Long reign Queen Freddie!

It has been a bit of an anxious time of late being a brand new beekeeper. In the last two visits to the Beehaus I hadn't spotted Queen Freddie and also on the last inspection there was all those strange goings on that befuddled my mentor Nicky and made me feel really quite anxious for my bees. Ironically, my love of bees was initially all about the glorious honey they produced but now I couldn’t care less if my little colony didn't produce any honey at all in its first year, as long as they are healthy and happy.

After our last inspection, Nicky suggested I call Mike Townsend, a very experienced beekeeper at my local branch - Warwick & Leamington Beekeepers . Having emailed him photos and then chatting to him over the phone, he thought it could be sac brood or in the worst case, European Foul Brood. Oh no! He suggested I leave my bees alone for a week and a half as sac brood is caused from stress, which could be down to the rubbish weather we've had or the fact that the hive has been opened a lot (which is it hasn't really). He said if I wanted to, he could come with on my next inspection. He is such a lovely man but then I've only ever met lovely beekeepers who are only to happy to help.

So, we (Nicky, Mike and I) rendezvoused at the Beehaus late saturday afternoon. I felt really nervous but I knew I was in experienced hands. So, with the smoker lit, bee suits on and hive tools at the ready, we were going in....

And we're in
Mike holding up a frame to inspect it
And it wasn't as bad as I thought at all. Mike seemed pretty pleased as he carefully looked at each frame and although he spotted a lot of drones, that is normal for this time of year. And then....he spotted Freddie. Yay! Queen bees are very elusive but being an experienced beekeeper, Mike has a beady eye for spotting Queens. Although, John Home, who I bought the nucleus from, had marked her white the mark was very light so Mike suggested we re-mark her. He only had a yellow pen (bee geeks will know that each year the Queen is marked in a different colour so you know how old she is). Yellow is this year's colour but white was last year's.

Mike placed a little trap on top of Freddie so he could easily mark her
Mike also said that Freddie is a “magnificent queen”. The reason why is because she has a really long abdomen which is full of eggs. This is great news because I now know that I have a strong, healthy queen that is a good layer.

The arrow is pointing to Freddie. She is very difficult to spot in a crowd
We carried on moving through the frames and there were no major problems. Mike noted that there was a lot of nectar and he could actually point out where the nectar came from showing me some that was from oil seed rape. He also noted that the bees had been 'pickling' the pollen. I'm not entirely sure what this means but I'll find out and report back.

Yes, he didn't wear gloves. I'm not sure I'll ever reach that stage!
Then Mike wanted to check some of the uncapped larvae to see whether they were healthy or not, he put a toothpick into some of the cells and drew it out. All seemed ok apart for what he called a bit of 'ball brood'. Although that is what I thought he said my copy of 'Beekeeper's Bible' makes no mention of this phenomenon and neither does Google. So I'll find out what he meant and report back on that too.

Meanwhile, as all this scrutinising was going on, the bees seemed to be getting a bit antsy as the roof of their house had been off for too long. Although Mike reckons they are a good colony and rates then seven out of ten for temperament. I'm happy with that.

Nicky looking on while Mike and I scrutinise what's going on inside the hive
Then he wanted to check what the Varroa infestation was like. The best place to check that is in the drone brood cells at the bottom of the frame as Verroa prefer to lay their eggs in the larger drone cells as opposed to the smaller worker cells.  As the national frames my nucleus came on is too short for the Beehaus, which take deep national frames, my bees were building comb underneath the frames that mostly contain drone brood. This meant we could easily remove some of this comb to inspect it. It was a pretty brutal business inspecting the drone cells as you have to kill the larvae by sticking a spiky comb contraption (in other words, uncapping fork) into the cells and then pulling it out. But I was ok with this as the drones are the males of the hive and just laze about mostly ;)

Putting the uncapping fork into the comb that is full of drone brood
Mike then pulls the larvae out
We then checked each larvae to see whether we could spot any Vorroa but we didn't spot any. Phew!
The good news is that I had nothing really to worry about with my hive as the bees seem to be doing ok. I'm pleased though that Mike came along as it's always reassuring to have that voice of experience. The plan now is to get the bees off the shorter frames onto the longer ones and we'll do this by moving the shorter frames towards the edges (front and back) of the hive. He also said that as the last frame right at the back is full of honey at the moment, we could harvest that for ourselves if we gave the bees some sugar syrup. Imagine that, honey from my very own bees...life would be sweet!


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