General Notes & Info
It has been a month since our first inspection of the year – which was, shamefully, our last inspection! At this time of the year we should really be looking at them every week or so. This was not for want of trying though. The two ‘Ws’ got in the way – ‘Work’ and ‘Weather’.
I’m in the middle of filming two promotional videos at the moment (one for Eiger Safety and another for Supadance) which has taken me away from the apiary. When I have been about its been either two cold, too wet or too windy to open the hives – none of which are good beekeeping conditions.
On my way back from shooting some Eiger Safety footage down at the Eden Project in Cornwall I was continually reminded of just how important it was that I got back in to see what was happening with the bees as it seemed that every other farmer’s field we passed was packed with Oil Seed Rape in full yellow-some bloom. Last year we took about 70lb of honey off our bees around this time of the year and it was due to this, growingly abundant, source of nectar. Rape honey sets extremely quickly – so the moment the bees have reduced the water content down (to a point where if you shake the frames horizontally no nectar flicks out – which happens at just below 20% water content) you really want to get it off the hives, spun and jarred. Rape honey that sets in the comb is pretty much useless.
I was also reminded of my beekeeping duties down at Eden as they have bee hives on site – as you would expect! I thought at the time that their honey must be something quite special with the variety of forage they have available to them. As you can see, they keep the hives way out of the reach of poking kids!
With my hives located just outside my office though I have been able to keep a casual eye on them. I could tell the colony sizes were expanding quite nicely from the activity on the brief moments when the sun did come out in the past month. No. 2 hive, whilst looking the weakest on the first inspection, was often looking the busiest in these warmer moments. Quite often the bees were already flying by the time I’d got to work (about 8am) – and my hope of an early Rape crop was growing.
Whilst Sunday 22nd April did not hold out much promise according to the weatherman, we awoke to blue sky and sunshine – so as soon as the sun warmed up we were off to the bees.
We have had warnings and horror stories about bees dying through starvation already this year and we were particularly worried about Hive 2. It had the least stores in our last inspection but, in its favour, the least bees. Things had changed though.
There was little in the way of stores in the super and not much to talk about on the brood frames either – so the main mission for this hive is to get some sugar syrup made up and put on ASAP. Most surprising though was the rapidity at which the colony was expanding – with the queen have laid-up on at least 9 of the 12 frames.
There were plenty of eggs, larvae and capped brood at all stages. More worrying though was the appearance of about 6 queen cells – one of which was capped. The queen was spotted, and just to demonstrate the difficulty of this (any why beekeepers tend to mark their queens with a blob of paint) this picture shows her on the frame amongst about 1,000 bees (click on picture to enlarge – she is marked with a white dot and clipped).
If you can’t spot here here’s another picture cropped down (please excuse the quality). She’s almost centre frame and the one with the longer abdomen and short wings (only because she has been clipped)
We removed the queen cells but know the swarming process has started. Its not down to the colony wanting to replace a poor laying queen though as she’s going great guns – so it must be down to them either being a strain of bees that tend to swarm (they did last year too) or that they were predicting that they’ll soon run out of space. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the inspections up now and, if necessary, do a shook swarm or other artificial swarm control to prevent this from happening. If this fails and they do still swarm then at least, with a clipped queen, we might not end up losing half the colony.
As mentioned earlier – the most important thing with this colony is to get a feed on them.
A much less dramatic experience awaited us in Hive 3 – where the previously un-spotted queen was found and marked (white – as we don’t follow the colour code system with just three hives). We did not clip her as we did not want to disturb the brood for too long on this visit as the promise of rain was now starting to look much more likely.
She had laid up on 6 frames and looked like a good queen – being hatched towards the end of last season. There were eggs and brood at all stages – and plenty of stores. There was even about five frames of stores in the super too – so there was no need to feed this one up.
There was no sign of queen cells and these bees are remarkably calm – even though I’m sure their stores were made up predominantly of rape nectar which can often make them a bit grumpy.
Again – a busy hive and the one I was looking forward to opening the least. I got a sting from this one last time and there were two or three bees that continued to follow and buzz us well after we had finished our inspection. They were a lot less aggressive this time but were not without their problems.
There was plenty of stores in the main brood chamber and the super was about three quarter’s full – but not yet capped. We did spot the queen (marked white with a single clipped wing) – and there were eggs and brood at all stages. However – there was also about 10 queen cells that we had to remove, including a number that were capped off (one of which looked like the queen had ripped it down).
The queen cells are the peanut shaped extensions to the bottom of the comb – two cup-sized ones on the left, one in the centre and two more extended ones on the right (one of which was capped). For those interested I opened up a queen cell to see how far she had developed. She was probably a week or so off hatching and had plenty of brood food (the white gooey stuff to the right) to keep her nourished through her development.
We also had a couple of standard national frames in this hive to help us in the fight against Varroa. The colony will tend to extend these frames and draw out drone comb for the queen to lay un-fertilised eggs in which develop into the male drone bees (fertilised eggs develop into female worker bees). The cells are larger accommodate the development of the larger drones – which is a much more attractive host for the Varroa mite. On each inspection we cut this excess comb out – therefore reducing the number of mites at the same time.
With the rain now looking imminent we closed hive 4 and tidied up our bits and pieces. Hopefully the weather will be kinder to us in the coming weeks and we can prevent the swarms better this year.
Until next time!