Second inspection of the year

It’s been a cold week, but today seemed to mark a turning point in the weather here. I took my coat and gloves back off; my gloves had been put away for the summer two weeks ago, only to be hastily retrieved when the cold winds arrived. In some parts of the country snow has fallen and the keepers have not found an opportunity to do a first inspection yet.

Cherry trees
Cherry tree in my garden – on one of the gray days

I lit my smoker and approached Demelza’s hive – I always inspect that hive first as it’s calmer. I still couldn’t spot Queen Demelza, and her workers had not made a start on drawing out the frames in their super. Perhaps they will now the weather seems to be warming up again. I saw eggs and brood across about six frames, and the colony seemed content and calm.

On to Kensa’s hive. I had left them a super of honey on over winter, which I now think was a mistake. They probably had too much space to keep warm, and now some of the brood has chalkbrood disease. The queen had also begun laying in the super, making it a colony on a brood-and-a-half system. I dislike this, as it means inspecting two boxes, and the two frame sizes are not interchangeable. I needed to find Queen Kensa this week for the next step in the Bailey comb change I’d started. I started by moving the top super box a few feet away and keeping it covered with the crown board to keep the bees calm. I placed the super box on top of the upturned hive roof, so that if the queen was there and fell down she would fall into the roof rather than on the ground.

I then spent some time inspecting the frames in the brood box. The colony was only using about half of these at one end of the hive. I also took the opportunity to slowly and gently remove comb sticking up from the top of the brood frames, using my hive tool. Unfortunately the bees became more and more agitated, and I couldn’t spot the queen.

The mood of the bees gave me a clue that perhaps Queen Kensa was in the super a few feet away. The bees very quickly notice if their queen goes missing and you can hear the sounds of the colony changing slightly. I covered over the top of the hive and moved over to the super. Moving the brood away is a good trick with an aggressive hive, as the flying foragers are more defensive than the nurse bees that stay with the brood. The bees in the super were in a very different mood, with a busy but peaceful hum. I decided the queen must be with them.

I carefully ran my eyes over the frames, turning them over and taking in all the bees. About three frames in, I saw her. And then I didn’t. My eyes lost her for a second and she disappeared. I turned the frame over several times before spotting her again, long and chocolate brown. That’s how easy it is to lose an unmarked queen.

Returning to the brood box, I removed the half of the frames that were empty and filled them with some of the super frames of brood. I placed the queen excluder on top and then Queen Kensa on the super frame I’d found her on, plus the new brood frames added last time. Once the brood below hatches out, I can remove the old frames and get them down to one brood box with mostly new comb. Not a perfect Bailey comb change but a good start. I plan to mark Queen Kensa next week now I have narrowed down where she is. I was feeling quite tired out by this point!

I can already think of some things I’ve done wrong, but never mind, hopefully the colony is moving in the right direction and I’ll sort it out on the next inspection.

By the way, does anyone know how to edit images in the WordPress media library to make their dimensions smaller? I used to know how but the option seems to have been removed. I can see how to make images in posts smaller but it looks like the original images in the media library remain the same size and take up more space.

Apple buds
Mini apple tree in my garden. I had two in pots – one survived the winter and one failed

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and – hopefully! – future successes.

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