I’ve spotted a swarm of bees, who do I contact to collect it?

If you are a not a bee keeper and you are reading this, the answer to your question will be to search on the internet for your local beekeeping association. On their website you will find details of who to call for swarm collection in your area.

If you find bees living in the structure of your property this is a very different situation to swarm collection. A hobbyist beekeeper will not be able to help with colony removal like this as they will not have adequate insurance. There are profession companies that can help with the removal of these feral colonies, do check they have adequate public liability insurance. They will ensure the all the comb, honey and all of the bees are removed. This can be very costly so before you begin down this road do consider if the bees really are a nuisance. If you look on the BBKA website you will find links to such companies that can give you advise and provide you with quotes for the removal.

If, however, you are a beekeeper and you are reading this the answer is of course that you should collect the swarm yourself! Your bees are your responsibility and if they swarm you should try to see where the swarm goes and deal with it yourself so that it does not become a nuisance to the public or your neighbours. If you are a new beekeeping and don’t know how to collect swarms speak to your mentor if you have one or seek help and guidance from your local beekeeping association. Once you have seen how to collect swarms you will have confident the next time to do so on your own.

If you are a known beekeeper in your village or town you will probably find that you will be called for every swarm that shows up in your area and they will all believe they are from your bees even if they aren’t! I would say that all beekeepers have the responsibility to do what they can to assist anyone that calls about swarms. If you are unable to collect the swarm yourself then put them in touch with someone who can help them.

Happy Beekeeping!

I’ve spotted a swarm of bees, who do I contact to remove it?

If you see a swarm of bees hanging on a tree, clustered on a shed or wall or even on a parked car then you should be able to find a swarm collector through your local beekeeping association. Once you make contact with they will most likely ask you a few questions in order to gather all the information they need so they have the appropriate equipment to remove the swarm.

  • Where are you – address, postcode, phone number, other location details
  • Where are the bees -easy to get at; height from ground, in tree, bush, in building
  • Description of bees – round and furry (they may be Bumble Bees not Honeybees), do they have a waist, estimate of number etc
  • You may be asked to send a photo of the bees from your phone
  • How long have they been there – just arrived, an hour, several hours, longer
  • What are they doing – fly in a cloud, with a purpose or just milling around, have they settled and are gathered in a ball?
  • Can we have access at dusk or similar?

Some examples of swarms of honey bee below. Click here to find your local swarm collector by postcode

Once you have made contact with the local collector he or she will come out and deal with the swarm. They will most likely shake or brush the bees into a box or nucleus hive. There will still be some bees that are flying around so ideally they will leave the box with an entrance open close to where the cluster to attract any flying bees. Once the sun has gone down all the bees should be in the box and the beekeeper can simply return, close the entrance and remove the bees safely.

It is worth noting that bees don’t always stay in the box that the swarm collector shakes them into. If the swarm has already decided on its new home, or simply does not like the box/nuc hive that the swarm collector has shaken them into, they can go again! They may even move back out to where they originally clustered. The swarm collector could try again but I often find if they go once they go again and they end up being the swarm that got away.

How do I unite two colonies?

There are many reasons why we may need to unite two colonies together. It may be that during the season our colonies numbers have increased due to taking in swarms or doing splits/ artificial swarms for swarm prevention or control and now as we head towards winter we want to reduce our colony numbers. It may be that we have a colony that is healthy but very small and the likelihood of it getting through winter is slim so we want to unite it with a stronger colony. It may be that there is shortage of queens at the end of season and you have a queenless colony. You may have performed an artificial swarm and don’t want to leave the bees to raise a new queen due to poor weather. There will be many other reasons why you may want to unite two colonies.

Uniting is a relatively quick and easy process and the only extra equipment you need is newspaper. I have read may blogs that make the process seem quite complicated; it really isn’t.

