What to expect?

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House Bee
Jul 21, 2009
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Pocklington, Yorks, UK
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Have been abroad on hols for the last few weeks, but going home tomorrow. Just before I left for holiday I couldn't find the (Carnolian) queen but noticed 2 - 3 large superceedure cells. I re-looked for queen (marked), couldn't find her, so had no choice but to leave them too it.

I spoke to my neighbour via phone today, who 3 days ago heard a 'loud buzzing noise' and then saw 'thousands of bees flying and swirling in a mass about the size of a small bush' near the bottom of our garden (about 60ft away from the hives). She said the bees disappeared after a while 'towards the hives' - although she didn't actually see where they went in the end. (Behind our garden there is open farmland and woods, so i'm guessing they went in that direction).

... I guess that was my first swarm.

What should I expect when I get back and do the first inspection?

I'm guessing my best hope is that there is now a single laying queen in there and a reasonable amount of workers still left?

They had nearly filled two supers with honey, given reasonable weather, how long will it take the colony to grow back up in size?

Will they have taken much of the honey with them?

Sorry for all the questions, but this is my first experience of swarming and I'd like to understand what happens next and what effect this will have on the colony, both now and it's size and honey making capability over the next few months.
Skydragon said:
She said the bees disappeared after a while 'towards the hives' - although she didn't actually see where they went in the end.

If you perchance had a clipped queen then you may have lost only the queen.

Assuming that you bought your bees this year:
If you bought your bees from Mike Roberts, then I believe that he ensures that queens are clipped. You could contact your vendor who may be able to advise you on this point.

Assuming a clipped queen: she would have become lost and the bees returned to the hive.
They swarmed when the first queen cell was sealed and the weather was condusive. Again assuming no delays, they will swarm again when the first virgin queen emerges. They have the swarming impulse so it needs to be satisfied. Splitting the box into two or three with a single queen cell in each should give you a colony increase, but your honey crop will be minimal to non-existent if you haven't got one already.

You will need a minimum of one spare hive to do a split and the bees are dictating the time table now. You probably won't have time to order new equipment if you haven't got it to hand already. If that is the case, look to a mentor or friend for an emergency loan of a box or couple of nuc boxes.

If they have swarmed and not returned, then your options are to single up the closed queen cells to one good one and sit back and wait.

Either way you are looking at one or more colonies with a virgin queen. It could take anything up to the beginning of or first week of July, depending on weather etc., for them to be successfully mated and laying. Your existing brood will have all emerged by this time of course. Have confidence and don't mither them; a quick check to see that the queen cell has emerged and then leave them alone until the end of the month when a quick look for eggs or brood should let you know that all is well. No need to be overly concerned unless no signs are seen by about this time in July.

The brood chamber may get back filled with honey, but will usually start to have a preponderance of polished cells as the bees anticipate that the queen is likely to come into lay.

I hope this has been of some comfort to you and doubtless others will be along to advise you further as to alternative courses of action.

I hope that you have enjoyed your holiday and luck is on your side. A clipped queen sounds the most optimistic outcome, giving you a second bite at the cherry, so to speak. :)
Have been abroad on hols for the last few weeks

didn't you arrange for someone else to keep an eye on your bees whilst you were away? :toetap05:
Mike does not believe in clipping queens. You will most likely come home to find most of your bee's gone.......maybe even a cast came out after the prime swarm as well......could be just a few bee's and a virgin queen left.......could be...
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What to expect?

No better time frame than 'a few weeks' and '2 - 3' supercedure cells?

Could be anything. They might have had time to supercede, and the new queen to swarm? Anything could happen in 'a few weeks'. They may have simply superceded, which I doubt at this time of the season, unless the queen was damaged.

Could, if she has gone more than a week ago, be ready to throw umpteen casts and leave the hive very much depleted in bees - in fact almost empty of bees!

So depends on whether you are an optimist or pessimist.

how long will it take the colony to grow back up in size?

From what ? A single prime swarm or several casts afterwards? You can do the maths on the plane maybe? Prime swarm to queen emergence to mating to coming into lay. A brood cycle before any new bees from her, then another three weeks before any become foragers, in which time all the existing foragers will be dead and most of the house-bees and emerged brood, from the departed queen, will be a dwindling foraging force for the next 6 weeks. The answer to your question qualitatively is: Quite some time.

