The Apocalypse and what happened next

In what has been a good news, bad news week, here’s the good news – I passed my British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) basic assessment! Andy emailed our group: ‘I had news last night that ALL of you passed the basic assessment… well done all. You’ll get letters and certificates and a badge, and all sorts of things!’

What’s next? BBKA examinations run throughout the year and exams for the next set of modules are held in November. I’d better keep my books out. The module on honeybee behaviour sounds particularly interesting.

Unfortunately, The Guardian reported this week that this year’s bad weather has proved almost apocalyptic for UK wildlife: ‘Apocalyptic’ summer for wildlife – except slugs, says National Trust. The articles says, ‘Conservationists fear local extinctions of insects, as wet conditions leave many species of plants and animals struggling.’

This has been a hard year for our bees with rain making it difficult to forage and failing queens causing set backs throughout the season.

While our bees have struggled to survive the rain and failing queens, they have had a little help. Emily and me often wonder about the bumbles and solitary bees who don’t have keepers to feed them sugar syrup and insulate their homes. It seems butterflies, bats, birds, amphibians and wildflowers are having a bleak time too. Let’s hope for an Indian summer.

With this in mind, I arrived at the apiary this afternoon expecting to see two colonies on the verge of collapse. We lost our Jubilee queen, Neroli, at the start of July with the discovery of two emergency queen cells inside her hive. What happened to her is a mystery as she appeared to be laying well. Emily thought the queen may have been accidentally squashed during an inspection, as sometimes happens, however a video of her last sighting showed the queen safely returned to the hive. We can only speculate what happened, but the bees know best and had decided to make a new queen.

Ginger’s hive was also in a state of regicide. The bees had overthrown their drone-laying ruler and a new queen had torn down the cells of her sisters.

Emily and me were nervous what we would find in our hive this week…

This is all very late in the season. The bee year ends towards late August/early September as the colony prepares for overwinter: workers evict drones, queens slow down laying, and the hive is propolised. It’s not an ideal time to make new queens, but Emily and me could only wait a few weeks as the new girls settled in.

So we couldn’t have been happier today to find two queens in our hive, both mated and one already laying eggs. Well done, girls! Our bees have persevered through this year’s misfortune and deserve the best chance of surviving over winter. John was there to have a look at our hives and he was positive that the signs were good for both queens.

John Chapple is a well-known authority on beekeeping and he gave our new queens the thumbs up.

Of course, now we need to think of new names for our late July queens. Emily and me coronate our queens after essential oils, which began because I am an aromatherapist but seems fitting because of the close relationship between flowers and bees. The names should reflect steadfastness and determination but also the gentle nature of our queens and, as Emily pointed out, that they are orange! I have been thinking about the essential oils of myrtle and mandarin, which are gentle oils but effective in their actions.

I spotted two worker bees with shiny orange propolis on their legs – a sign that the hive is already thinking about winter as propolis is used to both disinfect the hive and insulate it. Emily pointed out that this will also be an interesting month for pollen. We keep a pollen chart in the roof of our hives to identify the trees and flowers that our bees visit.

Emily and me keep a pollen chart in the roof of our hive to identify the different-coloured pollen brought home by our bees.

There was also a bit of show-and-tell at the apiary this afternoon as Thomas had brought along two frames from his hives. Thomas emailed me this interesting nugget of information during the week after making a discovery in his hive:

‘The angle of worker cells slope at approximately 8 degrees and comb for honey at 20 degrees, although this only works on natural comb because wax foundation is angled at 8 degrees so the bees think they are building worker comb from the size of the printed foundation. Yesterday, as I have extracted some honey, I checked the super frames with natural comb and there was a noticeable difference in the angle. I may get the bees to clean up a couple of contrasting frames, as I have some supers with foundation, and bring them to the apiary as I think people may be interested.’

We were interested. The honeycomb drawn on wax foundation was a perfect uniform structure but the natural comb was irregular with cells of various sizes. Thomas thinks that there was a sudden flow of nectar and the normally meticulous worker bees made the honeycomb in a great haste! It was a fascinating insight into life inside the hive.

