Monday, 26 March 2012

She's a Killer, Quee-eeen...

Things are speeding along rapidly and I'm having to employ my last remaining brain cells (held in reserve to date) to keep up.

The task was to locate this 'emergency queen cell' I thought I saw when I transferred the colony from G's old hive to my brand spanking new hive.

Now a bit of an explanation is in order at this point I think. If you have a look at this post you can see how my hive goes together. Have a good look (I'll be asking questions later. Ed.).

Ok. When I got my bees they were all in the bottom box, known as the brood box. This part of the hive is where the queen bee lays her eggs, the subsequent generations of bees. On top of that then would go a queen excluder, which is a thin perforated sheet which has holes large enough for the workers to crawl through but, as the queen is bigger than the workers, she can't crawl through these holes. So she can't go 'upstairs' in to the box on top which is known as the 'super'. This box holds all the stores, nectar, pollen, and eventually honey! So there'll be no brood in the super, just stores (honey) which makes it easier to extract it to go into lovely jars!

With me so far? (No. Ed.)

Ok. I'd seen this queen cell. It looks like a sort of wax ball that sticks out quite a way from the other hexagonal cells. The queen is bigger remember. The worker bees create queen cells when the existing queen is in decline, not laying well or dead. An emergency queen cell would be the bees response to something catastrophic to the hives wellbeing. No queen = no eggs = no future! Emergency queen cells tend to be placed in the center of a frame on the frame in the center of the brood box.

So G and I went in to find the cell and / or (hopefully) the queen.

Puffing smoke gently over the bees to
move, calm and warn them I'm coming in...
Now in the boxes (brood box and super remember? keep up. Ed.) there are what are called frames. These are literally like wooden picture frames, built to an exact size, but with a wax centre called 'foundation'. It's on this foundation that the bees build out their honeycomb in which the queen can lay eggs and the other bees can deposit their stores (which they can then eat later and feed to the young bees / grubs). The brood frames are generally deeper in size than the super frames. It's the super frames from which I'll get my honey later in the year. It'll just be honey on those frames because the queen can't get upstairs to this box (because of the queen excluder. Yes, I see. Brilliant! I'm getting the hang of this. Ed.)

My bees are very placid, just a gentle hum.
Really calming to be honest, no really!
Ok, so we're after finding this queen cell or queen. Well the queen cell wasn't there. I was paniking to get the hive back together rapidly last time. It turns out it was an old queen cell from last year. These frames are G's old frames from the old hive not my new ones. So the queen cell was removed as it was empty, just scraped off the frame. That was good. Also there were tiny eggs in the other cells which meant the queen was there somewhere and laying. Really good.

So now we had to find her. Although she's bigger and longer than the other bees in the colony, she ain't easy to spot.

See her? No me neither...
What's usually done is that the queen is marked with a dab of bee paint on her back (thorax) so she can't clean it off. Once you find her (if you can find her) you pin her to the wax on the frame using a sort of cage with a mesh top. Then you use a coloured pen like a felt tip that has special bee friendly ink in it, and gently and carefully dab a spot of it onto her. There's an international colour code for queen bee marking, so that a beekeeper can tell how old she is. G had a white marker, that's all, so we had to use that.

She's quick too. Running around all over the frame.
Care has to be taken not to damage her or knock her off the frame and squish her. That could spell disaster for the hive. G got a bit of paint on her abdomen by mistake. She'll clean that off but she can't get to the bit on her back. I'll take some better pictures next time. It was a two man job this and awkward to snap away whilst doing it, sorry. (Tut. Ed.)

All sorts on this frame: eggs, hatching
new bees and stores
I put a couple more brood frames into the hive (a National Hive takes 11 brood frames) and on went the queen excluder, then the super filled with lovely new frames where the workers can start to store the stuff they are all bringing in now. The queen will probably tell her workers to shift some of the stores currently capped off amongst the brood in the brood box 'upstairs' to the super so she'll have more room to lay her eggs.

So then on went the crown board then the lid. Then I left 'em to it. They really are busy at the moment, zooming off to get stores.

