for 3 weeks now. CRIKEY!!! The varroa!!! I’d forgot about the varroa!