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Bee Blog - June 2021

This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby

Last month I finished my blog explaining that I had united hive No 3 onto hive No 2 as there was no brood in hive 3 indicating that there was no queen. Without a queen the colony would not survive.

During my first inspection earlier in May I had also been unable to find the queen in hive No 2. I knew she must have been there recently as there was brood but I could not find her. I looked and looked over several days but without success. I then united hives 2 and 3 and left them to become acquainted.

I inspected the joined hives a week or so later and found the newspaper that I had placed between the two colonies to unite them had a hole the size of a tennis ball chewed out of the paper by the bees and that they were now one colony. Even better there were no dead bees on the floor of the hive so I assumed the joining was amicable. Regrettable however I noticed that there was now no new brood in the colony, only sealed brood cells, and there were three sealed queen cells half way down one of the frames. This was not good.

The most likely explanation as to why I had not been able to find the queen previously was that she wasn’t there. For some reason, age, ill health or missing, it would appear that the colony had decided to supersede her. Another hive, No 2,  was now queen less and the bees were trying to generate a new queen.

Supersedure is more difficult in Spring than in Summer or Autumn as there are less drones around and the drones are needed to mate with the queen. The queen emerges from her cell eight days after the cell is sealed. She then waits a few days before going on a mating flight in search of drones with which to mate. There was little I could do other than wait and see what would develop.

I kept looking at various times for brood to show that a fertile queen was present but every time I look I could see nothing. There were still lots of bees but without a queen all direction and purpose seems to go. There is little incentive to fly to collect pollen or nectar so they were just staying put in the hive feeding off the winter supply of honey.

I had few options. I couldn’t just leave things as they were. Eventually the food would start to run out and the colony would become weak. More than likely wasps would start attacking in a few weeks time and kill the remaining bees. I could unite this colony with one of the other two hives but they were already expanding well and didn’t really need more bees and I would be down to two hives. The most sensible option seemed to be to buy a new queen and introduce her to the hive.

The weather this spring has not been good. We had some good weather earlier in the year and then it turned dry and then wet and always unusually cold. This was not good for the bees. They started to expand rapidly only to find day after day they could not forage as they should be able to, it was too cold and wet. They therefore had increasing numbers and decreasing food in the hive to sustain them. This weather and the late spring has occurred throughout the country. Everything, including the breeding of queens for sale has been late so it was not until mid May before I was able to purchase a new queen.

She arrived in the post as shown in my photograph this month. If you look closely in the middle of the plastic cage you can see the white marking dot on her back. On yet another rainy day, under an umbrella, I introduced her to the colony. I hope she is accepted. 2021 is turning out to be a difficult year.