Signs on the comb and leaving alone

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


We're now into August, and we're over most of the swarming season and into the time of year when most beekeepers begin to think about harvesting honey. For those of us looking after new colonies, we're thinking of the sufficiency of food stores as the nectar supply dries up and pest control such Varroa treatments. Although my colony has a few potential problems (see later), the drop on the bottom tray is low and the colony comes from a swarm, which is considered to be a lower risk for varroa. Originally the place was to treat them with a thymol-based treatment, but we've decided to hold off for a few weeks if things continue to look good, on the basis that it's best to leave them alone if we can get away with it. We can consider other options if things suddenly get bad later.

Welshie on IRC noted the burr comb on the bottom of the frame in the picture for the last entry, and advised removing it to stop the development of brace comb. Brace comb spans gaps to give rigidity, but makes inspection difficult and may end up containing valuable stuff like brood or honey. Given my bees' propensity to build irregular comb, I'm going to have to be more diligent in scraping it off with my hive tool than usual. Since last week, another two clumps of it had been built. Dave remove it and put it on top of the frames for the bees to recover the wax and any nectar from. You can also fix it inside an empty frame with rubber bands, or just take it away in a container with a lid, but don't just leave it behind, because that can attract predators.

Anyway, we had the third inspection today, with B and D both in attendance with plenty of enthusiasm. As ever, things looked good, but with a few surprises. And as ever, the list of things to look out for was longer than a reasonable time limit would allow, so we didn't much queen spotting, but instead looked more carefully at the comb. We saw the queen last week, and I could make out some eggs too, if in fewer numbers. Eggs are hard for me to make out on the comb on even a bright but cloudy day. Next time I'm going to bring my glasses and a head torch to see whether that makes it easier.

Now, those surprises. There were three. Firstly, there was the beginning of one extruded cell on the comb. Although it didn't appear to hang down, this could be the beginning of a single supersedure cell, signalling the colony's intention to replace the existing queen. As is often the case with beekeeping, the advice is to leave well alone and hope for a successful outcome. If it is a supersedure cell, we can hope the supersedure is successful and we end up with a new queen — one which can lay and has enough sperm not to just lay drones. Maybe, rather than my eyesight, the reason why I couldn't see many eggs was that the queen isn't up to the job. Secondly, possible signs of disease. I saw a couple of cells with dead white brood in them. This larval 'mummification' is a sign of chalkbrood, not usually a serious matter in a healthy colony but more of a potential problem in smaller, stressed colonies. Interestingly, the National Bee Unit advise that avoiding damp apiary sites will help to minimise chalkbrood, and we may well have an issue with that, as I've noted before. I might need to get my hive up on the higher and stronger stand that Dave made (incidentally, here's how to make one). Thirdly, about five or ten raised, cratered, open-topped cells could be seen, with possibly the two eyes of a bee ready to emerge within. It reminded me of the cell shape in the signs of bald brood, but there's no white larvae inside, and no lines of cells or clumping from the underlying tunnelling wax moth larvae. However, bald brood is the premature uncapping of pupae. Sometimes that's genetic and re-queening usually solves it. So, again, I'm not worried very much, particularly as it's only a few cells. Maybe they are just fully-matured but dead, or maybe the bee is waiting for some reason before emerging. I'll ask at the next local association apiary meeting in a couple of days.

Otherwise, I'm generally happy — a recognisably good brood pattern on the same 4½ (northmost) frames if a little holey, a nice circle of dusty grey-brown pollen had grown since last time, lots of winter stores building up, lots of nice larvae and capped brood in the cells and a nice docile colony. Dave and D's colony looked great, building out the comb, no queen seen but laying abundantly and generally looking active and happy. Afterwards, we went home, talked about what we'd seen, and played Tantrix and chess mini-games.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBrood# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C10✔ 50e✔ CB? BB?l90022°C ☁