Return of the Queen

by Sue Gessler

After our swarm on Shabbat 7th July - waking up to a cloud of bees in the sky above the hive - our hive had been resolutely empty of any larvae or brood of any description. We had checked and found extremely neat and shiny empty cells throughout the brood box. And our supers had some honey in but many frames with empty comb- the bees had drawn out comb but nothing was in it. Every wet day they stay home and eat their stores- and they need a lot to keep going.

We had also noticed that the level of bee activity was much lower - they just seemed to be pottering rather than the highly active level that they had previously been at, both the foraging bees that flew out of the hive and those within it when we looked. Perhaps not surprisingly - all those nurse bees with nothing to do!  It all seemed rather miserable, but we decided that we had to trust to the bees to raise a queen - after all, that was what they had done to get a swarm in the first place.  On the 14th July we looked - no queen - no brood - but queens hatch faster than workers.  By the 17th, we looked and found 3 sealed queen cells, two at the bottom of the frame hanging like an elongated olive, with lots of bees clustering over and around it - and amazingly, one queen cell which had been opened and reclosed. We could see the dark body of the queen inside, and the lid of the cell had been neatly cut - as if along a dotted line- and then folded back over, rather like a cigarette packet. This is the workers ‘penning’ in the new queen, feeding her and waiting for the others to hatch before they decide on the best candidate. So we had to trust.

Next time we looked - still no queen to see, no eggs,  babies. Our bee-keeping tutor Brian replied tersely to emails: it takes over 3 weeks for a queen to be mated and begin to lay. Be patient. We had lots of drones to escort her up to the mating areas- we think over Hampstead Heath - and we kept hoping.

Yesterday (12th August) we examined the hive. We couldn’t see any queen. We began as usual with the outside frames - clean and empty - then some with capped honey at the top with its white wax bulge over each cell - and as we came to the inner frames we suddenly saw an enormous ellipse covering almost the whole frame of brown capped cells, quite different from honey. Was it really brood? We looked at the next frame. The same solid elongated circle, just like the illustrations in the bee books. The odd cell dotted throughout was empty, where we thought bees had hatched. And then, as we looked, we saw something move on the surface- the lid of a cell moved, erupted in a  very tiny way into small flakes , and as we watched, a bee emerged, backwards- and immediately walked off into the group of other bees, still covered on her abdomen with tiny flakes of wax.

So we now have 4 frames of brood- and if they are hatching now, we must have had a laying queen 21 days ago, on 22nd July. So perhaps that ‘penned’ queen that we glimpsed on 17th July was the one who was chosen- or perhaps there was another older queen who had been there all along. Our hope is that they can hatch out enough to get good and strong for the winter. We know we’ll have to feed them this winter as they are so short of stores, but if they can make a good and strong nucleus to get through the winter, we’ll be happy.

Buzzted

by Kevin Sefton

The rain had kept us away for a couple of weeks, so Deena and I went to visit our hive this afternoon at Manor House unsure what to expect.

Even from a distance it was clear that something was seriously wrong. As we drew up, we could see our hive, exposed, its top layer missing. The roof was upside down on the ground, half full of water. The feeder lay at an angle in the mud. The bricks the colony stood on were at rough angles. The frames where the bees live, store food, and raise young, were fully open to the sky.

Normally we wouldn’t leave our hive so exposed for more than a few minutes while working on it in dry weather. We had no idea how long ago this had happened, and it had hardly stopped raining for the last few weeks.

Luckily, we had an open floor which meant any rain would have drained straight out, and a few bees were walking along the open top bars of what remained of the hive. Signs of life.

We suited up and took stock.

Given how weak the hive had been last time, following a swarm and with a period of poor weather, it was incredible that they had survived.

Yet as we worked through each frame it became evident that they had not only survived, but had done so in fine shape. At each step we saw signs of life that had been missing from our last visits - young larvae which look like small caterpillars at the bottom of a hexagonal cell, sealed cells while the larvae metamorphose into bees, and a magical moment where we spotted a bee emerging from its cell, seeing the world for the first time.

Good news.

It all meant that the new queen had started laying. And the bees she was producing were beautiful and strong, many with bright yellow abdomens.

