Amelia and went on a couple of weeks of holiday in March, but before that we made our first inspection of the four hives. All four hives seemed be doing well but we discovered that although Cornucopia, our strongest hive had six frames of brood cells, she had also built queen cells on one frame. After some agonizing, it seemed to us that the best course of action was to let it bee (sorry!). So we kept our fingers crossed and left to go on holiday.
Two weeks later on our return we once again opened Cornucopia for inspection and saw plenty of bees, but sadly all those lovely broods had disappeared. The explanations we could think of was that either something had happened to queen Cornucopia or she had swarmed and a new queen had actually emerged but in such an early season could not be mated.
Whatever the reasons, that only the bees were aware of, we felt that we had very little choice left. We had to act quickly. The most obvious solution was to merge Cornucopia bees with Sunflower, which was our youngest and hence smallest colony. We did so using the newspaper method, that is we removed the crown board of Sunflower, placed a sheet of (English newspaper, of course) on top of the frames, followed by a queen excluder and then placed Cornucopia on top.
We left them in place for a week, allowing the bees in Cornucopia to get used to the pheromone of Sunflower queen and accept her as their new queen and the bees in Sunflower also accept the newcomers. We watched them regularly and there was absolutely no war between them. Interestingly we were told that the bees chew away the newspaper and we would find scraps of paper under the hive. We saw no debris, but then Amelia actually observed the bees carrying away bits of newspaper high in the sky far away from the hive.
After a week we lifted Cornucopia and saw no sign of the newspaper. All had been removed by the bees (I hope that improved their English). We checked there was no queen in Cornucopia then shook and brushed the remaining bees down to Sunflower. There was only a few minutes of upset at our intrusion. We wondered that at the end if some of the bees might have drifted and been accepted by other two hives.
At this time of the year there are acres of fields with rapeseed in flower no more than a hundred yards from our house. The bees collect nectar to make honey….
…… and, as you can see, they also collect pollen.
However, we never see large numbers of bees on the rape seed flowers.
We inspected the other hives. We saw lots of bee on the inside of the crown board of Violette actually building beautiful honeycombs. That seemed a sure sign that we need to place supers on all the hives.
So far so good, we thought, until a few days later we observed that Amelia’s favourite beehive, Violette, was apparently considering swarming. Here in France they call it ‘faire une barbe’ (to make a beard).
We know that there is no sure method to prevent swarming, but if there was a queen cell in the hive, then perhaps we could divide the hive. We quickly put on our bee suits and prepared a hive ready in case on opening Violette we might see queen cells. Returning only a few metres away from the hive, I shouted to Amelia, who had the honour of pushing the wheelbarrow, to stop. It appeared that we were too late and Violette had already swarmed on the quince tree nearby.
So we were left to wonder if we can persuade them to ‘walk in’ their new home, or should we just bring in a bucket to collect the swarm. Meanwhile, queen Violette, like some ladies, could not make up her mind. In the end, she made the first move; she decided to go back home!
In this short video you can actually see the bees walking up the stand into their hive.
We waited and waited until they all returned andhad obviously gone off swarming. Impatient, as I am, I opted for opening the hive and see what was inside. Sure enough apart from plenty of brood cells, there was a closed queen cells as well as unclosed cell with royal jelly in it. I made the decision of removing two frames with the queen cells and plenty of nurse bees, plus a honey frame and placed it in a six frame hive (ruchette). The wisdom is to place the mini hive some three kilometres away, or keep it in a dark cellar for two nights. We opted for the second option and closed the entrance and kept them in the dark feeding them syrup.
After two nights, we place the mini hive near the other hives and opened her up. The theory is that the nurse bees will not abandon the brood. Sure enough all appears calm – for now.
I don’t have the heart to cut the daisies in front of the hive, which now form a beautiful white carpet. We will have to wait about a month to see if a new queen is born and can go on her nuptial flight.
But in the meantime will Violette and the other two hives swarm? Only time will tell.
Just before closing, as this is after all a gardening blog, I have recently seen what I think is a black cap visiting our seed tray. Hopefully someone can tell me if it is indeed a black cap.