I am Gerald Bushby (pronounced bush bee!) a beekeeper in Weston on the Green, a small village in Oxfordshire. I am going to be writing a monthly blog about the bees in my apiary. I hope you will find it interesting. I should start by saying that I am not an expert, having only kept bees for three years. Anything I say is my own personal opinion; I accept that there may often be other views and opinions.
Last month you may recall I was concerned that one of my hives may be queenless. I was also complaining about the poor spring weather with temperatures so low that it was difficult to find a day warm enough to open up the hives and carry out a hive inspection. Be careful what you wish for. It has been a very unusual spring. In the last couple of weeks we seem to have gone from early spring to summer yet again with sunny days little rain and warm temperatures during the day but still very cold at night. This fine day time weather has enabled me to open up the hives again and look and see what has been happening.
Previously I had found no evidence of pollen on the mouse guard in the hive with the blue queen and last month on opening the hive I could find no evidence of pollen being stored and more importantly no evidence of brood. I suspected the queen was at best slow in starting laying or at worst dead. Regrettably on looking again I found the same situation as last time, no queen, no brood but several hundred bees. Bees can raise queens from larvae that is less than three days old, but this had not happened, and could not now happen. I concluded the queen was dead.
I say I found no brood. That is not strictly accurate as I found one or two cells of capped brood. How can that be if there is no queen? The answer is that occasionally when a hive finds itself queenless some of the workers will start laying eggs. Being female the workers have ovaries, but pheromones produced by a live queen normally inhibit them from laying eggs. Once the queen had gone however that restraint has been removed and some workers may start laying. The eggs laid however are infertile as the workers cannot mate, so if the eggs laid by workers do hatch they will only produce male bees, drones, and the hive will not survive.
Looking into the other hive where the yellow queen should be I found a better state of affairs. Last month I had found no queen but brood indicating that the queen was alive and laying. This time I found more brood and at all stages; eggs, larvae and emerging bees. I even found the queen. Surprisingly however she was not the yellow queen, she was unmarked. She may have had the yellow marking removed as part of a cleaning process carried out by some workers or more likely the yellow queen had been superseded last autumn by a new queen. It is always helpful to be able to spot the queen when looking through the hive so I caught her and marked her. I decided I could not mark her red, this years colour, as I think she is older than that and I did not want to mark her yellow as that was the queen that should have been there, and I didn’t want to be confused, so I marked her white and left her to carry on laying eggs.
Having discussed my problem with older and wiser beekeepers I decided to join the two colonies together using the newspaper method between the hives I referred to last month, to save the bees from the queenless hive and help strengthen the numbers in white queen’s hive. A few years ago a beekeeper friend joined two colonies by just putting one brood box on top of the other and leaving them to sort themselves out. That is just what they did. The next morning there were hundreds of dead bees on the floor in front of the hive. It was with some trepidation therefore that I combined the two brood boxes separated only by one sheet of newspaper (this months photograph). The next morning I could find no dead bees around the hive. Two days later I took the roof off to find an empty top brood box. I removed this and found a small hole had been chewed in the newspaper sheet and all the bees from the blue queen hive had moved down and had been assimilated into the white queens hive. A successful combination.
Ideally I would like to run two or three hives. Running one does not give a factor of safety. If anything happens to the white queen in my one and only hive I would have to start from scratch again. How can I build up the hive numbers? I could buy a new colony from a fellow beekeeper but this would cost several hundred pounds. I could catch and house a swarm, and this may be a possibility or I could split my existing colony. I will try to catch a swarm if I become aware of one but I think my main aim will be to split my existing colony.
Bee colonies naturally swarm and I will explain this whole procedure in a later blog. For now however I will be watching my hive closely for signs that they are about to swarm and then perform a “split” producing two or more smaller colonies and making the main colony think that it has swarmed. There are no signs at the moment but by next month things may have happened.
I am a proud supporter of the ‘Bees for development’ charity, my love of the bee drew me to this wonderful UK based charity and the great work they do around the world with Bees and the impact they can have on people’s lives. Please help me support this wonderful organisation, as 2BScientific will be doing with donations to this hard-working charity.