County Wexford Beekeepers' Association
Beehives in May
by John Cloney
In early May, you’d expect to start seeing queen cells. Swarming is the colony’s way of reproducing and you’re trying to manage that and delay it as long as possible. You can lose up to 60% of your stock of bees if they swarm and that’s that hive written off for the rest of the summer. Weekly inspections should continue in May, every seven or eight days.
Often if the weather in early May is showery, wet and cold, on the very first warm day when the temperature goes up to maybe 18 or 20 degrees, with strong sunshine, then there’ll be swarms out. This is because a warm sunny day is ideal for the bees to leave the hive, gather on a branch and figure out where they’re going to go.
It’s one of the busiest months in terms of workload for the beekeeper. May is probably also the most important month in terms of the queen laying. This is because the eggs laid in May will be the worker bees who bring in the main honey flow in July. There’s not much point in having a huge number of eggs laid in June, because those bees will only be mature enough to forage after the main honey flow has ended.
In Ireland the main flow is in July, but in a good year there can be a smaller honey flow for about two weeks in May when you have oilseed rape, hawthorn, sycamore, horse chestnut and dandelions, as well as garden flowers. But this is a small flow compared to what you’ll have later when numbers build up in the hive.
Swarm Control Techniques
There’re a lot of different techniques to deal with swarm control, such as artificial swarming or taking the queen out. You can slow swarming down for a few days by putting a queen excluder underneath the brood chamber.
Taking off a nuc is one option. This involves removing the old queen and putting her in a nuc box beside the hive, then removing all the queen cells except for one. I find this system works quite well, but different people have different swarm control techniques. Also, you need to be selective. You shouldn’t create nucs that are too small or weak to survive the winter. You can reunite the nuc with the hive later, if needs must.
Mating flights also take place in May. A virgin queen, whether in a hive or a nuc needs to mate within ten days. However, it could take eight or nine days in May, depending on the weather, before she gets out for her mating flight.
Virgin queens make multiple mating flights if the weather is good. If she doesn’t make enough mating flights, maybe due to bad weather in May, then the queen may run out of sperm and stop laying in the autumn. A young queen will reach maturity and start laying within a few days of returning to the colony after her mating flights.