Spring is now well underway and I have a bunch of queencells and virgin queens on the go. We now need some decent (warm) weather.
Once queens emerge from their queencells, they need 5 or 6 days to mature before they are ready to mate. They mate on the wing with multiple drones so they have a wide genetic mix of offspring. Mating only occurs when the weather is warm enough – say around 18 degrees or warmer which is something we don’t see much of early in the year. Once mated the sperm has to migrate to the spermatheca (a holding vessel) which takes a couple of days or so. the spermatheca can store and nourish enough sperm for several years. It is only after that will the queen start to lay. In a mini-nuc she will lay after 2 or 3 days. In a larger colony it takes longer. My guess is that it takes more time for her pheromone to spread around a large colony before she is fed and prepared for a life of egg-laying.
Queens mate in drone congregation areas. I have no idea where they might be near my apiaries, however the bees seem to find them and apparently they can be found in the same location year after year.
I have, on occasions, had to discard queens that have failed to mate as after around 4 weeks she is unable to mate and will eventually become a drone-layer. Let’s hope Mother Nature is kind and we see some warm weather soon.
It’s something I’ve done before and will probably do it again which is leaving too much room in a hive. If you do this, pound to a penny, bees will draw comb where you don’t want it. This is an example of a colony which overwintered with one frame missing. This Spring the colony decided that they didn’t like the idea so filled in the space – as you can see.
Fortunately there was no harm done on this occasion. Other times there can be a right mess!
Spring is definitely on the way and it’s good to see well-fed larvae in the colonies. They are nice and moist indicating that there’s plenty of food coming in.
Pollen of various colours and liquid stores in the hives too. Happy Days!
The weather has been keeping bees inside recently, which is a shame as there is plenty of forage out now with the early prunus species flowering already.
It’s been so windy, one hive had tumbled over as a result. LUCKILY it was strapped together and you can see bees peeking through the mesh in the hive floor. So hopefully no harm done and they are all OK inside now they are the right way up. With cold winter nights, the chance of them surviving if the hive had not been held together would have been slight.
You might notice, this is a 5 frame nuc with a super above to give additional food AND a feeder above that which was left on in October.. There is no queen excluder between the super and the brood frames so the bees can move freely between the two boxes.
My bees have been left to their own devices for 5 months or so and with a warm end of February when bees were flying well, most colonies were inspected and all were good – except one which should have had a late model 2018 queen and it turned out that she wasn’t there. How do I know? The reason is quite simply that I had clipped and marked her previously and she was fine in September. Come my inspection this year, the colony didn’t have as many bees as I would have expected which was clue one that I might find a problem. Then the third frame came out (from an 8 frame nuc) and there were no eggs or larvae but I would have expected there to be some. The next frame had brood but only drones – the usual signs of there being just drone eggs is that they are raised above the usual height and a bit patchy, the reason for this being that there is not enough room for all comb to be laid up as larger drones so the bees pull a few out making gaps. No worker brood in sight. At this point I could have still had laying workers in the hive rather than a DLQ, however it is common to see multiple eggs in cells with laying workers. The next frame confirmed it. There was just one open queencell – and more drone brood. So a late supercedure occurred and the young queen was not able to mate – it being too cold for her to do so. After a queen has been around for a few weeks her ability to mate and lay fertillised worker eggs stops and drone eggs are, sadly, the result. The colony is not viable after that without intervention.
Picture: Drone brood
Now to intervene. Now to find her. Without too many bees, after a couple of minutes, I saw a nice sized queen with no markings and no clipped wing. So it definitely was not the queen I saw 5 months previously. Something I HATE doing is killing a queen but it has to be done sometimes. With a little nip she was gone.
With the winter being so mild, I had a couple of mini-nucs that had got through thus far.
Picture: Small frame from a mini-nuc.
An ideal place to house a queen that would have otherwise not even entered into 2019. Small nucs don’t always survive winter but they did this year. The queen was quickly found, caged and placed between the two (drone) brood frames of the now, queenless hive. A hive that has had a DLQ and is now queenless is pretty desperate for a new queen so my thoughts were that the chances of refusal were slight. I was correct, as it turned out; a week or so later she was walking on a frame and there were her eggs in the hive. Result! The colony is small but viable now. The mini-nuc will be shaken out in front of another hive sometime soon. So the bees won’t go to waste and will strengthen another colony.
The warm weather that is!
It’s been a summer of dry weather, good forage and good matings which make a change from worrying about whether queens will be able get up and mate.
Now the honey is just about off, it is still being extracted and varroa treatment is on – well most hives anyway. We still have a few queens that need to mate – should be time – and we can get colonies ready for winter.
Compared to last year there is less sign of varroa – both in drone brood and in signs of deformed wings. I suspect that the ‘Beast from the East’ and a poor March resulted in a brood break that allowed the bees to rid themselves of varroa more than they would usually do. However it’s better to treat rather than leave varroa to multiply over the winter period.
We are continuing to receive calls and emails from beekeepers who are either starting out or re-stocking after a difficult winter for bees. Some earlier queens of mine have mated and are now laying and I have a bunch that just missed the warm weather and are waiting to fly for their nuptuals.
