Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Queen is dead.

We went round to Fiona’s apiary on Friday to go through her hives. She had re-Queened her colonies that had Drone-laying Queens and now we saw eggs and brood indicating that the issue had resolved. We saw the Queen too as she had been marked. The bees were still a bit tetchy though despite the presence of Queens. Fiona then came over to look at our hives.

The new hive that contained the nucleus was a sorry affair. There were lots of dead bees which we determined to be starving because there were insufficient bees to bring pollen home and they hadn’t any food reserves in the comb. They’d worn the capping on the brood due to walking about. This colony needed more bees if it was to survive.

The other hive still had lots of Drone comb and eggs. We’d seen multiple eggs previously and deduced this to be the result of a laying worker. However, Fiona spotted a Queen. We quickly marked her blue (blue for this year) and then she flew off. We found out that it is possible to have a Drone laying Queen and laying worker at the same time because if the Queen is failing (which this one is) the workers can start laying, but this strategy won’t work because they can’t raise a new Queen from laying worker eggs, only more Drones. The colony is doomed unless it is re-Queened.

So, the next step was to unite the colonies after first finding the failing Queen and dispatching her. In the meantime, Fiona advised that we needed to shake off the bees into the grass, cut out all the Drone cells and put the these frames to one side so the bees could recover the honey and take it back home. The combining operation would happen that evening after all the bees had returned. Later that evening, we opened up the hive and easily spotted the Queen as she was marked. She was quickly despatched.

Dead Queen

Dead Queen

We put a sheet of newspaper on top of the nucleus hive and scattered icing sugar and poked some small holes through the paper. Then we stacked the other hive on top.

Uniting the two colonies with newspaper and icing sugar between the hives

Uniting the two colonies with newspaper and icing sugar between the hives

The bees in the top box will then eat through the paper. The icing sugar drops onto the bees below and then they will groom one another and take on the pheromones of the Queen in the bottom box. Thus, they will recognise her and not kill her off. We have to wait 10 days now before we open up again and assess the state of play.

Late Bloomer

We received a letter yesterday informing us that the Open Garden event raised £1500 which will be split equally between our village hall and church. It’s a pity  that our flowers were a little late. Here are some that were not out or at their best on the day.

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Eryngium x Zabelli 'Jos Eijking'

Eryngium x Zabelli ‘Jos Eijking’

Hydrangea 'Blue Wave'

Hydrangea ‘Blue Wave’

Salvia 'Superba'

Salvia ‘Superba’

Scabious 'Pink Mist'

Scabious ‘Pink Mist’

Phygelius 'Devil's Tears'

Phygelius ‘Devil’s Tears’

Cotoneaster variety unknown

Cotoneaster variety unknown

Purple Speedwell

Purple Speedwell

Scabious 'Butterfly Blue Beauty'

Scabious ‘Butterfly Blue Beauty’

Garden view

Garden view

Hoster,Hydrangea and foxglove in the courtyard.

Hoster,Hydrangea and foxglove in the courtyard.

 

 

 

Droning on

Yesterday I was round at Fiona’s helping her go through her hives, I reckon the more I see and handle bees the quicker I will become confident and competent. However, it’s not only us having trouble with bees. The first 2 hives we went through had frame after frame of Drone brood and no worker brood. This indicates a Drone laying Queen and isn’t good news. A Done-laying queen arises after a Queen has run out of sperm or when a virgin Queen fails to mate properly. In either case, the Queen does not lay any fertilized eggs so the colony is unable to raise a new Queen. In time, the colony will dwindle and die, because Drones are incapable of foraging and there will be no new workers to collect food.

Drone brood is larger and looks like raised knobbles

Drone brood is larger than worker brood and looks like raised knobbles

Drone and worker brood. The worker cells are smaller and flat in appearance

Drone and worker brood. The worker cells are smaller and flat in appearance

The previous day we inspected our own hive and saw multiple eggs in cells that should only contain a single egg. This is evidence of a Laying Worker bee. What puzzled us was that the colony could be Queenless but calm. We learned that Laying Workers have just enough pheromone to convince the others there’s a Queen present in the hive, hence they remain placid. For this reason, re-Queening would not be possible because they would kill the introduced Queen. Also bad news because they can’t produce fertile eggs, so they can’t raise a Queen or workers either, only Drones, which will result ultimately in failure of the colony. Fiona’s coming back on Tues to assist with the next inspection and we may have to replace with a new swarm which she collected yesterday.

