Thursday, 31 May 2012

Absolute bee-ginners

Thursday 31st June 2012

Opening up the hives
After work today, our bee colleague had agreed to come and open up the hives with us. We were expecting the worst. After all, Hive A appeared to have swarmed and Hive B (with the original queen) had been very quiet indeed. In fact, I suspected that the action at Hive B may have been the others going in and taking the store of honey.

It was somewhat reassuring to find out that this week has been a mega week for swarms. I guess everyone's bees were stuck inside during wet April and the first half of May. They obviously just spent their time multiplying! Then a hot fortnight for them to cram the hive full of honey. The result seems to have been hives full to the brim and mass swarms.

I heard, too, that our nearest fellow beekeeper had a bit of a nasty accident earlier in the week. While mowing his grass the bees came out of the rape field and stung him badly. Now I'm always careful to mow the lawn near the hives late on, after the bees have gone to bed, but after hearing this I think that extra precautions will be called for.

I've been rambling on when I should be telling what we found inside the hives. Well, Hive B had about 6 frames full of bees and brood, including plenty of newly laid eggs, which means that there is a queen and she is laying. In fact, it was fairly easy to find our old queen. The brood pattern looked healthy and there were stores of pollen and honey. Overall then, this hive should fairly quickly build into a healthy colony again. As the rape goes over in the field next door, so the clover begins to flower in the meadow.

Hive A, in which we had left a couple of queen cells, and which had swarmed, contained a surprising number of bees. Maybe seven or  eight full frames still. We couldn't find a queen, though a new queen would still be quite small and, obviously, unmarked. More importantly, nor could we find any eggs, which meant that the hive did not yet have a laying queen.
There were however a few old queen cells, which seemed to be empty. Probably the bees had chosen their new queen and destroyed the others. Thing is, they had then flown off with her.
But there were a few new queen cells too. So we removed the older queen cells and left the best looking so that, hopefully, a new virgin queen would emerge.

When this happens, she spends a few days in the hive before flying out and high up in search of drones from another hive with which to mate. As long as she does not get blown away by the wind, washed away by rain, or plucked out of the air by a bird, then she returns to start laying and building up her new colony.

The other job which needed doing in this hive was to move some of the honey-filled frames above the brood box and replace them with new frames. This is to keep the bees busy so they don't get ideas about swarming again. Secondary swarms are known as cast swarms, and can deplete the hive to the extent that it is no longer a viable colony.

A Queen Appears
As we were doing this, our bee colleague picked up one of the old queen cells which we had discarded. Out of it was crawling a bee... but not just any old bee. Even to my inexperienced eye this bee was longer bodied than the others. It looked absolutely pristine. A new queen, and a well-shaped one to boot.
This came as a big surprise, so the plan was changed. We decided to let her crawl in amongst the brood frames, and instead destroyed the two queen cells which we had left in there. With luck, the bees will accept her as their new queen and, next time we open the hive, we will see freshly laid eggs.

I would like to apologise for the lack of photos, as all of this will be a bit confusing if you don't keep bees. Reason is there's just too much to think about at the moment when we open the hives. Combine this with wearing a space suit and the fact that my glasses focus disconcertingly on the mesh veil of my hood and that's why there are no photos.

I promise to put together a photo essay at some stage in the near future.

Pigeon goes to roost
A comedic end to the day. As I ushered the goose pair into their stable block our new pigeon shuffled ahead of them and there it spent the night.
A new lodger moves in with the geese.

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