Oh dear, it's 2020 already - where did last year go? That's just history as far as the bees are concerned, or perhaps they just live in the present and have no concept of history. If that's the case, though, how do the virgin queens and drones know where to find each other and do the business? They meet in the same places, "drone congregation areas", every year even though they are only a few weeks old and haven't been shown the way. clever, that!
Yes, it's swarming season. Some beekeepers think swarming is a big problem and to be avoided at all costs. They clip the queen's wing so she can't fly away - she lands in the grass and may or may not manage to crawl back home. Meanwhile all the flying bees return to the hive, wait for a few days until the first new queen hatches and then off they go again. Bees evolved the swarming instinct many millennia ago and it has served them well. The ice ages restricted the European bee populations to a few sites around the Mediterranean, but as soon as the glaciers retreated and plant life flourished the bees were there thanks to swarming.
It does keep us beekeepers on our toes though. One of our hives has looked really promising this year with lots of bees and a young queen who was laying like billy-oh. She's one of the queens we reared last year from our best colony, chosen because they were both productive and placid - the latter being a high priority when you keep bees in your back garden! We had a plan to rear some more queens from her this year.
We'd inspected them on 23rd April and all looked well, with lots of space for the queen to lay and supers for the workers to store the nectar. May started cold and wet, so it was the 2nd before we could check them again. Yes, that's 9 days later - very significant. And what did we find? Half a dozen queen cells with big fat larvae almost ready to be sealed and pupate into new queens. Lots of empty polished brood cells which the queen hadn't laid in; and her majesty stolling about without a care in the world. My, she looked fit and ...ah... ready to fly?? If we'd left it just one more day, they'd have sealed the queen cells, packed their bags and set off with the queen for their Big Adventure. Oh bother, we'd have said, and other such words.
Half an hour later we'd swapped bees, frames and boxes around and split the colony into four. The queen is in a nucleus box with some house bees, hopefully getting back into lay, we've got two more nucs with queen cells on the point of hatching, and we left just one queen cell in the original hive so fingers crossed the flying bees will stay put. Maybe they've done us a favour and we won't have to rear more queens after all.