Honeycomb drawn out by bees on a base of wax foundation, which encourages them to build uniformly-sized worker cells at an angle of 8 degrees.

Honeycomb drawn out by bees without a base of wax foundation – completely natural – and made in great haste as shown by the irregular shapes.

A mini heatwave is forecast this weekend and everyone left the apiary fairly early to enjoy the sunshine. But not before we finished eating Emily’s strawberry-and-raspberry cake, still warm from the oven! The best kind of cake!

Emily’s delicious homemade strawberry-and-raspberry cake! Perfect for a spot of beekeeping on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

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13 thoughts on “The Apocalypse and what happened next

  1. In the built up areas of Colchester I have seen no butterflies; in the countryside rare observations of butterflies; not one sighting of a Cabbage White butterfly. This year cherries have been small, few and of poor taste. Snails and slugs have been challenging as I try to avoid treading on them.

    Glad to hear your bees are doing well. Interesting to read the bees are already preparing for winter.

    • Sadly, I have not seen any butterflies this year and it is a worry that some species may not have been strong enough to lay for next year. Climates have always changed and it makes you realise the fragility of ecosystems and also appreciate the balance of all things. Honeybees are very hardworking insects, even very small colonies that have little chance of survival continue to work and work, never giving up. Emily and me have a particular interest in ensuring the survival of our hives because they are so good natured that we want that strain of bee to continue.

      Yes, honeybees are a bit pagan. Their new year starts in autumn!

    • Thomas is quietly very knowledgeable about bees. That was a very interesting perspective yesterday about drones mopping up varroa rather than the mites afflicting the workers who are needed to carry out vital jobs.

      Was going for bokeh! But think I need to invest in a wider angle lens to get the portrait/landscape shots with focused foreground and blurry background.

      Interesting that there were not that many drones in our hives this week – I wonder if they heard you and were hiding from John or the workers who will evict them in a few weeks?

      • Is that the Beecraft link that James had tweeted? I must go through my photos to enter. You should enter Drew’s – he’s sure to win, if there’s a prize, perhaps honey?

  2. Congratulations, EST. Yet commiserations. Those twin impostors, eh (triumph & disaster)? A spot of Reginacide (might it be?). Lessons to be learnt. A happy cake-enriched ending. Your weekly reports from the comb-face are apian sudsers, no less. Please accept the still-theoretical inaugural virtual “Parrot” award. Sole criterion: the first blog I read in the weekly round-up… All the best from Rolling Harbour (and indeed sunny Chiswick!)

    • Cheers, RH 🙂 There was definitely regicide in Ginger’s hive, we’ve never seen such torn down queen cells. They were attacked with relish by the new ruler! It has been a year of revelations and rewarded by cakes and Parrot awards, hurrah! Accepted from sunny Northolt 🙂

    • Don’t fear, it is not really the end of summer only bee-summer 🙂 The beekeeping year ends around August with the honey crop and starts again in September. We saw signs of our bees preparing for over wintering at the weekend with propolis coming in, really cute! 🙂

      Still lots of summer for humans to enjoy though!

      • That’s so bizarre. I feel like I’ve still got weeks left in my ‘year’ before I’m done because the bees seem as active as ever. And if I remember correctly there should be another nectar flow before too long. Propolis is definitely being brought in, but I don’t know that it’s any more than normal…

  3. I’m sorry to hear about what a rough year it has been, and the loss of another queen, but how wonderful is the news that you both have strong queens now, late in the season. Good luck to you and Emily, and all the bees. By the way, the photo of her cake (warm from the oven!) makes my mouth water… yum! A great post. Thank you. Hugs, Gina

    • Hi Gina, our bees deserve a very good summer next year – they have really worked hard to get through this one 🙂 Emily is an excellent cook – we are really the Ealing tea-and-cake association, not bees 😉 Are you enjoying the Olympics? London has a great vibe at the moment, although rather a distraction from keeping up with blogs! 🙂

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