Pink queens and a swarm?


It seems neither the British weather forecast nor the British weather can be relied on after Saturday’s predictions of thunder, lightning and hail proved false. Saturday was a beautiful day for beekeeping, but Emily and I had already made other plans thinking there would be storms and rain. So we met on Sunday at the apiary beneath clear skies and decided to make short work of inspections. I checked Pepper’s hive while Emily checked Chili’s, then we both looked inside Myrtle’s and Chamomile’s hives.

Pepper is our newest queen and living up to her namesake of black pepper essential oil – a personality who finds it hard to show love! Her bees were feisty so Emily had to take over half way through the inspection as I had forgotten my thicker beekeeping gloves. We didn’t spot Pepper, she might have been sulking at the bottom of the hive.

Chili’s family looked well, said Emily. There was also a surprise when we spotted the queen – she was marked pink! Last Saturday at Andy’s party we had joked with Pat and John that we’d like our queens marked pink. The elder beekeepers do listen to us after all.


With two supers full of honey on Myrtle’s hive, you need a hive partner to help lift the heavy boxes in an effort to avoid squashing bees. Myrtle’s brood nest had a less welcome surprise inside. No sign of Myrtle for the second week running, in the middle of the third frame were six queen cells that looked strangely squashed, and the tenth frame had two surviving queen cells. What could have happened?

We knew the apiary hives may have been checked during the week before the beginner beekeepers’ assessments, and I wondered if the queen cells had been squashed to prevent a swarm or culled to select the best candidate for supersedure. Was the queen present and should we do an artificial swarm though? It was really hard to decide what to do without knowing what might have happened, so we decided to send an email and find out first before taking action. Depending on the outcome, Emily and I may be back at the apiary after work this week.


Chamomile’s moods can be as unpredictable as the British weather, so we’re never sure what to expect. We wanted to reduce her nest from a double-brood to a single-brood. I found Chamomile on the second frame and caged her to keep her safe during the procedure. We moved the frames of brood into one box and put the frames of honey into another box. Emily shook the bees into the bottom box as I held Chamomile safe and then released the queen back into her nest with the queen excluder placed on top. An empty brood box was placed between the brood nest and the brood box with honey frames to create a space that will encourage the bees to rob the honey from the top and take it down below. Emily scored the honey frames with her hive tool to make the task easier for the workers.

By then another beekeeper had arrived to check his hive and Albert turned up too. “Is it Saturday?” he asked.


When John picked me up the weather was still clear, so we went for a walk around the 14th-century grounds of St Mary’s and stopped to sit on the green. I watched a common carder bee hovering over a clover before visiting its neighbour.

As a beekeeper and an aromatherapist I was doubly pleased to find out that bees and flowers do ‘talk’ to each other. In a wonderful new BBC bee drama Hive Alive, presented by Chris Packham and Martha Kearney, the secret language of flowers and bees was revealed. A flower has a negative charge that gives off an electrical signal to a bee. The bee has a positive charge that changes the electrical field of the flower when it lands to forage. This tells other bees that the flower has been visited and to come back later when it has replenished its supplies of nectar and pollen. Just amazing.

Hive Alive episode one aired on BBC2 this week and the second episode is due on Tuesday 22 July, 8pm, BBC2. I can’t wait!

Notes: In August the apiary hives are given Apiguard treatment for varroa that has a strong thymol smell which taints the honey stores. As Emily and I will miss each other at the apiary for the next two weeks, we’re harvesting our crop in early August. So there’ll be a short gap in bee posts until then.


14 thoughts on “Pink queens and a swarm?

  1. I like that portrait of Chamomile. It’s got a little air of mystery about it. The electrical charge thing is fascinating. After I learned about it I started watching bees work groups of flowers and it’s easy to observe. After one bee leaves a flower it’s been harvesting from another will fly along, bump it lightly and then move on until finds an unharvested one. Nothing more amazing than nature!

    • It’s incredible! I had heard about it a couple of weeks before the program from a scientist at an exhibition but it was lovely to see in action.

      Yes, Chamomile can sometimes be a lovely queen and other times quite spikey! I think she’s a good ruler. We’ve a dilemma with our queens at the moment with Myrtle’s seeming disappearance and Pepper’s usually happy bees being disruptive. Nothing stays the same for long in beeland!

    • Pat very kindly called – he didn’t think Myrtle’s hive was used for the assessments, although thought it sounds like someone had been in there as the queen cells were so oddly squashed.

      Emily and I went back tonight after having time to think and it looks like Myrtle is gone. We just wanted to make sure the bees weren’t about to swarm off. The two big queen cells are now gone and the smaller ones look mostly torn down with a few left in reserve. If there was a swarm then it was a very small one and if not it was emergency supersedure – we’ll never know! Hopefully all will be well for Emily on Saturday while I’m away from bees this weekend.

  2. There’s always excitement – drama, even – around your hives, EST. Hive Alive is all very well but when oh when are they going to bring hives to Ambridge. I nominate Linda to be i/c the village apiary, with hilarious consequences…. But who shall provide the cake?

  3. Pingback: A wonderful day to be a beekeeper | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

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