When will you be finished?

“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.

Bees after nucleus swarm method

Bees after nucleus swarm method

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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15 Responses to When will you be finished?

  1. thebigbuzz says:

    You did well to prevent a swarm. We had a huge swarm in the tree behind us 3 weeks ago. Someone lost a lot of their bees that day! (And our local bee-swarm collector gained a lot!)


    • Emily Scott says:

      I’m not sure that I did prevent one – my father-in-law reported seeing some suspicious activity around the original hive yesterday. But at least I may have prevented multiple swarms!


  2. Were they all stroppy or just the ones without a queen? I had lots of stings recently from the queenless part of a hive I’d split and removed the queen.


  3. But Emily, you left out the most important part! What kind of cake did you have after?? : )

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Apiarist says:

    It’s not really “my” method, though I described it in the link. It’s one of several swarm control methods that involve nucs. I think I first read about it in Adrian and Clare Waring’s excellent book “Teach Yourself Beekeeping”, which appears to be called “Get started in beekeeping” these days. In my view this is one of the best books for beginners, offering sound and clearly explained advice. It’s also one of the relatively few books that promotes the (or “a”) nucleus method for swarm control.

    It sounds to me like you need to requeen both the colonies! If they are dark “native” bees they do not need to be aggressive. I’ve just set up two colonies of known pure native bees from an island off the coast of Scotland and they are wonderfully calm and laid back.

    I hope their temper improves … and Drew’s patience 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      Perhaps I should have said ‘the method described by…’ instead 🙂 You do explain it really well. I have so many beekeeping books but not that one!

      I’ve kept going with these queens as the colonies are manageable with smoking and gloves, and if I requeen I’d have to order a queen in. I did have some gentler bees from a swarm I caught, but sadly that line went queenless this year and had to be combined with the more feisty bees. I keep hoping that the splits I create for swarm control will bring in new genetics and gentler bees.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Drew says:

      In my defence we were an hour past Tommy’s lunchtime and didn’t have any food. I did offer to take them both home so I could feed at least one of them and pick her up in the car later, but she hasn’t put that bit in!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. hencorner says:

    Good luck with the split – I hope it goes well!


  6. Thanks as usual for a very informative blog. I’ve divided our hives but never managed to stop them swarming. This spring they all swarmed and we had no spring honey. I would like to try one of these methods next year. Amelia


  7. Phillip Cairns says:

    I’ll have to try out the clove oil bare-handed trick. I go gloveless at times, but I pick my moments carefully.


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