I feel that we have definitely taken a step up the beekeeping ladder this year. If that sounds like pride, well, it is and no doubt it will be followed by a colossal fall but let me explain.
Last year we had so many swarms we had difficulty hiving them all. It was entirely our fault because we simply weren't experienced - or confident - enough to take the required action at the required moment. "Go away and think it over" is good up to a point - the point being that the bees are following a timetable of their own and will happily carry on regardless of the shortcomings of hesitant beekeepers. This year I knew it would happen again unless I worked it all out in advance in my head so that action could be taken on the spot.
Because of the cold weather we were unable to open the hives until late April/early May. We were thrilled to discover that all our colonies (four plus the Wild Hive) had survived the winter and were busy bringing in pollen and nectar, the brood was expanding and all was well. However, the Oil Seed Rape period also bought a sudden onslaught of queen cells. This year I was better prepared. Still not confident enough to risk all the colonies I decided I would divide two of the hives by putting a frame of brood with a queen cell, together with nurse bees and frames of honey, into a small 6-frame hive. As I couldn't find the queen (she was unmarked) I couldn't do a proper Artifical Swarm so I knew I'd still have a swarm from the main hive but at least I had a back up.
From the other colonies - the two I didn't touch and the Wild Hive which I can't manage in the same way - we had swarms as predicted but as we were here we were able to rehive these as required.
So at present we have four main hives and the Wild Hive, plus four small hives containing either collected swarms or the divisions. We went through these last week and were thrilled to discover brood in all of them and were also able to mark the queens - I think I need marking practice though as the blue mark is more like a blue streak!
The next job is to combine weak colonies with strong ones and I hope to do this later in the week. Photos will follow and I'll try to keep up to date from now on.