On Monday we opened our hives to do a general inspection. They looked and behaved like healthy bee colonies from the outside but you really have to get inside a hive to know what’s going on. We wanted to make sure there was no damage after we had 2 days where the mercury hit uncomfortable highs: 42.3 C (108 F) on the 8th and a record-breaking 45.8 C (115 F) on the 18th. Bees can certainly survive those temps and ours were aided by our mister. But still, keeping the hive cool at those temps had to take a lot of effort. We also wanted to discern if it was time to harvest the next lot of honey. The last batch was harvested 7 weeks ago so there could be quite a few full frames.
Here’s Frank inspecting Hive 1. He’s removed the first super and is loosening the 2nd super to gain access to the brood box. Both supers are deeps with 10 frames. I helped lift off the supers and I can tell ya, they are heavy (yeah, lots of honey).
Unfortunately our euphoria over heavy supers in hive 1 quickly faded when we got to the brood box. We found lots of capped brood and HEAPS of pollen, but we only spotted 1 or 2 larvae (and no eggs, but I’ve never seen an egg; they’re tiny and I have old eyes). There was a nice top section of honey on the brood frames and a lot of busy bees doing housework. We checked 4 or 5 frames and all were the same – few or no grubs. Oh dear.
We quickly checked the supers as we put them back in place and discovered that many of the frames were fully capped (or nearly full) and that we really should get some of the honey out of there.
Hive 2 was fine, the brood looked good, the bees were happy and busy and there was some honey we could harvest, but not enough to be a problem. Also the queen had a lot of space to lay more eggs so no issue there either.
We thought about it and decided there was definitely something amiss with our Hive 1 queen but we weren’t positive the best steps to take. So, like all good new beekeepers our first step was to phone an experienced beekeeper and ask him his opinion. He said:
- He’s never had to re-queen.
- We should search every brood frame for a queen or larvae or eggs. If we see a queen but no eggs or larvae, maybe we need to re-queen. If we don’t see a queen (I wish I could be confident in our ability to find her) we should look for queen brood cells which would indicate the hive is taking matters into their own hands. If they are and it’s capped – that’s good, we can expect a virgin queen to be born. We may want to steal some brood from Hive 2 to top up Hive 1 until the new queen is producing well. If no queen cells are evident, we may want to steal some brood from Hive 2 with eggs or young larvae and move it to Hive 1 so Hive 1 can use one of those eggs to produce a queen. Or we may want to buy a new queen.
- We may want to talk to the club apiarist to get more advice after our full inspection.
Oh dear, oh dear.
The plan now is to borrow the club extractor this morning and at the same time we’re messing with the brood, we harvest honey. (No need to bug the hive more times than necessary.) We’ll examine as best we can the brood and hope that we suddenly see plenty of eggs and larvae and the queen was just being systematic in her laying and we missed the frames with larvae. Otherwise we’ll probably be up for some sort of frame swap with Hive 2 (bees moving between hives are killed but colonies are happy to take another hive’s brood or honey).
On the 21st (the day of our inspection), this would be what we should have expected to see in the brood:
- pupae (or capped brood) laid between Jan 1-12 (12 days to emerge as a bee)
- larvae (or grubs) laid between Jan 12-18 (6 days to pupate)
- eggs laid between Jan 18-21 (3 days to hatch)
We can therefore conclude the queen in Hive 1 had been laying sometime between the 1st and 12th since there was capped brood. The lack of larvae (I don’t trust my ability to discern eggs) means that she hadn’t been laying in the period 3-9 days before the 21st. So it appears that by the 12th she had stopped laying; potentially as early as the 2nd if the capped brood we saw was all laid on the 1st. This is highly unlikely but maybe she hasn’t laid since that hot day on the 8th.
We last inspected the hive on the 7th but haven’t been into the brood since our harvest on 5 Dec so it was nothing we did (thank God). Did heat stress kill her? or make her pause in laying to reduce the numbers in the hive and therefore the temp? Is it a seasonal thing? Or are we just overreacting and there is a bunch of larvae waiting to be seen by us when we inspect all the brood frames. Oh what I wouldn’t give for some reliable telepathy between my bees and me.
Off we go to collect the extractor and begin our long day of bee husbandry.