Time to clean out the hive, and add a queen excluder. It's now 17 degrees C and so it's safe to open up. Any colder and it would risk chilling the brood and killing them - which would set the colony back a few weeks.
My friend Julie helped me today. She is on the right, wearing the decorating overalls and my spare veil. It's the first time she's handled bees and she did really well - totally fearless!
There's good news and feared results of my inexperience. The good news is that the colony is in fine fettle. Really strong, with plenty of stores. The 2.5Kg bag of Apifonda (see previous posts) has been totally devoured. There is a lot of pollen being stored, and plenty of uncapped and capped brood.
The bad news is that there was a lot of brace comb. Natural comb that they had made because I left a gap in the hive - as a result of last September's Ivy Emergency (see previous entry). I had to put on a new box (a super) to accommodate the ivy honey flow and ivy pollen they were bringing in. But I had only a few spare frames - not enough to fill the box.
I was afraid that they would make this natural comb - but I hoped that I was early enough in the year to forestall it. But the weather has bee fine and sunny, and the results are in the photo. The roof has several well-developed combs attached.
I broke them off the roof, and in doing so, I spotted the queen for the first time. Or rather, Julie did. I have bought a marker pen (Red for 2008 - she's last year's queen). But I was too anxious about getting her back into the hive, that I didn't mark her. So that's an opportunity missed.
I broke up the comb and left it close by for the bees to take back any honey they had stored.
The last photo shows a couple of workers cleaning up the comb.
So my hive is now in good shape. It has a queen excluder, with the queen definitely below it!
It has a new polycarbonate roof, so that I can see what's going on without opening it.
And the queen is laying.
And so roll on the honey!
And as a nice bonus, we ate some of the honey comb with a cup of tea! Lovely. Very flowery - Daffs and Primroses, I guess. There are no trees flowering yet.
As part of the spring-clean, I bought a new brood box and super. So I can now return the boxes I borrowed from my friends Debbie and Mary, who have helped me so much with the bees. I bought new stuff from Maisemore. Delightful people. And they keep the most handsome chickens - running around in the road and car park (yes, it's pretty rural!). So I got some eggs too! Highly recommended.