It is with great sadness that I must inform you that we lost a Hive in the Apiary in the last few weeks. Above you can see Emily and Simon standing over the base, covered with dead bees, as another bee does a respectful fly-past. There really weren’t that many bees still in the hive, but there was a big bag of candy still on top, and the brood box was heavy with stores, so it’s hard to be sure what happened. We can only guess that the queen died over the winter and so no new brood were laid. There was a small batch of capped brood in one frame, but it was all dead. No sign of attack, no sign of disease, just gone. Many of the bees must have died elsewhere. Very sad.
It was the first dead hive Emily and I had seen. The other hives we checked, but for one, were all healthy. Geoff had done his side already, as the brood boxes were at the bottom and the woodpecker protection cages were all off to one side, like mine. We were just working our way through SImon’s side, and my two, to check them all properly.
And Hive 9 was alive, but showed the early signs of Chalk Brood. The frames in here were a few years old, and Simon was planning to shake the bees off onto fresh foundation this Spring anyway, but it looks like they were left too long. Initially, the hive looked healthy – we opened up the lid and found they’d cleaned out the big bag of candy Simon had given them, and started building comb to fill in the spaces – what you see inside the plastic bag on the left is new comb, as shown on the right:
But once we started working through inspecting the frames, we found white, dried out cells in one of the frames, and the bottom of the hive, once we lifted the Brood Box off, looked like this:
Those lumps of white among the dead tell the story. We’re going to have to shake these bees into fresh foundation so they can start afresh soon, before we lose another colony. It’s in its early stages, we’ve caught it in time, but still sad.
The rest of the Hives were doing very well. My main FreeBees hive is exceptionally strong, loads of stores, loads of brood, and as yet no signs of them wanting to swarm. Drones, but not queen cells with anything in them. I knocked down a practice cell just to stop them getting ideas, though.
My second hive, with last year’s swarm in, seem to have other ideas, though. There were far more drones, Emily had to knock down two occupied Queen Cells, and there was no sign of any laying for the last 4 days or so. One of the Queen Cells had a small larvae in it, no more than 4-5 days old, so she was still laying after I worked on the hives last week. And we didn’t find the Queens in either Hive, so that was good to know. But they seem to be preparing to fly, so I’m going to have to take some counter-measures next weekend.
Simon suggested buying some new Hive parts, so we could try out on of the new techniques we’ve been reading about, but Modern Beekeeping are currently out of Jumbo Brood boxes, which is all I have frames for, so that’s out. I do have the swarm prevention entrance thing I bought last year, mostly to act as a spacer for when I fed them, though, so I’m going to try that. Basically, you close up the entrance below the Brood Box, and this thing lets you create a new entrance above the Queen Excluder instead. So the workers can get in and out, but the queen can’t leave. This hive is just too weak to split, I believe, so I think this may be the best bet.
Interestingly, and also pointing to this hive preparing to swarm, the bees that left the hive while we worked it all gathered in a big mass on one of the fence posts around the hives. Whenever Simon or Geoff have had to kill a queen, they’ve made a point of doing so against this one post, to leave queen pheromones on it. Whenever we’ve had a swarm in this Apiary, except for the one that built itself under my main hive and became the colony in my second, have gone way up into one of the orchard trees, and thus have been near impossible to get to. It’s good to see that Geoff and Simon’s little trick is working, and that hopefully any swarms we do get will be available at head height for easy capture. It’s just a concern that my bees were already ready to gather there…
So, next week we look at swarm prevention, and once again try to find my queens. While Simon works on cleaning and replacing Hive 10. Maybe any swarm we get can be re-homed there.