If the bees you want to unite are in the same apiary but a good distance apart the first thing you will need to do is to move one of the hives a little bit each day until they are within a few feet of each other so the flying bees find the their new home. If you are uniting 2 colonies from different sites then simply site the colony you have moved in to the new apiary next to the one you are going to unite it with.

If both your colonies have queens it is not necessary to remove one of the queens before uniting unless of course you favour one of the queens over the other. If you leave it for the bees to decide they will usually keep the younger queen. Decide which hive you are going to use for the bottom half of the uniting and remove the roof and crown board. Place a couple of sheets of newspaper so that it completely covers the brood box and pierce a few small small holes in it, do not use a hive tool as this will create too big a hole, some say you don’t even need to make any holes. Now place the brood box of the other colony directly onto of the newspaper, put the crown board and roof on and do not disturb them again for a week. The bees, top and bottom will start to nibble through the newspaper, during which their scents will mix. It will take around 24 hours for the bees to nibble through the newspaper, when you return in a week you may see evidence of the newspaper but the majority will have gone.

If one of your colonies is stronger than the other we suggest you leave this at the bottom and put the smaller colony on the top. If you have a honey super on the bees you can leave this in place and put the newspaper on this rather than the brood box and then put your other brood box on top.

It is said that uniting should be done in the evening but we unite during the day with no problems.

If you feel you are not happy with letting your bees decide which queen they want to head their colony or if you are concerned that your queen may get damaged as she fights it out with the other then you can find and remove one of the queens yourself. Some say it’s more natural to let the bees decide however in the wild colonies would not unite so it cannot be a natural process for them. You must go with what you are more comfortable and happiest doing. Obviously if one of the colonies is displaying traits you don’t like then this is the one you will remove the queen from before you unite them. If you do remove a queen it would be normal practice for the queenless colony to be put on top of the queen right colony and not the other way around.

Always go through both colonies and check all is well before you unite them. If you are removing a queen yourself then I would make that my first job so that the pheromones can start to disperse a little before I lifted the brood box onto the newspaper.

If you are uniting a colony because it has struggled all year make sure you check that it is disease free which may be the cause of it struggling. Do not unite any colonies if they have any health concerns, you may be inadvertently spreading disease through your other colonies.

If you decided on your last inspection that you are going to unite two colonies next time you visit your bees, do make sure you go through both colonies and double check they are both queen right, before you start the uniting, just to make sure nothing has changed since you last inspected them.

Happy beekeeping!

How do I deal with laying workers?

We briefly touched on laying workers in our post “My Colony is Queenless”. Here we will tell you how to be sure that you have laying workers and what, if anything, you can do to fix the colony.

Firstly lets look at what a “Laying Worker” is. Laying workers is exactly that’ it is worker bees that are laying eggs. The presence of brood in a colony inhibits the ovarian development in the female worker bee so our worker bees don’t have ovaries and therefore cannot lay eggs. When a colony becomes queenless and broodless there is a chance that the workers in your colony can be stimulated into developing their ovaries to enable them to lay eggs.

We often get asked how long can I leave my colony for before the workers start laying. There is no answer this question, its like asking how long is a piece of string. Your colony could be queenless for many many weeks and never develop laying workers but then again they may be queenless and broodless for just a week or two and then you may find that some workers have started laying. If you are unfortunate enough to have laying workers the eggs that they lay are of course unfertilised as the worker has not mated. All the eggs laid will therefore be drones (male). The eggs will also be laid haphazardly through out the colony and not laid in a neat pattern like a queen. It worth noting here that early identification of laying workers can be easily missed as we often only look for eggs in the middle frames and usually we start to look in the center of the middle frames.

Laying workers will lay anywhere in the hive so you need to check every part of every frame. They will also lay multiple eggs in the same cell. The worker bees abdomen is shorter than that of the queen so the eggs are often laid along the cell walls or are to one side at the bottom of the cell and not in the center of the cell as a queens egg would be. It is worth noting that a newly mated queen, or a damaged queen, can also lay multiple eggs in a cell. A newly mated queens will soon get over this so whilst you may see a few multiple eggs this should stop if a few days. The best indication as to whether its a queen or laying worker would be the placement of eggs in the cell.

