At last, we are at the end of a long dry spell broken by heavy rain. But temperatures are still in the top teens with a clammy humidity unusual for this part of the country. The scorched white grass reminds me of being in Australia and I haven’t experienced such a hot summer here since 1974. At least I haven’t had to mow the grass for weeks.
Surprisingly the supers have been filling well despite the relative drought and there are 5 stacked up waiting to be extracted after a wee holiday I’m taking to the south of Scotland at the end of the week.
The observation hive.
The observation hive is coming along nicely. I reported on the set-up in a previous blog, but to recap for new readers; it was filled on 9th June with a small cast/secondary swarm and a virgin queen. The queen got mated and laid up palm- sized areas on both sides of the bottom frame. I saw her first eggs on 24th June.
Rain and chalkbrood.
30 days from set-up, 8th July, after nearly a week of cold rain, there were several chalkbrood mummies on the floor so I fed the bees a strong sugar syrup solution from a small jar I’d bought herbs in. I made several holes in the lid with a nail and the wee colony used up a lot of syrup. The chalkbrood had been removed by the following day but I was glad to have boosted this very small colony with calories enabling them to raise the brood nest temperature.
However, on the 10th July I was surprised to see 6 play cups forming on the front frame and the queen had gone. I searched both sides of both frames carefully but there were no eggs anywhere. There was frenetic activity; the bees were running about all over the combs roaring in a queenless state. What a noise I heard on opening the shed door that morning at 9 am. It was a warm day around 19.9 degrees Celsius.
Around noon on the 10th, I noticed that the central cells in the brood frame were being backfilled with nectar. The bees were much calmer though and two queen cells were being extended. The play cups were removed. The right hand cell was larger than the smaller one the left which was torn down on the morning of 22nd July after the successful queen had emerged overnight.
In the meantime, this little colony attracted lots of visitors with over 12 children coming to watch the intriguing activities and feel the warmth of the brood nest through the glass panels. On 29th, 7 days following emergence of the new queen, I noticed her on the top of the front bottom frame with an entourage of worker bees touching her with their antennae. It was a still warm day and 18.8 degrees C in the shade and perfect for mating flights so I spent a lot of time watching the colony that day.
At 2 pm, I was rewarded with the amazing sight of the queen returning from a successful mating flight no longer a virgin. She had white material protruding from her sting chamber and a couple of bees were following closely behind her. The queen kept bending her abdomen as if trying to get rid of the material herself. Then I see one bee with what looked like part of a drone’s endophallus in its mandibles. I watch it run towards the entrance and I race to the outside exit in the hopes of intercepting it so I could examine its load. The bee was too quick for me and it flew high up and away on leaving the outside of the bee shed.
An hour later at 3 pm there was great activity on the comb. Previous calm had completely gone with a riot of dancing, buzzing, and running bees and no queen to be seen. At 3:20 pm the queen returned with another mating sign showing and another bee flew out with it later. 16 minutes later at 3:36 the queen had gone again and there was more frenetic activity with bees furiously fanning the entrance. The ambient air temperature was up at 24.3 degrees C.
The bees on the back frame were mostly resting and hanging on the glass held on by the suction cup pads on their feet. One propolis-laden worker was advertising its find with a vigorous flurry of dancing. House bees were fanning on the frame to evaporate nectar and a few bees were grooming each other and pulling hairs with mandibles. At 6:30 pm, there was still no sign of the queen but she was probably resting up after an exhausting day of at least 3 mating flights.
I notice the first few eggs on 1st August 10 days after this new queen emerged. She is very busy egg laying on the 2nd when the Bache family visit from Somerset. Richard, Iris, Bryony (8) Helena (6) and Charlotte (4) are fascinated by the goings on in the hive.
The queen spends more time than I’d expected resting up and she is often to be found on top of sealed honey stores. I remember that egg laying is regulated by the size of the colony and number of nurse bees available to care for the brood so it makes sense that she doesn’t give them more work than they can cope with otherwise the brood will be underfed and chilled.
Queens can live longer if they are not laying maximum number of eggs (1500-2000) a day and why queens can be kept in nuclei without running out of sperm as fast as queens in full sized colonies tend to do. Some beekeepers keep good breeder queens for a bit longer in nuclei and use them long after they might have otherwise changed queens in a large productive colony.
Wasps started being a problem on 30th July and I watch one wasp being subdued by 15-20 bees that looked like they are trying to overheat it by surrounding and “balling” it. During this time, condensation was forming on the glass near the activity. Then the scrum spread out and a couple of bees were tugging the wasp’s antenna and hauling on its leg. It was a long battle lasting over an hour but eventually the wasp was removed forcibly to the front entrance and pushed out. Over a weeks or so, wasps were a regular sight inside the hive and the bees eventually took no notice of them so the wasps fed, left and returned. I set up a hanging wasp trap outside the shed near the entrance and put mesh over half the entrance so that there was still enough air getting in. I also fed the bees to reduce the stress and give some food security. Over the past week I’ve not seen any more wasps inside the hive though they are plenty around the other colonies in the apiary still. The observation hive population is building up well and foraging on Himalayan balsam by the River Nairn.
I’m relying on the recent brood breaks to keep varroa levels down, but I will trickle oxalic acid in November via a long feeding tube for lambs that I bought in a farm supply shop. The feeding tube is passed into a weak lamb’s stomach for feeding milk and a syringe fits on the end which makes delivery of oxalic acid to bees easy via the hole in the top of this hive.