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  • Writer's pictureLinda

The highs and lows of beekeeping

Cliffe Castle Bee Blog #9 2023

After the excitement of hearing our new queen piping on World Bee Day, Lee and I visited

the observation hive today (29 May), for a first inspection to make sure the colony is queen-right. I felt cautiously optimistic. I had heard the new queen clearly telling the colony that she was in residence and felt that - with such a long spell of good weather - she would have had many chances to leave the hive and complete her mating flights.

What a shock on arrival. Very few bees to be seen on the outer frames and only evidence of

the frantic collection of nectar and pollen by the older bees, the foragers. It certainly didn’t look good. Several very mucky looking frames of comb didn’t improve the picture.

New queens can be tricky to spot. But we don’t always need to actually see the queen bee herself, just as long as we can see single eggs in cells, which are evidence that she is present and doing her job (laying eggs) to keep the colony populated.

I tried to remain positive, reasoning that if we had a new queen, she would be tucked away in the darkness of the three inner frames. We removed two inner frames, with the same results as the outer ones. Lots of nectar and pollen, but nothing else. It was only when we took out the third inner frame that a patch of eggs could be seen. Phew!

It has taken from 5 May, when we took off all but one of the replacement queen cells the bees had made after we removed the old queen, for our new majesty to complete her development, perform her mating flights and begin to lay. This little colony will now start to build up and more bees will be produced to nurse the eggs and young larvae and draw out clean comb from the frames of foundation we will begin to put in place.

Over the next few weeks, the Cliffe Castle Observation Hive will be restored to full strength, provided our new queen has mated properly and the bees are happy with her performance. They are now in a race against time, to ensure there are enough bees and stores to see the colony through the winter. Luckily, they have the summer months ahead.

Did you know that honey bees mate in flight? Male bees (drones) from across an area, will leave their home nests in the warmth of the day to fly to various congregation sites. These are quite mysterious places, used by bees again and again over years. Here, a collection of drones will cruise-fly at heights ranging from 10 to 40 metres above the ground, waiting to pick up the scent of a passing new queen bee. When they scent her, they fly after her, in fierce competition, to mate. They can fly at speeds of over 20mph to do this!

Remember the bulky body and big eyes of the drone, from Bee Blog 6? Drones need strong muscles to power such high-speed flight and are built like body builders to achieve it. When they are near enough to the new queen they are chasing, they need to be able to see clearly to attach themselves to her body. Their big eyes, with lots of rods and cone cells help with this.

Next week Mike and I will try to find and mark the new queen, which will make her easier

to spot both for us and visitors to the museum throughout the summer. We will also begin the task of removing the grubby old frames to reduce the risk of disease and making it easier to see what is happening on the combs.



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