Last Sunday was day 2 of the beekeeping course in London that I started the week before. And the second day was no less amazing than the week before.
We learned primarily about swarming and that is what I shall talk about here.
A bee colony will naturally want to swarm because that is how they reproduce. One colony will split into two and they will each go on living their lives.
When a colony gets bigger, the bees at the outer edge will have less of the ‘queen bee substance’ as they are quite far away from her. If they get too far, they will think there is no queen and they will panic and start building queen cells. The queen is under instruction from the colony so will have to go and lay eggs there.
It is at this point that she gets ready to swarm, as she sees it is her time to leave (usually around the three year mark). Off she goes, taking all the flying (foraging) bees with her and we will deal with her in a moment.
Left behind are the ‘house bees’, who are worker bees who are not yet going out foraging and the queen bee cells. They will build more than one to give themselves a good chance that at least one will produce a queen. If the first queen emerges and she sees there are other queen bees developing in their cells, to get rid of the competition, she will go outside the cell, make a noise and if there is a response from inside, she knows there is a bee growing so she stings it to kill it.
If, however, one of these queen bees emerges and there are two in the hive, they will either have a full on fight to the death or the hive will choose sides and kill the unlucky one by crowding around her so the temperature rises and cooks her to death. Or they will sting her to death. Nice.
The half of the colony that left earlier, will hang out somewhere temporarily while you, the beekeeper, catch them (hopefully) and take them to a new hive. This can be a real headache if they’re in a neighbour’s garden or if they go somewhere high up and you can’t reach them or if you catch the colony but the queen bee is left behind so they will just fly back to her at the first opportunity. There are a whole host of potential problems.
But the clever beekeeper has a way of convincing them they have already swarmed by simply moving the whole hive about 400ft away and putting a new hive in the spot where the old hive was. You then take the frame which has the queen bee on it and put it into the the new hive. When the foraging bees go out to collect nectar and pollen, they will return to the new hive as it is where their old hive was. Thus, you have the queen bee and all the foraging bees in a new hive. And ta fa! The bees think they have swarmed!
The bees left behind are the house bees and the eggs, which is how it would have been if there had been a natural swarm. Everyone is happy.
And no-one’s children have swarms on their bikes! Woop woop!
We also saw an extraction machine, which basically spins around the wax frame sheets, causing the honey to fly out and run off. We also tasted tons of different honeys, my favourite being the heather honey and the manuka.
My mind is blown. Yet again. Bees are my heroes.