Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay

The little native black bees people sometimes found in a hollow tree were often vicious. By cutting the old tree, they could rob the bee colony of their winterís supply of honey. Once a tree is down, it might never have bees live there again. Later came less vicious foreign bees that could be pampered a bit to produce better honey.

May and June are busy months for honeybees. "A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon." In one day, the queen bee can lay more than 1,000 fertile eggs. She inspects a clean, polished cell, head first, then backs out, turns around and puts her tail part in first. She releases one tiny white fertile egg, attaching one end of it to the interior back wall of the cell and is off, away to the next "readied" cell. Worker bees prepare the cells and take over as soon as the queen repeats this routine: inspect the cell, back out, turn, deposit minute white, fertile egg, turn, inspect and repeat the egg laying.

Would we guess she could lay more than 1,000 eggs in one day? She is misnamed a queen because she is larger. She is a great egg layer but not a "ruler." Worker bees feed her, groom her and direct her in other ways. When sheís laying eggs, thatís about all she does. Workers feed her and groom her; they do all of the housekeeping and bring food pollen and propolis from orchards, gardens and fields miles from home. Spring is also hatching time for those thousands of developed bees now chewing their way out of the cells where the queen began their lives by laying all those eggs!

An early spring swarm was sometimes captured and installed in a boxhive, adding one more colony. Tip: Donít call me or a current beekeeper and ask, "I have this swarm of bees in a big box, what do I do now?" If you want to do this hobby, open the box, and the bees will take off! Order bees by the pound from advertisements in beekeeping magazines. Be thoroughly knowledgeable before you write that big check for boxes, lids, bottom boards, fames, wax, bees and much more. That rhyme the old fellows quoted continued this way: "A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon." Thatís less valuable than Mayís load of hay.

It ends with, "A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly." If you were a beekeeper, you wouldnít want to take a swarm at this time of the year. Itís too late for the colony to get enough food to take them through the winter. The swarm does not occur without a queen, and she wouldnít leave the hive unless she had been superseded - a new vigorous queen purposely reared.

There are no old-folks homes for beesí queens and no sympathy for old workers who have flown thousands of miles for the good of the colony. When wings are thread-bare, worker bees take those worn-out "sisters" far into the woods and leave them. Believe me, there is much more for these busy bees to do, and the crowding in the hive is a problem because more than a thousand bees are hatching daily. Thereís no end to the things that are going on in those stacked white wooden boxes.

One thing is certain: All bees are busy - except the drones. Male bees are larger than workers and not shiny like the queen. The queen is an egg layer and little else. Workers feed her, groom her, do the housekeeping. Beekeepers keep a close watch in spring and summer because a crowded colony might be ready to divide by swarming. Itís a good guess that the swarm will not be vigorous enough to make more honey than they need for survival.

When I was operating about 20 hives, I often received a call at meal time: "You can have the bees, free; they are on a low limb."

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