“When will you be finished?… The kids are getting hungry”… Drew’s voice reached me as I stood surrounded by bees, gingerly trying to put boxes back together as bees poured out from every direction. It hasn’t been easy to keep up beekeeping now that we have two small children to care for. Once upon a time, in those wonderful days before Coronavirus, Drew’s parents could help him look after T&H while I inspected the bees in their garden; not any more. I am grateful that Drew has continued to look after them both, as at times I am sure I am infuriatingly slow! And it would be completely impossible to do any beekeeping without him.
All of which is a part-excuse, part-explanation for how I came to butcher The Apiarist’s ‘nucleus method’ of swarm control. I had found unsealed queen cells in my hive, which is usually a sign that the bees are planning to swarm – but haven’t yet. I had spare equipment ready. All I had to do was find the (unmarked) queen, in about eight frames of brood, while tetchy bees flew up at every move of my hands.
It took two goes, but amazingly I did find her. A lovely long dark queen. I transferred the frame she was on over to a nucleus which I placed next to the hive. Following David’s instructions (which I had printed out for safe keeping), I shook in nurse bees. Deviating from David’s instructions and improvising on the spur of the moment, I then added more frames of brood and honey than he suggests, as I was worried about the nucleus running low on bees or food. I made sure that no queen cells were on any of the frames in the nucleus and closed it up.
Going back to the original old hive, I put in some frames of foundation to replace the frames I’d put in the nucleus. I removed large queen cells as David suggests, leaving only three containing small larvae. I can’t remember how many I had to begin with – maybe eight? I marked the frames the queen cells were left on with a pen. Ideally I would have used drawing pins but as usual I couldn’t find them in the chaos of my beekeeping bag. I placed the supers back on top and pulled the ratchet strap back in place.
I was hot, the bees had tried to sting me multiple times, but I had done it! One had become two. I went back the week after and reduced the queen cells down in the original hive down further, choosing one to leave – at least, if I didn’t miss any (which I probably did!). I also found the nucleus could do with more room, so moved the bees into a single brood box. They weren’t any happier to see me; I miss my old London bees which I could inspect gloveless using just clove oil rubbed on my hands to calm them. I have had to get better at keeping my smoker going to inspect these Cornish bees.