A couple of days on found me back at “C”, amongst other things, eager to see how my new queens were doing. First to the nuc’s. on the new stand. The nuc. housing the swarm was in excellent shape, the queen obviously approved of her new home as there were eggs and brood in abundance. I didn’t see the queen in the first nuc. but the eggs and brood indicated all was well. So, on to the second nuc. the one that is home to one of my new queens. The cage was empty which was a good sign and there she was, on the second frame in, surrounded by eggs and sporting a nice blue spot. So, on this occasion, no need to go any further. My thoughts have always been, unless a full inspection is called for, when you’ve found what you came looking for, why go on just for the sake of it and risk damaging the queen and upsetting the bees unnecessarily. Pleased to report, it was more of the same at five, cage empty, queen and brood in evidence. This, if you remember, is the queen from three and I was pleased that for once that I’d made the right decision, and moving her to five looked to be going as planned which hopefully my next port of call would prove. And so, on to three. Feeling somewhat trepidatious, I removed the roof and crown board and peered down into the brood chamber. With everything seemingly calm and the travel cage empty, I began gently examining frames and, once again on the second frame, there was that tell-tale blue spot which told me that the score so far was three out of three. Does it get any better than this, I remember thinking as I watched her moving across the comb. I paused to see if there were any signs of eggs, which was just long enough for her to spread her wings and take flight. I watched in disbelief as she disappeared into the distance. At that moment all I could think of was, that’s my forty-five quid disappearing over that horizon. Peering through tear filled eyes, I boxed hive three back up and stood back. I should have known three out of three was too good to be true I remember thinking as I re-lived the events of the previous five minutes. One last glance at the now queenless hive before making my way down to the car and, suddenly, there she was, wandering about on the front of the hive as though nothing had happened. Somehow, unbelievably, she had found her way back to the hive. Within the space of seconds I had gone from feelings of delight in seeing the last of my new queens in her new home, to those of dismay in watching her take off and disappear into the distance followed by feelings of disbelief on her return, but there she was, wandering about on the hive front. The hive bees were going about their business as usual. I watched as about half a dozen or so joined her momentarily before entering the hive. Now, would she join them and go back into the hive, but no, she seemed totally oblivious to their comings and goings. She was still wandering around but not going anywhere near the entrance which I tried to gently edge her towards with a strategically placed finger, but she was having none of that. She didn’t seem bothered at all by my attempts to cajole her towards the entrance, if anything she was just ignoring me and my finger. I decided the best course of action, at least for the moment, would be to carefully remove the entrance block thereby giving her an entrance the whole width of the hive but while I was mulling over my options, she once again spread her wings and disappeared into the sunset. I hung around for about an hour but I knew in my mind that I’d seen the last of her. I was still thinking about her and her strange antics when I went to bed that night, trying to figure out why she had behaved the way she had. I always take particular care when handling new queens, until I’m happy that they’ve become well established in their new surroundings, so I knew I hadn’t shaken or jolted the frame that she was on when I removed it, in fact, it was a couple of minutes later when she took off. Until then she seemed quite at ease with her new surroundings, and then to come back only to take off again. I know it’s not unknown for queens to take off for no apparent reason but it’s certainly not the norm, especially a newly mated queen. The events of the day have left me wondering whether she was well mated but that’s something I shall never know although it’ll be interesting to see how her sister makes out.
Going into June, not much change at The Station, the swarm I collected, now in a nuc. next to hive 1 from which they issued, looks to be doing well with the queen having already started to lay, so just a case of keeping my eyes on them all. Mendip “C”, by comparison, is now, really doing well to the point where we have decided to build an additional stand,
ADDITIONAL STAND AT “C”
This to accommodate the two new queens that I have decided to acquire and a swarm which presented itself in a small shrub close to the hives. This was the third swarm to have chosen this shrub in which to cluster, so there must obviously be something about the location that they like. The previous two swarms were from my hives so it made sense that they had chosen this shrub in which to pitch as it’s not only the closest to the hives but also directly in the flight path.
ONE OF LAST YEAR’S SWARMS IN THE SHRUB
This latest swarm however, I’m pretty certain, wasn’t from one of my hives.
YOU CAN JUST MAKE OUT THE SWARM AT THE BASE OF THE SHRUB
None of the colonies had exhibited any signs that they were preparing to swarm, in as much as there were no queen cells in evidence, in fact four, which is the colony that produced all of the queen cells a couple of weeks ago, and now queenless, is still only half way through the process of drawing out queen cells from the frame of brood I gave them. There is a very large colony of bees under the roof of the local church which is only about a half a mile, if that, from my Mendip “C” apiary and which I was asked by the vicar to take a look at last year. I have a feeling the swarm may have emanated from there as they seem to be the only other honeybees in the area. As the church is a grade 1 listed building and dates from the 12th. century, I wasn’t able to help and I know for a fact that no-one else has. From the numbers of bees which fall onto the alter and the vast numbers coming and going, which are plain to see from the ground, this is obviously a very large colony which has been in residence for a very long time. Anyway, be that as it may, the swarm is now residing quite happily in one of my new nuc’s. on the new stand alongside the two nucs. I’m preparing, should I need them, for the new queens that I shall be collecting next week.
