Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

2022 in retrospect

Synopsis : A brief look back over the season just finishing. Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get 1. And we got a lot of it.


The winter solstice last Wednesday seems an appropriate time for a brief overview of the season that has just finished. The 21st of December is the shortest day of the year. Perhaps surprisingly, because of the equation of time (the difference between solar clocks and our clocks) it is not the day with the latest sunrise and earliest sunset. For my location, these are on the 29th and 14th of December respectively.

Not only is it the 21st the shortest day of the year, it’s also – ironic considering the freezing weather the UK had last week – only the beginning of astronomical winter, which lasts until the 20th of March.

December sunrise

However, for beekeepers, the 21st is significant for two reasons; increasing amounts of daylight and the fact that many colonies are likely to now have started rearing brood for the coming season. Longer, warmer 2, days will make foraging possible – both in terms of there being forage available and it being warm enough for the bees to fly.

And, to survive next winter – as well as hopefully reproduce (swarm) next summer – the colony needs to start rearing brood now.

It takes bees to make bees. A colony cannot collect sufficient nectar and pollen to rear large amounts of brood, or keep large amounts of brood warm, unless there are lots of bees already in the colony. Therefore, a small 3 broodless colony will restart brood rearing slowly, ramping brood production up as more bees – and pollen and nectar – become available.

A gentle reminder

Most of my colonies have been broodless from about the second week of November but the majority are now brood rearing again. ‘Most’ and ’the majority’ as there are a few hives that appear to have never stopped, going by the debris that has fallen through the open mesh floor onto the Varroa tray.

There are others that appear to have not yet have restarted.

When the colony is either completely broodless (or has the minimum level of brood) the proportion of the total number of Varroa mites in the hive that are phoretic are at a maximum. That is the time to treat with dribbled or vaporised oxalic acid … not at some convenient time in mid-January when you belatedly remember.

My colonies were treated with oxalic acid on the 13th of November and, after an initial mite drop that confirmed that the treatment had worked, during recent monitoring have not dropped another mite in the last 21 days.

Look! No mites! 1/12/22 to 21/12/22

The fewer mites in the colony when brood rearing starts, the lower the peak mite level will be later in the season (all other things being equal i.e. brood breaks, swarming, rate of brood rearing etc.). If the levels remain reasonably low it will not be necessary to intervene until late summer, after the honey harvest occurs and before the bulk of the winter bees are being reared. This is why I treat in the winter.

The alternative is you start the season with high mite levels and end up with damagingly high mite levels before or during the summer nectar flow, all of which makes everything more complicated than it needs to be.

But enough thinking about next season, how did this season go?

Pretty well 🙂 .

Latitude and longitude

I’ve got bees on either side of Scotland. They are at about the same latitude and the closest east and west coast apiaries are only separated by 110 miles as the bee flies. Nevertheless, the season is completely different on opposite coasts.

I think this is due to three interacting factors:

  • climate; the west coast is generally warm(ish) and wet 4 whereas the east coast is much drier and generally has colder winter temperatures and hotter summer temperatures. For comparison, at the time of writing, Fife had a fraction under 1 metre of rain for the year with minimum and maximums of -10°C and 30°C, in contrast on the west coast we’ve had 2 metres of rain and temperatures of -3°C and 25°C. However, as will become clearer when I discuss queen rearing, these basic facts obscure some significant differences in climate, and have consequences for beekeeping.
  • forage; the east coast is rich agricultural land and there’s usually oil seed rape available early in the season. This gives the bees a huge boost. In contrast, the west coast has scrubby woodland and hedgerows with natural forage but almost no farming and precious few gardens (and the deer eat everything anyway 🙁 ). The main honey-producing forage on the west coast is heather.
  • bees; my Fife bees are homegrown ’Heinz’ local mongrels 5 with a little bit of native black bees in their dim and distant past. On the west coast the bees are native Apis mellifera mellifera. These are much more frugal, build up more slowly in Spring, swarm much later and will continue to forage in miserable weather.


I do almost no practical beekeeping during astronomical winter (reminder … 21st December to 20th March). My colonies are treated for Varroa before winter starts (see above) and colony inspections don’t start until after winter ends.

