This Wednesday was the first lesson back after half term. As I am working night shift this week I had a lie in on the morning, however I was woken up by such a large noise outside as the heavens opened and hail stones came down hard for 15 minutes followed by a heavy thunderstorm. Though this was impressive to watch (and amusing watching our 3 chickens running around in the rain getting wet) it also made me think there would be no apiary visit on the course this week; I was wrong! After 20 minutes of heavy rain it stopped as quickly as it started and the sun came out for the rest of the day.
When I got to the classroom we all suited up and made our way over to the apiary. We split into 3 groups and checked the hives. After having some really nice warm weather over the last 2 weeks we were hoping to see eggs laid by the new queens. Last time there were a couple of hives that had virgin queens that hadn't mated yet, they need a couple of warm days to allow them to get out of the hive to mate; the first hive opened was one of them and there were eggs present. A further inspection of that hive in a weeks time will hopefully reveal that she is laying worker eggs and not just drone eggs. If she is just laying drones (males) then the colony is doomed as it can't survive without workers (females) to collect food and look after the young. We didn't see the queen in there but as she is a new queen she wouldn't look too different from a worker as her abdomen wouldn't have got enlarged yet. We then moved onto the second hive which is an established colony and did a check of that. In this hive we got the chance to do the inspection ourselves so when it came to my turn, using the hive tool, I separated the frames of brood and carefully lifted the frames one by one. I was unable to find the queen but did find brood in all the frames I checked. While we were doing this the teacher with one of the other groups shouted over to say they had a drone laying queen. Unfortunately she will have to be killed and replaced if the colony is to survive but as she couldn't be found then it'll have to be done another time.
After a short break for tea and coffee we had a sort of test where we were given nine bits of paper with images of the 3 castes of bees (queen, worker and drone) but they were cut up separating the head, thorax and abdomen. We had to put the bits together to correctly identify the 3 castes. We finished this fairly quickly and moved onto the next part which was talking about the different castes and comparing how long each takes to develop from egg to bee; this is a link to wiki site that shows the times if interested. This is important to know as it helps with swarm control. Next weeks course includes swarm management so I won't go into that this week.
I have saved the most important part of this weeks course while last. During the apiary visit Ivor said that he does have a few nucleus hives ready for us and hopefully will be able to collect mine next Wednesday! This means I need to pull my finger out and get to my Dad's allotment during the week and prepare the site. I must admit that I am buzzing with excitement at the thought of finally being able to say I'm a Beekeeper!