Bees for Development
Uniting bees is just 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 development beekeeping context. 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:
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 form 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 have fought and the strongest on taken 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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