Rua Tekau – First Shook Swarm

By | April 27, 2012

Class 2 at East Surrey Bees saw me bleary eyed and bleary nosed with a bit of an ugly cold.
I covered it up as best I could and marched on, and so pleased I did.
The ESB beginner practical course is a fantastic practically focussed  course, and again with minutes of arriving we were dodging 15 broody geese, and into the hives.

Our group was allocated Hive 20.
As we opened it up, the bees seemed calm and pleasant… nae lethargic.
They very slowly crept about the comb, and looked lack lustre.
There was alot of dead larvae on the floor, dead bees lying abouts, not much brood (larvae or pupae), something was wrong.

Spring 2012 has been a bit odd.
It started with a hiss and a roar, and bees looked out at the warm sunny days and thought “Its on like Donkey Kong!”. The colonies quickly grew to full size (50,000 bees).
ESB had put a brood and a half in place (the number of brood boxes allowing them space to expand), and a few supers (an area of frames to allow the bees to store honey). Optimistic forecasting, based on the weather, and the speed they saw the colony quickly expanding in the warm conditions.

Then the cold and rain came, forcing the colony indoors, who proceeded to eat their newly collected stores. With so many bees, and the poor weather lasting so long, this colony was running out of collected nectar and was beginning to starve. The adult bees weren’t feeding the larvae either. Adults were pulling dead larvae out of their cocoon cells, bringing out their dead. A sorry sight – which we were advised should never happen – its the bee keepers responsibility, and starving bees is an amateur failure.

Not only that, the bees were making queen cups – they may have been making ready to get out and find somewhere new.

As the brood comb was old (quite browned from use over a few seasons), and there was a remote possibility they would swarm (i.e. leave this hive, looking for a new home), a decision was made to build them a new home and let them start again – time for a Shook Swarm.

I’d feared this not knowing much about it, but it was very easy and showed the importance of always having additional hive equipment ready. Shook Swarming is essentially is a controlled, manipulated technique to make the bees feel they have swarmed to a new hive.

Shook Swarm technique

* disclaimer – I am learning to keep bees.
Don’t think this, or anything else on this site is expert advice.
Follow at your own risk.

Essentially, capture the queen in a plastic cage so you know where she is, and leave her resting on top of the old hive frames. The colony need to know and smell where she is too.

Place the new brood box with new foundation frames where the old hive was, removing four frames in the centre of the brood box.
Place a queen excluder on the bottom of the brood box, to capture the queen, ensuring she doesnt escape the new home. Unlikely, but as there will be no supers we don’t need the queen excluder on top. The bees will be too busy building new comb on the foundation frames and feeding new bees, to bother about storing any honey. Further, the bees will be feeding on sugar syrup and you don’t want them making and storing honey out of that. It tastes awful, and is illegal.

Take a frame out of the old hive, hold over the four frame hole, and shake the bees in.
And when I say shake, you do actually really shake them in, hard enough that they fall off the old frame and into the new hive. Give the frame a bit of a bang to knock in the real hangers on.

Do this for all of the frames, placing the queen (in plastic cage) on top of the new frames about 70% of the way through the process. Once you’ve shaken all the frames  in, carefully release the queen, making sure she pops in between the frames.

That takes care of removing the old frames,  and puts the bees onto new foundation in a new hive.
They will build out the new foundation in around one week, provided they have enough food..
It also makes the bees feel like they have swarmed, and are in a new home.

Feeding the colony in the new hive

We had to make sure they weren’t starving, so on top of a crown board, we placed a contact feeder with around 2 litres of sugar syrup.
(Cover the second crown board hole, so they dont create brace comb over it – its larger than bee space!)
We would need to check the contact feeder each day, as they will drink the 2 litres in one day.
They need alot of food at this stage  to build their new comb, we also need to rescue the colony from their starve.

The contact feeder is covered by an “eek”, which is just a super without frames allowing space for he contact feeder.
The hive lid on top to seal it all up.

To see the bees starving was a very sympathetic experience, and I quickly felt an emotional attachment to them. It was really satisfying to learn the shook swarming technique, but also to know we were getting this colony back into health.
Who needs babies when you can have 50,000 that only need checking once per week, on your own schedule!

Bee keeping is proving to be a fascinating and rewarding experience. I’m really beginning to see why tutors pass on their knowledge with such joy, its genuinely a really good time.
And no-one got stung.


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