Some upgrades and an identification
We're beginning to see the first hints of autumnal weather here, and I think the bees know it too. They're working pretty hard at building lots of stores up, while the queen has laid nearly an entire frame of eggs. In fact, in general there was a huge amount of late-stage brood, so even by next week we should see an increase in numbers!
Immediately on opening up the hive, Dan noticed not only that many of the bees appeared to be looking up at us but also the amount of brace comb between some of the frames. Looking down into the hive, there appeared to be a lot of that sugar stored. A few weeks ago, we had taken the wild comb from the roof and pushed it onto one of the spare frames. This had turned into messy cross comb. As Dan lifted the frame, some of the comb broke away and the bees immediately went to rescue the precious nectar from the now-open comb. We thought for a few minutes after that they got a little grumpy with us, but were soon back to their normal chilled-out mood. Dan handled the first half of the inspection today, his third ever inspection, and was really gentle and methodical. Far better than me on my third inspection.
We tried out three new things on this inspection: smoker pellets, a wasp barrier, and a new queen excluder. The smoker pellets were bought to replace our usual scrap cardboard smoker fuel. We attempted to light them according to the instructions, but didn't have much success. Dan then decided to apply his fire skills and use dried grass to start the first, which, together with the pellets, worked a treat and produced a smoker which didn't need to have its bellows pumped all the time. The queen excluder was a posh pine and stainless steel wire Herzog type. Wires are accurately spaced at 4.3mm and they allow easy passage of bees. Before we were using a plastic queen excluder provided with the hive, but we felt they deserved an upgrade!
The wasp barrier was a 'Wasp Out', essentially a bit of electrical trunking with dowel at each end to keep out wasps but to let bees in. The trunking goes over a normal reduced entrance, and the bees have to walk along and out. We fitted this because we know there are a lot of wasps in the area and we've seen them attack the hive even during inspections. After fitting the new entrance, I watched them for a while. It's amazing they tolerate me sitting in front of the hive after I've done this. Anyway, the bees, returning from foraging, seemed a bit confused with where the hive entrance was. However, a few of them had worked it out after a couple of minutes, and hopefully with a bit of patience and pheromones they'll have an accessible hive which is easy to defend against wasps. One thing I was a bit disappointed with was how slippery the tunnel seemed. Being made out of plastic cable trunking, the bees couldn't quite get a decent grip on it. If it proves to be a success, I think next time I will use a bit of sandpaper to make it rougher so they have an easier time getting in and out.
Finally, Dan has been doing some research into the kind of bees we have. Looking at the queen today, he pointed out some of her features compared to a typical Buckfast — smaller wings, a slender body, and a nearly-black abdomen. He's determined we have a colony of Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica), a subspecies of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) from the south of Central Europe, particularly Slovenia. They're a favourite of beekeepers because they're good at defending against pests while being gentle on beekeepers. They can adjust population levels depending on nectar availability (possibly why we've seen an increase in numbers now). They've also got a ton of other strengths for beginners: better sense of orientation, less drifting and robbing, adaptable to changes in the environmy, good with long winters, resistant to diseases like nosemia and dysentry and even American Foul Brood (but not varroa), long-lived, good at foraging with longer tongues, and love building comb. On the other hand they are known swarmers, and don't like the heat. Determining the subspecies of honey bees is pretty much a new topic to me so this is all very interesting. If there's any other beekeepers out there who like to help us confirm this identification please let me know!
Over here in this part of Europe, the UK and Ireland, our native bee is Apis mellifera mellifera, the dark European honey bee, or 'black bee' (depending on where you live, known as the British black bee, the native Irish bee, the Cornish black bee, and so on). It's often argued among beekeepers that if a beekeeper is to keep bees, they should be the native ones, not least to prevent genetic introgression, especially where an introduced subspecies does not suit the climate. However, ours came from a swarm in a tree, so we can hardly help it if we're lucky, right? And we're very lucky with these ones.