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And there she was – gone!

A frame with eggs and  larvae!

A frame with eggs and larvae!

The observation hive isn’t quite working to plan this year.

Last month, I installed two super frames and one brood frame with one sealed queen cell in the glass hive. All seemed to be going smoothly and the queen seemed to emerge from the cell, but she proved exceedingly difficult to spot. Well. impossible to spot might be more accurate. Meantime two suspicious looking cells were created elsewhere on the brood frame — could they be more queen cells? Perhaps. But the bees huddled so closely to them that I could never get a clear view. Maybe that was proof enough!

In any event it took quite some time to spot any queen in the small hive. When I did find here, she was very dark and looked by her entourage and action that she might be laying. Not so!

Queen piping started and a the next day she flew the hive with a very tiny caste. But at least the piping (calls between rival queens) and the swarm seemed to prove that there was at least one more queen about to emerge.

The next queen proved even harder to spot, but after several days I did see here. I waited for her to start laying. But no eggs appeared and then the workers started to congest the centre of the brood frames — a fairly sure sign that something had happened to the queen and that they were not expecting a laying queen any time soon.

The colony was queenless and doomed! Perhaps the later queen had been lost or eaten by birds on her mating flight.

So, today, the brood frame with no eggs was replaced with one that has both eggs and larvae. That was no trivial swap since of course the hive is in the office! But it was successful and I wait to see if queen cells are about to be made. I know that in theory it is really too small a colony to produce a well-nourished and strong queen, but I have no spare laying queens or even sealed queen cells to give them. We shall see …

The failure of a queen to return mated to the hive is one of the not uncommon facts of honeybee life. I’ve just been reading in Jurgen Tautz’s The Buzz about Bees that a surprisingly high percentage of nucleii when moved to a mating apiary do not succeed in getting a mated, laying queen. The reasons for that are not at all clear, but one speculation is that small colonies might not be able to provide an effective escort on a mating flight.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Shy, retiring, but very vocal!

The elusive queen

The elusive queen

At last! It’s been a full week since the queen in the observation hive emerged from her cell. Because I couldn’t find her I had begun to think that the cell had been torn down and that they were working on some other queen cell that I couldn’t see.

Over the past week, I have looked and looked for her with no success. Then this morning  I heard her piping, then cawing a bit like a seagull, but a few octaves lower. Recognising the sound, I immediately stopped work and with one glance at the hive spied her immediately.

But it was quite some time before I was able to photograph her. She is very elusive, very dark and often has her bottom in a cell.

She has started to lay and I think today is her first day of egg production. I’m not quite sure what all the piping has been about. Maybe it was some sort of celebration. It’s been going on and off all day! It could even be from another queen still in a cell that isn’t obvious!

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Winter losses in the USA state-by-state

Here are the state-by-state honeybee 2013/14 winter colony losses in the USA :

However this blogpost by Sebastian Owen of Vita suggests that the stats this year may need careful interpretation.

Local college takes to beekeeping

Vannessa and mentor Pete search for the queen on the rooftop of Basingstoke College of technology

Vanessa and mentor Pete search for the queen on the rooftop of Basingstoke College of Technology

Right on Vita’s doorstep, a college has taken to beekeeping.

On a rooftop less a few hundred metres from Vita’s HQ, Basingstoke College of Technology has installed two hives. We went to visit them this week.

Sited just a few weeks ago, the nucleii colonies are growing fast and one is already confident enough to be producing queen cells. With a mentor from Basingstoke Beekeepers, the five-strong college team is enthusiastic and attracting the interest of different departments in the college.

They’ve chosen as their apiary site the rooftop of the engineering department. It is nicely sheltered and they have erected fine mesh netting to make sure the bees fly outwards over the town and not backwards into the air conditioning machinery where maintenance men might otherwise find all-to-quick fixes for any problems.

Up on the roof. BCOT beekeepers Lauren, Tim and Vanessa with Pete of the local beekeeping association (left)

Up on the roof. BCOT beekeepers Lauren, Tim and Vanessa with Pete (left) of the local beekeeping association. Casual observers can watch the bees safely from this side of the mesh.

The bees, headed up by Carniolan queens are beautifully tempered and reputed to do well except in rather hot climates– no worries there then!

The big question now is will the colonies grow large enough to bring in honey before the nectar flow stops. The first supers were added today and there’s plenty of good forage around, so here’s hoping!

Since this could well be a year when varroa thrives, the bees were treated early with Apistan and will receive Apiguard treatments in preparation for winter.

We will keep you informed of progress and so will they on Twitter @bcotbuzz and Facebook.

Eager new beeks: Tim, Lauren and Vanessa.

Eager new beeks. Three of the five-strong team: Tim, Lauren and Vanessa.

Heater bees or hygienic bees?

A heater bee -- head down and vibrating to generate heat to maintain the brood temperature

A heater bee — head down and vibrating to generate heat to maintain the brood temperature.

As I patiently wait the appearance of a queen in the observation hive (it seems that the first queen cell was torn down and two others started, albeit at a late larval stage), I’m becoming interested in the heater bees.

I always thought that bees with their heads in a cell were simply cleaning it.  That’s not  necessarily so.

Jurgen Tautz in The Buzz about Bees tells that bees, heads down in cells and vibrating are actually heater bees maintaining the brood at the optimum temperature. He reckons that the control of the brood nest temperature is equivalent to power usage of 20W (watt) and that if bees could channel that energy into a light bulb, they could light up their dark hive world!

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

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