There are several reasons why we may need young bees. Some could be:-
When making a nucleus to keep in the same apiary, so the bees won’t fly home, leaving the nucleus weak.
To make up a mini – nuc for queen mating.
Making up a queen cell building colony.
Below are several tricks we can use for collecting young bees, some being more reliable than others.
Shake existing bees off brood frames with unsealed brood on, then place them in an empty brood box above a strong colony and cover with a cloth or crown board. In a short time the combs will be covered with young bees that have moved up to tend the unsealed brood. The unsealed brood needs to be young and hungry, as in my experience older unsealed brood won’t attract as many bees. It is advisable to put a queen excluder between the boxes to prevent the queen from moving up. This method should not be used when a colony is rapidly expanding as it is in the spring when it is already short of young bees.
Lay a sack or cloth on the ground and shake brood frames of bees onto it. Leave for 5-10 minutes for the older flying bees to go home and you are left with young bees.
Shake bees off brood frames into an upturned hive roof, though clean out any spider’s webs first! When the older bees have flown home after 5-10 minutes, it is young bees that are left. Giving the roof a kick will speed up the process! The roof can be bumped down on the ground, first on one corner, then another. The bees can be scooped up, or tipped where you want them.
If you want to get young bees into a colony, especially one you have just made up, then put a sloping board against the front of the hive in the same way as if you were hiving a swarm. Shake brood frames onto the bottom of the board. The older bees will fly home and the younger bees will walk up the board and into the hive.
The following methods are often advised or demonstrated, but I find unreliable. They may work for an experienced beekeeper, but I think the risks are too great for an inexperienced one. On many occasions I have seen nucs made up using some of the methods below, only for the colony to be very short of adult bees the following day.
Bees shaken from supers are said to be young, but this is not always reliable.
I find the shaking of extra bees into a nuc or colony is unreliable, as it depends very much on what is in the combs. Young bees are unlikely to be on sealed brood. This method is fine if you are moving the nuc beyond flying range.
The gentle shaking of a frame of bees is the method that is often advised, but in my experience can also be rather unreliable. The thinking is that younger bees hang on tighter, but this depends on how hard you shake it and the ambient temperature. Certainly a second shake is expected by the bees and they need a heavier shake because they hang on tighter.
I have seen demonstrations where the frames have been given to attendees to hold, with the intention of the flying bees going home. In my experience this doesn’t work well, as it is often temperature reliant. If the weather is cool the bees, even the flyers, will cluster on the brood to keep it warm. It might be useful for the demonstrator to show how clever they are, but not much use otherwise.
When doing any of these operations you need to make sure you know where the queen is. You could temporarily cage her or put the frame she is on in an empty box.
Young bees look different than older bees. They have a grey sheen and their wings are close together. For the inexperienced beekeeper it would pay to study bees on combs to gain practice.
With the methods mentioned above where bees are shaken, I have never had a problem shaking bees from several colonies together. If possible I try to shake them alternately, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. In my experience the older bees fly off quickly and young bees rarely fight. I tend to mix them up as much as I can.
Colonies that are preparing to swarm can usually afford to lose some young bees and this may help delay swarming.
Some of the above tricks are reliant on the weather, the cooler it is, the more reluctant the bees are to do what you want.