I'm really fascinated by all this stuff. What's so encouraging is that I enjoy being around the bees. They'll crawl around on me, bees flying around my head, the loud humming of thousands of bees right in front of me, but it's strangely relaxing, I can't explain it.

23 comments:

  1. Finally, an idiot friendly explanation of how a hive works.

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    1. Really Tom?! I'm an idiot and I'm struggling lol.

      I'll post some detailed explanations of some of this stuff soon - it's all happening very quickly so I'm glad you can make sense of it all.

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    2. I would appreciate that. I am determined to get into bees here but they do have a bit of a reputation in Africa.

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  2. I think I've now worked-out why I've never kept bees!

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    1. Yes, me too. Me I mean. Keeping bees. Not you keeping bees. I keep bees now. This is all very confusing...

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  3. Hey thanks for the photos and explanation of what you are doing -- I know you're busy as a bee. (Couldn't resist.) I know the sensation and also have no words to explain -- happened while I was in close watching the queening of a hive.

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    1. Stop stealing my dreadful puns Janet lol! I'll have no post headers left! ;-)

      It is really strange. You'd think that with so many stinging insects buzzing around it would be an anxious few minutes to say the least. But no. Just really relaxing.

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  4. I did go look at the pic of your hive assembly on the other post and yes that did help :O). A bit of a learning curve on all this. But this is good info and as with anything I am sure once a person does enough reading up on it they will feel confident enough to give it a whirl! Great of you to to post all this with the pics.

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    1. A very steep learning curve for me Tex! There is just sooooo much to learn. I know that it's practically impossible to follow it all whilst it's 'in motion' so to speak.

      Jargon busters coming up...

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  5. That was an excellent tutorial Chris - I enjoyed that. How long did it take you to spot the queen?

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    1. Thankyou Molly, I read it back to myself but it still seems a bit incomprehensible to me. I must sort out some more posts with the basics (for me more than anyone)...

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    2. Oh and it took about 2 minutes on my hive. I've got my eye in now.

      We then went over to G's hive and found one queen but for the life of us couldn't find her in the other hive.

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  6. I could have sworn you were drizzling oil over barbecued bees in those photos. I ate a bumble bee once (by accident, whilst riding my motorbike) and it was de-lish.

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    1. And they also tasted of honey which was great!

      Funny you should say that. On the way back from passing my bike test on a Vespa one day, a huge bumble bee decided it would be great to fly into my eye and almost blind me. Full face helmet from then on!

      Was it nice and crunchy?

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  7. Wicked Chris, that looks so interesting. I think it's the honey that gets me the most excited. But also, I've often thought that bee civilisations would make a great sci fi story. Just amazing!

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    1. I've seen a sci-fi film about ants (Phase IV) turning against mankind (& womenkind!) but not bees. I'll keep that quiet though as I don't want to give them any ideas.

      Hey, there's another plot line for your next book Sarah!

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  8. I understand, I understand! Thanks Chris, this is really helpful. I had been put off a bit by a local beekeeper saying they hadn't been able to draw any honey from their 8 hives for several years, but maybe we'll be lucky. Maybe he has naughty bees. Just have to work out how much it will all cost lol :)

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Not as much as you might think Carly. A decent bee suit is a must (mine cost about £45 and I can let you know where I got my kit from), and the other bits you can get are cheap enough. If you're not confident making a hive I know your fella is handy with tools so I'm sure he could knock up a hive or two for you.

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  9. I found the sound of bees strangely relaxing and would spend far too long checking out the frames. But when trying to explain to friend that I probably lost them to colony collapse syndrome, I was asked why didnt I take them to a vet!!!!

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    1. Sorry you lost your bees, that's awful and distressing for you. Good for you to get back into it now then!!!

      At £40 per vet consultation here, there may be a cash flow situation brewing with several thousand bees to get checked out. ;-D

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  10. I wouldn't have known much of what this post meant if I hadn't done lots of research last year about the honey bee. I found the more I learnt, the more fascinated I became. My final work (for my Post-grad Art diploma) was about bees. I'm a born-again bee-lover!

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