bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, June 24, 2005

Swarmy nostalgia

It's been one of the best(?) swarming seasons for years here in south central England. And there are a few theories floating around.

This is my twelfth season of beekeeping and I well remember the first weekend of May in my second year of beekeeping in 1995. There were over 100 swarm calls to the local authority -- all on one weekend! It had been a long and nectar-rich spring and the weather had turned really good at the start of May, so the bees had fun. At that stage varroa hadn't yet taken a significant toll (perhaps none).

But by the end of that season, varroa wreaked havoc and took out a high percentage of managed colonies and nearly all the feral ones -- in this area at least. Since then swarms have been few and far between. I was pleased if I received one call a year!

This year is different -- I've had four calls over the past few weeks. Swarming usually occurs here in May, but June has seen most swarms this year.

And the theory goes like this: Last year during the May swarming season, the weather took a decidedly nasty turn. As a result many of the new queens may not have mated properly. Mine certainly didn't -- and some tried to swarm again last June to replace poorly fertilised queens. Other queens held out for the season, but beekeepers are now paying the price. A number of people around here are reporting (genuinely) queenless colonies. And queens which may have lasted more than a year are rare.

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