During my last beekeeper class, I got to taste my first honey direct from the comb. I'll get to that in a minute. But first we learned about the main job of a beekeeper - swarm control.
Why does a honeybee colony swarm? The first factor has to do with the age of the queen. Here's a rule of thumb. In her first year, she will not swarm. In her second year, she will probably swarm. In her third year, she will definitely swarm. The second reason a colony swarms is because they need more room. But let's discuss the problem with the queen who wants to flee her kingdom.
As a beekeeper, you will spend the majority of your time checking for new queen cells. These are elongated cells, often built at the bottom of the drone frames. About every eight days (the time it takes for a queen cell to be capped) between May and July (the major swarming time), the drone frames should be checked for possible queen cells. Don't forget your smoker. Shake the bees off the frame to get a good look. If you discover just one or two queen cells, go ahead and leave them. Maybe it's getting time for the older queen to leave and the colony is breeding a new queen. But if you discover several queen cells, then they must be removed as this is a sure sign that the colony wants to swarm soon. But removing the queen cells is not enough, the bees will quickly build new ones. At this point, you must move a part of the colony with the queen to a new hive or temporary nuc box.
When the queen leaves the hive, she takes about half of the bees with her. Each new queen that hatches decides to either kill off the old queen, kill off any other new queens and take control of the hive or swarm the hive taking more bees with her.
If you're not sure if the queen has already left the colony, you can add a test frame to check. Insert a test frame containing eggs and larvae from another hive. Check this frame in a few days. If the ladies have not produced any queen cells, then you can be reassured that there is a queen in the colony. If queen cells are produced, then you can either let these develop or introduce a new queen from another source to save time.
But it is inevitable that a honeybee colony will swarm at some point or other. When the weather is calm and the time is right, the bees will pour out of the hive like a waterfall. Then what to do? If you're lucky, you will find the swarm quickly. A swarm of bees only becomes dangerous when they begin to build. So if you notice wax, then beware as those bees will defend their house at all cost. You can spray the swarm lightly with water to make it more difficult for them to fly. Once you've captured the swarm in a swarm trap, it's best to leave the trap close by until all of the bees have entered the trap. Once all the bees are captured, shake the bees into an empty hive and finally add the frames.
Enough about swarms, let's get to the honey. I got to try the first honey of the season straight from the honeycomb. Please bear with me as I share some figures with you. We know that honey is basically regurgitated nectar from the bees. But did you know that it takes 3kg of nectar to make 1kg of honey? And that it takes between approximately 3 and 5 million flowers to obtain 3kg of nectar. One bee visits about 4000 flowers during her lifetime. After hearing this, don't you think honey should be more expensive?!
But how do you know when the honey is ready to be taken from the hive? The first test is if the honey drips out of the frame, it is not yet ready and needs to be returned to the hive. The bees need to dry it some more by fanning their wings. Our honey frame did not drip so we used a pronged capping fork to remove the wax seal from the honey comb.
To be sure that the honey is dry enough, we added a tiny bit to a refractometer to measure the moisture content which should read between 16 and 18%. Good to go! After removing the wax cappings, we placed the frames into the honey extractor and manually turned the crank and oohed and awed as the golden honey began to flow out of the spout.
Have you ever tried honey straight from the hive?