Our bees have been busy

Wow, the weather has been incredibly warm this week, and it seems that we put our super on at the right time – the girls have been busy this week! But more of that later.

Last week we put a monitoring board underneath our open mesh floor. The idea is to count the number of varroa that have fallen down, which gives you an idea of the level of infestation in the hive.

So we started our inspection by examining the monitoring board and estimating the number of mites. There are several mites on the board below – the dark brown, round shapes, e.g. just below and to the left of the finger.

Using the guide produced by FERA on varroa, we concluded that our mite drop was acceptable and that no action was needed at this time, but we will continue to monitor the situation throughout the season.

Today was our first open day, where we opened up our hive to visitors to come and have a look – and what a beautiful day it is!

Thanks to the exceptionally warm weather over the last week our girls have been incredibly busy. Last week we put in a whole new super box full of frames – well almost. The box takes 11 frames, but I had miscounted what I brought and only had 9 frames to put in.

As they have been pretty slow at drawing out foundation in the brood box over the last few weeks, we figured 9 would be enough to keep them going. Well they had drawn out the foundation in all 9 frames, and built some wild comb in the gap, which you can see hanging from the crown board! Not only that, they had made a good start at filling all the frames with nectar.

We found Gilla again this week – much easier now that she is marked. You can see her long abdomen in the picture below.

Given the progress they have made on their super, we decided to put another one on to make sure they don’t run out of space. So our hive is starting to get quite tall!

We found Gilla

Well, today we found our queen, to our excitement. Although we knew she was there because we have always found eggs, it is always reassuring to be able to see her. We managed to mark her with a white dot so she is easier to find next time. This is the best photo we got (she is in the middle of the photo, you can just make out the white dot, although she is rather obscured by other bees).

It is customary to mark queens with a sequence of five colours white-yellow-red-green-blue (remembered by Will You Raise Good Bees), corresponding to the year they were born. Queens can live up to five years (although they are rarely kept that long), hence 5 colours. So ours is white, as she is a 2011 queen.

It is also customary to name the queen, and ours is called Gilla as a result of a vote on a number of potential names by our BeeShare holders. (An old name for Ealing was ‘Gillingas’ meaning people associataed with Gilla, which was a personal name).

The brood is looking healthy, with a good pattern as seen in the frame above, and they are expanding the brood nest onto most of the frames.  Most of the biscuit coloured area in the middle of the frame is capped worker (female bee) brood, with the larger dome shaped cells up the top right being capped drone (male bee) brood.

As they are filling up the bottom ‘brood’ box, we decided to put on a queen excluder and a honey super. The queen excluder is basically a plastic sheet with slotted holes in it. The holes are big enough for the worker bees to get through, but too small for the queen to get through. This means that she can’t get into the frames above the queen excluder, so there will be no eggs or larvae in them – just honey! This is where the ‘superfluous’ honey will be stored, hopefully enough for us to be able to take some off at the end of the season, fingers crossed.

Still searching for our queen

For the first time this year it has been warm enough to properly open up the hive and have a decent look through the brood nest. We were keen to find our queen, as we haven’t yet seen her – except after the fact on one of the photos! But it wasn’t to be and she remained elusive.

We are confident she is there though, as there were eggs and all stages of brood. As the weather has been very cold, the girls have made slow progress, and still have some work to do in drawing out the frames of foundation we have given them.

We did find several queen cups, or ‘play cups’. Rather than being horizontal like the rest of the cells, the queen cups point downwards. Some say that play cups are practice for making queen cells – which the colony produces when they want to make a second queen, usually in preparation for swarming. As they didn’t have eggs in them, we can only assume that they were just honing their life skills just in case they might need them one day!