Trials and tribulations of beekeeping

Firstly, sorry for the lack of bee reporting - I did see the bees a week on Thursday but I've had work deadlines etc and didn't get a chance to update the blog. So, I'll start off with a quick update of last week's visit (4th) before getting on to the woes of this week's one.

So, I went through the left side first (Pippa's side) and all was looking good after the swarm control - lots of busy bees going about their usual business. I spotted Pippa too, which was good. Then I had a quick look in the right side. Rod Oates, a fellow volunteer beekeeper at Compton Verney, advised that I only do a quick inspection as the virgin queen should have hatched at this stage and she would be preparing for her maiden flight (i.e. fly out from the hive and then loads of drones fly up at the same time and mate with her in the air before she returns to the hive ready to lay). I lifted the frame on which the sealed queen cell was and there were loads of bees all around it. I thought that instead of moving the bees to see what was underneath I'd just leave them to it.

Bees on the left side - I didn't want to disturb them too much with virgin queen so only had a quick peek at the frames

I already had a bad feeling about what I'd find in the hive on Thursday when on Wednesday I'd heard that there was a swarm of bees in Regent street in Leamington Spa's city centre. My hive is very close to Regent street and I started to wonder whether when the new queen hatched if they'd just fly off? She shouldn't do but one thing I've discovered about beekeeping is that you can never predict bee behaviour.

I knew something was up straight away when I approached the bee hive at lunch time on Thursday as the entrance on the right side wasn't busy at all. I thought I'd check the left side first, which was thriving. I went through it twice and didn't find Pippa but there was loads of sealed brood and larvae so I'm hoping she's just being elusive and hiding in there somewhere. But surely with such a big bottom I should have spotted her!

Left side is building up nicely so added two extra frames.

Then it was time for the right side and as I predicted - they had swarmed. From four very full frames last week there was less than two this week. 

Right side - rather obvious that some bees are missing
I think I know the reason - there were some queen cells I hadn't detected, which had hatched. But the weird thing is, why did the queen decide to leave or had one left with half the colony and another one remained. But looking through them, I really couldn't spot a queen. 

Some hatched queen cells which means more than one queen had hatched
Although half the swarm had left, they had been busy collecting pollen. Different colour pollen from different sorts of forage

I wasn't sure what to do but I knew that with no queen and no freshly laid eggs for the bees to make a new queen cell, the colony of bees would die. So, I closed up and went home to think.

I decided to call Rod Oates for advice. He was a bit puzzled himself but thought that the best thing to do was to unite the two colonies. You do this by removing the middle section of the divider board and slotting a piece of newspaper in its place. The bees will nibble through it and in doing so they'll get used to each other. If I just left the gap open the two colonies could brawl and I'm really not up for fighting. So, I'm hoping that they'll nibble through the paper and become one big happy family. 

Adding the newspaper into the slot
I then moved the smaller colony right up to the divider board so that they'll nibble though the newspaper and mingle with the bees on the other side.
You might be thinking that I'm not having the easiest time of this beekeeping business and you'd be right. I built up last year's nucleus over the worst summer we've had. They then survived the winter only to have a drone laying queen in the Spring, which led to the death of that colony and the death of a small nucleus that I attempted to unite them with. Following a few days of an empty Beehaus I got a a new swarm, which I had to then spilt because there were queen cells appearing - a sign of swarming. But following the split, the smaller swarm swarmed leaving me with just a few bees that I'm now attempting to unite with the bigger colony.  And for all my trials and tribulations it still looks as though I'm not going to have a honey crop this year :( 

In other news, last weekend I volunteered at Compton Verney's Grounds Weekend. I wrote a blog post about it, which is here. It was a fun afternoon spent chatting about bees.

My friend Sharon, her dad and children listening to Rod s he explained the various bits of a beehive


  1. Bees are so mysterious. I wonder whether multiple queens hatched out, so one left with some of the bees and left a virgin in her place. A virgin would have been very easy to miss during your inspection as her abdomen doesn't enlarge until she mates.

    Hope things get easier for you!

    1. Well, if there is a queen in that smaller colony it means that she'll have to fight with Pippa for supremacy. Either way, hopefully it means I'm left with one bigger colony. Fingers crossed.


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