Latest News From Clay Lane Apiary

Our new metal container is at last on site, providing a much more secure storage facility for our equipment. Our colonies are progressing well. We anticipate harvesting the honey around the third week in September. Any members who do not have the necessary equipment, can bring their capped supers along to the clubhouse and join in our extraction evenings. More dates to follow.






The Conundrum of the Laying Workers

One of the great things about going along to the apiary on a Saturday afternoon is that you always learn something new- not only that, but you have on hand a number of very experienced beekeepers who can discuss beekeeping problems and hopefully come up with a solution. This week, we were faced with a commercial hive that contained laying workers. The hive seemed to have been queenless with no new brood for some time and so it was inevitable that some of the workers would begin to lay and sure enough, not only were there cells containing multiple eggs on the sidewalls, but also there were queen cells containing larvae, but which we knew would have been haploid. The question was, what to do with these bees? We could have left them to dwindle away or use these bees potential and unite with another queen right colony; but would the laying workers destroy the queen from the other colony? Thinking about laying workers- does anyone know how many of the workers lay after the queen has been lost and do they produce queen hormone which will keep the hive in order and prevent other workers ovaries from developing? Normally a fertilized queen will produce Queen Mandibular Pheromone which inhibits queen rearing as well as ovarian development in worker bees so when the queen is lost, workers ovaries are free to develop and queen cells can be produced but all eggs laid will be male. Does the ability to develop into a laying worker only affect worker bees at a certain stage of their life cycle and thus limit the numbers of laying workers? Answers on a postcard ( or email) please….. Back to our conundrum, it is thought that laying workers develop from bees that have not yet started to forage and so in theory if we remove these bees from the hive they will not be able to find their way back and so when we unite two colonies the laying workers will not be there to attack the queen. So, we carefully carried the brood box to a corner of the apiary and brushed all the bees from the frames. We placed an empty brood box on the original site and returned the empty frames to it. Very shortly after this, the foraging bees returned to the hive site and slowly began to go back into the brood box. Now, what were we to do? If left, more laying workers would develop in this hive, so we decided to unite this colony with a commercial nucleus which was ready for rehoming in a brood chamber. This nuc was on the other side of the apiary. Normally when uniting, it is good practice to gradually move both colonies as close together as possible, thus ensuring when the uniting is complete that foragers from both hives will find their way home. We did not have the luxury of time to slowly move hives in this situation and so some foragers from the nuc may have been sacrificed or left to drift into a neighbouring hive in the original position. When uniting colonies, the queen right colony would normally go below and the queenless colony above with a sheet of newspaper in between them. The theory is that it will take about 24 hours for the bees to chew through the newspaper by which time the Queen Mandibular Pheromone will have permeated through both brood chambers and all the bees will recognize and accept the queen. However, on this occasion, we could not have the queen right colony on the bottom as the returning foraging bees from the queenless colony would attack the queen from the nuc if she were in the bottom box. So the original queenless colony remained in the bottom box and the queen right nuc went into a new brood chamber on top, separated by a QC and a sheet of newspaper. Time will tell if we are successful, but if we are, we should have a very strong colony to go through the winter. What would you have done faced with this conundrum? The same as us, or something different? We can all learn from others experience and wisdom, so let us know if you have a different solution. Email- viv.thorn



Last week in the apiary, we looked at two colonies. One colony had laying workers which we successfully united with a queenright commercial nucleus. Inspecting the hive a few days later, we were able to remove the newspaper and QE and all looked well. We then decided to mark the queen from the nucleus. We trapped her under a crown and painted her thorax with green nail varnish. No sooner had we done this than the bees around her immediately attacked and balled her. Much to our shagrin, we were left with a dead queen which then had to be discarded. The next day, a new laying queen was introduced in a queen cage which also contained a few workers and a plug of candy. On the next Saturday (four days later), we inspected the queen cage. The candy had been eaten and some of the workers had died. We carefully released the new queen who dropped on to the top of the frames. No sooner had we done this then the worker bees from the hive balled this new queen, surrounding her in a huge clump- ultimately to overheat and kill her. Frantically we tried to separate her from the ball and manage to do so, but then she took off. Glyn managed to catch her in his cupped hands, only for her to escape and off she went, never to be seen again. Looking through the frames, we discovered the workers had made queen cells in several of the frames. Would there be enough time for a virgin queen to emerge and be mated- probably drones would still be flying mid September, so we will keep our fingers crossed and keep an eye on our queenless hive.

