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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We saw swarm cells when we inspected yesterday. We'd thought it would be a bit late for the bees to build swarm cells, shouldn't they be prepping for winter by now? We opened 2 of the bigger cells and there's milky white stuff in it (presumably royal jelly? Not sure there is larvae, unless it was very small. There are quite a few cells that looks like swarm cells or queen cups, most of them on a frame of capped drones in a super we added about 4 weeks ago. We were concerned we lost our queen, but we saw both eggs and the queen. Queen's from a june nuc, so I'm guessing she's new this year, and they've got half a medium super still empty, so we are at a loss as to why they would be swarming.

My question is how should we proceed. My understanding is that they are likely to make more queen cells if we destroy the current ones (or remove the frame, we think it is all drones). Our concern is that this late in the season, if the hive split it may be unlikely to survive, and it'll be our first time doing a split.

The hive is in 1 deep, 1 less than half full medium. Thoughts?
 

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Does the bottom deep super have at least a few empty drawn frames for the queen to lay or is it all backfilled with honey? (empties towards the middle)
Where are the cells located, bottom of frame or upper half of frame?
Do you have a reasonable amount of capped worker brood?

You're right a split is very unlikely to survive now, but it's prudent to make one, wait and see the outcome of your colony and have at least one queen accounted for.
Recombining a split is relatively easy and only takes a few days.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thank you for your reply. The bottom deep does look like it have some empty drawn frames. It doesn't seem like they have a lot of honey, maybe 2-3 frames that are capped on the top halves. Our other hive looks very similar as well, and now that I think about it, I think both hives have less uncapped brood than previous inspections. Both our hives have deeps that seemed like they are going to explode with the amount of capped brood we have for a while now. The swarm hive looks like it has about 3 medium frames that are fully drawn, and another 2 medium frames that are half drawn. Most of the swarm cells are on one of the drawn medium frames.

Both of our hives are first year nucs (and the first one actually swarmed a couple weeks after we got it), so we don't have any drawn frames sitting around. I'm not quite sure how much time we have, I think the earliest we can try for a split is this thursday, and the photos are from sunday. No capped queen cells at least. A lot of drones.
 

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It is very late in the season for swarming. That being said, here in our region (central Colorado) we have had quite a few hives swarm this past week. One of my hives swarmed last week. The new coloney will have to be supported this winter.
 

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We think they are swarm cells. They are all hanging down on the bottom part of new comb. Picture here:
Could be,

The textbook answer is queen cells on the bottom of frames equates to swarm cells. That sometimes is true, but definitely not always. First year hive that is light on stores, I would be very surprised if they were swarm cells. Like Yves, I would be very surprised if your split survived.

Hives will typically backfill the brood nest before swarming. Obviously, a packed hive during peak swarm season with 15 capped queen cells is "getting ready to get up on out of there". Three capped queen cells on a so so hive could easily be labeled supercedure. Other times it can be difficult to ascertain their motives. But when they start to backfill the broodnest, that is a good swarm sign.

I would be inclined to leave them alone. Since they are light, I would start feeding now.

Shane
 

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I'm in SW Ontario and had the same thing happen. I had a couple of nucs I plan to overwinter start cells a couple weeks ago. Generally I don't consider the location of the queen cell a factor in determining if it is a swarm cell or supercedure. The number of cells and the condition of the hive tells me if they will swarm. Many queen cells (like 12 or more) I consider it to be a swarm, but fewer (say 10 or less) I generally consider it supercedure. Also if there is open comb, they aren't crowded, and especially since it is late in the year I would not worry about swarming. If it were spring I would be more concerned. I would just make sure the new queen starts laying and they build up well for winter. Good luck
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The textbook answer is queen cells on the bottom of frames equates to swarm cells. That sometimes is true, but definitely not always. First year hive that is light on stores, I would be very surprised if they were swarm cells. Like Yves, I would be very surprised if your split survived.
I was looking at this link when figuring out if it was swarm or supercedure. The positions of the cells are match what the article suggests as backup swarm cells (in the middle of the medium super on top of the deep). The queen is new this year, from a very reputable local breeder. So I can't see it being supercedure unless she somehow turned out to be a drone layer (and there does seem to be a lot of drones around, but we did go foundationless).

We are thinking of doing what Yvesrow1 suggest and recombine after we split. I don't know much about recombining, but it sounds like we could probably recombine in a couple of weeks, after the hive has settled.

So I don't think they have a lot of honey, but I'm not sure how much stores they should have right now. I need to ask and find out what is normal for Ontario, although this year everything is delayed 2-3 weeks and every 3 days there is a thunderstorm. Both hives seem to be full of capped brood, I would think there wouldn't be so many if there's a dearth?

