Tuesday, 2 September 2014

There's A Buzz Around The Place

Last week a strange package arrived in the post. A sealed, padded brown envelope... and it was buzzing!

Believe it or not, live bees actually get sent through the post. But this was not just any old bee. This was a queen, along with a small gang of attendants to look after her on her journey. They come in a plastic box, sealed in with candy.
Upon arrival, they are placed in the hive, but first contact with her new subjects will only be after they have eaten through the candy. This hopefully gives enough time for the hive to get used to the queen's pheromones and not attack her as an intruder.


You can just make out the queen,
marked with a green spot.
Ideally we wouldn't be buying a queen and getting her sent through the post, but for a while now one of the hives has contained no eggs and no brood. There are still, however, plenty of bees inside so it was worth saving. The alternative would be to unite it with one of the other hives to bolster up the size of the colony ready to go into the winter. But both of the other hives are doing very well indeed without reinforcements.
Twice Sue has tried to introduce frames of eggs to this hive, in the hope that the bees would make one of them into a queen - for remarkably they are able to do this - but neither time has it succeeded. This could mean that there is already a queen in the hive but she is not laying. If that is the case, then our expensive purchase of a new queen will not work, for she will be killed by the old queen. But Sue has searched and searched and not been able to find a queen.






It is getting late in the year to introduce a queen, but the colony would not survive much longer without new blood. Already it is being raided by wasps. Normally a strong colony can repel them, but as it weakens, so more and more make it past the bees' defences and into the hive to steal the honey. Sue has narrowed the entrance to make it easier for the bees to defend. It's like war. To further help the bees, for we are most definitely taking sides and intervening in this war, there is an array of wasp traps hung around the hives. They catch a lot of wasps, but there must be a nest nearby so we'll never catch enough of them.
There's also a new-fangled device hanging next to the hives. It's called a Waspinator! It's basically a mock wasp nest and the idea is that visiting wasps will see it and stay clear. However, it does not really work at this time of year if there is already a real nest in the area. The manufacturers do make this clear, but we've put it up anyway just in case it helps.


Here you can see various wasp traps hanging around the hives.
The grey bag hanging up is the Waspinator.
Last year I was fortunate enough to locate a wasp nest - just a hole in the ground from which emerged a steady flow of yellowjackets. Remarkably yesterday I managed to locate the source of this year's wasps. I actually had a lucky escape, for I was just about to start digging to plant an oak sapling when I noticed a hole in the long grass. Initially I thought it to be a rat hole, but then I noticed a stream of stripy black and yellow bodies crawling to the entrance and heading off to do their worst - either to the bee hives or to the orchard.


No apologies for the quality of the picture.
No way I was getting too close!
I'm afraid that, remarkable creatures as they are, wasps are not welcome here on the farm. So it was that at 5:30am today Sue donned her bee suit and headed toward the hole in the ground armed with a tube of white powder. A few puffs down the hole resulted in the emergence of a small gang of wasps, which is why we (Sue) were performing this operation at first light.

Now all we have to do is wait and see if it has worked. In a couple of days, Sue will be able to look in the bee hive again too. If all has gone well, there will be newly laid eggs. If not, we'll be heading into the winter with just two colonies of honey bees instead of three.

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