Meanwhile, in another part of the apiary, a swarm had taken up residence in a stack of supers. Upon inspection, we found two frames with multiple sealed and unsealed queen cells in them, but no queen and no other brood. What had happened? Had the queen started to lay in the supers but then had swarmed again, leaving a small colony to raise a new queen from the queen cells? We utilized one frame with a sealed queen cell to insert into a polystyrene hive which had become queenless. The other frame with two sealed cells below the frame ,this, we cut out and tied it into a national frame. Having transferred five frames into a nucleus, we left the bees to get on raising their queen. A week later the queen cell had emerged and the second queen cell had been opened from the side- a sign that this queen had been attacked and killed either by the virgin queen or the workers. We will have another look in a week’s time. If the virgin queen has been mated and started to lay, we will temporarily remove the nucleus to a site more than three miles away, and then bring it back into the apiary after a few weeks, by which time current forager bees will have been replaced by others in the colony who will not have a memory of the swarm site. Bees have the power to continually amaze and puzzle us…..


Back in the first united hive with the absconding queen….

Glyn and a few others inspected this hive again this Saturday. Low and behold, our absconded queen had returned, had been accepted by the workers and had started to lay! This is quite amazing when you think this queen had been newly introduced, but had never been on an orientation flight from this hive, yet managed to find her way back and then convince the workers who had balled her that actually she was the rightful heiress of the colony. Well done queenie!

Honey Extraction Evening at Clay Lane, 5-9-2014


As we draw into the close o f the summer season there is less to do in the apiary and so Clay Lane held an extraction evening, showing how to process our valuable honey. Unfortunately, the bees had robbed out the frames of honey we planned to use and so there was a bit of frantic phoning around to see if anyone had any frames they had not extracted. Glyn managed to find a couple of partially capped frames in the apiary and Lesley Bill had one full frame that she generously donated. About fifteen people turned up on Friday evening and with the doors firmly closed to exclude any passing bee, we demonstrated how to uncap a frame using both beveled and straight honey knives and the hot air gun

(Paint striper) method. I brought along my nine frame radial extractor and we loaded it up and spun off the little remaining honey. Christine them demonstrated how to cut comb from unwired frames with her cutter and Lesley sent along a wooden comb kit that can be inserted into a standard frame.

We had a supply of unwired comb frames in the apiary and Glyn demonstrated how to make chunk honey. This is quite an art. Firstly, you must ensure that your honey is finely filtered, so that it is light and shiny. Then, you carefully cut out a piece of comb from a template that will fit inside a honey jar vertically. If the bottom of the jar is placed in near boiling water so that the glass heats up, this will allow the wax on the bottom of the cut comb to melt slightly, then adhere to the bottom of the glass, thus staying upright. Then the filtered honey is carefully poured over the cut comb, equally filling bot sides of the jar. The label should state Chunk Honey and contain all the normal requirements- where produced, lot number or best by date and the weight of the honey. Chunk honey, although fiddly to produce sells at considerably more than normal honey, so is worth the effort. Members had great fun making up jars of the chunk honey that we then took to the Kingsbridge Show the next day.

Thanks to all the members who attended this very enjoyable evening and thanks also to Glyn, Fred, Christine, Jane and Lesley for their time and donations.

Viv Thorn 6-9-14.

wooden frames with foundation which will produce cut comb

wooden frames with foundation which will produce cut comb