Yesterday the apiary was buzzing… with beekeepers. Lots of chatting and laughing over tea, and buying of frames for rapidly expanding colonies. Emma and I got to show three completely new prospective beekeepers inside our hives – the first time they’d seen thousands of bees up close. They coped well, but kept their ungloved hands firmly in their pockets.
Here’s Emma going through the hive we bought from Charles recently. It was packed with brood. On the bottom you can see some of the drone comb the bees have been building. They’ve actually built the drone comb underneath several of the frames, making it very hard to inspect without having huge chunks of drone comb falling off.
Below Tom tries to use a magnifying glass to see eggs, the ends of his bee suit tightly curled round his fingers. I understand why beginners are afraid to have bees land on their hands, but these bees weren’t in attack mode and would have been very unlikely to sting him. If the bees are emitting a high pitched whine and bouncing off your veil, that’s the time to cover your hands up 🙂 Emma is wearing thick gloves because she has a bad reaction to stings.
The bees were finding some beautiful red-brick colour pollen. This could be from horse chestnut or blackthorn. We have rows of horse chestnut trees out around the apiary, their candle-like white flowers pointing upwards majestically.
Here are some fun UK sites for identifying pollen:
- Sheffield beekeepers have a Pollen chart, which is interactive with toggles for different seasons
- Bristol Beekeeping Association also have an interactive pollen guide, access by clicking on ‘Pollen guide’ along their top navigation menu
No more photos after this as we got kinda distracted on frame 6 by finding a couple of uncapped queen cells with larvae inside. Uh-oh!
Luckily, finding them uncapped is a good situation to be in, as it means the bees are unlikely to have swarmed yet. Generally (but being bees, of course not always!) they will leave on the day – or day after – the first queen cell is capped, which is day 8 after the egg was first laid. However, bad weather can delay the swarm leaving. But if we had waited till next weekend to take action, the cells would have been capped and our queen would probably have been high up in a tree somewhere.
So the beginners got to see some very exciting stuff as we tried to do some quick thinking. We consulted our Beecraft advice sheets on swarming, and tried to follow the advice within and our memories of artificial swarm techniques. Emma had her queen clip with her, so we put the queen inside that and laid her on top of the hive to keep the bees calm.
We had a spare nucleus box (always have a spare nuc!). Inside this we put four frames of brood, honey and pollen stores and a frame of partially drawn-out foundation – making sure none of these contained a queen cell. We then put our queen inside and shook bees in from a couple of frames in the old hive.
The old hive now contains a couple of queen cells, brood and honey stores. This recreates the aftermath of a swarm, so the reduced population will hopefully put the bees off swarming. Some beekeepers will say leaving two queen cells is risky, but Ted Hooper suggests that the bees may choose one themselves and destroy their least preferred one. We filled in the space left by the frames we’d transferred into the nucleus with frames of foundation from the Bailey comb exchange we began recently.
With everything going on, we did do one thing wrong – we should have moved the old hive and replaced it with the nucleus. Doing this ensures that foraging bees will return to the old location and bolster the nucleus numbers. I’m going to go down and fix this today. Fingers crossed that’s all we’ve done wrong (unlikely!).
By the way, I recommend this Welsh Assembly Guide – ‘There are queen cells in my hive – what should I do?‘ – which gives you some clues about what may be going on in your hive if you spot queen cells.
Does anyone else have naughty bees intent on swarming?