It was to get even more positive - after about 8 frames, we saw the queen herself … very dark, and very active. We caught her in a wire trap, a balance between not injuring her and keeping her still enough to mark with nail varnish (favourite quiz question to anyone visiting a hive - how do you know which one’s the queen … she’s the one with the red varnish on her head). I pushed harder with the frame to keep her still, but as the wax gave way I was worried I might have used too much effort, so abandoned the plan and was relieved to see her walk away apparently unharmed.

We left the reassembled hive, happy and relieved. A much stronger colony than we had expected, even after all the upset.

So why the chaos when we arrived?

If it had been a deliberate act of vandalism, it was poorly executed.

We guess that someone might have let curiosity of a wooden box hidden behind a fence get the better of them. Taking off the lid and top layers, they would have been startled by hundreds of bees appearing over the top of the frames and flying around agitatedly. I’d have liked to see their faces. Maybe it was a dare, only they know.

Whoever it was, they should join the others to get in touch and arrange a proper visit - it’s much better to look at bees with other people, and in a bee suit too. They’d be very welcome. Just let us put the roof back on next time.

Beware the silence

by Kevin Sefton

Last Friday Atira and I went to visit the hive at Manor House. It was quieter than when I’d last visited, and without the hubbub of bees flying around above the hive. It was a glorious day; maybe they were all out foraging?

 

While it was busy inside, there were some things missing. I couldn’t see the queen. Not much of a surprise as she’d always kept her head down. But also no eggs, no larvae and few covered cells out of which new bees would emerge. No next generation.

 

So what does it mean? The likely explanation is that the bees have swarmed – the queen has flown off with half our bees; a new experience for me. I hear there’s been a lot if it this summer. And of course fewer bees means less honey.

 

So what happens next?

 

The good news is we found a larger cell on one of the frames, open at the bottom. The size of a queen cell. It was pretty hidden and would have been easily missed during the regular sweep to prevent new queens developing.

 

It suggests that somewhere in the hive is a new queen, and one that will hopefully start laying soon. Next time we visit over the Jubilee weekend, we’re looking to see if there really is someone new on the throne. If there is, we’ll have an active hive. If there isn’t, we’ll have a wooden box.

Bee the Cake – JCC Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake Competition

Last Wednesday before heading home for Rosh Hashanah celebrations, the JCC ‘Bee the Cake’ competition was held in our offices. Five fine bakers were pitted against each other with the task of cooking the most scrumptious honey cake, using our very own Bee the Change honey.

There could be only one winner. With pride and reputation on the line, anxious glances were exchanged as recipes were discussed and the tasting began. Thankfully, a flip-cam was near-by and we’re able to share with you what happened…

'Honey to the Bee' - The afternoon after the afternoon before

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Thank you so much to everyone who came along to Kentish Town City Farm yesterday. 25 people would have been a great number, but with over 45 people coming along, I was blown away. From families who enjoyed a walk around the farm and tasting the huge variety of different local honey, to representatives of organisations who are looking to host their own hive, everyone got stuck in.

A special thanks goes out to those who made it happen: Mikey from Capital Bee, Barnaby from Urban Bees, Chris from the farm and our very own Deena.

From speaking to everyone it was clear that the ‘Bee the Change’ vision is one that lots of people share. It’s a vision that is inspiring people to come forward and ask how they can become a part of it and drive it forward. I couldn’t ask for more than that!

If you were there, please do let us know what you thought and if you weren’t, get in touch and I’ll make sure you’re in the loop for upcoming events, workshops and courses.

Sol

Bees and Me - Deena’s Diary [2]

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Fresh off the press, here is the second installment of Deena’s blog, charting her journey as an unexperianced but enthusiastic bee keeper learning the ropes.Hear her speak in person, by coming along this Sunday to our event, ‘Honey to the Bee’ at Kentish Town City Farm, 2-4.30pm. Family and Friends welcome! Register your place here: http://www.jcclondon.org.uk/our-events/social-action/honey-to-the-bee

*****

Hullo my honeys (that is a little topical joke!)

Have I piqued your interest in bees yet? Have you gone outside and watched these remarkable creatures going about their business moving from flower to flower stuffing pollen into little pouches on their back legs?

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