Sunday, 20 May 2012

Splitting the Hive and Blue Eggs

Sunday 20th May 2012
Nearly June now, though you wouldn't know it.

Two hives, brood chambers only.
Hopefully a successful outcome in a couple of weeks.
Too may queens
I apologise for the lack of pictures, but I had to concentrate on my bee-keeping and a camera would get in the way. The day started with a visit from a helpful fellow bee-keeper. Into the garden trudged the three of us in our space suits. We opened up the hive and had a good look at our buzzy friends. They impressed our colleague with how calm they were and how busy they had been drawing comb and bringing in new honey.

But what we were most interested in was the brood frames, which would provide a trained eye with vital clues about the state of the colony and the fitness of the queen. Many of the frames were full of sealed brood. This means that the larva inside the hexagonal cell has been sealed in by the adult bees, ready to turn into a bee itself. There were also fairly mature larvae, but a distinct lack of smaller larvae and it took us a long time to find eggs. The fact that we did meant that the queen is still laying, but the reason for so few was not obvious - maybe lack of space, the long spell of cold weather or a weak queen. There were some drone (male) cells, but not overly many.
There were queen cells too, some sealed with their giant larva sealed in a sea of white royal jelly. The first warm day next week would probably lead to a swarm. This could be followed by further cast swarms, each time halving the strength of the colony.
So, we had a decision to make. Whether to sacrifice the queen and hope that one of the new, virgin queens would be victorious over the others and find suitable drones to fertilise her. What happens is that the queen flies out of the hive high into the air in search of drones to mate with. If successful, she returns to the hive to begin laying and the colony continues with its new queen. However, that's not a guaranteed outcome, so we felt it better to take a second option, splitting the hive to create a false swarm.

We found the queen easily (she is marked with a white blob to indicate that she is a 2011 queen) and moved her frame into the new hive, placed to face the opposite direction to the original hive. We then picked out some frames of brood, pollen and honey, in effect to give her everything she would need to build a new colony. We then shut that hive over and will leave it to get on with its own business for at least two weeks.
We then went through the remaining frames, leaving only the best looking queen cells. Hopefully, nature will take its course and we may end up with two hives. We'll find out what's happened in two or three weeks. Until then we leave well alone and just wait.
The worst scenario is that we end up with no queens and not a lot of bees. The middle scenario is that the two half colonies are not strong enough to survive as two, in which case we reunite them.

For the moment, fingers stay firmly crossed.

Overall though, it was fantastic to get the chance to look through the hive with the benefit of an experienced eye and we were very, very grateful indeed.

Blue Eggs and an Immaculate Smallholding
Then it was time to keep an appointment over in Donnington, where we had arranged to visit some fellow smallholders to have a nosey around and to purchase a dozen Crested Cream Legbar eggs (the blue ones) to go in the incubator.

Roger's smallholding yesterday was a smallholding on a shoestring, making excellent use of pallets, old bath tubs, second hand polytunnels and cardboard boxes. A smallholding which had evolved organically and very successfully. Today's smallholding was equally impressive, but it couldn't have been more different. Immaculately tidy and organised it was certainly ready for its opening to the public on 17th June as part of the National Gardens Scheme.
NGS - Garden

Colin and Janet concentrate on rare breeds and have their own website, well worth a look.

Prize for cutest animal of the day had to go to the day old pygmy goat, though it was a close run thing with the various punk-haired chicklets and the family dog.


Once again, thanks to Colin and Janet for extending a warm welcome to us.

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