The taking of a nucleus from a colony that is preparing to swarm is a common method of swarm control. There are various versions, but the principle is the same. You are separating the queen from the other elements, plus easing congestion in the parent colony.
As with all swarm control methods you must do the preparation first - understand the swarming process, understand what the method is trying to achieve and assemble all the equipment you need.
On finding charged queen cells in a colony do the following:-
- Inspect the colony fully before cutting out any queen cells. Make sure the queen is still there, you know the number of queen cells and how advanced they are.
- Take the comb the queen is on, another comb of largely sealed brood and a comb of food, together with bees to make a 3 frame nucleus, and place it in another brood box or a nucleus hive. The frame with the queen on should be in the middle of the three. All queen cells should be removed from these frames. Extra frames can be added, but this will depend on the strength of the parent colony and the needs of the beekeeper.
- Add young bees to the box by whatever method you choose. The aim is to add enough young bees to the nucleus to cover the brood and keep it warm after some have flown home. An alternative to adding young bees is to put the nucleus in the place of an existing nucleus of about the same size, but it would be wise to cage the queen for 24 hours in case the incoming bees overwhelm the new nucleus and kill the queen.
- Push the frames against one side of the box preferably with the sealed brood against the inside wall. Fill the vacant gap with drawn comb if you have it, if not then foundation, or use a dummy board.
- Give the nucleus a small entrance so the bees can easily defend it, and move it at least two metres away. Face the entrance close to a hedge bottom or other barrier to confuse robber bees. Some advocate stuffing the entrance of the nucleus with grass, but I have rarely found that satisfactory in any situation and now don't do it. In my experience the nucleus still loses a significant number of bees.
- In the parent colony, remove all sealed queen cells and those containing large larvae, leaving those containing eggs or very young larvae. Fill up the brood box with drawn comb or foundation. It is important to fill the gap with frames, otherwise wild comb may be built, especially in a nectar flow.
What have we done?
We have made a nucleus with the queen, mainly young bees, brood and food. The sealed brood will create it's own heat and will emerge soon, to give an influx of young bees and somewhere for the queen to lay. This nucleus should be in a position to build up in the coming weeks.
The parent colony is queenless, but has queen cells that should emerge in around 9 days time. As the queen has been removed there may be emergency cells built, especially if some swarm cells are removed. There are empty frames for the bees to work on.
- Check the nucleus the following day to see if it has enough bees to cover the brood. If not, rectify.
- As the nucleus develops, add empty combs on the edge of the brood next to the food comb to allow the queen to lay in them. Keep an eye on the food situation and make sure you don't split brood.
Eight days later (seven if this is more convenient, but will depend on the age of the queen cells) in the parent colony.
- Examine all brood combs carefully for queen cells. As the queen was taken away and some queen cells may have been removed the colony is likely to have built emergency cells.
- Select a queen cell which is a good size and has dimples on the surface. It may be useful to mark the position of the cell by placing a drawing pin in the top bar, vertically above the cell. Small, very long, or smooth queen cells should be rejected, as they are unlikely to result in good queens.
- Carefully smoke the bees to move them and destroy all other queen cells on the frame. Treat this frame gently. Do not jar or shake it, or you may damage your future queen.
- Shake the bees off all the other brood combs and remove all the queen cells. DO NOT leave two queen cells as has become "modern" advice, otherwise the colony is likely to swarm.
- Re-assemble the hive.
With the current queen problems, I would check the parent colony to see if the queen has emerged. In a full colony like this, it would be difficult to find a virgin queen, but it would be useful to see if she has complete wings. A quick inspection will do no harm if it is within around 3 days of the queen emerging. If you don't make this initial inspection, then don't open up the parent colony for at least 14 days.
If the young queen is on her mating flight, she may be confused when she returns to find the hive open and may fly into an adjacent colony or get lost. Vital inspections that cannot be avoided should take place before 10 am or after 5 pm, when the young queen is likely to be inside the hive.
When you do inspect to check if your new queen is laying, try to do so quickly.
Look for a patch of eggs or very young larvae. If there are none, then check for an area of cells that have been highly polished by the workers ready for the queen to lay in, or fairly large quantities of pollen being brought in. These usually indicate the bees are expecting a queen to lay. Close up the hive, be patient, and check again in a few days.
A young queen will generally start laying 10-14 days after she emerges, longer in poor weather or in a larger colony. If your new queen has not started laying after three weeks then put a test comb in from another hive.
The Benefits of this method:-
- There is a nucleus that can be used for a number of purposes.
- The queen has been saved in case the new queen fails.
- The parent colony remains strong and in honey production.
Some further thoughts:-
If the colony is good and you would normally be happy to raise queens from it, the queen cells can be used.
If the colony is not one you wish to breed from, there are ways of dealing with this, e.g. You could use queen cells from other colonies or use the colony as a queenless cell raiser. See Bee Improvement for more ideas.