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Experiments with Two Queen Colonies

Soon after I started beekeeping, a visiting American apiarist showed me a set of photo’s showing how they had hived a swarm above an existing colony, by replacing the crown board with a floor and replacing the crown board and roof above the dual hive. The advantages given for this was that only a floor and brood box were required.

Later on, I saw a ‘2-Queen board’ (2QB) illustrated in Ron Brown’s book “Beekeeping – A Seasonal Guide”. The 2QB is adapted from a crown board, lipped on both top and bottom, with an side entrance cut in the top lipping. The two feedholes are covered top and bottom with perforated zinc or other wire gauze, so no bee could make contact through the gauze.

Another hole is cut through the centre of the board, The underside of this hole is covered with a piece of zinc Queen excluder, whilst on the top a pivoted sheet of metal is arranged so that it could either cover or open the access to the queen excluder. A wire is led from the sheet metal through the side so that it can pull the metal to move it from covering the hole to exposing the queen excluder. (See diagram).

His technique involved making an artificial swarm and installing this on top of the 2QB above a super on the original colony. The advantages of this manoeuvre were greater brood production with the two queens in full lay and thus an increased harvest. When the two colonies were united at the end of the flow the younger queen would normally survive and so there would be automatic re-queening.

In use the two colonies are installed one above the other with at least one super between the two brood boxes, the lower brood box having its usual queen excluder. The metal plate is left closing access to the lower hive and the colonies are left thus for several days so that they can get used to the different colony smells via the ventilation holes in the 2QB.

The wire is then pulled opening access to the queen excluder and the workers of the two colonies can mingle and store honey jointly in the available space. When required, a queen excluder is placed above the top brood box and supers placed above it.

My first experiment took place some years ago, when I took a swarm and had no space for a further colony in my apiary. So the swarm was duly installed over the 2QB and the colonies left to get used to each other for a couple of days.

Bees were happily flying from both the top and bottom entrances when I pulled the wire. This, unfortunately, was the signal for war to be declared; and the next morning both the floorboard and the 2QB were covered in dead bees, masses of them. The experiment had to be considered a failure and the 2QB was consigned to the depths of the bee shed.

This year the circumstances were rather similar, I had to remove a swarm from the boiler house of a friend. I had no available space for another colony. I decided to try the 2QB again; once more the swarm was installed, on foundation, above an established colony, this time with two supers between the brood boxes. The opening plate was left closed and……….. I went off to Gormanstown.

On my return the swarm had done a lovely job of drawing out all the frames in the upper brood box and I decided it was time to let the two colonies make closer acquaintance.

The wire was pulled in the evening and with trepidation I visited the colony the next day. This time there were no heap of corpses to greet me, the bees were flying happily from both entrances and all seemed well in the world.

There was, however one slight drawback to the whole scheme, the main honey flow had occurred whilst I was at Gormanstown and the two colonies had been separated during that period. I did get a brood box of frames fully drawn and two supers full to the brim of honey.

In conclusion, I have found that it is absolutely necessary for the bees to have a long period for the hive scents to mingle before mixing of the stocks. The week of Gormanstown was certainly long enough, the three days of the earlier experiment was clearly too short.

Ruary Rudd