Diary of a Community Orchard 4/7/18: Blessed Bees!

It’s been a while since doing blog posts here – I’ve been on pilgrimage (St Cuthbert’s Way: walking Melrose Abbey to Holy Island) as well as writing my final MA assignment.

During all this we’ve been keeping a close eye on the bees and trying to get them back to being healthy colonies again.

Here’s a run down of what happened to turn one colony into two, and make the two queenless colonies “queenright” again:

I arrived at Berwick train station on 17th June to receive a phonecall from my wife, saying someone had reported to her that the bees had swarmed. There was nothing I could do apart from try and contact a few local beekeepers to try and collect the swarm. I was surprised as we’d previously gone through the hive checking for “queen cells” which indicate the sign that swarms are going to begin happening, and removed them. I must have accidentally missed one.

When a queen is born in the hive, it goes into “colony reproduction mode”, and she flies off, taking a pile of bees with her, looking for a new place to set up home. This leaves a queen behind with about half of the original bees (and your honey production is thus halved !!!)

swarm 2

Unfortunately by the time our friend Steve arrived, they’d headed off to pastures new and couldn’t be re-captured. Ho hum, not to worry. We’d sort out when I got back home.

On the 21st June, Steve called to say he’d got a colony and would put it into the spare hive we’d got alongside the main one. We were very grateful, going potentially from zero colonies to two hives with colonies inhabiting them in the space of a week was a pleasant relief.

Unfortunately, the new colony literally buzzed off some time Friday afternoon and we discovered an empty hive that evening. So, back to one hive.

I checked the remaining colony for queen cells and discovered lots, all ready for an afterswarm, 8 days after the first, so removed all but one of these, taking a frame with a queen cell on, some brood (baby bees ready to be born) and some honey into a tiny hive called a “nuc” and popped it into the back garden, to try and start a new colony.

After a week, we checked the nuc and discovered the queen had not been born / removed. We now needed to get a queen quickly for the nuc, so that she’d lay eggs and rebuild the colony – and it needed to be really quick, as without a queen, the workers (female) start laying eggs anywhere and everywhere within the hive and the colony is what’s called “doomed” as they cannot reproduce any further.

When checking the main hive, we realised that it too was queenless (no baby bees being born / nurtured in their cells, and no pollen being stored away to make baby bees).

So – with the clock ticking, we needed to install two new queens into the hive and nuc. We duly purchased these online and they arrived in the post the next day! Seriously! The queen bees came in “queen cages” with attendant workers to meet their needs. The cage also has a sugar plug which takes a couple of days for the hive/nuc bees to eat through, thus letting her pheromone smell permeate the area before they can physically touch her (otherwise they’d instantly kill the queens as intruders to their hive).

The queens were quickly installed into the hive and nuc and I said a prayer over, asking for them to be accepted and live long, healthy lives in their new communities. Thankfully the queens were accepted and after another week, we checked them and saw eggs, larvae and “capped brood”, signs that the colonies were back on track to build up and reach wholeness as wonderful communities that bless our surrounding area with pollination.


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