|A double super version in my back garden.|
I’m hoping to increase my colony numbers this year and if all goes well with my current colonies I will split them after the Spring honey comes off in May. However, I’m not totally confident that my over wintered hives are that strong this year as they were under heavy wasp attack last Summer which must have caused quite a few problems and there wasn’t a huge amount of them when I dropped oxalic acid on them to treat for varroa in December. I will inspect properly at some point soon. We have nice weather forecast but followed by a couple of weeks of cooler weather. I just might wait till after that - Mid April maybe?
Presumably, there will be some others who are faring much better which will mean that swarm season won’t be too far away. Some years you hear about swarms in early April! Because of this and the fact that I have a fair bit of spare equipment now (including 8 plywood honey supers that I made in the March 2020 lockdown) I decided to make up as many bait hives as I can.
I recently listened to Thomas D. Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy which I highly recommend. It discusses the bees ability to decide on mass where would be the best place to start a new home. An individual bee will search out and find an appropriate hive site and return to its colony and perform a waggle dance to inform others of the new hives presence. Overtime other bees will pick up on this and go to inspect the recommended site. They in turn will return with the same good news. If enough bees continue to do this eventually a democratic tipping point will be reached and the queen and a huge entourage will fly out to their new home. Obviously this is a massively simplified version of what the author’s impressive research covers but this is just a taste of their amazing democratic society. I would like to have a go at reviewing the book properly at some point as I can’t do justice to the detail and fascinating information here but importantly for this diminutive blog post I found out that there is an optimum capacity for a potential hive of about 40 litres.
40 litres is about the capacity of a regular brood box actually. So a good bait hive might just be an empty hive. You could also use two empty supers stacked on top of each other instead of a brood box. Set the bait hive up as you would a normal hive (floor, brood box/supers, crown board and roof).
When a scout bee (the name for a bee thats temporary job it is to find a new home) finds your bait box she will pace around the hive and make little exploratory flights to check the size of the hive. She will also be looking for signs that other bees have lived there before. Placing old dark comb inside the boxes can be very useful for this purpose. My technique is to take one old frame of well used brood comb and push it up against the hive wall.
The last thing to add perhaps is a swarm lure. You can buy commercially made lures which contain a mix of lemony essential oils that seem to work to attract swarms. The idea is that the scent reminds the scout bees of the smell that is emitted from their nasanov gland. I prefer to buy a cheap bottle of lemongrass oil and place a drop or two on a piece of old sponge. The Romans used to use sprigs of Lemon Balm (Melissa officianalis) to do the very same job. In fact the name Melissa is derived from Mel the Latin for honey.
So you set them up and cross your fingers. You have done all you can at this point. I’m sure that I’ll catch lots this year but you know ever the beekeeping optimist.