Tea, cake, sunshine and two new queens

The last time I wrote about our hives at the beginning of July, Queens Neroli and Ginger had mysteriously disappeared and we were left looking at two emergency queen cells. Three weeks later, would our new queens have mated? The weather has not been kind here.

Miraculously, the sun was out today and the apiary was buzzing with both bees and beekeepers. It was nice to see so many people happily chattering away. Emma and I had a small audience as we opened up our hives, including the reassuring company of John Chapple; although John’s presence was not so lucky for our drones, as he was there to capture them! More on that later.

Here’s Emma inspecting. We were delighted to find gorgeous new mated queens in both our hives and a small number of eggs in one. Emma has some ideas for their names, which I’ll let her reveal to you in her fab blog, Miss Apis Mellifera. Hopefully both hives can now get going again. Neither hive has managed to fill out the brood box yet, with both colonies only having managed to draw out about 6-7 frames (so no supers on). This is extremely bad for this time of this year and reflects the problems we’ve had with the rampant rain. It is too late to hope for honey, rather we will now aim to get them through the winter safely.

Bee with propolis on her legs

Wish I’d remembered to take my proper camera and not just my iphone, as Emma spotted an unusual sight – some bees who had collected glossy propolis orbs. Can you see her there sitting on the capped honey? In ‘The Honey Bee Around and About‘ by Celia F Davis (2007) she tells us:

“Collecting the loads is quite difficult and time consuming and bees occupied with this job do not collect anything else. A bee uses its mandibles to pull a small amount of the soft propolis away from the plant… Once back in the hive, the bee is unable to dislodge the loads so they have to be bitten off by other house bees. It is then used immediately and is never stored” (p134).

A colony needs around 100g of propolis each year. Some beekeepers dislike propolis as it sticks together the various hive parts and can make it tricky to inspect, but I like to see our bees using propolis as it has brilliant disinfectant properties, acting against bacteria, fungi and even viruses.

Inspections over, there were a few interesting objects to see in the apiary….

John Chapple’s comb honey, sold for £1 a box – the public are impressed by comb honey. You should see the prices comb honey goes for near my work in central London.

Thomas Bickerdike had a fascinating story to tell us about the above foundationless super frame from one of his hives. It was drawn out by the bees in great haste during a nectar flow. Usually honeycomb is perfectly formed, with evenly sized cells. Not so this comb – the cells varied considerably in size, which was especially noticeable when it was all capped. The cells were also angled upwards more than usual. Thomas believes these unusual variations were the result of his bees being in a hurry, wanting to get the nectar in fast!

Ahh tea and cake on a warm summer’s day. This raspberry and strawberry cake was made by me, using this ‘Fantasy cake’ recipe by Lisa Faulkner: www.womanmagazine.co.uk/food/fantasy-cake. I went over the recommended fruit allowance, which made for a nice flavour but a very moist cake, a bit tricky to cut and eat! Still, the beekeepers polished nearly the whole thing off so it can’t have been too tricky…

Drones for sale!

I said I’d explain why John captured our drones. Well, the reason is a bit bizarre. He sells them to a Japanese restaurant for 10p each and just can’t keep up with the demand. There’s money in drones! He says he’s been invited to eat at the restaurant but his wife refuses to go. I felt a bit sorry for our drones and wondered if I should try hiding them, but John was too quick for me.

Incidentally I had an interesting chat with Thomas about drones. He lets his bees build their own comb and finds they like to make about 20% drones. He doesn’t uncap these for varroa control because he’s working on the logic that the drones mop up the varroa to some extent; if you remove all the drone brood, the mites will hop into worker brood and  start damaging the workers instead. Would be interesting for research to be carried out into this, to settle the question of whether drone culling helps varroa control and overall hive health or not.

Finally, some pictures of the sun setting over Greenwich ships and Cutty Sark sails at the Greenwich comedy festival last night. Not bee related but happiness related.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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31 Responses to Tea, cake, sunshine and two new queens

  1. Alex Jones says:

    What do Japanese restaurants do with drones?


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Alex, John said they serve them to the customers whole but didn’t say what cooking methods are used – maybe they fry them till crunchy?


      • Alex Jones says:

        I knew I would regret asking.


          • daveloveless says:

            I think I’m with Alex. That was my very first question and now that I know….

