Part 1: Are An Introduced Queen & A Swarm Related?

Part 1: Are An Introduced Queen & A Swarm Related?

I introduce a queen to a colony and a swarm goes over my garden a few hours later.  Are these incidents related?  I don’t know the answer to this question, yet.  I’ll post next week.

The Inspection

I am down to one hive after 2 seasons of weak colonies, wax moths, wasps and lets be honest, some bad beekeeping, so it was with crossed fingers I went to carry out my first inspection of the season.

At first glance all looked good, with bees coming and going … but I could also observe they were not bringing in any/much pollen, which was a worry.

In the hive there were no eggs, larvae or capped brood.  This was a big worry!  No pollen, but plenty of honey stores.  About 6 frames of bees.  I found the marked queen.  Luckily no cells with multiple eggs, which would have been a sign of Laying Workers.

I assume the queen has stopped laying and I assume there isn’t a virgin queen as there is no brood from which a virgin could have been made in the last few weeks.  I assume the Queen is producing enough pheromone to stop bees becoming Laying Workers.

Next Steps

I went online and bought a queen (delivery was going to take about 10 days).

To reduce risk of bees becoming workers, I added a frame of eggs from a friends hive (thanks Carolyn).

Introducing Queen (10 Days Later)

There is some best practice with how to introduce a queen but being (A) not a great beekeeper, (B) time limited (full time job and kids at home under lockdown) and (C) reducing the chance of beekeeper error, I did the minimum.  Doing the minimum does reduce the risk of the bees not accepting her … but I calculated this was a lower risk than me losing or injuring the queen.

So, I killed the current queen, removed the plastic tabs from the end of the queen cage and popped the cage into the hive.

Marked Queen 2019
Marked Queen 2019

I’ll inspect in 7 to 10 days to see if there are eggs or a dead queen.

The Swarm

So, I did all the above in the morning. Three hours later a large swarm went through our front garden, down the cul de sac, over a few neighbours gardens and then seemed to settle in a hole in a tree (high up).  Luckily the neighbours found the swarm reduced some of the monotony of lockdown and I shouted out to anyone that would listen that “it wasn’t mine” (probably wasn’t mine would have been more accurate).

I don’t think it was mine for the following reasons:

  1. Earlier the same day, I had both killed the queen (definitely) and left a queen in a cage which will take a few days to get her out of
  2. I presume there wasn’t a virgin queen in my hive (I hope)
  3. I think the swarm was too big (about 15,000 bees by my estimate: 30m long swarm x 10m wide x 5m high, with density of 10 bees per cubic metre – has any one got better ideas of how to estimate a flying swarm size?)

However, I’ll find out when I next inspect and you can find out in Part 2.

There was another swarm the next day, that passed 20m from my house. Starting to get excited about the season.  I need more bees, so I’ve ordered some Vita swarm attractant wipes (blog sponsor) and set up a nuc box.

Not My Swarm - April 2020
Not My Swarm – April 2020


Hope all going well with the start to your beekeeping seasons.

I also found these little wasp nests in the upstairs window sill.  Spring is in full flow.

Wasp Nest (Next To "Cole", From Ninjagos)
Wasp Nest (Next To “Cole”, From Ninjagos)

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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The Five Hour Beekeeper

The Five Hour Beekeeper

Traditional Approach To Beekeeping

To date I have basically been following what I shall call the “traditional approach to beekeeping”.  This is detailed in My Beekeeping Calendar and involves a lot of activity and time.  It can be summarised as:

  1. Inspections every 9 days from May-August to reduce swarms
  2. Integrated approach to varroa management, including swarm culling and use of chemicals
  3. Production of liquid honey requiring a day of extraction
July 2015 - Middle Hive - Brood Frame
July 2015 – Middle Hive – Brood Frame

I have found myself too busy to do any of this particularly well resulting in what I call the “Low Intervention Approach”.

Low Intervention Approach To Beekeeping

  1. No swarm inspections – just catch the swarms as they happen.  This has been 80% successful (I caught 4 out of 5 swarms in 2016).
  2. Same integrated approach to varroa management as previous
  3. Move towards section honey
Eight Ross Rounds Sections (the 2016 haul)
Eight Ross Rounds Sections (the 2016 haul)

The Five Hour Beekeeper

In my desire to reduce the chemicals, reduce the effort further and spend more time observing the bees, my approach for 2017 is described below.  This has been massively helped by the Thermosolar Hive team providing me with two of their hives.  As a reminder, this hive allows increases in the temperature in the hive to kill 100% of varroa. (links below)

Thermosolar Hive - Ceiling & Sensors
Thermosolar Hive – Ceiling & Sensors

The Thermosolar hives I am receiving will have a 14×12 National brood body (this is where I will insert 4 drone frames), 1 super that I will put below the brood body (to create more worker bees) and two Ross Round supers to go above the brood box.

