I received a telephone call late last week from a Regional Bee Inspector asking if I could agree a time for him to come and inspect the Pond Hive bees and the visit took place on Monday afternoon, 25 June – good weather too!
The National Bee Unit (NBU) has teams of Bee Inspectors throughout England and Wales that carry out apiary visits to check on the health of honey bees. I have recently registered the Pond Hives on ‘BeeBase’ and this is probably what triggered the inspection. The work of NBU demonstrates just how important healthy honey bees are to the general well-being of the nation. (You can find out more about BeeBase and the NBU’s work on their website.)
I was looking forward to the visit and I had heard, through contacts, of other inspections in the immediate area. My basic feeling was that the Pond Hive bees were healthy and it is a treat for me to see an experienced beekeeper at work.
A Bee Inspector has a large “patch” to cover and may have to drive long distances to put in a good day’s work visiting several apiaries. After donning his bee suit and lighting the smoker, Fred Daynes worked his way methodically through the frames of the brood box for each hive. The brood box is where the Queen Bee lays her eggs, the larvae mature and emerge as bees, and all aspects of hive life are present. An Inspector is looking for signs of disease and pests in the colony, some of which are more serious than others. Find out more about the diseases and their consequences on the NBU site.
The bees were extremely feisty and Fred was stung several times as he wore thin gloves. I still prefer to wear leather gauntlets. I had noticed last Friday that the bees had changed temperament and thought it was because I was opening their hive for the weekly check, quickly, in very windy conditions.
I knew there was only a small “nectar flow” as the oilseed rape flowers have finished and the red clover is hardly in bloom. Fred said the easiest way to explain things is that the foragers (senior worker bees) have been sent out to gather nectar and pollen to feed their colony. They have returned with very little and have been told off and are in a temper. Indeed, No.1 Hive was so full of bees that some foragers may not be venturing out at all and there is a general bad mood in the house. The bees do have plenty of stores in the hives but, when you are a forager that is what you want to be doing, not just twiddling your wings at home. Let’s hope for the resumption of a normal nectar flow soon.
Fred looked at each frame in detail and pointed out various things to me as he went along. An inspection sheet was completed. The overall health of both colonies is good. No.1 Hive had a couple of cells of chalkbrood (a fungal infection) which can be overcome naturally so long as the colony stays in good health. Fred also destroyed a Wax Moth larva. The larvae of Greater and Lesser Wax Moths feed on beeswax and are attracted to older wax so a beekeeper should remove some older frames each season and replace them with fresh foundation for the bees to draw out into new wax cells.
Fred and I then moved on so he could look at the Observation Hive in the Farm Yard, from the outside only. There were schoolchildren visiting the Observation Hive and Fred chatted to them to help their day’s project.
All this took 45 minutes. A successful and businesslike experience.