Hive Inspection – 15 07 2012

Despite our hopes for better weather things have continued in a similar vein… rain, more rain and yet, more rain!  I don’t think I’ve met anyone who can remember such a wet and miserable summer as this – and there doesn’t seem to be much change in the near future.  But despite this, the moment the clouds take a moment off releasing their soggy wares the bees are out on the wing and gathering their stores.  As bad and boring as all this rain is for us humans, the plant-life seems to be flourishing – and when they are doing well so too will the bees… if they get a chance to fly that is!

Work and weather kept us a away from the bees for a couple of weeks but an unusually dry Sunday on 15th July enabled us to get into the bees and see how things were progressing.  It wasn’t all good news!

Hive 1
From the moment we took the roof and crown board off we knew this was a thriving colony.  It was absolutely rammed with bees at all stages of development.  We didn’t spot the queen but there were plenty of eggs present.  When we’d hived this swarm in June they were on a couple of standard National Frames – which I’ve been gradually moving to the outside of the main cluster in the colony.  On this inspection I moved them right to the edge to encourage the queen to lay on the main 14×12 frames.  I’m tempted to leave one standard National frame in as they draw out the wax below as drone comb which helps control Varroa levels as the mite tends to prefer drone cells.  This comb extension, and the developing larva it contains, is removed from the hive on each inspection and therefore reduced the number of Varroa mites in the colony.

The super we’d added a few weeks back was almost full and they’d started capping it off.

Honey being capped off

Castellated super about 3/4 full and getting capped off

This is a castellated super (ten frames per super) so it’s going to take a while for them to fully draw the comb out and fill with honey, but when they are full the frames are very impressive (and heavy).  Once full and capped each super will contain about 30lb of honey.  A pre-drawn super was added to this hive but I suspect, with the number of eggs and bees about to hatch, we’ll be adding more supers to this one over the next couple of weeks.  Fingers crossed!

Hive 2
Gone – well almost! Less than a handful of bees left in this one so the plan is to bring home to swarm that’s sitting in the nuc box at home.  However – what we found in Hive 3 might change this.

Hive 3
I gave a hint of my worst fears for Hive 3 last month, in that whilst we was really happy in finding eggs our mood stood a chance of being dampened if it turned out to be a drone laying worker. Well… that’s what it turned out to be.  From the number of capped drone cells I suspect we’ve actually got a whole load of drone laying workers doing their thing.

Drone laying worker cells

Drone cells laid across about 5 frames!

In the absence of a queen and her pheromone nurser bees can develop ovaries and start laying unfertilised eggs.  Unfertilised eggs will only ever develop into drones – which spells disaster for the colony.  This is such a bad situation that the late Ted Hooper, one of the leading lights in modern day beekeeping and author of one of the finest book on the subject (Guide to Bees & Honey) believed that this was pretty much the end of the colony.  Adding a new queen rarely works as the bees will tend to ball her (kill her in other words).  Adding a frame of eggs doesn’t usually work as you’ll still have the laying workers present.

The only action that seems to have any level of success is to take the hive about 50-100 meters from its original position and shake all the bees out on to the ground.  You then take the hive (making sure there is not one bee left on them) and place it back in its original position.  The flying bees will then return to the hive, leaving the laying workers where you left them.  The reason they do not fly back to the hive is that as nurser bees they have never left the hive and therefore have no navigational experience.  You can then re-queen the colony and hopefully they will accept her. Alternatively you can omit the part of replacing the hive in its original position and the bees should just go into one of the adjacent hives.

This is what we’ll be doing as soon as the weather allows – and maybe we’ll be using the swarm from home to re-queen.

Hive 4
This was doing well, and the queen was spotted.  Super was about 3/4 full so added another.  Again – this was packed with capped brood and looks like its about to explode!  I think we’ll be adding more supers on this in the next couple of weeks.

Until next time!  Hope to film the Hive 3 experiment too!

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