It had been roughly a month since queen cells hatched in our three hives. Emma had seen big new queens in all our hives – so far, so good. Two of the queens were happily laying away – great. Yet there was still no sign of eggs or brood in Patience’s old hive. We asked a couple of more experienced beekeepers whether a virgin queen could appear as large as a mated queen. The answer may surprise you – yes they can! David Evans, writer of the brilliant The Apiarist blog, told me “I’ve seen some teeny tiny mated and very successful queens and some great big bloated virgins”.
So we knew that the large ginger queen Emma had seen may not have been mated. As we were going through the colony there was no signs of eggs or brood. On the other hand, there were no laying workers and the bees were in a good mood. But the colony was getting smaller and had few stores. We were talking about either trying a test frame from one of our other hives to see if the bees would try and raise another queen, or recombining with another colony to save time, when I saw what we were looking for. A queen! A beautiful fairly dark queen, not the same ginger queen Emma had originally seen. And then Emma saw something fantastic – she had an egg coming out of her bottom! As we watched, she began to lay.
Seeing this lovely sight reminded me that jumping to conclusions in beekeeping is a bad idea. Sometimes you get an idea in your mind about something and you ignore the evidence pointing the other way. I was thinking the colony was queenless because it seemed like the new queen should have been laying by now, but I should have taken a lesson from its old queen Patience. I was ignoring the other signs that the colony was queen-right – the lack of laying workers, the good temper of the bees.
We looked through the other two hives and found plenty of brood and stores. Below is a beautiful frame of capped honey. England is having a crazy heatwave so the bees are having a good time. We need some rain though as I’m not sure how much nectar the plants can produce in such dry, hot weather.
Emma has come up with some lovely new names for our queens. The queen in the hive which was ruled by Hope is Everlasting, as we’ve had that line of queens since 2008. The nucleus hive which we split half Hope’s colony into when we found queen cells is now headed up by Angelica, as our bees are always angelic. And our other hive, which Patience was once the queen of, has Rose-Jasmine (RJ). Welcome to our three new queens!
Below are a couple of wasps nests in an empty hive. Wasps are not a beekeepers’ friend come autumn, but they create such beautiful intricate constructions.
The bees in some of the apiary hives are producing a beautiful dark honey which you can see John Chapple holding below. He thought it might be hogweed. There are also plenty of horse chestnut trees round the apiary.
And here’s a special rose I saw a honey bee enjoying in the spectacular gardens at Winston Churchill’s house, Chartwell in Kent. It’s called ‘Rosa Masquerade’ and the sign said that its buds ‘unfurl a delicate shade of yellow, mature through soft pink to deep raspberry’.
White and red clover are out now. A lot of the clover is wilting in the heat but where the flowers are coping you can always see bees visiting them.
And finally… I know that a lot of beekeepers are very attached to their sheds. Well, Waltons are running their prestigious 2017 Shed of the Year contest. You can check out the previous winners’ sheds and find out how to enter at https://www.waltons.co.uk/blog/enter-your-shed-into-the-2017-shed-of-the-year-competition. One of the 2016 winners has a whole ‘shed village’ at the bottom of their garden which includes a mini theatre, pub and railway station!