Jonathan: Under my new more methodical regime of bee management, today was – weather permitting (and it did) – down for a 9-day inspection, and I was looking forward to it because I might find that queens in two hives (let’s call them B and C) had emerged. First up was hive A – the WBC type- with last year’s queen artificially swarmed into it fro hive C. All well and good – very industrious and making up numbers maginficently. Then hive B nearby, into which 9 days ago I grafted three queen cells: two don’t now look viable, and the third has been finally capped but no sign of emerging. Colony looks weak, and I’m not sure this is going to work, but I’ll just have to wait. Over to Hive C, from which A was artificially swarmed and in which I’d left three queen cells. But what’s this?!?! … about 2 metres from the hive there’s a sprawling mass of bees: immediately I see they’ve swarmed onto a thin branch of young will tree, and it has snapped under the weight. I called to Denise to fetch two old white sheets (used for decorating) and laid them out leading up to the hive lighting board (good job the swarm hadn’t gone further!). I cut off the branch and placed it just below the hive, and immediately the bees started crawling back in. I then smoked the remaining bees at the far end onto the first sheet, and when they were all on (or in the air) I tipped that out over the next sheet, and then smoked (and swept with a goose wing feather) them back towards the hive. For a while a lot of bees kept returning to the point where the swarm had fallen, but after repeated smoking out that reduced and eventually – I would guess – 95% to 98% of the bees were back in the hive.
The returning of some bees to the point where the swarm had fallen got me thinking: there’s something there that’s drawing them back, and I wonder if it’s the smell of a Queen – lingering pheremones? The hive is in more or less ideal conditions with plenty of forage, and it’s not yet full let alone overcrowded, so I can’t see why a swarm would occur unless it’s because they were departing with a queen, leaving queen cells in the hive for a new colony. A quick but careful check: two queen cells still sealed, but the third now empty. So looks likely that there is a queen about, but would they swarm if the queen was not mated? Not sure.
It occured to me that this would have been an opportunity to to move the swarm into a new hive D (I have all the stuff ready), leaving hive C with the two queen cells. But rightly or wrongly I fear that would be pushing my luck – there’d then be four weak colonies (which may or may not become queen-right) late in summer, all from just one strong colony a month ago. No – too risky. I continue nursing the bees back into the hive. But hedging my bets, I set up an empty nuc box just close by!
Watchfullness, that’s what’s needed now I think. Not wait and see – watch and see. A good thing I was around today: I reckoned it must have happened before, but un-noticed, and that’s why I’m not much further forward (apart from experience!) than I was two years ago.