It’s been a hard winter – particularly through February and into March. The first warm day we had, both hives spewed bees as they came out to defecate and drink some water. It was lovely to see both colonies looking strong. We’ve fed them fondant throughout the winter and treated with oxalic acid in January to try to keep the varroa under control. Other than that, its been a bit of a waiting game.
We spent some time attending some training on disease recognition and swarm control. Elmo attended with me and we found it really useful hearing the same messages. We’re hoping to do our BBKA Basic Assessment this year, although Elmo is unable to attend the day’s training. He has promised me he will swot up though!
On the 6th of April we opened the hives up briefly to shift the super above the brood box (we had left it underneath for the winter to give the bees a chance to shift the stores upwards during the autumn and to give them some protection from the wind). We also replaced the queen excluder and cleaned down the Open Mesh Floor of any remaining dead bees. We gave them a little candypolline as well, as the weather was pretty wet and they weren’t really getting out much. I do wonder whether we’ve over stimulated them a bit. Anyhow. Guess I’ll never know!
The weather started to warm up in the middle of April and we made the most of warm, still temperatures on 14th April to carry out a proper inspection of both colonies.
We had placed the inspection trays below the hives for 5 days and checked the varroa count. We cover them with sunflower oil to make the mites stick! Hufflepuff had a high varroa count in September so it was great to see only 3 mites dropped during this period. We’ll keep and eye on them though and have some Apitraz to try when we’re not collecting honey.
Both hives have been bringing in a fair amount of pollen – you can see some of the crocus pollen stored here in Hufflepuff. They also look as though they have been uncapping and moving honey into the super to give themselves some more space for the queen to lay. Hard for my untrained eye to be sure.
Brood pattern in Hufflepuff was healthy and there were brood in all stages of development. There were no noticeable signs of disease on any of the frames and the bees seemed healthy.
We found Helga, which is always a relief!
Ravenclaw were as calm and placid as normal. The colony still feels much smaller than Hufflepuff and I have a sense that they’re not building up as quickly.
On first sight, the brood pattern seems healthy – the empty cells are full of eggs (you can see them quite quickly in the picture below).
But on closer inspection, there are far fewer larvae in the stages you’d expect from days 4-8 (the cell should be capped day 9) when compared to Hufflepuff. The make-up of the brood seems very different between the two colonies.
We were surprised to find drone cells on the face of this comb (below). There are no drone cells in Hufflepuff. I also noticed a slightly suspect cell when I checked back over the photos. I sent the picture to some of the experienced beekeepers from my local association and they confirmed that the drone cells on the comb face wasn’t something I should be expecting to see and could well be a sign that the queen is failing. One also suggested looking carefully at the cells with larvae on this frame, as they don’t look entirely normal. The weather is getting warmer this week, so by Wednesday we should be able to open up the hive when I get back from work. In the meantime, we perhaps have a little time to prepare ourselves for a failing queen by reading up on exactly what this means for our colony and how best to manage it.
We do at least know that we have a queen in the colony. She can be seen just off centre below. I’m rather find of Rowena so I do hope she isn’t failing and has simply had some kind of blip. Unlikely, I know. *wanders off to research supercedure*.