Friday, the morning after we spotted our swarm in the possum box, Frank went to work converting our honey frame storage/carry box into a nuc to hold the swarm. He finished in time for lunch. Lunch was followed by the heavens opening and rain dashing our back yard. Not good weather for swarm capture mainly because we planned to borrow some frames from our other hives to stock the nuc. I thought insects were supposed to predict all kinds of natural events (earth quakes, cyclones, meteoroid collisions) yet still this silly queen decided to swarm on a peacefully sunny day right before a week of wind and rain. I am neither impressed nor amazed.
Saturday (yesterday) dawned with more heavy rain (what was the queen thinking?). By lunch the weather gods were kinder: showers, clouds and wind – no storms. By this time we figured our swarm had been without food for at least 48 hours. Bees don’t like to be without food for too long, they have a nasty habit of starving to death. Our established hives were okay with their honey stores but the swarm had no comb, much less any honey to fall back on when the weather turned.
By about 3 in the afternoon we decided the weather wasn’t going to get much better before the swarm perished so it was time to act. I kept telling myself, “British beekeepers would think this weather is gorgeous – a balmy 20 C and nothing more than the occasional drizzle.” Which reminded me of why I love living in Sydney.
We geared up and ventured out to deal with these wayward bees.
First Frank climbed the ladder to get that possum box/swarm home down. It wasn’t hard but I could have never managed the weight and balance trick so if he hadn’t been around, I would now be lying with a broken back under an unhappy swarm. Luckily he was around and he got the box down and plugged the entrance with a rag (gotcha bees).
With the swarm in easy reach, it was time to put some frames in the nuc. We stole a frame from each of our supers (2 from Hive 1 and 2 from Hive 2) to seed the nuc with 4 frames. The frames we stole were a mix of empties (built out comb but little or no honey), honey (a bit of capped plus some nectar) and brood (thank you Hive 1) mainly capped with a ring of good honey. Since the swarm should adopt and protect the brood, we hope this will make them love the nuc and not abscond. The nuc is now a perfect environment for a swarm with stored food and brood but still with plenty of room for the queen to lay and the bees to collect pollen and nectar.
We positioned the remaining frames in the established hives (9 frames per super which will hold 10) in the centre of each box leaving empty space on the outer edges of each box. The club apiarist said the bees are less likely to build burr comb this way. Pray he’s right (are you listening bees?). We didn’t want to buy 4 (or any) new frames because we have quite a lot of wax moth and don’t think storing frames out of the hive makes sense. The 4 borrowed frames will almost certainly end up back in the established hives after the swarm is dealt with.
Then came time to move the swarmed bees into the nuc. The swarm was docile enough but tipping didn’t spill them (bees really can hang on to each other). Frank turned the possum box upside down and shook it hard to cause the bees to fall. They did . . . along with a whole pile of wood shavings that we had placed in the bottom of the possum box as bedding – oops. We scooped some shavings out of the nuc and ended up causing a lot of bees to take flight – oops. In the end we put the lid on the nuc and left a pile of shavings inside.
Quite a few of the bees landed on the branch of the tree where the possum box used to be (and glared down at us, unimpressed with that wood shavings fiasco). Frank climbed up the ladder with a box and tried to capture them. About 20 made it into the nuc as part of this exercise (ie, it was a total waste of time). We eventually added some styrofoam to the open area of the nuc to try to make the hive small enough for the bees to regulate the temperature and left them to do what bees do.
An hour later we went out to see a bunch of bees flying around the nuc and landing on the top (swarming again?). While we watched some signal must have been sent because they all marched down to the entrance like an army on the move and within a couple of minutes the top was free of bees. We looked up and the tree was also empty of bees. The entrance to the nuc was busy with all kinds of activity and shavings kept being pushed out (I swear I could hear them grumbling about clumsy humans).
It looks like the capture of the swarm was successful!
We still have one or 2 concerns about this little colony. It does seem very small. We’re not sure it’s big enough to be viable. The brood frame we put in the nuc should help boost numbers quickly. That’s assuming the brood survives which leads me to our 2nd concern, the temperature. Last night it dropped below 16 C. This is a freakishly cold snap and unusual for Sydney summers. That brood needs to stay above 34 C to survive. Could such a small colony keep the brood warm? Will we soon be dealing with “chilled brood”? Oh dear.
We think the swarm came from Hive 2 because there seemed less bees there when we were borrowing the frames for the nuc. We’ll keep an eye on both hives and the nuc (but not too close of an eye to disturb them; maybe bi-weekly?) with a goal of identifying who has the good queens and who has the dud. We’d like to merge the swarmed hive back into its original hive when we’re sure the original hive has a new, strong, healthy queen. Time will tell.