Supersedure!

So this is my first entry here as an actual Blog post, rather than a copying in of an email post from the past.  And it’s a been over a week since my last post because of the weather – bees hate humidity as much as we do, and visiting already aggressive bees when the weather adds to their annoyance is not a good idea =O}

But on Wednesday evening, I finally returned to the FreeBees.  And they seemed very happy.  Much of the water I’d put in the feeder was still there, so I poured it away, and have taken the feeder home for cleaning.  The Super frames had bees on them, but no visible building had taken place, which was worrying, but this late in the season maybe shouldn’t be surprising.  They’re filling up the brood box for the winter now, rather than giving me something to harvest.

But I found the bees to be generally in good mood.  There were loads of them in there, pouring out as I lifted the frames.  I came without the girls, expecting them to be aggressive again, so no photos of the inside of the hive this time, but here’s a photo of the hive put back together afterwards, next to one of Simon’s with three supers on, as that colony has been very, very active this year.

My HiveOne of Simon's Hives

One thing my bees had been doing was gluing everything together with propolis in a big way in the last week and a half.  Simon tells me he’s not seen such orange propolis anywhere but this part of Hampshire – here’s a photo from one of his Supers just to give you an idea of the colour:

Super frames

My end board was completely covered in that stuff – it’s basically plant sap mixed up by the bees to really gum stuff together.  I had to cut the board free of the side of the box, and then work really hard to lever the board up and out of the box, so I could free up the frames.  And each frame was also well gummed in place, needing some serious levering work with the hive tool to free it from it’s neighbour before lifting it out.

And the frames were a happy sight.  I found uncapped, young larvae in cells in clumps in a number of frames, so we have a queen laying again.  I found a number of drone cells, some open now, some looking new.  But I’m pretty sure I saw not a single drone on the frames.  And I found one large cell, built out from the comb and drooping downwards, with a hole underneath.  This I think was the supersedure queen cell.

So it’s all detective work after the event, but what I think happened is this.  A few weeks ago I think my queen died, or at least stopped laying to the point the hive got very worried.  So they created a supersedure cell (I think this is the cell I thought was a “play” cell – a practice one they sometimes build anyway which I saw last week) and moved a larvae that had previously been laid elsewhere into it.  They then stuffed the cell with royal jelly and sealed her in.

I had drones last time, so sometime since last week, this queen hatched and went on a mating flight.  Simon tells me (having read my initial assumption here that my queen would have mated with her own drones) that she would instead have attracted drones from the other hives in the Apiary.  So maybe my drones mated with a queen from one of Simon’s hives?  Which would be why I have few if any left, and new ones have since been laid in the corner of one outside frame.  Anyway, the queen would then have returned to the hive and started laying again.  We’re coming towards the end of the laying season, so she may not lay many, and the brood box is very full.  But there’s little to no chance of a swarm now.  I think I now have a fresh queen to take my colony through the winter.  Again, with no work required from me.  I really am a lucky beekeeper. =O)

One last thing you can’t see from the picture of the outside of my hive is the dead wasp I found to the right of the entrance.  Why a wasp thought it could take on such a large colony to steal from I don’t know.  But it found out the hard way it couldn’t.  I brushed it away before I took that picture.

So, then I moved on to helping Simon.  He’d come to the apiary at the same time as me, in case I still had problem, so he could help figure out the cause.  Since all was well, he started on his own hives, and I went to see what was happening there.  And the main thing about his hives is the honey.  Oh so much honey.  That three super tower I showed earlier is the extreme case, but his older Poly hives are at two supers each too.  Not all the frames in them are full, but the last picture above shows frames completely loaded with honey – it’s going to be a good harvest.  And in fact they were so intent on storing as much as they could this year, that they build between the super frames in the top and lower super boxes, leaving this when he lifted the very heavy box off the top:

Inside a super

The bees immediately turned up to gather that honey and take it somewhere else.  But look at all that honey =O)  And something I didn’t notice until I pasted this picture in here – above the bee at the bottom, approaching the honey, is a wasp.  Nice picture of the two different insects next to each other, really.

You can also see down through the gap left by the frame Simon was looking at at this point to the Queen Excluder sheet between this super and the brood box below.  This has slots in that workers can get through, but the queen can’t, ensuring that food – honey – is stored up above it, but no brood is laid here, ensuring a clean harvest.  And you can see the white-capped honey cells in these frames.  Exactly wide enough to give the maximum honey storage while leaving room for two bees to pass back to back on different frames.

In summary then – the FreeBees have once again done all the work for me, saving me from effort and/or cost, and I’ll be returning with my daughters this weekend to check them out again.  We’ll need to start taking precautions for mites soon too – I’ll put the varroa board in underneath this weekend, so we can check it next week so see how many have fallen through the grating on the bottom onto it, to judge how much of a problem we have.  I don’t see any sign on the bees, but they’re tiny and hard to see, so this is a good way to be sure.  And in another month or so we’ll treat the hive with Apiguard, to sort out any problems we might have.  You can’t do this within 6 months of harvesting the honey, but I wont be getting a harvest this year anyway.

And with luck the girls and I will be helping Simon harvest all his this year – and what with his hives going up from 4 to 10, and those having multiple supers on, I hope he’ll be paying us in kind. =O)  What do you think, Simon?

2 thoughts to “Supersedure!”

  1. Hi Mark,
    One correction and a comment.
    The Queen from your hive will leave with a small retinue of workers on one or more mating flights looking specifically for drones from other hives. Your drones are there to mate with Queens from other hives.

    Yes I will be paying you in kind. I could not let you and your family go without, could I! On a horrible, dark winters morning, there is nothing like looking through a clear jar of honey to remind you of the long summer days to come…

  2. Thanks Simon – I’ve corrected the text for that bad assumption of mine =O} So, maybe our hives are cross-fertilizing? =O)

    And both girls are very interested in getting sticky round your place come harvest =O)

    Ta,
    Mark.

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