The Life of a Breconshire Beekeeper May 2021

Queen rearing projectCloake board method

There were four of us at the teaching apiary last weekend. The weather is poor for May, but we had things that needed doing and there was a break in the bad weather, at least it wasn’t raining. We aim to try and inspect the hives weekly, particularly at this time of year as the colonies may be preparing to swarm.

Two of us were working on a colony to use as a queen cell producer, whilst the other two started to inspect the other colonies.

Earlier in the season we had chosen a strong colony on two brood boxes to use as a queen cell builder.

We had started the process of setting up the queen cell builder the week before (7 days) where we had added frames of emerging brood from other colonies into the lower box. This would mean we would have lots of young bees. We also looked at all frames in the cell builder colony and any with eggs on went down into the lower box with the queen, below the queen excluder. The Cloakeboard was set up between the upper and lower box and the hive entrance moved to the back. A queen excluder between the two boxes. The idea being to have a lot of young bees available when we put the cell bar with one day old larvae into it.

Today, we were fitting the divider into the Cloakboard and opening up the old entrance, now at the back. This is so that the flying bees in the lower box can leave to forage, however, they return to the front and into the top box. We also fitted a clearer board under the super so that the bees come down into the upper brood box. This means that the upper brood box gets very full of bees and having fitted the divider, is now queenless.

We need to make sure that there’s plenty of food for them, both syrup and pollen, in the form of a pollen pattie as there’s not enough pollen in the hives to use. We leave them in this state for 24 hours and then insert the day old larvae on a cell bar into the the middle of the top brood box. At this point the bees at pretty desperate as we’ve done our best to make sure they don’t have any young brood and they don’t have a queen. So when we put the cell bar into the top box the young bees jump on it and start feeding the larvae copious amounts of royal jelly.

One day later, we inspect the cell bar and find that the bees have started 15 queencells using the emergency response. We now remove the divider of the Cloakeboard, there is still a queen excluder between the two brood boxes, but we make the colony queenright once again. This is so that the bees now finish the queen cells in the swarm/supercedure process. At least that’s the idea behind this method. The queen excluder prevents to queen from going up into the top box and destroying the queen cells.

The queencells will be sealed in 4/5 days time and then the virgin queens will hatch/emerge a further seven days later.

In the meantime several beekeepers are preparing the receive these queens to put into mating hives/nucs. An important consideration is where to get these queens mated, being British Black Bees. Communication and good teamworking vital if this project is to be successful.

So, I’ve tried to explain the queen rearing process using the Cloakboard method; I’ll follow up in a later post with photos and videos.

The one day old larvae in the cup kit which had the queen put into it 5 days ago


2 Swarm cells and Swarm Control using the Basterfield Method

Meanwhile, whilst inspecting the other colonies, we found that one had swarm cells. The colony was on brood and a half; that is a brood box and a super of brood. The feature photo above shows a swarm cell in this colony.

We split the two boxes and tried to find the queen….without success. There were eggs, but we could we find her? The queen had been marked blue last week, so you’d think she could be spotted if she was there.

We decided after checking through the two boxes a couple of times that she must have gone with a swarm, and we set about making plans for the colony with it’s swarm cells. We felt that we could split the colony into two using a modified Snelgrove board between the two boxes and starting making arrangements.

The two brood boxes were separated at this stage as we make preparations and I noticed that the bees in the main brood box were ‘roaring’….hmm, that’s the queenless roar that bees make……..yes that’s right, they’re queenless……but they make that roar shortly after becoming queenless…….a quick check of the other box and those bees are happily humming away as normal. If the queen had gone with a swarm sometime earlier, they would not be roaring like this now.….Read that again!

This is a very useful way of finding the queen; split the colony into two, leave it alone for about half an hour to an hour, then go back and have a listen to the bees….if the queen is there, the half that are queenless will be roaring.

When I’ve looked through a hive and then put it back together, the bees are often clustered outside the entrance and if I put my ear to the side of the hive they are roaring…..the queenless roar. I check again 10 minutes later and they’re now humming away quietly, then I know they’ve found the queen and they’re happy again. Disturbing the nest like this can mean that they lose contact with the queen; very quickly the whole colony roars until she’s found again. Quite incredible communication taking place. They say its all about queen pheromone, but the speed and effectiveness of the colony communication really is something to experience….recent research on flow mediated olfactory communication in honeybees swarms. Feb 3 2021.

We show that bees locate their queen by performing a cascade of “scenting” events, where individual bees direct their pheromone signals by fanning their wings. The bees create a dynamic spatiotemporal network that recruits new broadcasting bees over time, as the pheromones travel a distance that is orders of magnitude the length of an individual. We develop high-throughput machine learning tools to identify the locations and timings of scenting events, and demonstrate that these events integrate into a global “map” that leads to the queen. We use these results to build an agent-based model that illustrates the advantage of the directional signalling in amplifying the pheromones, thus leading to an effective search and aggregation process.

That casual observation told us that the queen was more than likely still here. Not only that, but she’s in the super.

A few minutes later and she was found amidst a large number of bees….no marking on her, it has been cleaned off by the bees.

We caught the queen and remarked her.

We could do something different with the bees now that we had the queen. We made up a strong nuc with one queen cell and took that over to our other association apiary. We split the remaining colony into two using a modified Snelgrove board between the two brood chambers; the queen in the bottom box with the box turned through 180 so that the entrance is at the back and a new entrance opened up on the Snelgrove board at the front, but half way up.

Any flying bees leave the lower box and re-enter at the new entrance at the front half way up. As we use British Nationals we moved the lower box to the warm direction so that the bees have an easier task walking up the front of it. Bees will naturally walk upwards when looking for the entrance.

The loss of the flying bees from the lower box should mean that the bees there with the queen lose the swarming urge. The upper box we left with one queencell.

This method of modified Snelgrove is named after Ken Basterfield and you can read all about it here

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