The garden hive has built up well and I am poised to split it into two colonies. To this end I have done a lot of reading about the different methods of creating an artificial swarm and as soon as I have a good queen cell I will do it. In order to be ready for any eventuality I have set up the new hive as a 'bait hive' ie it is higher than the other one, is facing south and is in the shade and I have reduced the entrance to the width of a match box. I also have my 'swarm kit' including water spray and white sheet ready in a cardboard box next to my standard hive inspection kit. Many thanks to my friend Connie for lending me Thomas Seeley's research on the way that honeybee scouts select the 'perfect' new home. I look at the hive entrance every day and try and gauge whether they are 'thinking' of swarming e.g. build up of bees at the entrance, change of buzz tone. I am now doing an internal hive inspection every six days which includes a careful check fro queen cells hidden down the sides or at the base of the frame. I have been shaking the bees off each frame to minimise the chances of them hiding a cell from me. This of course agitates the girls more than I would like. I see the queen every other inspection. Today I did not see her but there were eggs so I am not too concerned and certainly the hive was rammed with bees and so she has not absconded yet.
One of the things I have noted when on entrance watch is that drones are being chased away from the entrance by the guard bees and on a couple of occasions have been bundled to the ground. On inspection these drones were perfect ie no sign of varroa mites or deformed wing virus but were drowsy and died. Although there is a huge amount of nectar stored (3 supers) I wonder if the colony has decided that they do not want extra non-productive mouths to feed in this poor weather?
Although all is fine to date I have become obsessed with the fear of losing half my colony in a swarm and annoying the neighbours in the process. I am also worried about disease and every odd looking pattern of laying or funny coloured cell gets me prodding around with my tweezers usually to find a weird coloured pollen or poor bee that was cutting its way out. I also thought that the hive smelled odd but was slightly reassured by an article that said the smell is 'pleasant to beekeepers' but that others would find it somewhat unsettling. A bit feral, perhaps or gamey' . Also the hives smelled like this at Kenwood so it may be seasonal. Either that, or we are incubating a dread disease.
The Thursday people are working busily on the hives and this week we set up the observation hive ready for taking to fetes and events. We have found quite a few queen cells but we do not seem to have lost a swarm yet. I am being assisted each week by two very capable and thoughtful new beekeepers which makes Thursdays a joy.
Other Bee Related Activities
I have been meeting regularly with four other beekeepers to prepare for the British Beekeepers Association 'Basic Assessment' examination. It seems a bit more than a basic level but is of course very useful information which one should have inwardly digested and be able to use in practical day to day hive management.
I have had a serious setback with my new front garden bee border. Hackney Council sprayed herbicide along the pavements and managed to kill off many of my new plants which had been doing rather well. I usually grow plants from seed, or cuttings so it is an extra annoyance that on the occasion I bought plants from an award winning nursery they have been killed or badly damaged. Of the plants that survived I cut off the yellowed and dead stems and can only hope that this stopped the herbicide getting to the roots. I am feeding them with a foliar feed and have bought and planted replacement plants. I am yet to receive a response from the Council to my letter with photographs attached. I am not including here as it is all too depressing to see the death and destruction.
I am delighted that my husband is taking a great interest in the bees this season and is supporting me by taking photographs during my hive inspections. This means that I can include them in my blog.
Finally, I have become interested in finding out more about where my bees forage by analysing the pollen that they bring in. I am therefore considering getting a microscope. Given my obsession with disease I probably need to get a dissecting microscope as well. I will report on progress next time. Meanwhile here are some positive images of my bee border and bumble bees in the back garden.