It’s been a quiet winter for the bees, with little to update you on regarding their progress. Getting them back in September seems a long time ago, and that was a magical moment. But what I witnessed Alan, my in-house beekeeping expert and part of our Pathology Team, conduct last night took that magic into the realms of sorcery! An amazing process, which has only left me realising how much I have to learn in my personal beekeeping journey for the Sanctuary.
First the good news, the colony survived the winter in rude health. Believe me, this has given me the occasional sleepless night, fretting that I would come to open the hive in spring and find it empty! However over the last three weeks there has not been an opportunity to open the hive while warm enough. So I have been keeping a watching brief from outside, not knowing what I would find when I eventually took the lid off.
Last night Alan and I found an OK evening to open up and take stock. When the lid was lifted there was a mass of bees immediately beneath and I took a deep relaxing breath! The super frames were heavy with honey, showing that they have been busy in the past two months re-stocking after winter.
Below, in the brood chamber, the queen had been extremely busy and signs of imminent swarming were everywhere. There were about 10 queen cells in all, special larvae fed up to emerge in 26 days time as virgin queens. This showed that the colony was making plans to head off into the wide blue yonder and leave a generation of new bees to fend for themselves in this hive. We needed to put a stop to that!
Alan went through each of the 12 frames in the brood chamber, looking for the queen and putting these in a second hive as he worked. We eventually found the queen with her bright red spot on her thorax showing that she is one of last year's bees. We left her in the hive with two frames of worker larvae, eggs and sealed chambers (known as brood) and put nine clean new frames in with her. The honey-laden supers were replaced above and the lid put back on. The second hive, now containing the majority of the immature bees still in their cells, all the queen cells and a few flying bees too, was built up with empty super frames and a lid put on. We now have a second colony of bees. Magic!
The flying bees will have emerged from hive two either last night or early this morning, foraged and returned to hive one, following their instinctive sense of direction. However over the next five days new workers will emerge in hive two and see this as home; go out foraging and build up food stores ready for the queens to emerge in 20 or so days time. Survival of the fittest will see these queens reduced to one, who will then take charge of this hive and we will go into production!
So, while I watched Alan's expertise at work, it dawned on me that my responsibility was doubling in front of my eyes; I now have the prospect of 50,000 bees to care for in a matter of weeks time. However, if I manage to keep our two queens happy though the summer, we will have double the honey quantity to extract later this year.
I hope you'll all get a chance to sample this sweet taste of our incredible Sanctuary!