Much worse if several casts have been lost.

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But look on the bright side if its a worse case scenario and they are much depleted,hopefully they should build up strong for winter....ready to do the same during next years holiday slap bang in the middle of the swarming season...:leaving:
Is swarming season nearly over?? I'm working away from home soon and am leaving student in charge. He'll be stressed if they go swarmy again.
Rats! I suppose if I get on and recombine the ASs this weekend, at least he will have some spare kit if he has to do some more.
Two hives purchased from Mike last year both had clipped queens . . . thankfully. My woodwork is a lot more timely this year. :)

I don't suppose that he believes in a lot of things . . . :willy_nilly:
I can confirm the queen wasn't clipped, but as per original post I'm 99% sure sure she wasn't there when I last looked (she's marked and I have seen her clearly on every previous inspection bar this last one).

To clarify my original post, when I left for holiday there were 3 superceedure cells that were all sealed and no sign of the original queen. This was approx 17 - 18 days ago.

So... in that 18 days time all the QC will have hatched.

Back to my original question...what to expect? I'm trying to understand what actually happens when a hive swarms in the situation I have (no queen and several sealed QCs), what is a cast, what happens and when, etc, etc)

We can probably safely assume that at least one queen has hatched and the hive has swarmed at least once (this looks 99% likely).

I'm guessing that what my neighbour saw 4 days ago, was a swarm incorporating one of the queens that came from one of the sealed superceedure cells that I saw before I left on holiday.

Please help me understand how swarming works in the scenario I had - no queen in residence and several ripe QC's left in a hive with plenty or workers/stores.

a) Does the first queen to hatch swarm with a load of the bees as a virgin queen, leaving behind another virgin queen?
b) Does the first queen to hatch, mate first, lay some eggs and then swarm with a load of the bees ?
c) something else (please explain)?
d) what do the other queens do? what is a cast and how do they typically happen?

I also have another hive in the garden.... I guess there is a small chance that the swarm my neighbour saw has nothing at all to do with the hive I describe above and that is actually doing fine with a newly hatched queen... and the swarm was actually from the other hive (but I get the feeling this isn't the case).

The other question to ask - should I have done anything differently after my last inspection, where I found no queen and a few sealed supeceedure QC's ? I could have had a friend come over during my holiday absence to do an inspection but what could he have done other than wait for the QC's to hatch out ?
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a) Does the first queen to hatch swarm with a load of the bees as a virgin queen, leaving behind another virgin queen?
b) Does the first queen to hatch, mate first, lay some eggs and then swarm with a load of the bees ?
c) something else (please explain)?
d) what do the other queens do? what is a cast and how do they typically happen?

All of the above!

If there are plenty of bees, then (1) is likely, and it happened to two of our artificial swarms this year.

(2) has just happened to a swarm we picked out of a hedge. Looks like she laid for a few hours, then either died, or swarmed off with a small cast.

(3) is what is meant to happen. Queen 1 emerges, kills all of the other queens in their cells, doesn't swarm, gets mated, produces loads of brood and honey. Hasn't happened to us yet....

(4) If you have several queen cells, the first one out can swarm off with a lot of the bees, it looks like a prime swarm, but technically it isn't because the queen isn't mated. Then the next one emerges and takes off with a smaller cast....and so on, until you have very few bees left.
Hombre.....i'm going by what Mike says himself,in a few conversations when i have mentioned that it would be good to clip the queens he has got very irrate and argumentative about the clipping of queens, as he believes the bee's see a clipped queen as mutilated,and will soon be superceded by the bee's,don't know where he gets this idea. So i am only repeating what the man has said himself...no more.
I think (general comment) that suppliers are in a diff situation with this one as there are some deeply held views that as per Mike clipping leads to supercedure.

Personally I think it is rubbish and having had a sup strain of AMM which neatly re queened on the heather it was very obvious in spring that the two year old clipped marked queen was no longer there. A very common occurrence in fact at a rough guess some 60% of mine superseded on the Heather, a known aspect of Heather work, and bless them for it as they went into winter with a fresh queen to get them through.

Some want them clipped, as I do and some detest it so it's easier not to do it.