Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

The Smith Bees Move House

There are a lot of confused bees flying around the gin terrace looking for their hive, which isn't where they left it.

The Smith beehive has served us well, but it has a design flaw - there is too much surface contact between some of the parts, which increases the risk of crushing bees between moving parts and prompts the bees to apply large amounts of propolis to seal the surfaces together. I'm taking the Smith Hive out of service, and will keep it in reserve as a spare.

So today I moved the Smith colony to the (previously empty) Cedar Hive, in an adjacent position. In fact it's not quite the full Cedar Hive yet, but the bottom of the Cedar Hive combined with the top of the Smith Hive, like this:

The idea is this:

  • The brood, with the majority of house bees, some flying bees and hopefully the queen are now in the Cedar brood box;
  • They have a part-filled super above them, which they can continue to fill with honey in preparation for Winter;
  • Above that is the clearer board, which acts as a valve, allowing bees downwards but not upwards;
  • Bees from the Smith Hive sections above the clearer board will move overnight into the Cedar hive sections below the clearer board;
  • If Queen Eve was on the inside wall of the brood box when I removed the frames (lots of bees were), she will travel down overnight and end up in the Cedar super (ok this is not ideal, but better than losing her altogether);
  • Most of the other bees from the Smith Hive that were on the walls will also move down through the clearer board overnight;
  • Tomorrow the parts of the hive above the clearer board will have very few bees in, and I will take them off and replace them with the Cedar crownboard and Cedar roof. This includes a full super of honey, which can be taken for extraction.

Flying bees are oriented to the previous location of the Smith Hive, which isn't there any more. It's not far away, but nor is the Disc Hive:

I expect the flying bees to redistribute between the Cedar Hive and the Disc Hive. This will boost the numbers of the small colony in the Disc Hive...it may help that colony, at least I hope it will not harm them. One worker is Nasonov fanning (emitting a homing signal) at the entrance to the Cedar Hive, while there is no sign of this at the Disc Hive entrance...it may help the ex-Smith flying bees find their own colony.

Was the move a stingless operation? Not quite. In lifting the Smith brood box off its floor I trapped a bee between the inside of my knee and the outside wall of the brood box. Of course, she stung me.

I don't know yet whether this has been a successful move. I think it has, but there were probably mistakes I made. Hopefully I'll find out in due course what they were. I didn't see Queen Eve, though I didn't check every frame thoroughly, just looked over them briefly when transferring them across. More worrying is that I did not see eggs or young larvae either. I hope it is just a sign that the colony is shrinking rather than that the Queen is no longer in residence. It would be useful if they could fly a flag like Buckingham Palace does.

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