Once again, this is the beekeepers wife speaking. Apparently I must have done a good job of the last post I wrote, as I have been invited to write another one!
I accompanied the beekeeper to the Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeeping Association Apiary meeting at one of the members’ homes last weekend. The Beekeeper attended this meeting last summer and you can read about this here.
When everyone had arrived at the house we all suited up and began the long adventurous walk to the apiary, through the large garden, orchard and along a public footpath and through some trees. And as anyone who lives in the north of England will know its been raining a lot in the past few weeks so the ground was a bit wet underfoot and some areas were a little muddy. The day itself was dry, but it was dull and very cold, not what you’d expect in May, and more importantly not the ideal weather for inspecting bees as all of the flying bees who would normally be out foraging were at home so the hive was very busy inside.
The Regional Bee Inspector was leading the meeting and he was combining this visit with one of his inspections so was making notes about what he saw in the hives. He was looking at the health of the bees and for signs of disease and also at their strength, which can be seen in how many frames of stores and frames of brood, and if there’s pollen present etc.
The first hive that was inspected was a British National Hive which had a very strong colony of bees in it, and so had 2 brood boxes; which were full of bees. This could have been a problem as when a hive gets too full the bees often swarm. This hive had already had a nucleus of bees removed from it, and it was still very strong, so it was decided that the best course of action would be to split the hive, in a move similar to the one that we describe here.
Whilst we were looking in this hive, a gentleman was showing us how to see the semen in a drone bee. I’m not entirely sure why he decided to show us this, but it was an interesting process involving killing the bee by squashing him, which then made his phallus pop out and the semen was just there. This process can be used to collect semen to artificially inseminate a Queen bee and is called either full or partial “eversion”. This is explained in much more detail in this website.
This illustration comes from the same website and shows the back end of the bee and his endophallus and its horns or cornua.
The second hive that was inspected was a very weak colony in a Dartington Long Deep Hive. There were hardly any bees in this hive and they were showing signs of a disease called Sacbrood.
Although it is not a good condition for Bees to have, Sacbrood is not a notifiable disease and is a relatively common virus that does not usually mean the loss of a whole colony. Sacbrood affects both the larvae of worker and drones but not adult bees. Dead brood is often seen in amongst healthy brood and in a strong colony the adult bees will remove the dead larvae. The dead larvae have a dark, scaly appearance and are sometimes known as “Chinese Slippers” due to their shape.
Sacbrood can be spread in a number of ways including:
- Beekeepers using contaminated equipment in different hives.
- Nurse Bees who carry the virus around the hive.
- Robbing Bees who will attack a weak colony and transfer the virus between different apiaries.
- Swarming Bees who will carry the virus to their new brood.
Sacbrood is discussed in much more detail – with a picture of it on this website.
There were a number of courses of action that could be taken to help this colony, including killing the old Queen, and adding a new one, a process aptly called “Re-Queening”. There was also a chemical treatment discussed and the option of moving the bees to a different hive that was smaller and much better suited to this size of colony. Unfortunately most of the people at the meeting were all seasoned Beekeepers, the discussion got much too technical for me at this point, so I’ll leave it at that. I did however get the impression that lots of the people there were not fans of this hive design. Its frames are a different size which makes it difficult to swap frames or split the hive unless you have others like it. It is possible though to split the hive using a dummy board, making two completely separate colonies in the one unit.
And finally a nucleus hive was inspected; this was very brief as a number of people were saying they were in desperate need of a warm cup of tea by this point.
We all walked back to the house and had sandwiches, cake and other snacks which were very welcome and very tasty. And perhaps the best bit of the day – we won a bottle of Wells Waggledance Ale in the raffle.