Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

The sun came out, and so did the bees

The shape

I saw them as soon as I stepped into the garden. That shape in the damson tree. I suppose it was predictable - weeks of almost constant rain and then, at last, a sunny afternoon. The bees must have been waiting for it just as we all were. They seized the moment and swarmed.

I don’t know who it is up in the tree. I’ve not been able to open the hives to see what the bees have been up to for at least a fortnight. They and I have been holed up inside wondering if it would ever stop raining.

Dancing in the moonlight

When I do inspect the colonies, I think I’ll have some new names to add to the family tree of Queens. But it’s not simple to identify where the new queens are. For instance, I noted before that Queen Peony’s colony were undergoing supercedure. But how can I tell whether that supercedure has actually taken place? When I last checked, the colony had at least one laying queen, as evidenced by the presence of eggs and brood. Plates and plates of capped brood, in fact. But I didn’t see the queen. And the supercedure cells had been torn down from the comb. Had a new queen emerged, mated and begun laying spectacularly well? Or had the colony had a change of heart and decided to retain Queen Peony? Or had Queen Peony discovered the plot and despatched the pretenders to the throne? Seeing two queens would of course have given the game away, as would seeing a queen that I didn’t recognise to be Queen Peony. But for now, I’m still wondering.

I think I also discovered a supercedure plan in Queen Queenie’s colony. They had a single, huge sealed queen cell, like a cigar, hanging from the very bottom of one of the brood frames. Queen Queenie was there, at the other end of the brood box, while the middle frames contained empty space - polished brood cells ready to receive eggs. I was fairly sure I was seeing supercedure plans, rather than swarming plans: just one queen cell, already sealed but with the resident queen still present, and signs that the bees were keeping the queen away from the queen cell. But now, of course, with a swarm of bees hanging in a tree, I wonder whether I misread the signs. Or maybe I blunderingly damaged the queen cell when putting the frame back into the hive, resulting in the bees deciding to swarm instead? I often worry that I’ve messed things up by opening a hive, but the only way to check whether I did would be to open the hive again, thereby risking messing things up even if I didn’t mess them up the first time.

Besides Queen-Peony-and/or-her-daughter and Queen-Queenie-and/or-her-daughter, these are the queens I think I have:

Queen Ottilie (unless that’s her up in the tree);

Queen Ottilie’s daughter (because I split the colony into two, to discourage swarming…though if this half of the colony did swarm, then I could have one daughter in the tree and one or more in the hive);

Queen Romaine’s daughter (Queen Romaine having swarmed);

Queen Romaine’s other daughter (because I split the remaining colony after the swarm left, to discourage cast swarming); and

Queen Uma.

Fingers crossed for beekeeping weather tomorrow.

24 hours of rain. The rain gauge has never been so happy.

Update 17th June 2019

I looked up at the swarm this morning before I left for work. Despite the early morning coolth, bees were dancing on the surface. I thought I probably wouldn’t see them again.

Sadly I was right.

Sigh.

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Logo artwork © 2015-2019 Susan Harnicar Jackson. All rights reserved.