May 16, 2010

Swarm Prevention Measures (cont'd)

"The loss of egg-laying capacity is one of the great stimulators for the colony to swarm. It is important for the beekeeper to take corrective action to prevent a honey-bound colony from swarming." – The Peace Bee Farmer

Top Bar Hive management sometimes requires frequent honey harvests, especially smaller hives like ours. Our colony, however, is so brood-heavy they are using nectar as fast as it's coming in. We're pretty sure they're building up to swarm, and there isn't much honey at all. We pulled a comb that should've been full of honey but not only did it have brood on it, there were 2 queen cups, too. We're up to 9, at the very least. We're probably past the point of preventing a swarm at this point, but we're still hopeful.

For one thing, the shortage of honey could be good. Bees are not supposed to swarm unless there's enough stores for those left behind to get by on for a bit. When a colony swarms, many of the foragers leave (with their stomachs full of honey) and the nurse bees left behind to tend the developing brood aren't able to collect nectar themselves. They won't be of age to forage until their replacements emerge, so they need a stocked pantry. The bees know this, so (in theory) will only swarm if they're leaving behind an adequately provisioned hive and there's a nectar flow on, to ensure survival of both halves. I wonder if they know the Lindens, a favorite food source, are about to bloom.

Can you see the queen cups?

After harvesting honey, advice from the Natural Beekeeping Network is to split the hive, which means ending up with two hives in the Backyard. This is NOT an option. (We could also give some away, but that involves thinking and coordinating, strangers in the Backyard, and I'm not into that right now.)

With the discovery of more queen cups, we're a bit nervous. Even though another blogging beekeeper says, "Adding another box to a strong colony will not stop swarming," we gave them the Warré box to move into. They're supposed to put only honey in the super, but without a queen excluder it's possible that they will expand the broodnest upwards (yikes). Whatever they decide is up to them. All we know is that we have GOT to relieve congestion.

Immediately after supering, the main box looked less congested, so it appears that they are aware of the new space and did move up. If this works, they'll stick around as one huge colony and we'll have a bumper crop of honey easily harvested by simply pulling the super off. If it doesn't work, they'll swarm and we'll be lucky to have enough honey to pull them through another Winter.


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