With the day planned for my trip to Exmoor getting ever closer I was having second thoughts as to how best to use my new queens. Hive five was still queenless, the cells I’d earlier given the having come to nothing, but the queen in three, which had, if you remember, started life as the only decent queen cell that five had earlier produced, had already begun to lay and was looking really promising. Unsure as to how five would accept a new queen, and not wanting to risk one of my “bought in” queens, I decided to catch and cage the queen in three and transfer her to five. Before placing the cage into the hive I laid it on top of the brood frames for a couple of minutes, this to observe the behaviour of the bees in the presence of their new queen. Occasionally the bees will adopt a very aggressive posture around the cage suggesting that they are not going to accept her without a fight, but, not in this case. They were all over the cage in seconds but not exhibiting any signs of aggression. Feeling happy with the situation, I installed the cage between two of the brood frames, boxed them up and left them to it. A couple of days later I was back with my two new queens. After checking both hive three and the nuc for queen cells, of which there were none, I installed the cages housing my new queens. Before leaving I had a quick look into five where, pleased to report, the queen from three was wandering about quite happily whilst being lovingly attended by her new entourage.
Like mine, I hope your bees have been taking full advantage of the beautiful weather that we’ve been enjoying these last three of four weeks. With the exception of the two colonies on double brood at “C”, all the colonies have been expanding at an alarming rate with the best already filling supers. The two last year’s nuc’s which I hived a few weeks ago are doing exceptionally well to the point where I’m allowing myself a brief feeling of optimism that this year really could be the one. The first Sunday of the month and another lovely day, just the day for a full inspection. So, to “C” first, eager to see whether there had been any improvement in 2 and 3 so, working my way along I began with 1, this being the newly hived nuc. The queen was on the first frame, calmly going about her queenly duties, lots of brood and plenty of stores. I closed them up thinking to myself, if the other three colonies look as good as this one, we’re going to have a good day, but it wasn’t to be. Hives 2 and 3 were if anything, in a sorrier state than at my last visit. Not much brood in 2 and what little there was appeared to be mainly drone, 3 was a little better and they had managed to produce a supersedure cell but, all in all, both colonies were very disappointing especially considering what I had paid for the queens. I decided to forget about the Bailey comb change which was now out of the question, deciding instead, that, provided the supersedure in 3 was successful, the best course of action would be to unite what was left of the two colonies. Moving on to 4 which, if the activity at the hive entrance was anything to go by, was without doubt, the strongest of the four colonies at “C”. As I said previously, since my spell in hospital I’ve not felt able to perform full inspections, usually stopping when I’ve seen young brood and eggs but today was different. After the disappointment of 2 and 3, it was with a feeling of eager anticipation that I removed the supers and lifted the roof on 4. The first thing I noticed was the numbers of bees, certainly far more than in the other colonies and that includes The Station hives, the top bars were completely obliterated by bees. With 4 being configured 14×12″ and having castellated runners at 37mm. I hadn’t given a thought that they might be preparing to swarm, but now, I wasn’t so sure. The first two frames were, as you would expect, largely stores and pollen. A good start I thought, and so, on to number three. Filled with sealed brood and right in the centre, a single sealed queen cell. The numbers of bees suggested that they hadn’t swarmed, a fact born out by this single supersedure cell. Imagine my surprise then when turning the frame to examine the other side, revealed a second cell, again, in the centre of the frame. Even more surprising, the next five frames revealed a total of seven cells, all of them sealed and as with the others, more or less central to the frames. I have experienced more than one supersedure cell before, but never this many and all on separate frames. So, what to do with them, these really were nice looking cells, I suppose the result of being created singly and anyway, far too good to destroy. I decided that I would leave the best one in the hive so that they could continue with their supersedure plans and to use the best of the others to make up some nuc’s. My two Apidea nuc’s had been sitting idly by in my bee shed for the last couple of years and I decided it was high time that they were pressed back into service. I had primed them with starter strips of foundation before putting them away so it was just a case of filling the feeder sections with fondant, caging two of the cells and installing them, along with a couple of cups of bees into the nuc’s.
APIDEAS IN PLACE ON THE ROOF OF HIVE THREE
The next two cells were destined for two of the vacant nucs’s at The Station and I decided, rather than waste the couple that were left, to install one, on it’s brood frame complete with bees and a frame of stores, into hive three. This being the hive that I’d earlier prepared for my Bailey comb change. That left just the one cell which I’d decided to leave in four. So, that was that, a most unusual session, I couldn’t help but muse, on my way to The Station, that once again the little beggars had taken me completely by surprise.