When laying worker drones are capped over, they are often stunted in size. Even when the drones hatch they are considerably smaller than a queen’s drone.  To the untrained eye laying worker drone brood can be difficult to identity and can be confused with a drone laying queen. This is especially true if you have put a new queen into a colony that has been broodless for a while and didn’t notice that some of your workers had started laying. In this situation you will see the queen on the frame so you will assume she is a drone layer. If however you look closely you will see that your queen is being ignored by the workers and she is not looking for cells to lay in. If left the queen will eventually will die as the workers will not attend to her or feed her.

The two photos both show drone brood. The one on the left is a very scattered pattern and if you had the frame in your hands you see some cells have multiple eggs in them; these were laid by a worker bee. The picture on the right is a drone laying queens brood. You will see the lay pattern is better and if you had the frame in your hand you would see single eggs in cells.

So, having identified that you have laying workers what, if anything, can you do?

If your colony has laying workers as advanced as the above photo on the left, this colony has a lot of sealed brood and some drones have started to emerge, then the colony has probably gone too far to be fixed. In this instance you are best to shut the bees up, carry the hive as far away as possible and shake the bees out. If you have other bees in your apiary, that are sited not too far away from where the one with laying workers was, then the flying bees will find those hives.

If you spot the laying worker early enough, you see multiple eggs and maybe a little larvae but no sealed brood, and your colony is of fair strength and has not been queenless for too many weeks, then you may be able to save the colony.

If you do want try to save the colony you will need a mated queen and, if you have another colony, its worth taking a frame of emerging brood from it. If you have, or can get, a mated queen but don’t have a frame of emerging brood and your colony with laying workers has lots of bees then it is possible that you may still save them. How we deal with laying workers is that we carry the colony away as far from its location as far as we can, ideally around 30 yards or more and then we shake all the bees out. We need to ensure every single bee is shaken off every frame and off the brood box walls and floor etc. We do this because we have no idea which worker or workers are laying but we do know she is a house bee rather then a forager. By shaking all the bees out the house bees will not know their way home only the flying bees will. It is for this reason that the colony needs to be reasonably strong as you will lose all your none flying bees. Already flying bees will be returning to the original site so if you have a spare hive it is best to set this up on the original site with one frame in for the flying bees to return to. I always put the new mated queen, in her cage, in the new hive ready as well. By the time you have finished shaking out the bees a good proportion of the flying bees will have made it back to the hive (new hive) with the mated queen in the cage. Return to the original site and populate the hive with your frames, make sure you have some frames of food. Any frames that have multiple eggs, or sealed worker drone, should be thrown away and replaced. If you did have a frame of emerging brood from another colony drop this into the hive as well, positioned in the middle, and remove the tab from the queen cage. The queen will be let out of the cage and if all is well you will have eggs when you check the colony in 10 days.

Dealing with laying workers does not have a great success rate however if this is your only colony, or one of a few, then it is likely you will want to try and save them. Do bear in mind the time of the year, you are not likely to build a colony up strong enough for winter if its end August and you find laying workers.

If the laying workers have gone too far and you do have other colonies that are strong you can always make a nuc up and place this where the laying worker colony was and then shake you bees out at a good distance. If the nuc had been made up from bees on the same site then a good proportion of the bees will be flying bees, these will return to their parent hive, and the bees you shake from the laying worker colony will then boost the nuc.

Should I treat for Varroa and what to use?

This is a bit of controversial question, my aim is not to cover the argument about whether we treat or not but rather to inform you about the varroa mite and what impact it has on our honey bees.

