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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!