The problem of being near the coast – and I say it (complain of it) every year – is that it is often several degrees warmer inland. I see the weather forecast and it’s 22 degrees 10 miles away and 16 degrees at my coastal apiaries as a result of a cool wind from the sea. I have had to discard queens in the past as they became past their “mate-by” date. If we don’t see some good weather soon I may have to do it again 😦
However I have sealed queencells that are a few days of distributing out to nucs and mini-nucs so more are coming along.
And a reminder of the colour coding for marking queens which runs in a 5 year cycle. This year it’s red as shown by the 2013 queen.
As a beekeeper, can you ever get too much honey? Many would say not, but I have to admit that I have been caught out by the amount of nectar coming into the hives this year. Oil Seed Rape (or Canola in some parts) is flowering in several fields nearby so there are potentially a few hundred acres of it. I have never had it so close. For the honey-gathering colonies I know I am going to have to deal with the OSR honey pronto as the high glucose content granulates very quickly in the frames – it has to be removed very rapidly or it won’t come out by extraction. And I also know that I don’t really have the time as I have a lot of other duties at the moment.
The other part of having OSR is that nucs I have prepared to sell (late this year due to the poor winter/spring weather we had a while back) have filled up far quicker than expected. This has caused congestion although I suppose that I don’t need to feed nucs to help them draw comb which is a bonus. I generally use BS National deep frames 8.5 inches however I will move bees onto 14×12’s, Commercial or Langstroths on occasions. I do this by doing what in essence is a Bailey Comb Exchange. The colony has to be strong enough first; I put the queen upstairs with the new frames on an existing brood frame for a week with queen excluder in place to stop he moving down. After a week or so there is usually drawn comb and eggs in the top box so the old and ‘wrong-sized’ brood frame is taken away. The queen can then continue laying and the bees will draw comb. I usually give a top entrance at this time too. It’s nice to see all that newly-drawn light-coloured comb; and before a colony goes, I like to wait until the first brood has just started to emerge so I know that the colony will expand as soon as it goes into a full-sized hive. Unfortunatley the colonies have filled up the boxes with stores far too early so I have had to resort to removing frames of stores or putting nuc-sized supers on top to draw off the excess honey. I suppose it’s a nice problem to have!
Changes and disaster can come from a most unexpected quarter.
Consider a number of hives at the edge of a field and the bees are doing their stuff, unaware that a farmer is also doing what he does too. Suddenly the hives are catapulted in the air (possibly) and /or knocked over. What seems to have happened is that the plough caught a fence-wire and drove off. The wire must have gotten taught as the tractor moved away and then the posts snapped off which must have hit 5 of the first 6 hives as you can see. Even the end-post with diagonal supports in the ground snapped like a match-stick.
As a result of all this, the end hive super is now upside down in front of where it should be and the brood box is upside down with frames askew and a house-brick on the frames and behind hive 4! Others are up-ended or knocked over. The wire fence is diagonally across the field and the end beehive from the other end of the line of hives can be seen in the background.
And the tractor drive said “I think I knocked over one beehive – I don’t quite know what happened” As a result 4 of the colonies are OK. The end hive – a little miffed whilst I put it back together – is now queenless. I suppose it could have been worse!
For those who study such things, there is a mixture of hives on show. Nationals, a couple of 8 frame boxes, one upside down – and a couple of nucs.
Much has been written about the ‘Beast from the East’ – the weather was poor for a couple of spells and this has had an effect on colonies. I have spoken to a number of beekeepers who have lost colonies so I now have a waiting list for this years nucs. A decent colony should get through winter OK even if the weather has been pretty damn cold although I was a little too complacent last autumn and should have combined a couple of small colonies with others. As it is, a couple of 3 year old queens failed to get their colonies through and a small nucleus colony failed too – it was marked as ‘weak’ in October so there was no surprise and it would have been OK with a mild winter. It should have been combined with a colony headed up by an old queen. One nuc had just one small frame of brood in it when I checked a couple of weeks ago – so hardly enough to get through another cold ‘beast’ but it is viable which is the main thing. One good thing was that my 3 year old breeder queen which has produced some excellent daughter queens is still good.
Two aspects I noticed a couple of weeks ago – when the weather was really too cool to inspect (!) was that a) the colonies were smaller than I would expect for the second half of March and b) there was almost no pollen in the hives. With plants now flowering and some warmer weather for some days, that should be rectified soon enough. Pollen is the protein source for bees and without it, there will be no brooding.
Many thanks for the enquiries we have received concerning nucs for spring delivery. We generally have little winter mortality but you can never be sure so the early enquirers are sure to obtain a colony – the later ones go on a list on a first come first served basis. Any orders that cannot be fulfilled can perhaps be supplied by new 2018 queens later in the year. (We do not import queens!)..
As I write the weather is -3C and it’s windy with snow drifting. We all hope that colonies will be snug in their hives and will survive for the few days until the “Beast from the East” leaves us.
Now is the danger time for colonies because:-
a) It’s cold
b) Colonies are possibly at their smallest now before spring build-up.
c) There’s a risk of starvation towards the end of winter.
Snowdrops and crocus are out but at the moment bees are unable to fly and get the fresh pollen they need for good brood-rearing. Here’s hoping for a swift return to more usual weather!