East coast

I checked colony weights periodically – about once a month – by hefting the hive. Where needed I added additional blocks of fondant. I don’t bother messing about adding 250 g at a time but just place 2 kg blocks in a food container inverted over the top bars. The weather is too cold for regular foraging and you don’t want a break in rearing the important early season brood.

Mid-March and fondant blocks being replaced

I added Varroa trays for a month from late January and the Varroa drop was (reassuringly) exceedingly low., and non-existent in the best hives. Remember, these were treated with oxalic acid three months earlier and brood rearing was building up strongly. Towards the end of this winter period colonies were foraging freely and building brace comb up into the inverted food trays, now emptied of fondant.

West coast

My west coast bees have no Varroa. I still periodically add a tray under the hives to see what falls through and to monitor brood rearing. Other than adding a block of fondant to a couple of hives I did nothing at all with them until well into April.


Spring felt as though it started later than usual. Cuckoos were a week or so later than normal in arriving, as were house martins and swallows. Unusually, grasshopper warblers didn’t arrive at all on the west coast. However, although these phenological signs suggested a late spring, the bees had been busy.

East coast

Most of my colonies are in single National boxes. It suits the bees and it suits me. Most consequently need swarm control, but that’s OK. It’s an opportunity to requeen them, it allows the production of a spare nuc or two and – timed correctly 6 – the queenless ‘half’ collects a good surplus of honey.

But, one or two are in double brood boxes.

I tend to rotate these as a means of controlling swarming, or at least attempting to. The queen tends to work in the upper brood box so, once this is more or less packed, I switch it with the lower box. Inevitably this breaks the brood nest which many consider a poor beekeeping practice.

Reversing brood boxes

However, the queen moves up again, filling the empty space ‘above’ her. By the time the upper box is full of brood, much of the lower box has emerged and I can rotate the boxes again.

Neither of the colonies I did this with this season needed additional swarm control 7. Both ended the year with the same queen they’d started with.

Interestingly – at least it is to me – one of these queens had been destined for replacement very early in the season. In the first 2-3 inspections I’d noted some followers and overly-defensive behaviour.

On the 1st of May I’d scribbled ”Not nice bees – requeen ASAP” in my notes. However, the box switching distracted me (and her), made inspections quick and easy, and I had no spare queens anyway. By June the colony was no longer defensive and they remained calm and pleasant bees for the rest of the season.

If there is a lesson to this anecdote I’m not sure what it is 😉 .

West coast

After a fantastic March and April the weather took a turn for the worse. It rained on all but 5 days of May and the average temperature never exceeded 18°C. Much of the early season forage – primarily a variety of willows and abundant gorse – had finished and most colonies needed feeding. To encourage brood rearing I fed thin syrup and – for some colonies – pollen sub patties.

Early season – pollen pattie and brace comb

I’ve got a lot to learn about keeping bees here on the west coast. Both the climate and the available forage – at least until the heather flowers – are less good than on the other side of the country.

As a consequence, and in contrast to Fife, I only started swarm control on the west coast in the last couple days of astronomical spring (which ends on the summer solstice).

The busy part of the season was still ahead.


Astronomical summer runs from the 21st of June until the 23rd of September. This is the period with the second honey crop on the east coast and the heather crop (what little there was of it) on the west.

East coast

The majority of new east coast queens got mated, clipped and marked in late June and early July. Looking through my notes while preparing this post I see that a couple are still recorded as ‘NN’ … this means that, for whatever reason, I’ve found a laying queen (or know one is present) but have yet to get around to marking her.

At this time of the season the boxes are bursting with bees and, with a new queen and the risk of swarming much diminished (to say nothing of the heavy supers and high temperatures) my enthusiasm to scrabble through the box looking for her is non-existent less than it should be.

I can always hear a little voice saying ”She’ll be much easier to find next April …” 😉 .

The summer honey crop was exceptionally good. Unusually I had a couple of hives with 5 supers and one – in the shed – barely fitted under the rafters.

A tight squeeze

For the first time I had one of my clearer boards blocked with bees from the supers. This is clearly something I’ll have to look out for in the future, though I’m still not really sure why this particular hive got blocked. The board had only been in for about 18 hours, there was a deep lower rim to the clearer and no more than four supers.

