Queenless?

Brood Frame

Brood Frame June 2013

Thirteen days after having seen that lovely new queen on the beehive, we inspected the hive with high hopes of seeing eggs and larvae. The bees were tetchy, a lot of drones still around and still plenty of workers but sadly, no eggs or larvae and no sign of the queen.

How long before all is lost?

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A new Queen

Queen with whire dot on thorax

Queen with white dot on thorax

Just had the last session of an intermediate course in beekeeping this afternoon.  We marked drones and clipped their wings to get some practice for doing the same with queens.

My bees made it through the Winter – with the help of feeding. The queen was doing her stuff and by mid May the hive was looking quite healthy with quite a lot of brood, pollen and nectar. You can see the marked queen on the right.

However, when we inspected the hive at the beginning of June there were loads of drone cells and quite a few drones. On 3rd June we found three queen cells and no sign of the queen. Closed the hive and waited!
On the 14th and 15th June I heard a new queen ‘piping’ and managed to record it on my phone.

New queen bee on hive roof

New queen bee sitting on the hive roof.

This strange sound alerts workers and any other queens not yet emerged that there is a new queen in the hive. On 17th June I was lucky enough to spot the new queen sitting on top of the hive. She was easy to spot with her spidery legs, slender waist and long abdomen. She did a couple of short flights around the hive and returned to the same spot. The other bees showed no interest in her.

I’m hoping that she has now mated successfully but I’ll leave the hive undisturbed for a while and check for eggs in a week or so.

Workers and drone

Workers and drone

There have been a lot of drones hanging around the hive and the workers have been behaving oddly – sitting about in small groups. You can see a small group of workers here and a single, much larger drone on the left.

I’m hoping that the new queen has seen off the competition and that the bees won’t swarm.

Will keep you posted!

Marking the queen

Finding the queen

Finding the queen

John the bees came a few weeks ago to check on progress and mark the queen for me. When we opened the hive we found the bees were doing very nicely. Lots of healthy brood (eggs and larvae), lots of stores of honey and pollen.

We needed to find and mark the queen. Marking the queen makes it easier to see her when you are checking the hive in spring and summer to make sure she is present and laying and to distinguish her from any new queen that may have appeared. Five different colours are used to show the age of the queen (important if you have several hives)

marking the queen bee

Marking the queen bee

year ending in 5 or 0 – blue
year ending in 1 0r 6 – white
year ending in 2 or 7 – yellow
year ending in 3 or 8 – red
year ending in 4 or 9 – green

John marked the queen and clipped her wings. If they swarm next year, the queen won’t get very far and the bees stay with her. They’ll be easy to find – just under the hive – so easy to collect.

Apiguard treatment

Now is the time to start treating the hive against Varroa mite. This mite has been causing havoc. in bee colonies.  It carries a number of viruses and our bees have little resistance to it. So, it’s out with the chemical weapons, more specifically, thymol. A tray of thymol in a gel is placed in the hive for 4 weeks to kill the mites. We did this and closed up the hive.

Lively bees

Brood frame

Brood Frame

I inspected the hive again yesterday. The bees seemed very agitated and made a great fuss. They run around quite a bit and a big clump fell onto the ground while I was holding a frame. When I checked my gloves later I found  7 or 8 stings. Don’t know why they were so annoyed. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe my gloves had been stung last time and I hadn’t noticed. I’ve washed the gloves now and I’m thinking about buying nitrile gloves to use instead of leather.

So, what progress? Well, the bees have now drawn out some foundation on all but 2 of the 11 frames. I saw honey and brood in 2 of the new frames so that’s progress.  I saw a bee about to emerge – it would be great to be able to observe them for longer but I’m always anxious to get them back in the box so they can go about their business of making enough bees to get safely through the winter ahead.

The photo is not the best, but you can see capped brood in the lower left and empty brood cells where bees have emerged. In the top right is an area of lighter coloured capped honey cells.

I’ve inspected the hive 3 times now and have yet to see the queen. I suppose that isn’t too unusual for a beginner.

There are some great videos on Youtube (as well as some rubbish) and I particularly like this one of a very calm beekeeper and his docile bees. Wish mine were as placid. It’s worth watching all the way through to see the way he handles the queen and marks her with a number. No gloves and no stings.

What are they doing in there?

The bees have been with us a week now. They have got through 2kg of sugar so they must be busy in there. I’ve been watching their comings and goings, seen young bees on ‘play flights’ circling the hive as they learn about their surroundings. In the last few days I’ve noticed them bringing in a lot of cream coloured pollen from somewhere – think it’s probably elder flowers as there’s a lt of it in the hedgerows. Most people think of pollen as yellow but it can a whole range of colours including red and blue – see the colour chart on the Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association site for more information. Today however it  was time to open the hive and take a closer look. I got the smoker going using some straw and paper and donned the bee suit. Quite excited to find out what has been going on in the hive.

We took each frame out to have a close look. The bees have started to draw out wax foundation in the two new frames nearest to the 5 original frames we put in the hive a week ago. You can see the workers on the new cells in the photo below.

I didn’t manage to spot the queen (she isn’t marked) but we know she has been busy as we saw larvae at different stages. I was a bit anxious to get the bees back in their box, especially as the smoker kept going out, so didn’t spend too long inspecting each frame. Enough for a first inspection – I’ll have a bit of practice with the smoker before the next one.

Bees drawing out foundation

Bees on new frame drawing out the foundation