A box full of bees

My complaining about the weather worked – it has responded by sending sunshine and warmth our way. It has actually been so bonny that I have been walking around without my coat on! And thinking about getting my sunglasses out!

This has coincided with some holiday I booked off, so I’ve been able to inspect the allotment bees for the first time this year. I felt strangely apprehensive when I opened up the hive, partly because it’s been so long since I’ve properly looked at them. Early October was probably my last inspection. This is what I saw in the super:

Super of bees

Now that – THAT is a box full of bees. A sight we have been longing to see in our hives at Perivale. And below it was another box full of bees, because I left them on a brood box with a super on top over winter. I decided not to use my smoker, as I dislike disturbing the bees too much by blowing smoke in their sensitive eyes. The bees look daunting at first, so you move slow and gentle. A couple were buzzing round my head, but you hold your nerve and before you know it twenty-two frames later you’ve inspected the lot, no smoke and no stings either.

Brood box


Nearly every single frame of the super had young brood or eggs in it. Above is the brood box stacked underneath the super, which was also packed with bees. Inside I found older brood and wonderful golden rainbow walls of pollen. My only worry is they are quite low on nectar/honey compared to the amount of pollen they have. And in a hive this big, with drone brood and drones walking the frames, they will be thinking of swarming soon.

Part of the reason I took time off was to get a hive delivered from Thornes. So I have a spare brood box now, plus eleven frames of foundation, all ready to do a Bailey comb change to get them to draw out new clean frames of comb. That should take their minds off swarming. The only problem is I have to get the brood box and frames down to the allotment, which will take a taxi and probably also the help of Drew when he gets back at the weekend.

Would appreciate thoughts from other beekeepers on how to do a Bailey comb change with a brood-and-a-half (as a brood box plus a super containing brood is known). Should I place the foundation frames above both boxes? Or in-between the brood box and the super for extra warmth to draw the combs out? I have two queen excluders.

Just as I was finishing the inspection, an old man approached behind the fence. He asked me the usual questions about whether I get stung and how much honey I get, telling me he finds the bees interesting. “I’m glad you like them” I said. “Oh no”, he replied, “I don’t like them! I got stung once and I’ve never forgot it”. As he was saying this, I noticed with dread a little worker climbing on his hair. I froze – wondered whether to tell him – the bee flew off. Such as a relief as when bees climb on your hair they have a tendency to burrow in and get stuck. I have received some of my nastiest stings from bees doing this, because the skin is quite thin on your scalp. He walked away unaware of the bee’s investigations.

As I left he shouted out “You’re a better man than me” across the allotments. Thanks, I think!

Here’s something else I found – dead, but proof that stag beetles roam the allotments.
Stag beetle

The warmth has brought the flowers out. The bees like red deadnettle.

Red deadnettle

Red deadnettle

And I was excited to find this pinky/purple pulmonaria, also known as common lungwort, on our plot. I only know what they are because some kind people on Twitter told me.

Pulmonaria, also known as Lungwort

Pulmonaria, also known as common Lungwort

A magnolia on Tuesday evening in Walpole Park. Drew and I were walking home, having had our first after-work picnic of the year. It’s lovely to enjoy spending time outdoors again.

Magnolia tree, Walpole park

Magnolia tree

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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35 Responses to A box full of bees

  1. daveloveless says:

    Yay! Looks like a happy hive! After a super dry winter, we are finally getting the rain on our end. It should clear up this afternoon though, and I expect the bees will go crazy.

    Love the pictures as always!


  2. Helen says:

    I’d love to know the best thing to do with super as well as I have hive in exactly the same position.
    Lovely flowers, the magnolias round here are amazing at the moment.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Helen. I asked on BBKA forum on Facebook and got told I should have left the super underneath the brood box over winter so that the queen would have been less likely to lay in it. People suggested doing a shook-swarm instead as they are a strong colony, but I would rather not have to light a fire at the allotment. Moving the Queen down into the brood box and putting the QE on between the super and brood box is also an option, so that the brood hatches out in the super and the bees start using it for honey.


  3. Wow Emily. I am truly impressed. I have had awful winter. 3 lost colonies and 1 colony remaining – but that had only a couple of cupfuls of bees – nothing like yours. I have written about it at My Apiary.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Sorry to hear that Roger, we put so much into looking after our bees and then sometimes they just don’t make it. Our colonies at the main apiary are not doing as well as we would like, it is only my allotment hive that is really strong. Perhaps the mild winter was more of a curse than a blessing as it’s meant they’ve got through their stores more quickly.


