A Growing Hive

This last Sunday evening we went back to the hive, to see how they were doing. And remembering that we only put the new Super on top last week, they’re doing really well. Simon and Geoff gave them a look over for us during the week, as they were working in the Apiary anyway, and we’d expressed some concern about all the practice queen cells we’d found, or what we thought were. And also that we’d not found the queen, and so our Queen Excluder was between the two Supers, so we could try to be sure she was below it.

They told me later that it all looked healthy, they didn’t think we were a swarm risk, now my second Super was on, and that they’d shaken all the bees off the frames in the bottom Super into the brood box, so they’d lowered the Queen Excluder to be on top of that. The only problem with that was that there were still some Drone cells in the bottom Super. They wouldn’t be able to get past the Excluder either, so they’d be trapped in the Supers until we freed them. And some of them were still in their cells when we looked this weekend, so we’ll be checking for that for a while yet.

Now, the first photo is of a new frame in the new Super, on top of the hive. So what you’re seeing here is a week’s work, building and storing. You can see they’ve started on the other frame beneath too, and what the base sheet looks like to the top right of the shot. They’d also started to built in the gap between the frames, and us lifting the frame out had broken that – the clump of bees under the frame is them catching the honey for storing elsewhere, before it’s lost. Having smoked them, they were grabbing honey to leave with if it turned out to be a real fire, too. And some of that honey dripped in a pool on top of the frames of the lower Super, so the second photo is them gathering around the resulting puddle, collecting it up:

New frame with broken comb beneathSupping up spily honey

The orange stuff is propolis, the glue they make of tree sap to gum everything together.

Working our way down, we looked at a few of the frames, just to see what was left there. Some of the brood had hatched, but there were still some drone cells capped, so we’ll see them again next week. Other cells had been cleaned and there was a lot of honey and pollen stored throughout. No photos, as it didn’t look much different from last year’s ones.

And then we started looking through the brood box. The top corner of my end board had snapped off when we tried to lever it out last week, a it had been well and truly propolised into place over the winter, and ungluing it from the side of a polystyrene box without damaging that is quite hard. While I work on building a replacement that’s tougher on the top bar, they’ve been busy extending the depth of the comb on either side to take up the space, so it’s going to be hard to fit it back in. We had this problem before though, and reducing the bee space just makes then cut back the wax until they have room for two bees to pass again, so I’ll have a go at getting that back under control soon.

Now, towards the end of last year, our queen died (or as Emily will have it, I must have killed her), and the colony went and created themselves a new queen. I’ve never seen either queen before, although Emily has seen our new one, once. One of the difficulties of catching a free swarm is never really knowing where she is. I put in a photo back then of the queen cell they built to grow her, and here it is again, as they’re filling in around it – centre right. They really don’t think they’ll be using it again soon =O)

A Brood frame

You can see a lot of capped brood here too, plus if you look carefully, some curved larvae of different sizes. So the queen has been laying here recently. There are a few drone cells here, too. And we found some eggs in a few other frames, so we knew she’d been on them very recently. And then we saw her. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the camera out then, nor did I even have the pen I bought at the BBKA Spring Convention to mark her with on me. But she was there, smaller than I expected, but it was definitely her. I’ll try to mark and take a picture of her next time.

There was also still a lot of food and pollen in the Brood box, around the edges. And our bees do look darker to us than the average European honey bee. Since we’re now pretty sure the swarm that moved into our hive was feral, we’re thinking they’re also part British bee, and thus the darker colour. If that’s the case, we’d really like to keep them that way, rather than put in a different queen to try to get calmer, less aggressive bees. They do tend to anger more than the others in the apiary, but so far that hasn’t really been an issue.

Our Nuke box, which we left by the hive last week, had attracted no attention at all. But our garden is really seeing a lot of dark honey bees, very like the ones who moved into the hive last year, so we’ve moved the nuke back to the house, in the hope we’ll catch another swarm from them later. And from the occasional look, it’s already got their attention. Around 10 bees are in it each time we look. Whether these are foraging and smell the honey in the wax foundation sheets, or scouts for a swarm, we don’t yet know. But if it’s a swarm, I’ll have to buy our second hive. =O)

And finally, thoughts and mistakes towards an early harvest. They’re going so mad with all this pollen already, I’m wondering if we couldn’t take some early honey, and give them the frames back to fill again before the proper harvest at the end of Autumn. We’ve got plenty of candy and can make up sugar water again to replace it should they have a shortage by then. And so we bought buckets and taps and the like at the Spring Convention on Saturday. And I thought I could save some money by buying the honey tap and bucket separately and fitting it myself. Which I still might, but I’ve wasted one bucket already. =O( In a bid to get it as close to the bottom as possible, I cut the hole too close to the base, without taking the diameter of the plastic nut that holds it in place into account. And that pushed against the bottom, flexing the hole under the tap so that it leaks there =O( One £3 bucket useless. I’ve ordered more buckets off eBay – it seems bait buckets are made of the same food-grade polymer, and sets can be bought cheaply. Another go at fitting my tap, and I’ll have some other sizes for storing wax and other stuff as well =O)

Next week, we built a new end board that will survive being pried up at a corner, and try to fit it. We find and free any drones in the Supers, and we try to find and mark – and photograph – our queen. I’ll post again once that’s done.

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