Back with the bees

So my last post was over a month ago – and since then I have been back to the apiary on a couple of Fridays to continue with Basic learning, and heard back from the Council.

I have been away in Pembrokeshire for a week (we stayed on Skomer Island for a night, and saw puffins, owls, seals, and all sorts of great things), so I have missed another week at the apiary since my last post. But before that we had opened up the hive, spotted the Queen – and passed her onto one of the more experienced beekeepers to clip her wings. I’ve not seen this done before, and it was done very matter-of-factly – I’m not sure I would be that calm if I were doing that for fear of dropping her! I also learned in the roundup at the end of the evening that there is some disagreement among beekeepers as to whether it’s a good idea to clip Queens. Obviously, once she is clipped so can’t fly away, but if there is some argument that if she was previously laying well and doing a good job once she’s clipped her attendants might consider her damaged and on her way out, and decide to raise a new Queen to take over from her.

Typically, I missed a week after that, so I’ll find out this Friday how she did! It looked as though she had been laying beautifully up until now, although she is a couple of years old, so it would be interesting if it all went pear-shaped now!

Other than that, it was lovely to get back into the hive, as it’s been a while since I have seen any bees. We did a routine inspection, saw that there was a good amount of brood and space for brood in the double brood boxes, and decided that it may be worth adding another super to the two already on the top as the flow appeared to be really good and they were bringing back a lot of nectar. The final thing that we did was a drone sacrifice – a wonderfully gory varroa-control measure.

What is a drone sacrifice?

Frames in a brood box are ‘deep’, 305mm, and super frames are ‘shallow’, only 140mm. By putting a shallow frame into a brood box, you create an area of space in the hive. Bees hate extra space, and will fill up anything that’s too big with comb of some sort until it’s comfortable for them. On a frame such as this, they will make brood cells, and the largest cells are drone (male bee) cells – so they’re the ones that bees will use to fill up the space quickly. The Queen then lays in these larger cells, and drones are created. Varroa mites like to sit in drone cells, as they are sealed for longer than worker bee cells, and so the mites have plenty of time to multiply. Once the drone cells are sealed, the beekeeper can come in, slice off the drone cells from the bottom of the shallow frame in a big chunk and them use a large fork to lift the cappings off the cells and see the drones and mites within. It’s a really gory process, as the royal jelly, larvae and baby drones ooze and sometimes wriggle out. But this also removes mites from the hive entirely, thereby acting as a varroa control measure.

Back to Twickenham this Friday – so I’m looking forward to finding out how it’s going.

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