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Beekeeping 201 and Swarm Cells

Yesterday, I held the first Beekeeping 201 Class, focusing on Spring Nuc’s with a hands on workshop in my yard. The class was pushed back a week, due to the wild weather of March, which effectively created a wild ‘lab’ for everyone. I told everyone that we might find one of the hives in ‘swarm mode’, but didn’t realize both of them would be well into the process.

In both of the mature hives at my house, we found multiple swarm cells, some of them capped. Traditional wisdom (or, as I like to call it, manic traditionalism) will tell you that a queen and the swarm leaves when the cells are capped. Never really believing a good bit of the nonsense that folks espouse, I forced the class to bear with me while I checked every frame for the old queens (just in case.) In both cases, we found the marked queen running around on the hives (yellow marks)!!!

This was GREAT news, as it enabled me to spawn a few Nuc’s with the queen cells AND create two Nuc’s (1 for each queen) for the old queens. I left at least 2 swarm cells in both parent hives (in one parent hive, there are more like 6 swarm cells – I will probably go rob a couple of those tomorrow, when I have more time to make up a few more Nuc’s. Although we did not create Nuc’s with eggs, I was able to show the class what I believe is the ONLY way to prevent a swarm – take the old queen and let her start a brand new hive. I think the class enjoyed the session.

We also marked a Queen in one of my Overwintered Nuc’s and upgraded it to a Full Deep. In all honesty, this queen was well behind most (if not all other) Overwintered Nuc’s in my backyard. I had already split two of them, taking the queen to a full-sized Deep and leaving the upper Nuc (with eggs) on the old Nuc’s stand to receive the foragers. I’ll finish them today, unless it really does rain all day.

As usual, it all comes down to time and not enough of it. I actually knew that the two hives in my backyard were at risk of swarming, but was willing to take the risk for the class. But, I also found swarm cells at two hives out in Charles City, later in the afternoon. I cannot say that I ‘purposefully’ allowed those hives to enter swarm mode. Instead, it was simply a matter of getting around to those hives in the little time that I have had this Spring.

On the plus side of things, I have now gone through every hive and know for certain that I lost 5 of them over the Winter. Unfortunately, one was lost to starvation (which will, no doubt, elicit the chorus from my readers that spend all Winter feeding their bees – ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’) But, losing this one hive to starvation will not change my ways (I will still not waste my time feeding my bees in the Winter…) I learned (or re-learned, once again) that I really need to cull my weak queens. The hive that starved actually was started in 2011 and swarmed in July of last year (or maybe end of June.) The queen that replaced the previous grand ole lady struggled into August and beyond. I probably should have combined them, but I wanted to give them a shot at making it.

For what it is worth, I did take two supers of honey off of them. But, according to my notes, I left a bunch on. Maybe I misjudged. Oh well – one more for the head scratching times…

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