Uniting bees

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Uniting bees

Uniting bees is about joining more than one colony of bees together to form a stronger one for a special purpose.  Uniting bees is a very simple concept but one that is rarely used or necessary in the tropics. However, occasionally a beekeeper may find that by uniting several stocks of bees they can have a good honey producing colony instead of two small ones that may abscond or die out because they are small.

Why should the beekeeper unite bees? The most important reasons are:

  • The colonies are very small or weak
  • One of the colonies has lost its queen
  • There have been lots of swarms and the swarms are very small so may not be productive for this harvest
  • The beekeeper wants to try rearing queens and wants to build up strong colonies
  • The colonies need feeding or treating and it is cheaper to do this with a smaller number of colonies that can be divided when they are strong enough.
  • The beekeeper might want to make nucleus hives from more than one colony to reduce the weakening effect this has on each colony

Colonies will not normally join together without fighting because each colony has a distinct colony odour that ensures the worker bees know which is their home and when intruders are trying to invade it. This causes them to fight which can cause many worker bees to be killed. To successfully unite colonies this odour has to be mixed in the two colonies in a way that prevents the bees from fighting. This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest method is used in frame hives which is to put the two brood boxes, one on top of the other, with a sheet of newspaper in between the two. The hive that is being moved is put on top of the other hive so the bees are trapped in the top until they have eaten their way through the newspaper. This ensures they do not fly back to their original site but learn their new place. Both sets of bees eat the newspaper gradually and in a few days their colony odours will have mixed and the two colonies will peacefully become one colony - but a much stronger colony. If there was queen present in each part, the two queens will fight and the strongest one takes over the colony.

In other hive types, top bar hives for instance, it is not possible to use this method of uniting. In this case other methods can be used. The simplest is to spray all the combs bees with a liquid mixture of syrup (sugar and water) as they are mixed together. The bees will them have to clean each other up and by the time they have done this they will have mixed up the smells and become one colony. If this is tried and the second colony has not moved far, then the entrance will need to be blocked with some grass for a few days until the bees that have moved their position have worked out the position of their new home. Otherwise they will all fly back to the original hive position and the situation will be worse than before.

In any colony if worker bees are joined up from three or more colonies they will unite easily. This is because there will be so much pheromone smell that the bees are entirely confused and accept each other by the time the colony has settled down. Consequently, three or more small swarms can be put into one hive and, if they don't abscond first, they will join into one large colony. It is important to know why the bees are small and if it because they are diseased they should not be united. If a diseased colony is joined with a healthy one -the healthy colony will become infected too.

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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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