Another surprise awaited me at the Station, approaching the hives I was immediately greeted by one of the Willows that border the site. It had blown down during the night and now completely blocked the path to the hives.
ONE OF THE WILLOWS HAD BLOWN DOWN DURING THE NIGHT
Fortunately it had missed the hives but not by much. As this was the second time this had happened, the first having damaged the shed roof, I began to doubt the wisdom of siting the apiary so close to the trees but too late to do anything about it now, just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. All this hadn’t escaped the notice of the owners and within moments armed with a very large bow-saw, they were attacking the offending article. It had looked a lot worse than it actually was and before long, the bulk of it had been converted into fuel for the log burner. “There seemed to be an awful lot of bees flying around earlier” the lady of the house informed me as the last of the logs were being removed, “do you think any of yours might have swarmed”, and sure enough, in a bush, not ten feet away, hung one of the largest clusters I’d ever seen. I’d walked past them at least half a dozen times whilst messing about with the blessed tree and hadn’t noticed them at all. Fortunately, for once, they had chosen a most convenient spot and within minutes they had been dislodged safely into one of my nuc’s. and removed. As usually happens, quite a lot of the flying bees return to the spot where they had clustered, probably due to the queen’s pheromones being still in evidence there,
SEVERAL BEES CLINGING TO THE SITE OF THE CLUSTER
but they are easy to remove and, once the spot has been wiped over with a wet cloth, seem happy to re-join their pals in the nuc.
All this activity and before ten in the morning, I couldn’t help wondering whatever else the day had in store for me as I made my way to the hives. As usual I began my inspections with hive one. In my mind, this was the only one strong enough to consider swarming and I’d been particularly careful during previous inspections to look for any signs that they might be thinking of such, but no. Apart from the occasional play cup, no signs at all. However, the first and quite obvious difference today was that, although they all appeared quite good natured, there were far less bees, the second thing, and again, blatantly obvious, was the open queen cell on the fourth frame. I pride myself on my ability to spot early signs of swarming, especially charged queen cells, but the little beggars had caught me out on this occasion. Knowing my inspection regime, I must have missed this queen cell not once, but at least twice, and now I had paid the price, or at least, I would have, had it not been for the fact that they had chosen a very convenient place in which to cluster and at an equally convenient time. I finished my inspections at The Station without any further dramas except that I couldn’t help noticing that none of the queens in the cells brought from “C” had emerged which was a bit of a worry.
On then to “C” which is once again, a bit like the Curates egg, good in parts. Hive 1 is now the only colony that can be said to be performing satisfactorily, 2 and 4 which was 3, the two with the bought-in queens have now been united in a last ditch effort to save at least one of them. 3, the Bailey comb change hive is looking quite promising, the queen having emerged but of the queen cells taken from 5, this was the only one to do so. None of the other cells came to anything, even the cell that I left in 5 which the bees decided to break down. I know that normally when this happens it’s because they already have a queen but I’m certain this wasn’t the case in this instance because when I gave them a frame of brood from 1 they immediately started drawing out queen cells. I think for some reason, all of the cells left in 5 were for some reason, faulty and I think the bees in 5 detected this and that’s why they broke the cell down and why other than the one which I put into three, none of the others emerged. Thankfully, the swarm looks to doing well. It’ll be interesting what 5 do with the frame of brood they were given, a quick look showed that they’ve started queen cells so, we’ll see. At my next visit I shall unite what’s left of 2 and 4 with 3.
I’ve all but converted all of my standard brood set-ups to 14×12″ and when I’ve finished uniting 2 and 4 with 3, I shall set about converting their brood boxes, both colonies have been configured double brood. The problem this leaves me with is that all of my nuc’s are standard brood size. The bees seem quite happy with this arrangement but it’s a real pain when the time comes to hive them, all of the frame needing to be extended. It’s not a massive task, fitting frame extensions, provided you have a Rampin, but having the correct size frames from
IT’S NOT A MASIVE TASK FITTING FRAME EXTENSIONS
the start has to be better. So I decided my next task was to extend the nuc’s to 14×12″ and after much thought I decided the best way would be to carefully remove the existing floor, make a 3 1/2″ eke and fit it between the floor and the nuc body.
AND THEN THERE WERE THREE, ONLY TWO MORE TO GO.
FLOOR REMOVED WITH DIFFICULTY
JOB COMPLETED, JUST REQUIRING A COAT OF YACHT VARNISH
Removing the floor was a lot easier said than done as I’d forgotten that when making the nuc’s. I had glued, pinned and screwed all of the joints and the only way I could think of to remove the floor without damaging it, was, having first removed the screws, to gently prise the floor away from the nuc. body and the only thing I had which would do the job with the minimum of damage was my best carving knife. This it achieved, though sadly, the same can’t be said of the knife