This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby
As the weather continued to improve I decided it was the time for my first inspections of the year. As I mentioned last month I had already moved the nucleus colony into a full sized hive so I had been able to see that the bees in that colony appeared to be healthy, a queen was present and that she had started the build up of brood.
I had seen that pollen was being taken into some of the remaining three hives but there was a noticeable difference in the numbers of bees going in an out of some of the hives. One had little activity, one had a reasonable number of bees and the remain hive had lots of activity.
During the winter I had invested in four stainless steel numbers so that I could fix them to the outside of each hive. As the number of hives increases it can be very confusing remembering which queen is in which hive and what I may have done to each colony. Now hive No1 is the very active hive which should have had a queen marked green. Hive No2 is a reasonably active hive that should have had a blue marked queen. Hive No 3 is the least active hive with a green queen and hive No 4 is the newly housed nucleus colony with a white queen.
The priorities with the first inspection is the general health of the bees and determining if a queen is present and making sure that she is marked. It is much easier to find a queen when the numbers are low at this time of year than when there are 50,000 bees to look through later in the year.
I started my inspection with Hive No 3. Things did not get off to a good start. I looked through all of the frames and while the bees looked healthy I did not see a queen and worse than that I could not see any brood at all. By this time of year the queen should be laying so it was a good indication that there was no queen. I decided to leave them for another week and check again.
On to hive No 2. Again the bees looked healthy and in this hive there was lots of lave and sealed brood. There must be a queen. Despite going through all the frames twice however I could not find her. I closed up the hive and moved on to Hive No 1.
Here again the bees look healthy and there was a large amount of lave and sealed brood. I inspected all of the frames looking for a queen marked green but could not find her. It was proving to be a difficult day. It was about to get worse. I looked through the frames again and to my surprise saw a queen but she was not marked. I caught her in my queen catching tube and placed my finger over the end. I then tried to transfer her into my marking pot. Unfortunately I left too big a gap between the pot and my thumb and she ran out back into the colony, probably laughing. Look as I might I could not find her again so I closed up the hive.
It appeared that my marked queens had all gone. One in Hive 3 probably by death and the other two most likely by a process carried out by the bees called supersedure. It usually occurs at the end of summer or early autumn. For some reason the colony decides that the queen is not suitable for the next season and replaces her. It is not a process that is fully understood but I suppose the bees know best.
A few days later I carried out another inspection and found and marked the queen in hive
No 1. In hive 3 there was still no evidence of brood at all so I decided the best thing to do was to join together hives 3 and 2. My photograph this month is the uniting of the two colonies using a separating layer of newspaper with a small hole in it so that the merging takes time and allows the bees from the two colonies to merge without fighting with each other. The joining however was not without incident but I think that’s enough bad news for this month. I will explain more next month.