            Good luck on getting your hives up to strength for the winter. My dad finally has a laying queen as well in one of his hives. He’s had a nightmare of a first season with that hive: First queen left (no swarm), second queen hatched and never came back (presumed dead on mating flight), and he’s on his third queen provided by a local commercial beekeeper. He’s got a few months to get everything up to speed. Fingers crossed!

            Oh, and we did our first harvest on Saturday. Roughly four gallons off two hives!


  2. So happy our bees have beaten the odds again and made new queens. Funny how the queens of both hives, unrelated, look so similar. It must be something to do with this year’s drones?

    I was reading Ted Hooper’s book on the tube after the party this evening and he says that late summer queens are actually better for colonies going into winter, because the queen mates late in the year and continues laying for longer. So the bees going into winter are younger and stronger as they emerge later. Often hives with late summer queens come out of winter stronger than hives with early summer queens and well-established colonies – this was exactly the case with Rosemary and Lavender this year. Rosemary, our spring queen, came out of winter a drone layer, while Lavender, our July queen, came out of winter still laying well. Very interesting!


  3. ceciliag says:

    Oh Emily how i long for the gathering of like minded individuals around my hives.. can you send yourself or maybe Mr Chappel over for a quick look see. I love your posts.. c


  4. willowbatel says:

    How did he go about catching them?


    • willowbatel says:

      The drones I mean.


      • Emily Heath says:

        Just picked them up gently one by one, they can’t sting. I sometimes pick workers up, with no gloves on or latex gloves it’s easy – with those big leather gloves you’d probably crush them.


        • willowbatel says:

          yeah, its impossible with leather gloves. Are latex as good as keeping the bees from stinging you? It’s so flimsy I can’t imagine it’s much in the way of protection.


          • Emily says:

            The lack of protection isn’t a problem with our bees because they don’t generally try to sting us. The only time I’ve been stung is when I’ve accidentally squashed one of them, so really I’m more of a threat to them! The latex doesn’t keep stings out but it makes your fingers more nimble.


  5. You conjure up a rural idyll in an urban environment, it sounds wonderful. I spent a lovely morning with a friendly Plymouth beekeeper in the strong sunshine yesterday looking into two hives set in the corner of a field in deepest South Devon. The bees were doing well although very little honey. They were, however, busy foraging yesterday.

    No cake for the humans though!


  6. Re Drone Cuisine – please say that they are not cooked in honey (like Roman dormice). Too poignant! RH


  7. milapostol says:

    Interesting about the drones being such a fave morsel of Japanese restaurants. I’ve not heard that here. I know in Taoist tonic herbal literature that ants are highly considered. Because they can carry so many times their own weight, the Chinese kings would take a tonic of ant. I wonder if drones are similarly regarded.

    Emily, our queen from Hive 3 was one of those August queens last year. That hive did really well though the winter and had a quick spring build up. We’ve been interested in this idea since then especially after hearing a lecture by a beekeeper here in California about this very subject. I’ll be interested to hear how your queens do.


    • Emily Heath says:

      I’ve never come across a restaurant which serves drones either – I’m surprised there’s a market for them! But obviously someone is eating them.

      Good to know your August queen did well!


  8. Mei says:

    Hi again I can’t believe I missed 2 posts since I last read about your disappearing queens(note to self – must try and find out how to subscribe to your blog). So glad to read you’re now queenright and a likely good mating for the new queens to boot.

    I’d be curious to know what restaurant serves drones. Although I’m partial to Japanese cuisine, I’m not sure I could be persuaded to try drones … At least they don’t serve queens!


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Mei,

      If you look in the top right hand corner of the blog there’s a box letting you subscribe by email. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed 🙂

      I should ask John which restaurant buys his drones, I’m quite curious to see the menu!


  9. Mei says:

    Hi Em

    I realised I’d hit the subscrbe button before but hadn’t done the email confirmation bit, duh…

    ooh yes looking forward to reading the menu too


  10. P&B says:

    Ok, I will not ask about the drones. The no foundation comb looks very interesting though. I would like to try top-bar hive when I get better at the beekeeping.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Yes, best not to ask about the drones! Actually Thomas doesn’t use a top-bar hive, he uses a National like the rest of us but doesn’t put foundation in his frames.


  11. beatingthebounds says:

    Drone-a Kebab? (Sorry)
    Cake, sunshine, company and successful Queens! That’s more like it.


  12. Stephen says:

    Great post, I’ll have to ask if the Japanese restaurants in Canada serve drones, I’ve got some to spare!


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