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.
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…
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.