Return of a queen

Yesterday was a overcast, cool day here in London. The bees were still flying regardless, bringing back large amounts of a grey coloured pollen.

It looks like velvety mole skin. Any ideas about what it might be? I’m wondering about blackberry, because someone said the brambles were about to come into flower, and blackberry pollen is said to be a pale brownish grey. Ted Hooper’s Guide to Bees and Honey says blackberry is “Well worked by bees even at fairly low temperatures, supplying both nectar and pollen in quantity. Honey of good flavour, medium amber, tending to granulate with a coarse-grained texture.”

Last week an unfortunate turn of events had occurred when our temperamental new queen had taken off immediately after we marked her, zooming off into the distance. We had not known whether or not she would return to us.

The cold, overcast weather yesterday was not ideal conditions to be opening a hive up in. But we wanted to know. And the news was good…first I saw rows of regularly laid new eggs, then Emma spotted our queen. So she came back! Having seen her, we hastily closed the hive up before she changed her mind.

We topped up the sugar syrup in the nuc next. A quick look through that revealed no queen or eggs for the second week running, only capped brood. This worried us, and we were considering whether to combine the nuc bees back in with the main hive which we split them from a few weeks ago. However, Pat advised us against this, on the basis that the nuc bees were very calm, whereas queenless bees are typically aggressive and running all over the place. There may be no eggs because Queen Rose has temporarily stopped laying in response to the colder weather or other factors, and we could have missed her both weeks, even in a five frame nuc.

Here’s what Ted Hooper (author of Guide to Bees & Honey, 2010) says about queenlessness:

“Recognition of queenlessness is far from easy if one is just relying on conclusions drawn during examination of the colony. The main signs are that the colony is more irritable than usual, the bees seem to be less well organized on the combs, very few brood cells will be polished up ready for the queen to lay in – certainly not a large circular area of such cells. Pollen in the broodnest will be shiny from being covered with honey to prevent it going mouldy. Often there will be some cells with little hoods drawn out from the top walls and often these are covering pollen, and in some cases, an egg from a laying worker. All these signs are straws in the wind pointing towards queenlessness but none is conclusive.”

We will have to see how they’re doing next week and hope Queen Rose is in there and starts laying again soon. I didn’t take notice of whether the brood cells were polished up or not, so that’s something to look out for.

The most successful hive in the apiary at the moment in terms of bee numbers & honey stores is Albert’s – he has a New Zealand queen in there and everyone is always amazed to see the beautiful yellow bees she produces. They seem to be slightly more irritable than our dark bees but not majorly so. Here’s a pic of Albert holding his yellow bees up:

Albert's New Zealand bees

Slightly off-topic…

I don’t want to turn this into a cooking blog, but yesterday Australian Don gave me a nice recipe for savoury cardamom rice. I had made a cardamom cake, which got all the guys talking about how they cook with cardamom. Here’s Don’s recipe:

  • 2 cups brown basmati rice
  • 3 medium onions chopped (or less if preferred)
  • 1-2 cups mixed frozen vegetables
  • 10-12 cardamom pods cracked open
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tumeric
  • 1 cup or thereabouts raisins
  • salt
  • black pepper (generous)

I love how laidback the quantities are. Don is a very relaxed guy. He’s in charge of the equipment for sale at the apiary and is often faced with long queues of people & endless receipts to write out when it’s frame making time but nothing seems to faze him.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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7 Responses to Return of a queen

  1. teacher says:

    I saw grey pollen today and was surpised that pollen can be so grey. They were bringing in all colours today. According to my research on the internerd; the pollen could be blackberry or raspberry. Our raspberries are flowering boldly now so that is the most likely source for me. Interesting to hear about queen rose as I think my queen has stopped due to the cold/windy/wet weather.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Lucky you having raspberries about. Their nectar is meant to be high in sugar and makes a nice honey flavour. Plus raspberries are so tasty.

      The colony needs loads of pollen to bring up brood so if your bees haven’t been able to forage for any it would make sense for your queen to stop laying. Not sure what Queen Rose is up to as we haven’t had non-stop bad weather over the last couple of weeks, but fingers crossed she’s in there and has her reasons!

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  2. Anthony says:

    Thats interesting, I’ve only ever seen yellow pollen, I shall look out for that when my bees come as we have raspberries and blackberries around. Glad to hear your queen has come back too!

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Some other unusual pollen colours to look out for are poppy (black/purplish), horse-chestnut (brick red), rosebay willowherb (pale blue) & bluebell (white).

      We were very relieved to see our queen back home!

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  3. svengali says:

    Great to hear that your Queen has returned! I have been seeing such a variety of pollen colors being brought in by the bees. It has opened my eyes to what is flowering in our area more than ever be fore. I never noticed the Horse chestnut trees flower before even though they are all over our neighborhood. For some good info on pollen sources check out wikipedia

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  4. Pingback: From the Banks of the Bela « Beating The Bounds

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