Blocked clearer

Honey extraction was the usual tedious and messy process. Other than the sheer quantity, the only thing notable was that, considering the relatively dry summer on the east coast, the water content of the honey was – at about 18% or so for many buckets – higher than expected.

Or perhaps my refractometer is poorly calibrated 🙁 .

West coast

Until late August the weather on the west coast was very poor. Rearing queens was tricky; several rounds of cells were torn down, presumably because the colony was thinking ”Are you daft? Nothing is further from our mind than new queens … have you any more syrup?”

Cells that did reach maturity were placed in mini-nucs for mating, or used for requeening splits from other colonies.

And that’s when the problems started.

Summer 2022 rainfall

Although I had reasonable numbers of drones, helped by most colonies having a frame of drone foundation added back in April, queen mating was a protracted and fraught process. The weather in July was terrible with a lot of rain (~150 mm for the month, about 25% of what I’d expect for the year on the east coast) and only 3-4 days when the temperature exceeded 20°C.

West coast July temperatures

All my queens did eventually get mated but, by golly, they took their time. A couple that emerged on the 15th of July were laying by the 26th of August … but had no sealed brood yet. This wasn’t unusual. These were getting worryingly close to the age at which they were too old to mate.

In one colony, the day I discovered the mated queen there was also evidence of a small amount of laying workers with widely scattered drone brood in worker cells. Fortunately, her brood rearing soon suppressed laying worker activity 8 and the colony ‘survived’. However, it will be next season before I can tell how well these queens were mated and I remain concerned that some may fail overwinter.

The heather honey crop eventually arrived in the three weeks of good weather before mid-September which pretty-much rescued the season.


I usually do more beekeeping in September and early October than I do in August. The preparation for winter (which still seems a long way off, particularly if the weather is good) is critical and cannot be delayed.

East coast

Apivar strips went into all the Fife colonies on the same day that I started winter feeding and removed the honey supers (which this year was the last few days of August). Over the next 2-3 weeks I monitor the Varroa drop to get an idea of the infestation level.

Gone are the days when I count every mite … it’s now usually a case of few/some/lots. However, I also photograph the trays, clean them and replace them ready for the next visit. I then look again at the photos on a big monitor in the lengthening evenings with a large glass of shiraz, so have a pretty fair idea the numbers associated with my few/some/lots categories.

I’m well aware of the numbers of bees that drift between colonies, and equally aware how these distribute mites and the viruses they carry. However, even hives as ‘cheek by jowl’ as those in my bee shed showed markedly different infestation levels.

Fortunately, very few colonies exhibited high mite drops during treatment. However, I think the gross discrepancies in mite levels (I’m assuming the %age of mites killed per colony as similar) tell me two things:

  • the principle of just monitoring one sentinel colony per apiary is flawed. If your sentinel has a low mite load you could be missing colonies with dangerously high mite levels. Conversely, you could ‘over-treat’ colonies – intervening when it’s not needed – if your sentinel colony had a high mite load.
  • these colonies with high mite loads, presumably exposed to similar levels of drifting etc., may not have desirable genetics (as far as mite control is concerned) and should probably be excluded from future queen rearing.

Fondant was finished by early October and – other than the November OA treatment – it was all over for the year.

West coast

There’s even less to do in the autumn on the west coast. These bees don’t have Varroa so no miticides are needed. The majority of the hives and nucs were packed with stores from the heather (so explaining the small amounts of honey I extracted 🙁 ) but still received a few kilograms of fondant to top them up for the long winter ahead.

As an aside, the heather honey wasn’t extracted (via the even messier crush and strain method) until late November and the water content was a very respectable 14-15%. Or perhaps my refractometer is poorly calibrated 🙁 .

At the last colony checks (late September) most colonies still had good levels of brood. The good late season weather and the heather has given them a real boost and they looked very good going into the winter.

Since then they’ve been out foraging on late season pollen. Unusually the weather was mild and dry enough for them to forage on the ivy and they were very busy through the warm first half of November.

