Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.8

It’s been a month of extremes; from elation to (almost) despair, with a bit of panic thrown in. In spite of this, it’s certainly been interesting and I’ve learned a lot in my first month.

Last month I wrote that I had just picked up a nuc of bees. I let the bees settle into their new location for a few days and transferred them into their hive without incident, adding 2 frames of foundation.

On the next inspection, all seemed well though there were queen cups with eggs in them (removed). The colony appeared settled and was expanding
rapidly with a first super added 2 weeks later. I was thinking, “This is great, I’ve got this!” However, on the next inspection I found a capped queen cell on one of the frames! (Oops, how did I miss that last week??) Then, I went looking for the red marked queen… she was gone and there were no eggs! I couldn’t find her after 15 minutes of searching. So three weeks after obtaining these bees, I thought I’d lost the queen and failed to manage a swarm. Not impressed with myself.

Soon after, I was offered a swarm and as I have two hives, one sitting empty, I accepted it. I picked up the bees, placed them the apiary and returned mid week to hive them. The first inspection showed they were settling in, but the second inspection I saw less than a dozen eggs and the bees were starting to draw the comb out. I used a national feeder from the start to encourage this swarm to stick around and make this hive their home.

Last weekend I had a lot of beehive drama; First of all, I inspected the ex swarm. It’s doing brilliantly…loads of eggs and larvae! I made a point of remembering my queen crown and marker pen as I was intending to mark the queen. I found her on the last frame and as I reached into my pocket for my
equipment I realised I hadn’t removed any of the packaging around the crown or the pen! In the time it took me to remove it all, the queen had run off somewhere and I couldn’t find her. I gave up after a couple minutes in frustration. I’ll try again later…at least this time my equipment is unwrapped.

The ultimate drama was when I inspected my second hive, expecting to see an open queen cell and newly emerged queen. Neither were present. As I moved frame by frame, I saw loads of eggs and larvae so someone was laying…but it would be too soon for a new queen, surely?! Then I saw the red marked queen! On the next frame was the capped queen cell. There were a lot of bees gathering around it now, the hive was starting to get noisy. I thought the queen would be out within 2 hours. I quickly closed the hive and dashed home.

Thankfully, with England playing in the semis, there was very little traffic so I could really motor it. I picked up my nuc box and supplies, returned to the site, found the queen’s frame and hastily added stores and brood and moved it approximately 15 feet away from the hive.

I couldn’t resist a look at the queen cell, so I opened the hive; there were holes at the end of it, she was emerging. And at this moment, I got my first stings as a beekeeper, not just one, but three on my gloved right hand. In summary, I started July with a single colony and I am ending the month with three colonies and an urgent second hand hive purchase.

Beginners lessons so far:

Lesson 1: Always leave your wellies on until the smoker is completely extinguished and the ash is cool.

No matter how tempting it is to get into flip flops as soon as you’re away from the hive, they are not suitable footwear for stamping out a fire. (My smoker ash reignited on some gravel and I had to quickly hop back into my wellies to stamp it out). It made me think that I should bring a spray bottle of water with me, as the grass is like tinder right now due to our heatwave and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for burning down an entire allotment.

Lesson 2: When transporting a swarm of bees in a nuc, triple check that ALL the bees are secure and there are none under the bottom of the box (or anywhere else).

I had a moment of panic when driving on the M6 and noticed that a bee was on my back window…then it became 3 bees, then a few more to a total of 7. Thankfully, all 7 bees were preoccupied at the back window and didn’t venture towards me.

Lesson 3: Buy lots of sugar.

The family was not happy when all the sugar in the house was used to feed the bees & there was none left for hot drinks or for baking with. It’s remarkable how quickly sugar supplies are consumed when making 1:1 syrup.

Denali Enns

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