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.
You may recall that at the end of last season I had decided to attempt to breed my own queen bees this year so at to be able to re queen the hives with young queens in the early autumn ready for next year. I had intended to harvest eggs from one of the new red queens and have them turned into queen cells by the bees in the old hive after removing the white queen and making the colony queenless.
Things have not gone to plan. I had mentioned last month that the white queen colony was not developing as fast as the other two hives. This was not a good starting point for the whole process. It is preferable if the eggs from the donor queen are incubated in a strong hive with lots of worker bees. The white queen hive was expanding but not quick enough for my liking. I had hope to start the process in the first week in May but given this slowly expanding colony and the fact that I was going to be away on holiday for a week in the second week in May, I was forced into not being able to start the process until my return on the 14th May.
The first step of the process is to put the receptor in which the queen is encouraged to lay eggs into the donor hive for a couple of days for the worker bees to become familiar with the kit and to clean it to their liking. This I duly did on the 14th intending to catch the queen on the 16th and place her in the receptor to lay the eggs.
In the late afternoon of the 15th I saw a great number of bees flying around the hives in areas where they do not normally go. I went to look more closely and found a swarm of very noisy bees on the ground. The hive in which I had placed the receptor had swarmed, the queen from whom I had intended to harvest the eggs had left the hive and was somewhere in the mass of bees swarming on the ground.
I quickly found an empty nucleus box and turned it upside down over the swarm propping up one end of the box, as shown in my photograph this month. As if by magic the bees started walking up into the empty box. In approximately 10 minutes most of the bees were in the box. I turned the box the right way up dropped in five empty framed with foundation and put the lid on. Some bees were still outside the box so I left it in the same position and watched the remaining workers sense where their queen was in the box and follower her in through the entrance hole. Twenty minutes later I moved the swarm in the nucleus box onto a stand next to the other hives.
The next morning I went to look at the nucleus box. It was empty. The swarm had absconded. This is not particularly unusual. If bees from a swarm are not happy with their new home they will move to another home somewhere else.
This left me with a bit of a dilemma in respect of my queen rearing. The queen from which I had intended to breed had left, one of my two red queen hives was depleted of bees and the white queen hive where I had intended to develop the queen cells was still not very vigorous. Sometimes things are not met to be. Taking all of these issues into consideration I felt that perhaps this was not the year to start rearing queens. A change of plan was needed.
I am still of the opinion that having young queens is likely to lead to less swarms. I feel that the very early spring and rapid build up of numbers is likely to be the reason why one of my hives swarmed and why there may be a lot of swarms this year. My new plan, which may have to change later in the season depending on circumstances, is to perhaps repeat what I did last year; buy in two new queens towards the end of the summer. One has to be flexible in beekeeping.
Don’t forget the Bees for Development Garden Party at Marlborough House, Pall Mall, on the 12th June. Details at : http://www.beesfordevelopment.org/events-calendar/bee-garden-party-wednesday-12-june-2019/
The bee season has started to move into full swing. The bees have been very active in April encouraged by more fine weather. Towards the end of the month and over the Easter holiday period we have had some excellent weather with clear blue skies day after day and very warm temperatures similar to typical July days.
Given that my three hives are adjacent to each other and share the same micro climate it would perhaps be reasonable to expect, as I did, that all three colonies would react in the same way to the fine weather. I had expected the larger colony, that has been in existence for several years and which last month was the largest of the three, would be the most active. Not so. It has been the two smaller colonies, which last month had only expanded to three frames, where I have seen most activity and expansion this month.
During the middle of the month I noticed that the two new colonies, with the red queens, were both extremely active with hundreds of bees flowing in and out for most of the daylight hours. I carried out an inspection of the brood boxes and found an almost text book expansion, brood at all stages, pollen and nectar being stored and an expansion to fill five of the ten frames.
With such rapid growth my first concern was to ensure that the colonies had sufficient space for their expansion. Too little space is thought to be a large factor in bees deciding to swarm, so better safe than sorry I added a “super” to all three hives. This is an extra box on top of the brood box in which the bees can store honey but separated from the brood box by a wire framework through which the queen cannot pass so as to stop her from moving into the super and laying eggs. As the queen is unable to lay eggs in the super the bees only store honey there. There may be the odd cell of pollen but generally the bees store the pollen close to where the eggs are.
After a week I carried out another inspection and found that the super on both the red queen hives, which each consists of ten frames, was half full of honey. Time to add another super to these two hives. After another week I took another look. On both the red queen hives the bottom super was two thirds full and the top super was half full.
What of the super on the original hive, the white queen? To my surprise the bees there have not stored any honey at all in the super put on for their expansion. Why the difference? The answer is I do not know. There appears to be nothing wrong with the white queens hive. I have seen her and she is laying eggs and there was brood at all stages and the bees look fine. There has been expansion from five frames to seven in the brood box. They are storing honey in the brood box but for some reason there does not seem to have been the rapid expansion and very large increase in number as there has been in the red queens hives.
It may be that as there still several frames of honey stores left over from last winter on which the bees can feed that they do not find the need to be rushed into finding new supplies of nectar when they already have an adequate supply of food. The two red queen colonies were new last autumn and did not have the time to build up such extensive stores as the white queen so perhaps they have taken the opportunity of the good weather to expand rapidly and collect the available nectar to provide as much stores as possible. Are the bees like us? If the cupboard is full why rush out to the supermarket?
Another possibility is that the bees in the two red queen hives have found a nearby field of oil seed rape and the white queens bees have not. Bees love the flowers of oil seed rape. If they fine it they gorge themselves.
Whatever the reason for this different behavior, as a precaution I will have to wait until the oil seed rape has finished flowering and then remove all of the available ripe honey from all of the hives so as it does not mix with nectar from summer flowers. Oil seed rape honey sets solid and I will have to wait several weeks for this to happen before I cream the honey so that it can be spread easily.
The season has got off to a good start, long may it continue.
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.