Varroa Destructor is an ectoparasitic arachnid mite; this simply means a parasite that lives on the outside of its host. The adult female mites, which are the most commonly seen within the hive and on the honey bees, have flat, reddish-brown oval bodies that are around 1.6mm wide and 1.1mm long. The female mites enter an open cell just before the cell is about to be capped. Here it will hide under the larva and it will wait for 2-3 days until the brood food has been consumed by the larva. The female mite will then begin reproduction inside the sealed cell by laying her first egg, which is usually male, she will continue to lay at intervals of around 1-2 days. The later eggs are usually all female and she will lay around seven eggs per cell. The eggs hatch into immature mites of which only two to three will reach adult stages.

The mites are trapped in the sealed cell with the pupae and are now feeding off the pupaes’ fat stores. Through the process of feeding they are not only reducing the fat stores of the bee, but they are also transferring viruses to the bee. Both of which will shorten the life span and stunt the pupa’s development. After 21 days, the worker bee emerges (24 days for drones) and any surviving mites in the cell will also be set free. The mites will have attached themselves to the underside of the honey bee where they will travel with the bee until they see a new open cell with a larva in it. They will detach themselves from the bee they are travelling on and enter the open cell and the whole process is repeated. The repeating of this process quickly accelerates the number of varroa within the colony.

Mite populations can also be transferred between colonies in the same apiary through robbing, drifting and swarming.

The Symptoms of Varroosis
Severe infestation of varroa may lead to the following that can be visually seen in the colony:

  • Deformed wings; caused by a virus passed on by varroa
  • Stunted abdomens; caused by varroa feeding of the developing pupae
  • general weakening of the colony; caused by the lifespan of the bee being shortened
  • Patchy/ pepper pot brood patterns; caused by bees removing dead and damaged pupae from cells
  • High levels of infestation can be a direct cause of complete colony loss

Varroa Treatments
In order to keep healthy and productive bees you must control the Varroa levels within our colonies. This can be done through treatments which fall into one of two main categories, each of which have their pros and cons and you can decide which type of treatment suits your method of husbandry.

Varroacides: Most beekeepers will chose this method to control varroa mites in their colonies as they are highly effective at killing and controlling Varroa. There are two classes of varroacides; those that contain chemicals that have been constructed if you like, and those that contain chemicals which are naturally occurring for example formic acid, oxalic acid or essential oils. Whatever treatment you do use, due care must be taken with anything that you introduce into your colony in order to prevent
contamination of honey.

The choice of treatments that are legal in the UK may differ to those in other countries. Listed below is a table of treatments available in the UK, at the time of publication, by beekeeping suppliers along with the active ingredient. It is advisable to alternate your treatments in order to reduce the risk of varroa becoming resistant.

Name of TreatmentActive Ingredient
ApiGuardThymol
ApiLife VarThymol, Camphor Racemic,Eucalyptus Oil,
Menthol Levo,
ApiBioxalOxalic Acid
ApistanTau Fluvalinate
ApivarAmitraz
FormicproFormic Acid
MAQS – Mite Away StripsFormic Acid
ThymovarThymol
OxybeeOxalic Acid
OxuvarOxalic Acid
VarromedOxalic Acid, Formic Acid

Biotechnical Controls: These avoid the use of chemicals totally but still aim to reduce levels of mites in the colony. Some biotechnical methods exploit the fact that mites reproduce in bee brood. The most common method is to remove comb once it is sealed, mites will populate drone cells in favour of worker cells as the drone cell is bigger. The comb is then cut out and destroyed, along with the mites contained within the cells. Generally, these methods are only used during the spring and summer months when drone brood is being reared. This method can be a great way of delaying when treatments are needed. The idea is that you put one super frame in your brood box, the bees will chose to naturally draw the new comb on the bottom as drone comb, so the queen will lay all unfertilised eggs in these cells. Once capped over you simply take the frame out and cut out the drone brood. We personally do not advocate using this method because you are of course removing a big percentage of drone from the colony. This causes a reduction of the drone pool for natural reproduction of the honey bee. This method would certainly have a limit on the amount of times you could do it in a season.

