Free bees

This year is a year of swarms in Sweden. The weather is chilly and damp. Bees are sitting a lot inside having little to do but making queen cells. Maybe like many others in such a situation, thinking of reproduction.:)

In my home yard I have up till now have hade one swarming attempt, which I stopped with rain from my garden hose.

During this week I’ve had two swarms flying into my home yard from my neighbor beekeeper less than half a mile away (half a km). He has Elgon bees as well, but a smaller frame size than me, which I think contribute to increase swarming.

The first one flew to the pile of boxes with crap combs, but couldn’t get in.  I opened up after discussing with them. They behave well, even when I pass very close to them getting things in the container. The pile sits in the opening of the container and the door is always open. After a couple of weeks I will move those boxes where the bees reside to another yard.

Svärm pallstapel1 The bees liked the box better than the pallets.

A couple of days ago another swarm flew into my garden and landed on a pile of pallets. Another bad place. With the help of may hand I scooped most of the bees into a swarm box and put it on top of the pallet pile and hope the bees would like the box better than the pallet pile.

Svärm pallstapel2 I hived the swarm from above, easy and quick.

And they did. In the evening all of the bees were sitting still in the box. I hived the bees in two square shallow boxes. Corresponds to two 10-frame mediums. Now they are doing fine.

HDRtist Pro Rendering - Church bees.

Yesterday I got a call from a church in the north part of my little town. A big swarm had landed the day before. They wanted me to remove it. It must be Abbey bees I concluded, Buckfasts. And they behaved well. A biig swarm. Probably from my friend Karlsson about 1 mile away over the fields. Elgons too.

I climbed the ladder, held the box in my left hand and scooped again most of the bees with my right hand into the box, and hanged it on the gutter, hoping that the rest of the bees would gather into the box through the excluder.

HDRtist Pro Rendering - In the evening the bees were inside the box ready for transport to their new home.

The bees had in one day drawn 5 small combs with cellsizes 5.0-5.4 mm. 5.4 at the top and 5.0 at the bottom. Some nectar in the top of the biggest and two eggs. Laying queen:

In the evening all bees were inside the box with a few sitting outside on it. I transported them to on of my yards and hived them.

Three nice colonies in less than a week!

Svärm pallstapel3

Let us in – we will clean your combs

Today I got a telephone call from my neighbor when I was out in the car. He told me a swarm was swirling in the air in his garden, then moving over my container for storing bee equipment.

When I got home I went to the container. The door is almost always open to avoid overheating and too much moisture in it. Close to the opening I hade piled up some boxes with combs to be sorted out. Most of them would go to the solar wax melter, moldy pollen, bee feces, badly drawn, etc.

The swarm had smelled the nice odor from the pile and sat on the outside trying to get it, without success. I stood looking at them shaking my head and told them in the world they had went to a closed pile of garbage combs and not to the nice swarm trap hive on the top of the container. I hadn’t gone looking at the swarm trap yet.

As I stood talking to them about their bad choice, I got a feeling they asked me to open up the pile so they could walk in and they would clean my garbage combs for me. Well, I thought and remembered my friend who told me about the swarm that entered a failing colony hive in which the forest ants were building an anthill in one corner. The swarm just threw out everything in that hive and cleaned and secured it from the enemies.

Svärmsstapeln Inside the container looking out. The swarm have went in through the top entrance I gave them. A couple of weeks I will talk to them every time pass them. At that time I will open it to see if they have laying queen and decide how many boxes I will move to another yard to set up the new colony with old crap combs. Poor bees, but they choose them themselves.

So I opened the top lid of the pile just enough for the bees to enter. And they all went in happily. They thus got a top entrance. It will be interesting to see if they will keep what they promised.

Svärmfluster The top entrance of the pile of crap combs.

Then I went to the swarm trap. Well, well, well. Bees were going in and out there. I thought it was bees from the swarm that were looking for a new home when they couldn’t get in the pile. I almost thought it was a mistake now opening up for the pile bees. Maybe they had went to the swarm trap if I hadn’t. But how should I have known?

Svärmkupa Scout bees looking at a house top flat. evidently I stopped them from moving in.

I went to the solar melter to change combs. I had another pile with already sorted combs to melt. Then I saw A second swarm coming out of a hive. Maybe a second swarm from the same hive. No other though in my yard had swarmed. Many times swarms from other yards seek their new home close to a foreign yard. Good for the mixture of genes maybe.

I had the garden hose handy close by and watered the swarming hive. The swarm went back. And the bees from the swarm trap disappeared. They were evidently scout bees from this swarming hive. Well, well, well. Did I do wrong again, or did I do right again. We’ll see tomorrow if this hive will swarm tomorrow again.

Checking list for a VSH test

I have done some VSH-tests by now and maybe my experiences can inspire some of you. I have made a checklist that maybe can be of some help.

VSH-test avstånd

What I use

I use a reading lens with a ringlamp with about 2.5 times magnification. I also use a couple of reading glasses with the same magnification to get about 6 times. But you can try what combination works the best for you.

Place the comb under the reading glass about 10-20 cm (4-8”) from it. You work out the best distance, also where to place your eyes above it.

As you drag out the pupae you may have to move the comb somewhat for best sight into the cells. Also you can tilt the comb back and forth a little for the same reason.

Use a pair of tweezers of your like. I use one with a slanted tip. You get a grip on the pupa a little better, but on the other hand it can be easier to torn it into pieces.