The approach can be summarised as follows (and their are relevant links at the end of this post):

  1. Anti-swarm approach to reduce swarming
  2. Thermosolar hive to eliminate varroa and improve bee health
  3. 100% section honey using Ross Rounds
  4. Observing the bees to determine if they have a queen, any disease
  5. Open a hive only when I need to

My first year will be a bit different as I move over to the Themosolar hive but generally the interventions will be:

  • Intervention 1: The first day it is 15C in Feb/Mar: inspect for disease, add 2 new drone comb frames to hives and remove mouseguards
  • Interventions 2 and 3 (optional if we get an early 20C day in the year): Complete a solar treatment and again a week later.  Note: the important solar treatment is in August.
  • Intervention 4: April: Add Two Ross Round Supers
  • Intervention 5: End July: Remove Ross Round Supers and remove drone comb to ends of hive
  • Interventions 6 and 7: August: Complete a solar treatment and again a week later
  • Intervention 8: September: Feed if required (I am aiming to not have to do this by removing supers early and having healthy bees)
  • Intervention 9: October/November: Add mouseguards

And generally observe the bees and take action if problems are evident.

In theory, each hive will take about 5 hours of effort per year, including harvesting, and allow more time to observe.  Let’s see what happens in practice.

Any thoughts at this stage to make my 2017 beekeeping, using the above approach, more likely to be successful?


I have received comments on beekeeping forum and I wanted to capture my further thoughts and actions:

1. Thermosolar Hive – I am going to contact my local government bee inspector, to see if they want to get involved in order to work out how to best test the thermosolar hive and to give independent results.  I want results to show impact on varroa and on the brood (and on drone sperm if possible).

2. Anti-swarm method – I’ll keep count of the swarms over the years using this method.  Results will somewhat speak for themselves, though it will also depend on how well I time insertion of drone comb, weather conditions, etc.

3. Ross Rounds – Richard Taylor (author) had a few approaches to developing section honey, two of these were about using shook swarms and regular swarms and one of them was about swarm management and taking the approach we generally take to make regular supers of honey.  I am going for the low intervention, latter, approach.  However, if I do catch any swarms (mine or someone else’s) I will be putting them into a super with QE above and flat comb throughout.  The results will speak for themselves (kind of, as my honey production has not been great yet in recent years)

More Information:

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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Also – please share your swarm experiences.

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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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An encouraging(?) email

Sometimes I am not sure if friends are encouraging or just a bit too jubilant when things go wrong.  This email arrived a few days ago …

“It seems bees are all the rage, the National Trust is selling a book on bee basics.  It includes a few handy tips and 8 don’ts. Number 3 is don’t let your bees swarm, number 4 don’t upset the neighbours (swarming bees in their garden is a no no), I can see these little insects are a real commitment, bring on the baby!!!”

 Note: My new wife is pregnant.

Postscript: For an update you might want to read Proud Dad.

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.

Swarmy bees – am I responsible?

What I wanted to do was post the video below onto my blog and then ask if this was normal but getting married delayed the uploading process. Now, I can tell you that this is what a hive looks like 30 minutes before it swarms.

I missed the actual swarm but my neighbours didn’t – they were lucky enough to get a full frontal. It flew into one garden. Landed on the branch of a tree and snapped it. Do I have to buy them a new tree? They reported the swarm was a metre high and half a metre wide. Being a novice beekeeper, I believe them.

It then went over their roof and into another neighbour’s garden and terrified the bejesus out of them. They hid in their garage. It was last seen flying off over another neighbour’s roof.

By the time I got back from my wedding it was game over. There were lots of bees looking for a new home in nooks and crannies in all the neighbours’ houses but I did not know where the swarm was. I just hoped they didn’t end up in a chimney pot, as I’m not quite ready for swarm catching at heights.

I felt really disappointed that my rubbishness at being a beekeeper had led to a swarm within 2 weeks of owning bees. It led to a few days of malaise which was probably comparable to the lows of my Port Vale FC supporting ex-housemate when they were thrashed by Stoke City.

But unlike The Valiants footballing prowess, it seemed all was not lost with my beekeeping. I could still see bees buzzing round the hive, and having read the books, I hoped that there were indeed some lazy leftover bees who had decided they couldn’t be bothered to swarm. Hopefully a new queen will emerge. I will look in a couple of weeks. I just hope there isn’t a second and third swarm and that I don’t annoy the neighbours too much.

Want to know more about bees, swarming and beekeeping, buy one of the books I recommend or please read some more of my swarming posts.