The form of a swarm, or the supersedure procedure?

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


Every inspection seems to be a case of expecting one thing and getting something completely different. I usually spend a couple of minutes looking at my notes from the previous week to put the next inspection into context and something completely new jumps out at me and makes them irrelevant.

Today I was unable to see the queen again, despite seeing retinue-like clusters of bees and a lot of both worker and drone brood and week-old grubs on the comb. We couldn't see many eggs — between the drone brood and the stores, it's hard to imagine where they would be laid.

The crazy thing was that we counted maybe ten supersedure cells, of which at least seven were fully-formed and dangling off the comb. My limited reading around the topic suggests that this many are likely to include swarm cells, even though the ones we saw were in two or three clusters on the face of the comb, and not at its edge. Other writers suggest there's less cause for alarm, that the presence of ten cells is an insurance policy, and sometimes that a supersedure cell or two is good fortune. We removed one at the edge of the comb and there was a developed larvae in there. We left the others, as I understand you should, and all I can hope for now is a new queen will emerge.

There's now the possibility that the colony will swarm — given the number of bees I don't think this has already happened. The advice seems to be to either do an artificial swarm or to destroy all but a couple of queen cups, the ones that we perceive to be the strongest. Perhaps I should have destroyed the unfinished cups in any case. For either remedy it feels like time isn't on my side, but I will do some reading and head down there on Monday if it looks like I it's sensible to do anything. In any case, I'll take Dave's lead in starting to feed them now. Swarming usually happens when there's insufficient room in the hive, and Dave suggested shifting the frames around to give them more room — there are six completely unused frames at the southern end of the brood box.

On the other hand, as several wise beekeepers have told me, if they are going to swarm, they will swarm. I suppose there's something to be said for letting nature do its thing, especially at this late stage. The bees are better at managing their colony than me, I'm sure, and despite how I call them 'our bees', we don't own them.

Other than this, we have a fairly docile, healthy colony over the same 4½ frames. There are about two framefuls of stores, a strong ring of muddy yellow pollen surrounding a core of biscuity brood.

Great news from Dave's colony! We saw the queen today, and although we couldn't see many eggs, we could see larvae and pupae from about 7 days at all stages, including hatching. Things are looking good there, not a sign of a queen cell, and Dave seemed visibly relieved. He took us out for lunch after the inspection and we had a nice wander around Burnham.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBroodframefuls of stores# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C110✔ 0e2l90022°C ☀