Drone brood can however a useful tool in monitoring your varroa levels. By pulling a small sample of developing drone brood with an uncapping fork you will see how many mites you see on the larvae and this will give you a good indication of your levels.

There are other more effective ways to check on your varroa levels and you should learn to regular check your bees. Varroa levels will build up differently in some years to others and differently in each separate apiary.

Monitoring with an open mesh floor is a very popular method. You simply clean the varroa tray, insert it for 24 hours then go back and count the natural varroa drop. There will be other debris and detritus on the tray so you need to spend time sorting out the varroa to ensure you get a good count. There is a varroa calculator on BeeBase that you can then use to check if your levels are high or not.

Alcohol wash is also an effective way of counting varroa however you do kill the bees using this method. You need to collect around 300 bees from your colony and place them in a vessel that has a mesh separator in it and that has an amount of alcohol in it. This is then shaken vigorously for around 30 seconds to really mix things up and knock the varroa of the bees. The varroa will drop through the mesh and you will be able to count them. You obviously need some specific equipment to carry out this method of counting however, if you have a lot of colonies this may be more a manageable method for you to get an average count by apiary as you can just check a few colonies per site.

You can use icing sugar in place of the alcohol and instead of shaking you roll the vessel, the icing sugar will dislodge the varroa which will fall through the mesh. The bees are unharmed and can be returned to the hive. There is some question as to whether you get the same accuracy as using alcohol.

Another none chemical method of reducing varrao loads on your bees is by sprinkling icing sugar directly onto the bees in your colony. The icing sugar will stimulate the bees to cleanse and this in turn knocks the varrao off them. You will need to cleanse the varroa board after treatment as the mites are not killed and it is said they can climb back up. This is not an affective treatment on its own however can be used as at temporary measure until you can treat them with a proper varroaside. Just a note; do not use this method and then do a varroa count which you put in the calculator on BeeBase as you will have an unnatural mite drop count which will give you obscure results.

When do I treat?

There is no specific time that you should treat for varroa however most beekeepers will treat late Summer once they have removed the honey harvest but before they do their winter preparations. At this time the colony will be reducing in size but varroa infestation will be increasing. The aim of treating at this time is reduce the mite count so that the last few cycles of brood rearing within the colony will be protected and you will have healthy young bees reared ready to take the colony into winter. If you don’t treat at this time you will be in danger of your winter bees life span being reduced which will have a direct impact on the colonies winter survival.

Your choice of treatment may require certain conditions, for example Apiguard and ApiLife Var, which are both thymol based, need warm conditions for maximum efficacy. Oxalic acid treatments have the best efficacy on broodless colonies and are usually used during the winter months or early in the spring. You can however combine this treatment along with confining your queen which will create a broodless situation so that you get the best efficacy. Do ensure that you have a nice strong colony if you do this, no point in caging the queen on a struggling colony in April as you will only add to the stress and possibly cause the colony to totally fail. I know some beekeepers who routinely treat swarms they take in with Oxalic acid treatments as this will target any varroa the swarm has carried before they start to rear brood. If you are shook swarming your bees for any reason then you can treat the for Varroa with this method at the same time.

Most treatments cannot used during a honey flow as there is a danger that the product will contaminate the honey and this would make it unfit for consumption. Always read the instructions and warnings for the product you are using. There are a few treatments that can be used during a honey flow if necessary, MAQ’s is one of these, however this is quite an aggressive treatment and special attention should be given to the advice and instructions on the packet to avoid damage or loss to the colony.

Rotate you treatments to avoid varroa building up resistance, this is especially true of Pyrethroid based treatments. General rule of thumb is use once every three years. You must keep a log of all treatments you put onto your bees, date and batch number, if you are selling your honey.

You can find out even more information about varroa life cycles and the affects on the honey bees plus different techniques to control, resistance build up and much more on BeeBase , see their ‘Managing Varroa’ advisory leaflet, it really is jam packed full of information. Vita Bee Health also has some super information all about varroa.

Happy beekeeping