A swarm of bees in May
is worth a load of hay,
A swarm of bees in June
is worth a silver spoon,
A swarm of bees in July
is not worth a fly!
Anon circ 1850
I would submit, the above ditty is antiquated and should have absolutely no bearing on modern beekeeping, it should be ignored during yearly manipulations, but too often beekeepers use the timing contained in the ditty without giving it a real thought.
The nursery rhyme was written in the times when bees were kept in straw skeps, and at the end of the season, in Sept, the skeps would be hefted and the heaviest ones killed and harvested. Totally the reverse of modern thinking, as we now feed bees in the times of a dearth of nectar, now we “cull the worst and breed the best” the best being in most cases the heaviest or best producer.
With this new thinking in mind let us examine the yearly manipulations!
The industry standard is to re-queen as early as possible, to the point of being ridiculous. I once watched a beekeeper adding queens in the snow! He had ordered early queens, and they came earlier than he anticipated, needless to say, he had a lot of failures.
Let us examine the timing to see the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Advantages of early re-queening.
Easier to find the Queen
Dubious Queens. (Poor mating, lack of proper feeding)
Weather. Often cold or damp.
Lack of honey flow. Poor acceptance.
Now consider the differences in re-queening at a later date, ie. Summer or Fall.
Advantages of later Re-queening.
Better quality queens. (More drones, better feeding)
Better wintering (younger and stronger queens)
Lower swarming next year.
Bigger hives, (difficulty finding queens)
Score one for later manipulations. Now let us consider the other manipulation governed by antiquated thinking.
Splits or Increases.
The way of making increase is to split the main hive, add a queen and allow the hive to increase big enough to winter over.
Traditionally it has to be done early, but if we again examine the methods, we will find the timing could be better.
Advantages of early splits.
Crop in the first year.
Smaller hives (smaller splits, less available bees)
Dubious queens (see above)
Weather. (see above)
Now let us examine the pros and cons of later timing.
Bigger hives (larger splits)
No crop first year.
I think you’ll agree, later, in this case, is considerably better. It now means that imported bees from Southern areas are unnecessary and Summer queens from Northern breeders are finally a very viable proposition.
One final point.
For many years in the horticultural field, it has been agreed that subtropical species do poorly in our Northern climate. In other words, a Palm tree won’t grow in the North. But, we import subtropical bees from Southern areas, ostensibly to get an early start, then complain bitterly when they fail to winter.
It is generally agreed by knowledgeable bee keepers that bees should be bred for the area where they are to live.