An unpromising start

I inspected my two hives for the first time this year recently. The weather in Cornwall has been gorgeous since lockdown began, so I was expecting to find some brood and honey, maybe even brood boxes bursting with bees. Sadly, though both colonies are still alive, neither seems to have a queen.

I inspected Demelza without needing my smoker; her bees remain as gentle as ever. They had stores, and plenty of foragers returning, but no sign of any eggs or brood. No chaotic cells containing the multiple eggs of laying workers yet either. Just lots of empty cells in the middle of the brood nest where brood should be. It’s unusual for queenless hives to be good tempered, but something isn’t right.

Kensa’s bees were a very different and more nerve wracking matter, needing heavy smoking. I would have been stung from head to toe if they could have reached me! I couldn’t blame them for being mardy though, as they were low on stores and only had a couple of frames of capped brood. I spotted no eggs. I didn’t see the queen in either hive, though I was deliberately focusing on trying to find eggs rather than the queen. Kensa’s queen is presumably quite flighty as I’ve always found her hard to hunt down.

I don’t think I can do much to help either colony. They’re not in a state to start a Bailey comb change as I had hoped. Ideally I would get another queen from somewhere but it’s probably too early in the season for that, especially with everything going on at the moment. I’ve set up a bait hive in case I can catch an early swarm. For now I will just use dummy boards to reduce the amount of space in the hives and feed Kensa’s hive syrup. They were battered by a winter of rain and storms, which perhaps was too much for them. With baby Holly around I haven’t had as much time to focus on them as I’d like. Guess what though… the chimney bees are still alive!

I’ve been enjoying seeing the spring flowers come out in my garden and in the couple of local parks I can reach on foot. Below are some pics.

Below is Lithodora – a favourite with the little black local female Hairy footed flower bees. I think they nest in my neighbour’s wall, as I have seen them coming and going around there.

Lithodora

These cheery yellow flowers are lesser celandine, which grows at the edges of fields, hedgerows and in woodland.

Lesser celandine

Cherry tree in my garden. The petals fall constantly, producing beautiful confetti. Our mini apple trees have come through the winter well and are attracting pollinators with their freshly scented white blossom.

 

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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23 Responses to An unpromising start

  1. jen3972 says:

    Might they have swarmed?

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    • Emily Scott says:

      Hi Jen, I really doubt it. I haven’t heard of any colonies swarming round here yet. My in laws have a large garden and when my hives have swarmed in the past they’ve landed in the garden first. They’ve only had about 3 weeks to start recovering from the non stop rain and hail storms we had in Cornwall up till about March. It literally rained nearly every day this winter and often not just any rain but absolutely torrential rain and howling winds.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Interesting. I’m in a similar situation with one of my hives.

      Bit troubled by your first picture above. Would it be rhododendron by any chance. Google ‘Mad Honey’ …… “Mad honey, is a type of honey that is actually a poison. It is a neurotoxin that could cause hallucinations and get you stoned, even in small amounts.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Emily Scott says:

        Good luck Paul. After talking to more experienced beekeepers, I’m starting to wonder whether they are really queenless at all. The good tempered one may have a virgin queen in there and the bad tempered one may have stopped laying temporarily due to lack of forage coming in. Really need a test frame of eggs from somewhere to be sure though.

        We do have a lot of rhododendrons in Cornwall, but I don’t think that one is the R.ponticum species that creates wild honey. I looked into mad honey for a blog post a few years ago – https://adventuresinbeeland.com/2016/03/18/are-rhododendrons-toxic-to-bees/ – it gets quite complicated as honey bees here usually avoid visiting it, it’s the honey bees in countries where the r.ponticum originally came from, like Turkey and Nepal, that makes the ‘mad honey’.

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  2. disperser says:

    To be sure, I “liked” the weather and flowers, not what appears to be not-so-good news about the hives.

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  3. Hello Emily, nice to hear from you once again! How I miss your cake descriptions…

    Not sure where you are in the spring process but no eggs is one of the signs of imminent swarming as well…as they diet the queen and run her about getting her light enough to fly, she stops laying. Did you see any drone brood? That usually caps out first, then they run the queen around to get her ready.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      And I miss eating the cakes! I still make them now and again but have to bake gluten free for my son nowadays, it’s not as easy.

      We’re not there yet with the swarming, I expect first swarms in Cornwall will be end of April. No drone brood. These colonies are really struggling unfortunately, they’re not in a state to attempt swarming.

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  4. Cherry says:

    How about a frame of eggs as broom from a fellow beekeeper?

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  5. beatingthebounds says:

    That Lithodora is a gorgeous blue! I hope the Queen situation is not as bleak as it looks, or you can easily sort it.

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  6. It sounds like Demelza might have a queen, perhaps still virgin or immature. The bees are so sneaky. We put a super on a hive, just frames-no foundation, to see if we could get some comb honey. The hive swarmed a few days later leaving a little honey comb. Cutting the honey comb out we noticed a few cells with larvae. That is impossible if you use a queen divider isn’t it? These bees are generally small and black and I think one sneaky, young slim new queen has sneaked up to the super to lay. We find it very difficult to see the queens just now. We had a lovely large yellow one who was much easier to see than the totally black ones. Amelia

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    • Emily Scott says:

      I think you may be right about a virgin queen being in there Amelia. I need to get in again and have a second look. That sneaky queen in your super! I’ve also heard that sometimes the workers move eggs up into the supers, but beekeepers seem to disagree on that. Very difficult to catch them at it presumably!

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  7. Erik says:

    Demelza might have superseded, and the queen could have been out on a maiden flight. I find when the bees make empty cells ready there is often a queen in the works. Maybe next weekend you’ll find a surprise. I hope so!

    Take care.

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  8. A nice selection of color there. Are you sure about your hives being queenless? I can’t remember the last time I saw either one of my queens. If everything else seems ok, might not need to worry or take action just yet…

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