Urban Bees, London, Spring Clean

A video of us spring cleaning the hive…individually inspecting each frame.

Finally warm enough to do the hive spring clean. This is where we open up the bees’ home after the winter and see how they’re doing. With colony collapse disorder in the news – a strange new disease which has seen bees across the US mysteriously flee their hives to die – we’re a little worried that they may have left home. But we had a peek a few weeks ago and they were still there, so it seems unlikely. There are, however, a long list of diseases that they could have picked up over the cold winter months. The most likely include: verroa, tiny brown mites that kill the bees; chilled brood – when the bee larvae has died of cold – and chalkbrood, a fungus that kills the larvae. Bees are pretty susceptible to disease these days, so we’re looking out for signs of any problems. We’ve got a book from the Defra, the government department with responsibility for bees – yes, there is one – containing graphic photos of common diseases to help us identify them.
We also urgently need to find our queen and mark her. It’s a good idea to know where she is as the working of the hive revolves around her. Even though she has a much longer body than her worker bees, at the height of the summer with 50,000 bees in the hive it’s really difficult to see her without a mark. Now with only some 10,000 bees we’ve got a better chance of spotting her. When we do, we have to trap her in a little cage and put a blob of Typex-like fluid on her back. The marker colour is white because she’s last year’s queen and they get white. This year’s get a yellow blob. Queens usually live for three years, then the workers create a new one by feeding royal jelly to a larvae.
After queen marking, we’ll give the hive an extension so the queen has more room to lay her eggs. Brian’s been told that adding a second brood box on top of the existing one is the best extension as the bees will move to the frames upstairs in a few weeks so we can take away the downstairs and clean it. We kit ourselves up in our bee suits, light the smoker in case the bees get agitated and open the hive. To our horror, the first frame is a bit mouldy due to some damp at the front of the hive. The next two are similarly blackened, but there are still stores of honey. To our relief, towards the centre of the hive we find the expected brood (babies) which is pearly white coloured larvae in all stages of development, surrounded by multi-coloured pollen. Finally, to our excitement on the eighth frame we catch sight of the queen. She is huge. Much bigger than we expect. Bit scary. She tried to run away. We quickly trap her, and blob her, nearly squashing her in the process, then let her go. The last three frames hold more honey.
The verdict is that the things look OK, yippee, apart from the damp. Brian takes photos of all the frames for a visual record.
We can’t believe how well behaved our bees are during the inspection. There’s hardly a buzz out of them. I wonder if there are any cannabis plants nearby. Brian didn’t wear gloves and didn’t get one sting.
We add the extension, and give them another storey half full of honey that we never harvested last year because it wasn’t ready to eat. Although they haven’t got through all their winter stores of honey we figure they could do with some more to give them energy for the coming months ahead.

One thought on “Urban Bees, London, Spring Clean

  1. Ngaio

    That must be very scary ! I checked my 2 hives again yesterday after taking the last 16 frames off to extract and all looks well – fingers crossed !! Autumn is upon us here in the Antipodes, times to clean up and rest – I hope your honey season is good and that someone finds out what this colony collapse disorder ia all about ..

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