President’s Ramblings – April 2024

Will it ever stop raining?

We had a very interesting meeting last night, with talks on various topics by members. When you get a group of beekeepers together there will always be a difference of opinion. Over the years I’ve heard arguments about which is the best hive – WBC or National, Single brood vs double brood or brood and a half. I’ve even heard heated discussions about whether one should use Tate and Lyle sugar or Silverspoon. Last night’s talk on queen rearing got me thinking about the merits or not about clipping  a queen’s wing.

Some years ago I had about 50 hives and raised almost 100 queens a year for my own use and for sale. I bred for near native (AMM) quality and for good temper. I clipped all my queens. I started doing this because it was something that was tested in the BBKA General Husbandry exam. The theory behind clipping is that it can extend the period between inspections and prevent the loss of swarms. However things are not always as simple as they say in the beekeeping books.

When a colony with a clipped queen swarms the queen can’t fly well and drops to the ground. The vast majority of the swarm then returns to the hive and the old queen is lost. The next inspection of the hive shows that there are queen cells, but lots of bees. You can’t easily tell if the queen is still there or not and there are a lot of bees in the hive making finding the queen hard anyway. So what do you do with the hive to stop a swarm as soon as the first virgin queen hatches?

The situation came to the crunch when two of my colonies with my best queens swarmed. I had just missed some inspections due to poor weather and the number of hives I was managing. I realised that I had lost my two best queens! From then on I never clipped another queen. Why you may well ask? The answer is simple if I misjudged things and they swarmed I had a chance that I would catch the swarm, and If I didn’t catch it then those good quality bees would still be out there, somewhere, producing good drones to mate with my good queens. Artificial swarming became easier, because I was never faced with not knowing if they had swarmed or not. The other advantage is that whenever you mark and/or clip a queen there is a chance that you may damage her, so not clipping reduces that risk.

Another thing that got me thinking last night was a picture of some bees on the comb with two Varroa mites on the bees. A couple of mites might not be a big problem but think about it. If there are 2 mites visible on the top of the bees then there are probably at least 2 more underneath, and some running free in the hive. 4 mites on say 200 bees means about 2% of the population have a mite. In a colony of 50,000 bees that is 1000 mites. With the mite population doubling every 3 weeks that population would soon be a catastrophic 2000.

That’s it for now, more ramblings next month.