Went beekeeping today. The bee inspector came to the apiary three weeks ago; she split our hive into two as it had queen cells. Last week I frantically made frames to fill up the hives, not my favourite task as it involves lots of noisy hammering, usually of my fingers.
Today I lit my smoker easily for a change, using scrunched up newspaper and sawdust. The trick seems to be to light the newspaper in multiple places and then add sawdust whilst slowly puffing the bellows. I opened the bigger hive first and found: some honey, no brood, no eggs, no queen, an opened (hatched) queen cell and a closed queen cell. Exactly the sort of thing you don’t want to see.
Luckily Andy, one of the apairy bee experts, was there to help me. He asked one of the other beekeepers if we could take a frame of eggs and larvae from their hive. The idea is that if something went wrong with the two queens in reserve (the one out and one in the cell), for example they died, the bees would be able to raise a new queen from the fertilised eggs from the other hive. But hopefully the hatched queen will have been out mating in the lovely weather and we will see eggs by next week. If the other queen hatches the new queen will probably kill her; the colony is too small for the queen to go off with a swarm.
A minute or so after putting the new frame in I noticed the tone of the bees’ humming changed, became higher pitched and more intense. I may be guilty of anthropomorphism here, but they sounded…excited! They now have brood to care for, little bees to bring up. Next I moved on to the next hive, a smaller colony of about five frames. Again, they had only honey, no eggs or brood, and FIVE hatched queen cells, an enormous number. There must have been some vicious fights going on in the darkness. One cell had been chewed open from the side, which Andy said was a sign the worker bees had done this to kill the developing queen, as no further queens were needed. An execution!
Again, hopefully the surviving new queen, who must be super tough to have dispatched all her sisters, will have mated in the last couple of days and start laying eggs soon. Both colonies were very calm and sweet, a good sign. On Tuesday night I have my first revision course session for taking my Basic Beekeeping exam in early July, exciting! I want to do really well, as being younger than the other beekeepers I feel under pressure to prove I’m not completely young and ignorant. Alternatively I will settle just for passing the thing. The exam lasts an hour and is a practical exam. I will need to demonstrate that I can use a smoker, open up a hive of the examiner’s choice, answer various questions on the hive and disease control, and make up a frame.
The new hive set up: