The allotment bees are still in trouble, with the benefit of Captain Hindsight I shouldn’t have removed the Queen with the weather about to turn bad but it may be possible to save them.
The indoor hive now has a name – chosen not so much for their temperament, they are lovely calm bees – but for the rather ominous roar that emits from the hive even at night. If I opened it up one day and found an image of Peter Cushing in the comb, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
Opening the demon hive last week I found swarm cells – I thought I’d gotten away with it this close to the end of the season. Donating brood to the allotment hive has kept them in check but at two and a half brood boxes plus four supers I guess sooner or later the Queen simply can’t make enough pheromones to go round. A swarm in a hive this size would be a disaster – a cloud of bees bigger than many hives is not going to go down well with the neighbours if it ends up in their garden and it’s a hell of a lot of bees to loose, even if I caught them again I’d seriously struggle to house a large swarm. So prevention measures must be employed.
The trick is to make the bees think they’ve already swarmed so they all calm down and return to their day jobs. One of the best ways to do this is to simply split the hive – take the Queen and half the bees and move them to new accommodation which is essentially making the swarm for them.
I could do this – the allotment hive is still devoid of a head moving in my queen and a bunch of workers would solve everything BUT I’ve made two attempts to raise a queen down there with no success – I’ve blamed the heavy rain but what if it’s something else? I’m not risking killing off my only queen.
Luckily, there are other ways to stop a swarm.
I’ve been looking at the Demaree method – it’s a con trick on the bees but it often works though it’s not popular as it can get rather complicated as I’m about to find out.
The principle is simple – put in a new brood boxes, then put in a queen excluder and put the old brood boxes (and brood) on top. Queen goes on the empty brood frames and is happy thinking she has swarmed, nurse bees still have access to brood and continue tend it so there’s no break in the steady stream of new workers for the hive.
Problem – my hive is huge, I don’t have brood boxes to spare and even if I did, these bees are indoors – I’m actually running into ceiling height issues.
But – I also have a hive in trouble that’s only being held up by regular transplants of brood.
So, if I free up a brood box by emptying it and moving the frames down to the allotment bees, I can use that box plus a super for new frames letting the demon hive think it’s swarmed and give the allotment hive a really good boost.
Everybody wins! – except possibly the beekeeper who will come out of this sticky, smelling of smoke and a bit knackered.
The schedule is something like this –
Race home from work, grab bee suit, tools, hefty bag and dog.
Walk to allotment, remove all but one frame (which are all empty) from hive taking care to leave bees behind . Watch dog being stupid enough to eat a bee and get an entertainingly swollen lip for his efforts.
Walk back with a slightly heavier load. Leave dog on sofa.
Grit teeth, light smoker, don protection and start on the demon hive.
Problem 1 – they are indoors and I will need a lot of smoke, this won’t be pleasant.
Problem 2 – this hive doesn’t have an excluder, the queen could anywhere in five boxes, I haven’t seen her for weeks. This is not insurmountable but makes life interesting.
Problem 3 – it’s a bit cramped, I need everything set up so I don’t have to move once I’ve started. I built a ‘table’ using a nuc box and two supers to load frames onto and a ‘stand’ using a couple of brood boxes.
Problem 4 – this is very disruptive to the hive and will seriously piss off the bees. Being in a small shed, they have nowhere to go and hang around getting in the way.
There’s no point in fretting about, I just have to get started.
Part one – dismantle entire hive taking each box intact and stacking it on the ‘stand’ so the hive is essentially in reverse order. When I reach the last brood box, take all the frames out and store them bees and all on the ‘table’.
Clean the lower box as well as possible and load up with empty frames.
Now comes the difficult bit – this whole plan fails if I can’t find my queen. All I can do is take my time ( it’s been half an hour already and my eyes are streaming with smoke and sweat ) and shake every bee off every frame until I find her. This of course enrages the colony somewhat, the sheer number of bees on my veil is actually creating a welcome breeze.
Whilst I’m doing that, I’m also choosing which frames to take down to the allotment hive and loading them into canvas bags to keep the bees off.
Frames to keep are put back in the ‘table’ separated by a gap from the unchecked.
One box done and no sign yet, the atmosphere in the workshop is rather thick with smoke and bees – despite the disruption they’re not actually acting aggressively but they also have nowhere to go – they’re coating every available surface, including me.
I move onto brood box 2 and continue searching. She finally shows up on frame 18 and is duly installed in the lower box, now at last I can put on the empty super, then the queen excluder and start reassembling.
Photos stop here because 1. The camera is covered in wax and honey, and 2. the lens is crawling with insects. This is a not a good time to take photos.
The next box on is the old brood chamber there’s still a few frames in there but all I need to look for now is queen cells which is nice and quick. Then comes the half brood followed by the supers. Bees are now queuing to get back into their home.
The whole operation has taken over an hour, I now have ten frames of brood to move. They are a lot heavier than the empty ones and I’ve got to move fast – if they cool the brood will die.
Going outside, looking like something out of a seventies horror movie I shake off with much buzzing and disrobe for a cool down, and get stung – one on each wrist as I get the gloves off. Sting count for this year, merely six.
This time the trip to the allotment is a run – with three bags, two of frames, one of bee suit ( I don’t wear it in the street). The frames are hastily installed and my job is done for the moment.
In a weeks time I’ll need to open up and check for queen cells.
Fingers crossed folks!