If anybody is curious, the last 40 or so pictures here (396-437) are of the hive in question, first half of the medium, second half of the deep.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I'm in SW Ontario and had the same thing happen. I had a couple of nucs I plan to overwinter start cells a couple weeks ago. Generally I don't consider the location of the queen cell a factor in determining if it is a swarm cell or supercedure. The number of cells and the condition of the hive tells me if they will swarm. Many queen cells (like 12 or more) I consider it to be a swarm, but fewer (say 10 or less) I generally consider it supercedure. Also if there is open comb, they aren't crowded, and especially since it is late in the year I would not worry about swarming. If it were spring I would be more concerned. I would just make sure the new queen starts laying and they build up well for winter. Good luck
There were maybe half a dozen that looks more queen cell like (elongated in shape), and probably another half dozen that look like queen cups. There's open comb right now, but I'm wondering if we added the medium a little bit on the late side for them. The medium was still empty after the first week, but by the end of the second week there were 2-3 frames of comb being worked out.
 

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The writer of that article failed to mention that the description of cells was for the established and overwintered colony. He had no starters at the time. Your nuc automatically reverts to 1st year starter instincts when given more space in a deep.

First year colonies often supersede when they get a broodnest developed that is proportional to the cavity volume (Deep in this case) The two week delay in using added space (medium) is normal. It takes time to adjust the colony consensus judgement on the space available and they have to jump the gap of the interbar area.

In checking your pic collection, I gave up without seeing a pic of your description of having cells on the bottom edge of downward growing comb. But that's normal also - room for downward growth of a queen cell.

The "white milky" stuff you saw may have been the prepupa itself. At that stage, it's just a skin full of white mush. Royal jelly is semi solid and does not pour or run.

All this to say we do not have enough info to make a call on SS vs swarm. Some data for both. Recommend you take another look. If some of the unpopulated cups that you saw now have royal jelly or larvae in them, think swarm. If there has been no increase in cells started, think supersedure.

Walt
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
The writer of that article failed to mention that the description of cells was for the established and overwintered colony. He had no starters at the time. Your nuc automatically reverts to 1st year starter instincts when given more space in a deep.
Ah, I did not realize that makes a difference. Can you explain what you mean by 1st year starter instincts?

First year colonies often supersede when they get a broodnest developed that is proportional to the cavity volume (Deep in this case) The two week delay in using added space (medium) is normal. It takes time to adjust the colony consensus judgement on the space available and they have to jump the gap of the interbar area.
If it takes the bees a bit of time to adjust to the gap between the boxes, then should they be getting a bigger "heads up" than 8 frames drawn on the deep? That's what we were advised to do, so maybe we gave them a second box a bit late. I did not realize superseding in a first year nuc is common. We were suggested to start with first year nucs since they are less likely to swarm. The first swarm we saw earlier in the year, there was a lot more activity in front of the hive for a couple of days. This time, I was watching for additional flying daily, but everything seemed normal. At night, there's quite a few bees crowding and over hanging the bottom entrance, I was wondering if that's a sign of overcrowding. We do have a friend few blocks away whose hive swarmed last week.

In checking your pic collection, I gave up without seeing a pic of your description of having cells on the bottom edge of downward growing comb. But that's normal also - room for downward growth of a queen cell.
I haven't quite figured out the best way to link to photos in Picasa yet.. if you are interested:
This should link to a close up of the queen cell from last week's inspection.
This should link to the whole frame, although the cells are a bit hard to see.
Same frame one week later last saturday. . There were not quite a dozen cells on this one frame.

All this to say we do not have enough info to make a call on SS vs swarm. Some data for both. Recommend you take another look. If some of the unpopulated cups that you saw now have royal jelly or larvae in them, think swarm. If there has been no increase in cells started, think supersedure.
Swarm then. We took out a capped queen cell while we were splitting, and it had a fat little larvae in it that made a nice little snack for a bird. We split yesterday, so I guess now we wait and see how things go. If we end up with a new laying queen, we'll probably kill the old one. At this point, we are still thinking we want to recombine in 2-3 weeks.


In other news, our first hive now has queen cups. I hope they are just for practice.. They have had a medium with empty foundationless frames under the deep for 3 weeks so far, and no action on any of the frames yet.

Thanks for your reply. Since we don't have a local mentor, I'm very grateful for everyone who shares their experience online. When we took the introductory course, we got some hands on for how to handle bees, but its going to take years of mistakes to sort out when to put a box on and when to take a box off!
 
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