April 13, 2010

What are Those Silly Girls Doing?

Peering into a Queen Cup

Queen cups are often found in hives that made it through Winter healthy and strong. The bees build them on the edges of combs, where it's cooler and there's more room to accommodate the elongated larvae of future queens. The opening always faces downward. The presence of queen cups is normal and does not mean the colony will swarm for sure, but they are preparing for the possibility. We are only aware of this one and will be on the lookout for more.

A reproductive swarm is to the benefit of the colony - and the world, really. It's how bees have perpetuated their species for millenia. But we're trying to keep our colony a secret from the neighbors. Having never actually seen a swarm, we're imagining the worst... a huge funnel-shaped cloud of bees turning the skies black and making a big ruckus. People pointing and screaming.

Watchful beekeepers can try to suppress the urge and prevent swarming through thoughtful hive management, but a colony that has decided to swarm, will swarm. The more queen cups present, the greater the possibility of swarming.

Criteria for Swarming
1) a strong buildup and excessive drones can lead to crowding
2) plentiful food reserves are on hand for those left behind (aren't they thoughtful?)
3) a strong nectar flow is on (look for dandelions)

Swarm Prevention Measures (mix-n-match)
a) Give them room: they should always have 2-3 bars to work on before reaching the falseback. ✓ 1 bar on 4/16, +2 on 4/18, +2 on 4/21
b) Make sure they are not honey bound: remove any remaining overwintered honey abutting the brood nest. Replacing it w/a fresh top bar gives them the option of expanding the brood area or creating more honey stores.
c) Open up the brood nest: if splitting the brood nest, you must provide drawn comb; try to keep or move older combs forward. ✓ 4/21

If prevention measures fail, the Queen will lay eggs in several queen cups to ensure there is a new queen shortly after the swarm departs.


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