Three piles of pupae

  1. Pupae without mites go to one pile. It will be the biggest. When you have 10 in it you push it up a bit and away somewhat. I do the same with the next 10 and keep it separate from the first 10. This way it’s easier for me to count them. When I have got 5 piles like that I push them together. Then I go on with the next 10-pile. When I’ve got 100 pupae without mites my patience is over. Sometimes, to be sure about the result you may have to pull more pupae, especially if you have treated the colony effectively the previous season.
  2. Pupae with mites that have no offspring go to pile 2. Some pupae will have just one male or one female. Those will not be reproductive and I put those in pile 2 as well.
  3. A pupa that has a mite with at least one male and one female offspring goes to pile 3. The male is white and somewhat smaller. The form is not as even roundish like a crab as the females look like.


What I look for

  • The eyes of the pupa of the bee should have at least a dark purple color, not a light pink. The rest of the pupa may be white, but it will darken with time. This is to give the mother mite enough time to reproduce, if it will. The pupa may also have transformed fully into a bee with a dark moving head, and wings. If this is the case when you pull it, expect the bottom to look a little different.
  • The first to look at is the bottom of the cell when the pupa is pulled. If it’s not a fully transformed be that is pulled but a pupa, and there is no mite in the cell you will just see a whitish thread-like tangles on one side of the bottom, often the upper side. If you just see that and nothing else, you don’t have to look more. There is no mite in that cell. (Well, when you get a little more experienced, I’m not yet, you may have once in a while see a trapped mite upside down at the bottom under the cocoon.)
  • If it is a fully transformed bee you pull, then you will find the threadlike tangles. But also a more compact whitish lump, most often in contact with the tangles. The tangles is the rest of the larva-skin, the lump the rest of the pupa-skin, both from the different transformations to the fully transformed bee.
  • If the there is a mite in the cell you will also see a still whiter compact lump of feces of the mite, often somewhat prolonged. Especially you can see the prolonged form when there’s just somewhat feces. Most often also the feces is a little higher up on the cell wall. It’s resembling the pupa-skin more than the larva-skin. The easiest way to avoid confusion and wrongly take the feces for pupa-skin or the other way round is to avoid pulling fully transformed bees.

VSH-test rester The light made the tangles, the larva skin look more compact. In some cells you also find the more compact pupa skin. In only one cell there was this small piece of prolonged very white varroa feces. And yes, in this cell there was a mite, and a mite with no offspring. The only one I found in this colony. Of course it’s interesting for breeding even if there is no statistical significance for the very highVSH value, due to the low number of mites.

The feces of the Varroa

Sometimes it’s only a small somewhat prolonged stain of feces. Most often then the mite has no offspring, or possibly a non-reproductive offspring. Maybe the mite hasn’t been able to eat enough nourishing food, or it’s too old, who knows.

If it’s a lot of white on the cell bottom and the cell wall, you find a lot of feces and quite some offspring. Also nymph skins from the young mites. Then you will most probably find a whole Varroa family, one male and several females, white and light brown, as well as the dark brown mother mite. In such a big family, the mites are vital and run around on the bottom and cell wall. Sometimes there’s more than one mother mite in one cell.

In a cell with a lone mother mite without offspring or with a single offspring they most often just move slowly. Maybe the mother mite is old and stiff and have bad food.:)

A good film showing the development stages of the bee and of the mites can be seen here:

VSH-test hög In the big pile there is 100 pupae and fully transformed bees.


Add the number of pupae in piles 2 and 3. Let’s say there are 3 pupae in pile 2 and 7 in pile 3. Then you get 3+7=10 pupae in total with mites. 3/10=30%, which is the VSH-value. Just about enough to be able to use in breeding better VSH.

If you have 100 pupae in pile 1 you have pulled in total 100+3+7=110 pupae the degree of infection in the brood is 10/110=0.09=9%. It’s difficult to compare this with the degree of infection on the bees, the amount of phoretic mites, which you get with for example an alcohol wash. Maybe it’s half this value, maybe it’s more, maybe less.

If you have done an effective treatment the previous season you may have to pull at least 200 pupae. Maybe you have to wait to late summer to make the VSH test.

More viruses due to cold weather

The weather has given the coldest May since 1962, 12 years before I started with bees. The bees have had a hard time getting enough pollen to keep up egglaying to reach optimum nectar gathering strength when summer comes.

In agricultural areas winter rape has given some nectar during the few hours with good weather. It’s still in bloom… In the forest small blueberry bushes which in many areas cover the ground has done the same. Now lingonberry flowers give nectar and pollen.

Pollen is essential as amino acid and protein source. These are used for almost every thing the bees need to function as they should, for example the immune system.

This year I’ve seen wingless bees in colonies with no big population of mites, eve if it’s somewhat bigger than it had been if the colonies had been treated with an effective miticide last year. I use thymol only when wingless bees appear, on the hardboard in front of the entrance or on the brood combs.

Nosema have probably also contributed to health problems with the bees this cold May, in combination with viruses and plant protection chemicals, it can be disastrous.

Now sun and mating temperature for honey bee queens came upon us the other day. Nature dried up. The hard boards appeared “empty”. Bees are working like maniacs. Nectar is filling the supers, even in the forest. It must be the lingonberries.

More Virus lingonblom To the left there is a Swedish blueberry plant showing some berry babies. Now lingonberries are blooming.

But happiness is not perfect. In most colonies there hasn’t been egglaying as it should this time of the year. The field bees that will fly to death will not all be replaced by hatching new bees. But if the fine weather will continue the bees may collect quite some early honey, in spite of the earlier bad weather. And here in Sweden we hope for a good amount of wild raspberry flowers.