In my last column, I mentioned how we beekeepers are now inspecting our hives each week on the lookout for Queen cells amongst other things. There is only room for one Queen in a hive, and spotting the large, peanut looking Queen cells is a sure sign that the colony is about to reproduce by swarming.
Having slimmed down the existing Queen so she can fly, the workers wait for a calm, dry afternoon, and then about half the colony with their Queen leave in a black cloud of flying bees to a pre-destined point about 100m away. Now gathered in a tight cluster of around 10,000 individuals, scout bees are sent out to look for a new home in which to establish a new colony.
During this time, the clustered bees are very docile, but if you do see a swarm of bees, don’t approach them. Instead call your local beekeeper who will be very pleased to gather and rehouse the colony. Alternatively look here on the British Beekeepers Association website for more information.
Meanwhile, back in the original colony, the first Queen emerges and immediately kills all the other Queens still in their cells. After a couple of days, she will leave the hive with a group of workers seeking out 15-20 drone (male) bees to mate with on the wing. before returning to the hive to start laying the eggs that will become the next generation of workers ready to carry on with the vital task of pollenating 1/3rd of the food we eat...