Monday, 26 April 2010
The steep learning curve
You are looking at 5 queen cells (click on the photo for a bigger image). The elongated shapes near the top right hand corner of the frame are the queen cells. What does this means? Trouble, that is what.
When I checked the main hive (Hv1) after the prime swarm two Sundays ago I made the cardinal error of not checking the frames thoroughly for other queen cells; mistake, I'd like to think, I shall not repeat again.
After the excitement of the swarm I was advised to inspect Hv1 on Sunday to check that the one queen cell I found had hatched. I should have known that something was serious amiss when that caste of bees appeared a few days ago(see last posting). As I thought I only had one queen cell in Hv1 I didn't think to do a proper check again. Silly me. It's all down to experience I suppose.
On Saturday morning while I was busied working in the allotment I had a phone call from my neighbour, big John. He is interested in bees also and since my last swarm must have started to tune to any unusual activities with my hives. "You bees are swarming again!" I rushed home.
There it was clustering around the exact spot as the first (prime) swarm. I suited up and checked the nuc box and as expected the caste had gone. Meanwhile my friends Christine, a fellow beekeeper, and another neighbour arrived to help. While I set about to catch the swarm Christine was busy checking Hv1. By now we both suspected there were more queen cells. As I set the nuc box down to collect the swarm I spotted the queen! I brush her and some bees into the nuc and closed the box, soon the rest of the bees were heading into the nuc.
I then turned my attention to Hv1. Christine and I checked each frame twice. We found the new queen in this hive. The frames were full of bees and only after we gently blew most away from the frame we saw the queen cells. We counted 7 in total among all the frames plus 2 already hatched, which accounted of the the one we found in this hive and the one I saw and brushed into the nuc box. The text book will tell you that when a new queen hatched it will go and kill off the other queens in their cell. So what happened here? We proceeded to take out all the unhatched queen cells and once we are sure there is no more queen cell in Hv1 we closed up. Time for a cup of tea and some thinking.
Over a cup of tea we discussed what to do next. I spoke to my beekeepers friends, Jenny and Mike, who suggsted that we combine Hv1 and the nuc. This would involved getting rid of one queen. The reason for combining the two is because I do not want to weaken the main hive further. Otherwise this season's honey production will be affected. Christine and I agreed to do this the next day (Sunday). The next 24 hours were worrying time for me. Bees really can be worse then children.
At the appointed time on Sunday we met up in my garden. To merge two colonies we need to get rid of one queen, which involving finding it and remove it from that colony. This could be tricky. Then we have to placed a new brood box on top of the one already on the main hive (this will have a surviving queen in it). A sheet of newspaper is placed between the two brood boxes. Then we transferred the frames from the nuc to the top brood box and get all the bees from the nus into the box and closed the hive. The idea is that the bees on the top brood box will chew their through the paper and meet up with the colony below. This will give them time to get use to the scent of the remaining queen and the two colonies will merge as one. All these cannot be avoided if I had checked the main hive properly for extra queen cell. We are always wiser after the event.
In spite of my worry the whole process took much less time then I had feared, and we were lucky and found the queen in the nuc immediately. After removing that queen we got all the bees from the nuc into the top brood box. It's all done in 10 minutes.
I check this morning and can hear a constant humming from the top box. I am imagining they are chewing their way through the Guardian sports page. What happened to the other queen? It's very cold in my freezer.