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 Both Neroli and Ginger were superceded about a month ago, causing another setback for the colonies because of the three- to four-week period for a virgin queen to hatch, mate and begin to lay.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.
- Has the colony sufficient room?
- Is the queen present and laying the expected quantity of eggs?
- 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?
- Are there any signs of disease or abnormality?
- 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’.