 

 

 

Bee-wildering

We inspected our hives yesterday under the guidance of Fiona who is an experienced local beekeeper. We looked at the new hive first and she confirmed it to be a failed colony. There were half emerged dead bees on the comb and a handful of bewildered looking bees wandering around.

Half emerged dead bees

Half emerged dead bees

Then she said ‘there’s the Queen ! …… It is very unusual to have a Queen with so few bees.’ On closer inspection, Phil found a hatched Queen cell, which would probably account for her presence. The Queen we’d walked in and coloured blue was nowhere to be seen. This would appear to be a virgin Queen. All she needed was a viable colony with Drones to mate with so we planned to transport her to Fiona’s nucleus hive which was recently Queenless.

Hatched Queen cell

Hatched Queen cell

This nucleus colony had come from a new swarm and usually a swarm will contain a laying Queen. However, sometimes the Queen is lost during collection of the swarm or she may not be viable for some reason. Fiona had brought a Queen cage to introduce our Queen to the nucleus. This had a piece of fondant covering an exit hole. When this is placed in the nucleus, the bees will eat their way into her because they will detect Queen pheromone. This takes a few days by which time, the nucleus colony will be totally familiar with her ‘scent’ and accept her as their own. Fiona captured the Queen and put a couple of attendants in with her. I put the cage in my pocket to keep her warm during the drive to Fiona’s.

Queen cage

Queen cage

The nucleus colony was quite different in behaviour and seemed agitated at being disturbed. This is a sign of being Queenless. Phil hooked the cage over a frame with wire and later that evening when the bees had all gone to bed, we transported the nucleus back to our house. The plan is to look again mid week when hopefully the Queen will have been released and she should be easier to spot amongst this smaller colony. We were advised not to mark her as she is probably unmated. We won’t make the same mistake this time.

Nucleus hive placed in position of ne hive so that when transferred, the bees will know exactly where home is.

Nucleus hive placed in position of new hive so that when transferred, the bees will know exactly where home is.

Our main hive looked much happier. The bees were very calm and we inspected each frame to find the Queen but didn’t see her. The frame of eggs we had inserted last weekend had a small sealed Queen cell on it and there were another half dozen supersedure Queen cells on frame 4. It’s all very confusing; we saw eggs and grubs which would indicate a laying Queen, but why would they be making Queen cells if they already have  a laying Queen ? Clearly our bees don’t read the books ! We were advised to remove these Queen cells except for one and then check again in a week. Today we are off to a Penrith Beekeepers Association event at B&Q and will discuss with other Beekeepers.

Maternity Ward Bee

We inspected our hives this weekend and what we saw was a worry. Our main hive from which we lost the swarm and our laying Queen had plenty bees, but we didn’t see the new Queen, no eggs or capped brood but there were lots of stores. The flying bees were not returning with pollen as they had no youngsters to feed. There were no Queen cells either, so it appeared to us to be a Queenless hive.

The second hive contained only about 200 bees. When the colony is too small, it cannot maintain temperatures and they get cold and die. Again no signs of the Queen we’d introduced, but we since discovered that it was a mistake to mark her because she was an unmated Queen. It’s ok and the correct thing to do to mark laying Queens for easy identification, however by colouring her she would look different and likely be rejected and killed. With no Queen it wasn’t surprising that there were no eggs here either.

We contacted Penrith Beekeepers Association and Richard the Assistant Apiary Manager, advised that we needed to put in a frame of eggs. We collected the frame from the apiary at Acorn Bank and put it into the hive. We think the second hive is beyond hope but have put a feeder in just in case they rally.

Honeybee eggs

Honeybee eggs

The eggs were really hard to see, even with a magnifying glass. The are like tiny white ‘sausages’ in the bottom of each cell. In normal circumstances, the Queen lays eggs into the cells of the honeycomb, one egg per cell. The worker bees feed and tend the eggs. Depending on her age, here are the jobs of a worker bee:

Days 1-3 Cleaning cells of the comb and keeping new eggs warm.
Day 6-10 Feeding younger larvae
Day 8-16 Receiving honey and pollen from field bees
Day 12-18 Making wax and building new cells in the comb.
Day 14 onwards Guarding the hive entrance, foraging for nectar and pollen.

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When the Queen is nearing the end of her life or in the absence of a Queen, the workers naturally begin to raise a new Queen but as we saw no evidence of brood and no Queen cells we are hoping they will raise one from the eggs we introduced. How they do this is amazing. The workers make a special food called royal jelly and to make a Queen instead of a worker, they feed a larger portion of the royal jelly to the chosen larva.

Now it’s a waiting game. We will check in a week to see if the workers are rearing a Queen.