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Update on our new colony of Buckfast bees after three weeks


Buckfast bees in their beehive

I grabbed the chance between showers to go into my hive of Buckfast bees this afternoon. They got very agitated initially but settled down after a while. And so did I!

The key thing to remember when examining a hive is to keep calm as possible. When I begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by the bees (these supposedly calm bees were dive bombing my veil) I always think of the indomitable and kind August Boatright and her advice to Lily in the novel The Secret Life of Bees:
“I hadn’t been out to the hives before, so to start off she gave me a lesson in what she called ‘bee yard etiquette’. She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”
Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees – a book that I really enjoyed and often think about four years on.

So love seems to be the answer here. When I lift the lid of the beehive I billow love. Haven’t tried whistling yet.

The colony has increased a lot in size. I couldn’t believe how small the colony was when it arrived – it cost over £200 inc postage and packing so it was a large investment for us. But clearly it is multiplying now. The queen is laying – as I saw evidence of eggs. These eggs are teeny, tiny and quite difficult to spot. You need to turn the frame carefully in the light to get the right angle. The bees are not very keen on this procedure so you have to be as smooth as you can.

Eggs that will turn into brood and later bees of course doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a queen in the hive. In the absence of a queen or a queen with a very low pheromone level, laying workers can develop egg laying skills. Laying workers eggs are infertile. If you have these in your hive you have a problem.

There are several ways to find out if you have laying workers in a hive. If the egg laying pattern in the hive is regular, with just one egg per cell in a large swathe, this is a good indication that the eggs are being laid by a queen rather than a laying worker. The laying workers eggs do not have the same pheromone as queen eggs and will be removed by other workers. This means that the pattern of egg laying will be spotty on the frames. Laying workers also lay multiple eggs in a cell. This would be very rare occurrence if a queen was laying, unless she is very young and just getting to grips with the whole process.

Despite the colony increasing substantially in size, the bees had not drawn out all the comb. We’ve fed them a sugar solution to help this process as a lot of sugar is used in the making of viable cells for honey and brood. This means that we probably will not a great honey harvest from the Buckfast hive this year.

That’s OK as our main priority is to build a strong healthy colony this year that will survive the winter and give us a decent honey harvest next year.

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  1. Rob12

    Silly question perhaps but are these a specific variety of bee? I would love to have a beehive and hopefully once I get a toehold on an allotment site will be able to squeeze one or two in. Since bees are getting such positive press these days I doubt anyone will object.

    We have in our garden here a type of solitary bee – sets up shop in empty snail shells (gives you a nasty shock when you are clearing out a planter and the shell you just picked up buzzes you…). No idea what they are but they look like mini bumblebees.

  2. Great post.We have a nest of bumblebees hidden behind some shrubs in the garden.
    Good luck with your bees.

  3. 5olly

    That is a very cool concept!

  4. I love the idea that the world is one big bee yard. Bees fascinate me. I have a small hive of red mason bees (not masonry) which are solitary. This is the first year that all the cylinders are all full with grubs, no more room at the inn, and I will have to put up another for net year. They eat the pollen left for them, turn into cocoons and emerge on a warm day in Spring.. usually all at once. Such a wonderful spectacle and the saying ‘busy as a bee’ never more true as I watch them to and froing with mud to seal the grubs in. Also have bumble bee boxes, made for my kids by their grandad, but no luck with them yet. Am waiting and hoping…

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