In The Apiary : Mid-June : A Recipe For Bees

Sunday Best
Beekeeper’s Whites

Well, there’s been a bit of a rush on in the Bermondsey Street Bees’ apiary in mid-June. About time, too, since the longest day of the year is almost upon us ! As regular readers will be aware, the cold, wet Winter, rotten Spring and dubious early Summer seasons have not been propitious for bees.

But a few days of fine weather, dotted with sporadic downpours, have set the scene for a late rally. The Snelgrove manipulation on Abbey Hive has yielded three more potentially viable colonies: the old Abbey Queen (the grande dame of the Bermondsey Street Bees’ apiary, resplendent in last season’s high-vis yellow livery) and Abbey’s older, foraging bees believe that they have swarmed to a new location, and are building up their brood nest afresh, while the young nurse bees and the brood from Abbey Hive, separated from their old matriarch, got busy making new virgin queens.

Here’s the recipe to make perfect Queen bees: take 6 new queen cells (“made earlier” in the Abbey Snelgrove top box); leave two in situ and place two each in two Kieler breeding mini-hives, together with some starter wax strips to get the brood comb started; add 250g of bakers’ fondant; finally pour in a “cupful” of young bees. Leave to prove for 2 1/2 weeks. Et voila, you have made two virgin queen bees in each mini-hive (the first of which to vacate her cell will despatch her unhatched sister, her rival for the throne). Then pray for a few days of a temperature over 20C and a distracted local bird population, which will allow your virgin queen to gather her strength and fly off for her (one and only!) mating flight, hooking up with as many as twenty drone partners, then returning to the hive as a delicious and fertile new Queen.

Kieler Breeding Nuc
First, Prepare A Kieler Breeding Nuc….Let’s Call It “X”

So from this shocking story of sororicide and binge mating, you may well be forgiven in assuming that the white “X” on top of the green roof is a British Film Censor certificate for what goes on in and around a Kieler nucleus hive. But no, this is just a distinctive geometric sign to “mark the spot”of the hive for the Queen when she returns from her mating flight (by a strange co-incidence, my other Kieler mating nuc is called “O” – but that, as they say, is another Story….). These two mini-hives are intended to provide a starting-point to build up bees to overwinter as viable colonies, which will become honey-producing entities in 2014 (btw my fashionista spies tell me that Green will be all the rage as the keynote colour for next year’s Queen bee collections).

Voila - A Perfect Hatched Queen Cell
Et Voilà ! – A Perfectly Hatched Queen Cell

But, like all recipes, things can go horribly wrong (just ask Nigella !). In my case, kitted out in my best beekeeping whites, I confidently adopted the Snelgrove manoeuvre as my new signature dish. So I decided to repeat the process on Thames Hive, 10 days after Abbey Hive. Given that the colony had built up from a 5-frame nucleus to a 12-frame hive, it was a little behind Abbey Hive in its development, but I have to say that Primrose, Queen of Thames Hive had earned her star billing and was laying spectacularly even, cornflake-crisp worker brood. So I gathered the ingredients and followed the recipe, as before. Primrose and her foragers were induced to “swarm” into the new lower brood box, while the younger bees, food stores and the brood inhabited the old top box.

Four days later, the top box suffered a virulent attack of nosema, which displayed its classic symptoms of brown splatter and seriously listless bees, so I broke the hives into two separate units and isolated the nosema-ridden box and treated with Vitafeed Gold, a health preparation often used against nosema.

The Tell-Tale Splatter Of Nosema

This emergency separation may well have saved Primrose and her older squadron of bees from being afflicted with this dread parasitic fungus (which had already done for Shard Hive in another corner of my Apiary at the end of May) and I sprayed any tell-tale spots outside the hive with a dilute fungicide after the bees had returned to their hives for the night.

I am at a loss to discover why, after 5 years, nosema has been so destructive for my bees in 2013. Last year’s Autumn feed, with a dash of thymol emulsion, kept them well through the grim Winter, but in the late Spring and early Summer, even after the Vitafeed Gold treatment, two colonies out of 5 have been smitten with this disease!

Here are my top three theories about this epidemic:

      • The withdrawal of Fumidil-B by the European Union’s EPA last year deprived the beekeeper of a first-line antibiotic defence against nosema. I used to treat prophylactically against nosema with Fumidil-B. Controversial. Still, it is a poor workman who blames his tools (or the lack of a particularly useful one in the tool-box).
      • It is said that stress can be a potential trigger for nosema in honeybees – but with the recently-improved weather and sufficient stores, there was little reason for the upper half of Thames Hive to be in any way traumatised.
      • And it can come down to a single, nosema-infected bee, perhaps unknowingly squished during a manipulation, which may have released nosema spores inside the hive which otherwise would have been deposited outside, causing such a sudden and unexpected flare-up…

Time to hang up the beekeeper’s whites for today, after slaving over some hot hives – and I don’t mind telling you: “Beekeeping doesn’t get tougher than this!”

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