Olympic Queens!

A spectacular opening ceremony on Friday night started the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in style. The Queen made her acting debut leaving Buckingham Palace with James Bond to climb aboard a helicopter and arriving at the Olympic Stadium for a surprise entrance. My family and me watched in astonishment – it was an Olympic gold moment!

Excitement was building last week as the Olympic Flame drew nearer and those strange London 2012 mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, were suddenly everywhere. I took a stroll through Regent’s Park one evening after work and spotted an American tourist sitting in the sun with Wenlock.

There are Monsters in Regent’s Park, but don’t worry. Someone told the Americans.

Good fortune shone on the first day of the Games with glorious sunshine and I hoped that luck would shine on our bees too. The celebrations had reached the apiary where a small crowd gathered and three cakes were on offer. I enjoyed munching lemon cake baked by a novice beekeeper before visiting the hives.

Thomas was inspecting a hive from one of the Osterley nucs, which after an uncertain start is doing well. Thomas is a great believer of using insulation to help the hive stay warm, particularly for small colonies: ‘A hive needs to maintain a temperature of around 30 degrees which is quite hot. The warmer it is inside the hive the more bees can fly out and forage, rather than stay at home and heat the colony.’

Thomas is a great beekeeper who has a very natural way with bees.

An insulating dummy board helps this small colony that was recently transferred from a nuc to stay warm inside a National brood box.

This little bee has flown home with beautiful terracotta-coloured pollen in her baskets. Our pollen chart suggests she has foraged dahlias.

Happy to see the Osterley bees settling in, we went to check on our new queens. Both Neroli and Ginger were superceded about a month ago, causing another setback for the colonies because of the three- to four-week period for a virgin queen to hatch, mate and begin to lay.

I opened the hive formerly ruled by our Jubilee queen, Neroli, now ruled by an Olympic queen! The bees had not made much progress in terms of brood and stores since last week, probably due to replacing the queen. A beginner spotted her on a frame looking for cells to lay eggs. She seemed nervous of the crowd, flexing her wing muscles, so I carefully returned the frame in case she took after her flighty great aunt Rosemary! We didn’t see eggs but there were young larvae curled in their cells, so the queen is laying. We have named her Myrtle.

A few frequently asked questions

The beginner beekeepers are very curious about our bees and ask lots of questions. I thought it might be useful to start putting frequently asked questions here.

FAQ: What are you looking for?
The most common question is: ‘What are you looking for?’, which is on the syllabus of the British Beekeepers Association basic assessment. The answer depends on the time of year, although Ted Hooper’s advice is very useful and is included on my study notes.

1.4 the reasons for opening a colony
Here I refer to Ted Hooper’s advice:
‘Every time you open a colony you should ask these five questions. They are vital and should be memorised.

  1. Has the colony sufficient room?
  2. Is the queen present and laying the expected quantity of eggs?
  3. a (early in season) Is the colony building up in size as fast as other colonies at the apiary? b (mid season) Are there any queen cells present in the colony?
  4. Are there any signs of disease or abnormality?
  5. Has the colony sufficient stores to last until the next inspection?’

FAQ: Do the bees get cold when the hive is open?
A visitor asked if the bees can get cold during inspections – the answer is ‘yes’. A routine hive inspection should take between 10–15 minutes so that the colony does not lose too much heat. The hives at the apiary are used for training which means that inspections may take longer than usual.

If the colony is small (or bad tempered) or if the weather is cool, use a cover cloth or clean tea towel to shelter half the brood nest during an inspection. This helps to keep the colony warm and makes sure less bees fly out to say hello!

FAQ: Why should you put brood frames back in the same order?
It takes a colony two days to recover from a hive inspection and repair any damage that is caused by the beekeeper. So it is important to handle the hive gently and carefully, and to avoid disrupting the nest by putting brood frames back in the same order and facing the right way. (However, I aptly demonstrated my clumsiness after saying this by accidentally dropping one side of a frame. Luckily there were few bees on it and they didn’t seem to mind.) Inspections should be no more frequent than once a week during swarming season and perhaps fewer at those times of the year when it is less necessary to inspect the hive.

