The past month has been the usual round of weekly inspection of the hive in the garden and at Kenwood. So far it has been fairly un-eventful and routine ..................
My hive (No 3) was building up well and one Sunday the decision was taken, in my absence, to add a super to give the bees more space and reduce the risk of the colony swarming because it felt too cramped. This was a good idea but unfortunately they added a super with metal spacers so that the frames were further apart than the 'bee space' width identified by Rev Langstroth and essential to maintain in the brood area.
When I inspected it the following Thursday I had a fit and then set about replacing the super with a standard brood box but of course the queen had been up in the super and laid eggs among the honey frames. Also the wrong frame spacing had resulted in wondrous wax creations and frames 'glued' to each other so when I lifted the box off it was a bit of a disaster. Not to worry, with the help of my able team we carefully re-built the hive in the proper manner leaving the honey super with the larvae above the queen excluder so that the nurse bees could care for the brood until it hatched but her majesty could not lay more eggs in the honey frames. Once those bees have flown those cells can revert to nectar storage.
However, the colony was now huge and I was forever removing queen cells. It felt like Russian Roulette because to miss a queen cell would probably result in a swarm. Also, the brood pattern was a bit lumpy with some cells missed suggesting that the queen who emerged late last year may not have been properly mated and is thus running out of sperm. I definitely needed to split the colony and probably introduce new queens too. However, on the day we got the new queen we could not find the existing one. Over and again we went through those frames in both brood boxes. None of us could find her so we split the colony by moving the original hive to one side and then putting a new brood box onto the original site and putting back a few frames of brood from which we had removed all bees. The flying bees would return and care for the brood. The new queen was in a little queen cage with her attendants and a block of sugar fondant. We carefully placed the cage between two brood frames and then closed up the hive which was getting a bit lively by then!
I am delighted to say that when I inspected the hive the next week the new queen had emerged and had been accepted by the 'locals'. Hopefully this week there will be signs of her laying. The other half of the colony also looked fine and I saw eggs so the shy queen is definitely there but not obvious.
Above are some images of the evolution of my bee garden. Hackney Council wrote to me and admitted that their contractor had sprayed herbicide down my street and that the product used was 'Round-up' which is listed by the World Health Organisation as carcinogenic. They also informed me that the key ingredient, glysophate does not kill bees, it only dis-orientates them ......... you can imagine my response to that!
My husband finally got stung - a bee crawled up his sleeve when he was a distance from the hive. However, this turned out well as he has now agreed to wear a bee-suit and as a result can help me lift off the heavy supers full of honey.
Having worried for weeks that my colony would produce queen cells and swarm I am now worried that they will not produce a queen cell and so I cannot split them as planned! A friend told me about a colony for sale for £200 but I know that if I buy this my lot will instantly produce queen cells and then I will end up with more bees than my neighbours would tolerate. However I am considering buying a new queen who can be put in the new hive along with half the existing bees. My original queen is now in her second season and the end of her productive life so the colony may decide to 'supercede' her by producing a new queen at the end of the season anyway. A new queen is about £55 so not too expensive as long as she survives the journey and is accepted by her new family.
I was not too happy with the varroa drop which was in double figures. I did the horrible 'drone cull' last week cutting out drone cells which attract varroa. When I dissected 50 cells I found 10 larvae with a mite on them. Then today I found a bee with deformed wing virus which is spread by varroa so I will have to treat the colony at the next inspection. Having decided to treat with formic acid I bet I find a queen cell!
Whatever happens at the next inspection I am going to remove and store 2 supers full of honey. The hive looks like a tower block, moving the supers is heavy work and one of our study circle says that if the colony thinks it has loads of stores it will slack off making more!