Today is the first day since Saturday I’ve really had time to sit down and write, but Saturday seems a long way away now. A rainy morning had turned into a sunny afternoon when Emma and I met to check our five (five!!!) hives.
We are trying to inspect more quickly recently, both because we have more frames to inspect and because we hope if we keep the hives open for less time ultimately the bees might do better and we’ll get more honey. This is tricky as obviously at the apiary beginners are often watching; they want to try inspecting for themselves and have plenty of questions to ask. This is good and I enjoy answering the questions, but at the same time we need to balance their needs with the wellbeing of our bees, plus our own desire to enjoy the beekeeping we do.
Luckily our five hives weren’t particularly naughty this week. We have been feeding over the last fortnight as the June forage gap hit London; also the hives had been weakened after Chamomile and Chilli’s colonies were split when they produced queen cells. Obviously we would rather not have to feed sugar syrup – it’s a lot of work to keep making it up! – but eating syrup is better for the bees than eating nothing. As Emma said to a beginner who commented “I’ve read that feeding syrup is bad for bees?” – well, starving is bad for bees too.
In the photo above we had put one of our queens in a cage in case we needed to do anything with her later, for instance if we had found any queen cells whilst inspecting the colony we might have wanted to do an artificial swarm and split the hive. I liked how quickly the bees surrounded the cage, drawn to her pheromones as if engaged in a rescue attempt.
We managed to inspect all five colonies with only one sting received, which was caused when I accidentally squashed one, so my fault. Myrtle’s ladies continue to be the sweetest bees on the planet, while Chamomile’s and Chilli’s are rather more feisty. It’s too soon to say what the two new colonies created by the artificial swarms will be like in temperament. Although we’ve spotted a new queen in both, neither queen is laying yet. We are giving them a couple more weeks to prove themselves.
Of course, there is a sixth hive too. All is going well at the allotment apiary. I enjoy how easy it is to ride my bike there, my equipment in my basket. The bees there are fairly low on stores too, but luckily not so low they need feeding. As this hive is all my own now rather than shared with Emma, I’ve decided to name the queen after my favourite great aunt, who passed away a few years ago. She will be Queen Stella.
Queen Stella’s bees display a remarkable behaviour that I’ve seen two weeks running now and previously had never seen before in our hives. It’s the DVAV (dorsoventral abdominal vibrating dance). When I was revising for my Module 6 exam on honeybee behaviour, I learnt that this is believed to be ‘get a move on’ message. A worker will mount or grab another bee and vibrate their abdomen on top of her. It’s used to recruit more foragers during a nectar flow and also on queens just before a swarm exits the nest.
As the colony was low on stores, perhaps Queen Stella’s bees felt it was about time some foragers went out shopping. I saw a few of them going around, grabbing other workers and vibrating them for a second, then letting go and moving on. I tried to discern some pattern to which bees they chose to vibrate, but all the bees looked the same to me. In reality perhaps they were choosing to buzz older foraging bees rather than younger nurse bees.
I’ll leave you with a few photos of bees and flowers I took around the allotment.