  4. beenurse says:

    I am so glad your bees did so well over the winter. Beautiful pictures as always!


  5. Grower says:

    Seeing all those bees has got me excited to look at mine so I’ll probably do that tomorrow. I’ve got Pulmonaria in different parts of my yard and all sorts of bees seem to love it. I like how the flowers change color as they age.


  6. Anna says:

    Wow, Emily! Those bees look fantastic! When you do a comb exchange, do you lose the brood? If so, I think I would cry.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Anna, they are lovely bees. Doing a Bailey comb exchange doesn’t lose any of the brood, but a shook-swarm does. It is sad to destroy the brood but it is good for the colony as a chemical free anti-varroa treatment.


      • honeymedic says:

        When you ask,you will get as many opinions as there are beekeepers!!
        A Shook swarm may be good for the colony varroa wise but are you not weakening the hive of bees by destroying brood and then feeding sugar to get the brood combs built which is not as healthy as honey for the colony?. The old beekeepers always counselled to work as much as possible with the bees nature for best results.
        I do not know what it like in Ealing but the pre-Junegap flow has often been stronger than the main flow recently in Sussex especially when there is Rape or brassica around. . Why not try putting your new broodbox of foundation on top over an excluder and let them draw it out with honey?. Then use these clean varroa free combs (extracted if necessary)to renew the broodbox later.
        The presence of the beautiful stag beetle probably means that you in the vicinity of an old orchard because their grubs feast underground for 3 years on stumps and old roots This is obviously a diminishing habitat today as diggers now take the roots out so easily..


        • Emily Scott says:

          Thanks. My experience is that the colonies we’ve shook-swarmed in the past recover very quickly and go on to be the most successful colonies. It is similar to a swarm scenario so the bees are used to drawing comb out quickly.

          However I feel it is a bit late in the year to be shook-swarming now, there is a lot of brood that would be destroyed. In the past we’ve done it in March. Also I didn’t have enough energy to get into starting a fire today. So I have put the new brood box over the top as you say. Will be feeding though as we don’t have a heavy nectar flow from a crop like oilseed rape here yet. Horse chestnuts, lime, clover, ragweed, nettles, blackberry will be a bit later and I suspect provide most of our nectar.

          Interesting about the stag beetles. We have been trying to encourage them at the allotment and last year there was a project to bury wood piles to create feeding sites for them.


  7. Glad to hear your bees are doing well. Did you know that lungwort is a favourite of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee, a very early solitary bee.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. svengali says:

    looking good! make sure you deal with the population explosion soon. I just dealt with a swarm from one of my hives yesterday. Did some hasty splits and now have 8 colonies (hopefully)


  9. beatingthebounds says:

    After work picnic – three magic words (in combination, I’m not so fond of the middle one without the context).
    That certainly looks like an awful lot of bees. Another hive! How many are you allowed before it’s officially recognised as an obsession?


    • Emily Scott says:

      I do love my picnics and being able to squeeze one in after work is such a treat.

      Think anyone who knows me would say it became an obsession a long, long time ago. You haven’t seen my bookcase!


  10. I really needed a happy bee story after all the problems the bee keepers are having over here. You must be very happy with their situation, having different and abundant pollens available. I wonder if more nectar producing plants are on there way now. I think the trees like willow are mainly pollen whereas the flowers like the pulmonaria will be giving nectar unless they are like the good old dandlelion that gives both! Hope your bees have a sunny weekend and lots of nectar gathering. Amelia


  11. One of the cheeriest sights of spring…the first golden glimpse of bees in the hive after the winter. It’s like sun shine in a box! Hope they have a healthy, productive season!


  12. Don’t know whether to congratula te you or the bees, so huzzahs all around. The exchange with the man was interesting: I have become increasingly suspicious of “I was stung by a bee” stories, as upon closer questioning, it turns out that wasps are the culprit! It’s surprising the amount of people who actually don’t know the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      For sure. I missed out part of our conversation where I asked if he was sure it was a bee and not a wasp, and he admitted he didn’t have a clue. So if he gets stung by a wasp now my bees will probably get the blame!


  13. donna213 says:

    That looks like a LOT of bees. I bet you really are pleased. I hope your bee year stays productive and healthy.


  14. P&B says:

    Plenty of bees there! A happy ending after all.


  15. It seems strange to us non-beekeepers to talk about a box of bees, but that’s a nicely alliterative phrase. It suddenly reminded me of the song by the Grateful Dead called “Box of Rain”:


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