How warm is your bra and are you afraid of ants?

“How warm is your bra?” said John Chapple to Clare as she arrived at the Ealing apiary yesterday. This seemed like a slightly nosy question to ask a lady and I wondered if the torrential rain had left John concerned that Clare was soaked through. However all became clear as, in the style of a magician, John pulled two queens out of his pockets. Each queen was soon snuggled away tightly inside Clare’s bra (in a cage, not roaming freely).

Although there were not that many people around on a rainy bank holiday, we had three lots of cakes. Mine was coffee and walnut, Clare’s a strawberry sponge and Rebecca had bought fairy cakes. They were all demolished by the time I finished inspecting our hives. I left the crumbs for the robin. Conversation over tea was mainly to do with the benefits of ale and drinking in general.

Clare's strawberry cake

Clare’s strawberry cake, modelled by John Chapple

Pepper’s hive seems to be doing fine after we split them two weeks ago and has not produced any new queen cells. I put a super on; if the rain stops they can start collecting some nectar. The other half of the artificial swarm split hopefully has a new queen in there, but she’s not laying yet. No point worrying unless she’s not laying in a couple of weeks time. Melissa’s colony is lovely as ever, full of bees and honey, and showing no signs of swarm preparations so far.

Tom took Jonesy and me to see the hives at Perivale Wood, which was a bit of a treat. The hives there have an unusual set up as they’re inside a shed.  “Are you afraid of ants?” he asked as he removed the lid from one of the hives. I did get quite a shock as an entire ant colony with mounds of eggs was living in the roof. The bees don’t seem to be suffering for it and were thriving. Perhaps the ants like the warmth they give off.

Perivale wood bee shed

Perivale wood bee shed



Drone brood

Lots of drone brood! Foundationless hives tend to produce more.

I have signed up for the London Beekeepers Association mentoring scheme this year. This involves being assigned mentees who have taken the LBKA beginners course and then come and help me with inspections over the summer. This year there have been an unusually high number of people on the course who want mentors, so I have been given four mentees. Julie and Jeff were away for the bank holiday but Bertrand and Chris were able to meet me at the allotment today.

It was nice to have company and help as sometimes it can get a bit lonely at the allotment when I’m on my own. Below is Chris looking at a frame of honey and pollen.

Chris inspecting

We didn’t see the new queen, Cassiopeia, but there were a few eggs and uncapped larvae so she seems to have just started laying. Worryingly Bertrand spotted one uncapped queen cell. Surely they are not going to want to try to swarm again and just one cell suggests supercedure rather than swarming to me. So I left the cell in case they know something I don’t about Cassiopeia. Perhaps the time she spent under the hive (see previous post ‘The queen who went in the wrong place‘) has weakened her.

Inside the nucleus Queen Andromeda is laying well. Frustratingly I couldn’t find her to show Chris and Bertrand, but she’s certainly there somewhere. This colony can probably be transferred to a full sized hive with the help of some dummy boards next week. I am hoping the main madness of the swarming season is now over!

Opening the nucleus box

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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24 Responses to How warm is your bra and are you afraid of ants?

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Such a fascinating world in beedom!


  2. cindy knoke says:

    Plus I love fairy cake~


  3. disperser says:

    I learned something today . . . queens in the bra are better than ants in the pants. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Erik says:

    Ugh. Not a fan of ants. They crawl on everything. Hope Cassiopeia is okay.


  5. Julie says:

    I’ve heard of using a styrofoam cooler and Taco Bell burrito to keep bees warm, but never intimate apparel! LOL! I’m going to remember that trick the next time I have to transport a queen. 🙂


  6. theresagreen says:

    I’m glad things are settling down in beeland and that the weather brightens up so the bees can get out and about. I find ants fascinating so was interested in their choice of a hive for a nest.


  7. Very interesting, as usual. I appreciated the photograph of the drone brood and I did not know that foundationless frames resulted in more drone brood. Maybe it’s more difficult modifying the fixed size foundations. I’ve read the bigger drones could be useful for thermoregulation. Whatever it is, the bees must need them. I’ve never heard of any modern day keepers having the hive inside but it seems such a sensible idea. I don’t like the idea of leaving the hives out in the rain and snow if they could be kept under cover. Cassiopeia continues to be different and I will look forward to hearing how she gets on. Lovely Strawberry cake! Amelia


    • Emily Scott says:

      Quite a lot of beekeepers in Europe have ‘bee houses’, containing multiple hives. It does shelter them well – the only drawback with the Perivale shed is that it can get quite claustrophobic while inspecting and also it’s quite dark inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. AndreaV says:

    And I thought it was weird that our dead queens (still in their cages) have been lying about our kitchen counter – at least they aren’t in my bra! I’m glad to know the ants don’t bother the bees as one of our empty hives looked this way early spring when we were cleaning them out in preparation for bees.


  9. novicefarmer says:

    Hi Emily, really intrigued by the use of a shed to house the bees. Is it for warmth over the winter or security of the hives? I’m in Ontario, Canada and have lost hives to the extreme cold (-35C to -40C in Feb) for the last 3 years so I’m researching strategies for keeping them warm when the weather dips so low. Someone I know uses a shipping container to house them in the winter which was an option, but the idea of a shed that can be used year round is really appealing. It looked like the exit is cut into the side of the shed from your photo, is that right?

    Thanks! Stephen


  10. solarbeez says:

    I’ve never used foundation in any of my hives, but I also don’t inspect my bees very often, so I can’t very well say that foundation does or doesn’t lead to more drone cells. Being a natural beekeeper, I let the bees decide what to build, but when all those drone cells hatch out, you’d see them coming and going, right? I don’t see many drones at the entrances of my hives…so far. 🙂
    I have heard that ants eat mites, but I think I’d be concerned if I saw that many ants near my hives. Still what about bees in trees? I’m sure ants would climb trees to get to a hive and bees would have to coexist with them. Maybe it all works out.


    • Emily Scott says:

      If you had foundation in some hives, and inspected more often, I’m sure you’d see the difference between the two. Perhaps the drones are off looking for queens when you look at the entrances!

      The ants only eat dead mites that fall from the floor – a bit of a pain if you’re using a monitoring board to try and see how many varroa you have! From what I could see the ants weren’t hurting the bees. They stuck to their part of the hive – the warm roof – and the bees are inside the hive. It’s only a problem if a bee accidentally lands on the roof while Tom inspects, at which point the ants will set upon the poor bee.

      Liked by 1 person

      • solarbeez says:

        My first mentor told me to set the legs of the hive into ‘basins’ of oil to prevent ants from climbing into the hive. I followed his instructions, only to realize finally I was killing bees. They landed in the oil and died, now I occasionally see an ant here or there, but I don’t think they’re much of a problem.


        • Emily Scott says:

          That’s good that they leave the bees alone. I think there are some species of ants that can become a problem, but luckily we don’t have any that will go into the hive and attack the bees in the UK.

          Liked by 1 person

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