If you’re a beekeeper, you may notice that your bees bring in a rainbow of coloured pollen every day. When they store it in their cells as bee bread, you’ll see many different colours on the comb.

Pollen Chart Thumbnail

Have you ever wondered what flowers the bees are gathering this pollen from? Well thanks to the folks at Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association, you can now get a relatively good idea about what floral sources your bees are foraging from.

Check out the Interactive Pollen Chart over at the SBA web site. It’s a nifty little tool that gives you some idea of the different colours of pollen from many floral sources. You can even use the season toggle switches at the bottom of the screen to narrow down the seasonal forage.

Note: I realize that many of these flower sources are specific to the UK, but it was too cool not to share this.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5k6IltahyA&w=700]

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Jon Lambert. He was looking for someone to remove an established colony of bees that had been living in the roof of his house for approximately four years. Jon realized the importance of honeybees and was seeking a beekeeper to remove the colony instead of simply destroying it.

There are big advantages to finding a feral colony like this. Bees like this are usually well-adapted to the local climate, resistent to pests and diseases and obviously healthy enough to have survived for years without medication or treatment. The trouble with colonies like this is that they are usually difficult to access. To be quite honest, that is what deterred me from retrieving this colony. I didn’t want the hassle of deconstructing someone’s home to retrieve the bees. Luckily, I was able to find another beekeeper in the area who gladly helped Jon remove the bees. He was able to find and save the queen, and he also found a capped queen cell, so was able to make two strong colonies from this retrieval. Thanks to Jon and Shawn for making an awesome video of the rescue!

If you have honeybees on your property, and would like them removed, please contact me and I will do my best to help you out, or refer you to an experienced beekeeper who will be able to help.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7qmkYC3KP0&w=700]

The weather in Ontario has been so beautiful this week that I was finally able to do a full bottom-to-top inspection of this hive.

When I first opened the inner cover, the bees were everywhere! They weren’t aggressive, but they had no idea what was happening. After a few minutes, they calmed down and got back to work within the hive.

The bottom board was covered with many dead bees from the winter and I believe they may have still been blocking the bottom entrance, so I brushed them all out and removed the entrance reducer that I previously had in place for the winter. I also removed 4 frames from the bottom box, as it contained old, dark comb. I replaced these 4 frames with new foundationless frames.

Working my way back up the boxes and frames, I finally spotted some brand new eggs. It was a great feeling to see tiny eggs after the winter, and to me, this has indicated that I can finally call this a successful over-winter. Better yet, on my 2nd-last frame, I found the Queen herself! She was just trucking along – doing her thing.

I’m very pleased to see such dedicated workers and a strong healthy queen after the winter. It definitely left me with a good feeling after the long, cold winter.

If you have stumbled upon this post because you have a swarm of honeybees on your property that you would like someone to remove, please contact me directly. However, if you are a beekeeper and you want to know how you can attract and trap your own swarm of bees, read on.

Last year, I wrote a blog post on honeybee swarms. If you want some basic information on swarming, please read that first. In general, a honeybee colony will swarm when they are looking for a new place to live. A clever beekeeper, armed with this knowledge, can create an ideal location for those swarming honeybees to call home. The majority of this information was taken from a Cornell Cooperative Extension publication called “Bait Hives for Honey Bees”. This entire publication is available for download by clicking on this image:

Bait Hives For Honeybees Title

In general, a “bait hive” is simply a box or container that looks like an ideal home to a honeybee. If you prepare the bait hive while keeping a few important things in mind, you stand a good chance of having an entire colony of bees move in and making themselves at home. For the beekeeper, this means free bees!

Size

The size of the bait hive container should be approximately 40 litres (1.4 cubic feet). The shape of the container does not matter. It can be round, square or rectangular. Some people have used big biodegradable planting pots as bait hives. Others have used a standard deep Langstroth boxes.

Entrance

The entire box should be sealed up tightly to protect it from the elements, but there should be an entrance, placed near the bottom of the container, with a diameter of roughly 1¼ inches. I suggest using a round entrance so that it can be plugged up later if necessary, with a cork.

Positioning

The swarm trap should be placed in a partially-shaded area, preferably on a tree or side of house. It should be placed approximately 15 feet (5 metres) off the ground and with an entrance that is facing South, if at all possible. If you have a second floor balcony, this would likely be a great spot for a bait hive.

Odours

Honeybees can be coaxed by the smells of a potential new home (similar to how real estate agents bake cookies during open houses I guess). The smells that are most important to them are:

  1. Queen pheromone
  2. Lemongrass Oil
  3. Beeswax

You can buy commercial swarm lure scents, which are not very expensive. If you happen to have lemongrass oil on hand, this is said to be very similar to the smell of Queen pheromone. A few drops of either inside your bait hive will be plenty. Beeswax rubbed inside the container will also be enticing for scout bees whose job it is to find a new home for the colony. I bought my lemongrass oil from well.ca.

Timing

Lastly, it’s a good idea to have your bait hive set up and in place before the swarming season begins. For your area, this means that it’s a good idea to have it in position and baited with scents by the time the first spring flowers start blooming. Once the first nectar flow happens, the bees will start swarming. Around my neck of the woods, this happens in early May.

Pros and cons

There are obvious advantages to catching a swarm of bees. The first advantage is definitely cost. In Ontario, it costs nearly $200 for a nuc of bees. Aside from the bait hive material, catching a swarm is absolutely free.

If you happen to catch a colony that has swarmed from a feral colony, then there’s a good chance that they are more resistant to pests and diseases than some commercially bred lineages. You may also be lucky enough to capture a strong colony that has never been chemically treated.

As for downsides: you’re not guaranteed to catch a swarm. This is obviously a gamble if you’re relying on bees from a bait hive. It really comes down to whether swarming bees find your swarm trap and consider it an ideal living location. Lastly, one other negative aspect is that you do not know whether the colony is both disease and pest free. Just because they swarmed does not mean that they are free from very serious diseases like American Foul Brood. Be on the look out for diseases and pests in newly captured colonies. Do your best to quarantine them from other colonies in your apiary until you know they are healthy.

One last note: there is a chance that captured colonies are more agressive than colonies purchased from a breeder. This can happen because a lot of bees are bred commercially for docile characteristics. Wild colonies may be lacking this trait. I do not consider this a real problem and you always have the option of re-queening your colony. Your new queen will start laying and your bees’ temperament will begin to change in 3 weeks when the first new workers are born.

Good luck and please share your experiences below. I would love to hear about your swarm trap ideas and successes!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISh1OJaw3Ek&w=700]

A short video to show you an update on my bees. Yesterday was the first day that it was actually warm enough to inspect the hive, but when I got to the bee yard, it was too windy to do a thorough inspection. Nevertheless, the bees were out in full effect. This hive didn’t seem to have many foragers coming in, but many bees were circling the air in front of the hive. I believe they were doing orientation flights, as these may be new bees for 2013. (Fingers crossed).

I still won’t consider this a successful overwinter, until I’ve seen new brood with my own eyes. Can’t wait to get inside this hive.