Search This Blog

Sunday, 26 April 2009

How hard can it be?

You'd think that it would be easy to spot a queen bee. It's not. See the photo below. It's just one part of one side of one frame - and there are 11 frames in the brood box.

The bee in the box is a drone. A fat boy. Wider than the rest. These are the males - with just 16 chromosomes (vs the workers 32).

He's just there "to keep the ladies happy" (quoting a book).

He just eats until he decides to go and fly at mating time. If he's lucky (sic) enough to mate with a queen, his reproductive organs explode during the process, and he dies. Sometimes the queen can be seen returning to the hive, having been mated, with the important bits of drones hanging out, so to speak.

If he doesn't get to mate, he gets shoved out of the hive in the Autumn, to die. He's a useless mouth to feed, so he gets the boot.

Tough life. I feel his pain. :-)

Queen found and marked - hoorah!

Since my last disastrous attempt to find and mark the queen, I have bought a new gadget. It's a queen marking cage, which has spikes around the rim (see photo) that are set narrow enough to confine the queen, but wide enough to allow workers to escape. The top is a grid of fine wires that enable a marker pen or the placement of a marker dot to be glued on the thorax of the queen.

The result can be seen in the other photo. A fluorescent queen. Not too neat - but effective.

Photos are by my son Joe, who is doing A Level Photography. Nice photos, Joe!

I also managed to get her wings to poke through the grid - and I clipped them. None too neatly, again. But she won't fly again! Why do this? The colony is getting ready to swarm. The queen is at least two seasons old - arriving with me last July. But she could have swarmed from another colony before that - so she could be three years old. Anyway, I have marked her red for 08. This year's colour is green.

The other sign that the colony is ready to swarm is that there are about five queen cells in the making - the most prominent one on Frame 6 (that's a note for me :-).

So my next operation will be to split the colony. The old queen will into a nucleus hive, which I have made. I'm too embarrassed by the quality of the woodworking skills to blog a photo. She'll be accompanied by some sealed brood and some stored honey. That colony is destined for my friend D's hive (see previous blog).

That will happen next weekend - weather permitting.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Setting up a new hive

I have bought a second-hand WBC hive from eBay. Nice chap in Wellington, Somerset. It's a bit (wax)moth-eaten, but perfectly serviceable. And being made of cedar, it's light.

I have set it up in a small paddock next to my friends D&D house - and it look splendid against the blackthorn blossom.

It's facing east - so it'll get the morning sun. and get the bees out and about. So - lesson learned (at last) from the hive in my garden, which is under a north-facing wall, and doesn't get a lot of sun.

I have added a vial of swarm-lure. This is an artificial pheromone that will lure any swarm that is within sniffing distance (say, about half a mile). The makers claim that 50-80% of hives set up in this way will attract a swarm (provided the swarms are there at all).

It's a cheaper way of getting bees than paying £150 for a nucleus colony. Although, of course, you get what you get. And that might be a diseased colony with all sorts of maladies. It's a risk I'm prepared to take - because there are no other colonies on this site that would be infected.

The site is protected by these ferocious guard-sheep.

On second thoughts, any herd of animals that are known by their first names cannot be that fierce.

(Photos by Tom Summers, Guardian Competition-Winning Photographer.)

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Wordle - nothing to do with bees

Wordle: Trebetherick

This is a rather nice Java app. It takes text you enter and turns it into a picture.


Saturday, 4 April 2009

Spring Clean

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.