My First 3 Months Of Bee Keeping

I’ve been interested in keeping bees for a many years but circumstances worked against me. A friend living in Banbury started bee keeping two years ago and I helped him with a couple of inspections and we spent time talking about his new hobby. My existing interest and his enthusiasm for a new “hobby” eventually persuaded me to “just do it”. I discussed it with the neighbours to make sure they were on-board.

Initially I went with West Wolds U3A on a visit to Thorne’s for a tour of the factory and an introduction to bee keeping talk. From there I attended a Thorne’s course in May 2019. It was at this point I realised that if I was going to start in 2019 I had to get everything in place before July – the race was on.

A visit to Thorne’s with a long shopping list and after two weeks (they were very busy) I collected my National hive. I joined the Lincolnshire BKA and registered my hive on Bee Base.  I waited another week (close to the end of June) before travelling down to Banbury to collect my new colony and make the three hour journey back with a brood box of happy bees.  After setting up the hive in the garden – south facing and in a quiet corner next to the vegetable patch, I waited a couple of days for them to settle. On my first inspection the biggest problem was getting the smoker to stay alight and smoke. All seemed well, I spotted the marked and clipped queen. That was a great confidence builder.

Week two, another inspection and although I didn’t see the queen there was larvae. Spotting eggs was really difficult and remains so. Week three, still no sight of the queen and my anxiety levels are rising. At this point I asked for help and was advised to leave the hive for a couple of weeks and see what developed. Week five and I realised the capped brood was empty and there wasn’t any new brood. Somehow the queen had died and as a consequence I realised this colony was doomed. I felt as though I had failed them.

After going on holiday for a week I came back to undertake a final inspection with the expectation that there would be just a few workers left. I was so sure I didn’t bother with the smoker. To my great surprise, when I lifted the lid the hive was very, very active. Yes, they were not only busy they were also extremely aggressive and throughout the duration of that inspection I was surrounded by bees all attempting to sting me. I’ve been stung a couple of times in the past and although it’s uncomfortable I’m not concerned about it however there was something deep in my psyche that told me to run away, I didn’t. Panic was close but I kept it under control.

So what had happened? Either the workers had created a new queen or a swarm had taken over the hive. The aggression of the new bees suggests to me that this is a swarm and not part of the original gene pool.

My next inspection I was ready for them – smoker at the ready which they ignored but I worked my way steadily through the frames – plenty of larvae, capped brood and food store. Five frames in I spot the queen but before I get a chance to take a photo or mark her she’s disappeared from sight.

Where do I go from here? I’ve decided to see the queen through the winter and replace her in the spring. I treated for Varroa mite with MAQS in early September and I started a rapid feed of sugar syrup a week later. I continue to inspect on a weekly basis in the hope that the colony will get used to the intrusion, learn that I’m not a threat and become less aggressive – I live in hope.

I’ve learned so much over the last 3 months however I’m only too aware that there is still a lot to learn and the steep learning curve continues.

Steve McCarthy
Market Rasen
19th September 2019

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