Emily shows our bees to the beginners.

Emily opened Ginger’s old hive which is now ruled by our second Olympic queen, Mandarin. The bees were irritable and had not done much to draw out comb and collect stores. There was little worker brood and the drone brood was peppered in the middle of the frames when it should be on the outer edges.

Before we could fear the worst, Thomas advised us to wait another week. It was good that he was there to look over our shoulders as we were reassured that the new queen may need more time to settle in. Mandarin was running all over the frame, but Thomas said that she may be the progeny of drones that run about a lot and has inherited this trait.

Myrtle and Mandarin make the sixth and seventh queens this year – Rosemary, Lavender, Myrrh, Neroli and Ginger were superceded, de-throned or swarmed – presenting a challenge to our hives and making it difficult to track hive records. I have started a family tree to trace the generations of our bees: the Rose Dynasty and the Osterley Dynasty!

The family tree of our queens since Emily and me became hive partners last year. Although as my friend Chris would say, that I have made this perhaps proves beekeeping like many hobbies straddles the line between ‘hobby’ and ‘mental illness’…

It will fall to the Olympic queens to get both colonies through winter and we’ll be closely observing that the hives progress sufficiently in August. Ted Hooper says that late summer queens can be good news for colonies. The virgins mate later in the year and continue laying for longer to produce younger bees for overwintering. Hives with late summer queens often overwinter better than hives with spring queens, which was proven by Rosemary and Lavender this year. Rosemary, our spring queen, came out of winter a drone layer, while Lavender, our July queen, came out of winter laying strong.

There is a lot to know about bees and each year we learn more.

Inspections done for the day we went to watch the Italian bees crowding at the entrance of John’s hive. Italian bees love to fly and there is always a lot of traffic. It is the job of the guard bees to protect the hive from intruders and to make sure that the only foragers who enter have the ‘right smell’ of the colony. Occasionally, foragers from other colonies try to go inside because they lose their way and will display submissive behaviour or bribe the guards with goods of nectar and pollen. Drones are allowed to enter any hive.

I noticed these bees patiently waiting to be let in by the guards at the nest entrance (see the bee looking out on the other side of the mouse guard). Are they returning foragers or drifters trying to bribe their way inside?

The bumblebees were also out on her majesty’s secret service yesterday – on a mission to collect lots of lovely lavender nectar and wildflower pollen. I spied on them for a while and took some photos. Notice the smaller honeybee foraging with the bumbles in the third picture below. To paraphrase Bond, ‘Hope you enjoy the show’.

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29 thoughts on “Olympic Queens!

  1. I like the advice to insulate the hives to allow the bees to focus their energy toward gathering. I hadn’t heard that theory before. And I laughed at the frame dropping. Beekeeping is nothing if not constantly humbling!!

    • I am constantly humbled by my bees, particularly because none of them whined (the human equivalent of swearing, I suppose) when I dropped one end of the frame. Clumsy human!

      Thomas is full of interesting theories about bees but the heat/energy direction sounds practical!

    • I just love bumblebees! They are the dudes of the bee world. Bumbles are easier to practise macro photography as they are slower than honeybees. When they find a flower that they like they get stuck in! 🙂

      • We have Blue Banded bees here at certain times of the year and I am desperate to get a photo of them. Unfortunately they never stay still and don’t even land on the flowers, they use vibration to get what they want and zoom off. I wish I could find a lazy one!

      • Blue Banded bees sounds beautiful – are they really blue? I use sports setting sometimes on my camera when they are all flying about and I can’t find one staying still.

        An interesting fact I learnt about bumble bees is that they hold their wings vertically over their body then drop them suddenly to create a vacuum that sucks them up into the air – lift off!

      • They have a black abdomen with thin blue stripes, the stripes can be quite bright blue. They have greeny yellow eyes and the rest of them is quite furry and greyish brown. Their buzz is really loud too.

        They are really different from normal bees so really catch your eye once you hear them. I was going to include the wikipedia link but the bee in their picture has almost white stripes, not the best example!

        Because they are solitary bees, by the time you have realized one is there it is gone and it doesn’t have any friends around to look at… grrrr….. 😉

  2. So interesting, as usual. Your bees waiting to go into the hive did not appear to have any loaded pollen sacs. Is this because they are bringing back nectar? Some flowers seem to provide more nectar and less pollen, is this the case?

    • They may have had nectar as this is stored in a separate stomach – honeybees have two stomachs, a regular one and a honey one! I’m not sure about whether some flowers provide more nectar/pollen but sounds likely. Interesting question, I’ll have to find out!

  3. I am glad you mentioned the terracotta pollen. I was wondering about that myself after seeing it on a few bees. So it is Dahlia. I grow Dahlia so this makes sense. Also.it was interesting about the bees maintaining a constant warm hive. I knew them fanning to cool, but never thought how they kept the hive warm. I also liked how the keeper can insulate the hive and keep more bees working. Great idea.

    • Emily and me have a pollen chart in our hive roof that indicates red pollen in July may be dahlia. Nice to know the bees have found a good garden nearby 🙂

      I’d be interested to see some close-up photos of the bees visiting your dahlias!

      Yes, the bees can vibrate their wings to keep warm as well as fanning wings to vent, very clever! Some workers are given the task of ‘heater bee’ sitting inside a cell and constantly vibrating their wings to generate heat. We have seen them on occasion during inspections just sitting there and looking out, they are very cute!

      • Thanks Emma. I am quoting you on my blog Green Apples. http://greenapplesgarden.com/ I am posting extreme closeup macros of bees and wasps and want to tell the reader what I learned from you in this post. I will be posting it later tonight. It has a sister post on GWGT today. I do not have any bees visiting Dahlias because they are miniatures and not very tall. But the bees must visit them.

      • That’s so kind of you, thank you! I’ll check out Green Apples 🙂

        EXTREME macros! That sounds awesome. I am barely there with macro practising with my first SLR since April, but I am learning lots from your blog about photography!

        Bees are not very tall either so I’m sure they like your miniature dahlias!

  4. I hope someday that I’ll have some property where I’ll be able to keep bees. I’ll probably be hounding you all the time with questions, then. 🙂 There is one term you keep using that I’m not sure what it is/means. What is a nuc?

    As always, great post. I love reading about your bees!

    • I hope you get both, Holly! I’ll look forward to your questions 🙂 Sorry – I should explain better: a ‘nuc’ is a ‘nucleus hive’, a small wooden hive box holding five frames for a small colony of bees. Beekeepers use nucs to collect small swarms or to create an artificial swarm or start building up a new hive. Sometimes a weakened colony might be moved from a hive to a nuc to keep warm and survive over winter. They are very useful to have.

  5. The Olympic Opening Ceremony was awesome, perhaps they should have had a celebration of bees there too! I have been busy as a bee recently, so had limited opportunity to read other blog posts. I have just completed a marathon reading over two days of 200+ blog posts on WordPress, with yours being the last to celebrate its completion.

    The bees and butterflies are out in force in Colchester. I have been able to get some great photographic shots of bees and butterflies. I loved the close photographs of bees you made in this blog post.

    • Hi Alex, wow 200+ blog posts should win you gold! How do you keep track of all blogs you follow? I have started to load my feeds into folders in Google Reader which makes it easier to follow everything.

      Look forward to seeing your bees and butterflies shots, I’m practising my macro photography so hopefully will have some better shots soon.

      That said – the Olympics have been a bit of a distraction from blogging recently! 🙂

  6. Pingback: BBKA module 6 honeybee behaviour: 6.2 to 6.3 the life of the queen | Miss Apis Mellifera

  7. Pingback: Remembering Myrtle | Miss Apis Mellifera

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