But since then it’s all gone very quiet. Other than check the straps are secure for the inevitable winter gales, there’s now nothing to do until at least late March (or probably April).

Season’s Greetings

It was Oscar Wilde who said that ”Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” so I’ll stop there 😉 .

For beekeepers in northern latitudes, it’s not quite ‘all or nothing’, but the difference between the busy summer season and the quiet of the winter is very marked. But there are still things to do.

I’ll be spending the next few weeks:

  • building stuff for the season ahead.
  • making some interesting blended honeys … both as a way to reduce the high water content of some of the honey from this season, and to eke out some of the limited amounts of heather honey I got this year.
  • having another (likely abortive) attempt at making palatable mead.
  • drinking coffee, spending time with family and friends, and doing all sorts of non-beekeeping things to keep me busy until the weather warms and it all starts again next year 🙂 .

Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, Season’s Greetings … 


And then there was calm

Synopsis : The rush and bustle of the first half of the season is over and things are calming down. Time to reflect on some aspects of the season so far, and the importance of keeping good hive records.


Over the past few seasons I’ve noticed that there is an inflexion point in the beekeeping season. It usually occurs a bit after the summer solstice, though the precise timing is variable. This is the time when I realise I’m no longer ’just keeping up’ (or sometimes ‘not keeping up’), but am instead finally ’in control’.

Perhaps those aren’t the correct terms?

It’s the point at which my beekeeping undergoes a significant change, from being ’reactive’ to something a whole lot more relaxing.

Late June and – both amazingly and reassuringly – I know what’s happening in those boxes

The variable timing of course reflects the behaviour of colonies in the preceding weeks; the early spring build up (Is it fast enough?), the – often startlingly rapid – mid-spring expansion and consequent swarm preparations, swarm control, queen mating (Has she? Hasn’t she?), the spring honey harvest and the need for additional feeding during the June gap.

All of which of course depends upon the weather and forage availability, explaining the variable timing.

And then, almost like a switch has been flicked – and with very little fanfare – the apiary feels a lot calmer.

There are no unexpected swarms hanging pendulously in nearby bushes, no real surprises when I open the hives, and no ’catch me if you can’ virgin queens scuttling about.

Instead, the bees are just getting on doing exactly what they should be doing and – significantly in terms of my reactive vs. passive beekeeping – exactly what I expect them to be doing.

It’s all downhill from here

As I left one of my Fife apiaries on Tuesday evening I realised that we’ve just passed the inflexion point this season.

All the colonies were doing pretty well. Laying queens were laying well, though not as fast as a month ago, foragers were starting to return with increasing amounts of summer nectar 1 and supers were beginning to fill.

Of course, not every hive is at exactly the same stage. A few are queenless, or contain unmated virgins. However, even these hives are behaving largely as expected.

Whilst it’s a bittersweet moment, it’s also reassuring to feel on top of things.

Bittersweet because it means the bulk of the beekeeping’ in my ‘beekeeping season’ is over.

Hive inspection frequency reduces from once a week to once a fortnight or even every three weeks. After all, the colonies are queenright, the new queen is laying well and they’ve got space for brood and stores … what could possibly go wrong?

A few things … but they’re much less likely to go wrong in the second half of the season to the first.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s not still work to do.

The summer honey harvest will be busy, or at least I hope it will. It’s just starting to pick up, with the blackberry and (often not very dependable) lime.


That’s followed by the season’s most important activity – the preparation for winter and Varroa treatment. Without these I might not be a beekeeper next year.

However, none of these ‘second half’ functions are likely to produce any unwanted surprises – it should all be plain sailing.

The enjoyment of uncertainty

My move from the east coast to the west coast of Scotland has resulted in new challenges – more changeable weather, different forage availability – and I’ve still got a lot to learn here.

In contrast, despite the inevitable season-to-season variability, I feel reasonably confident with my east coast bees (I still have bees on both sides of the country). Only ‘reasonably’ because they can still produce the odd surprise.

However, with every additional year of beekeeping, I’m much less likely to be faced with a ”What the heck is this hive doing?” situation between now and late September than from April to June.

Nothing to see here … an old play cup in a queenright colony

The challenges are one of the things I really enjoy about beekeeping. It keeps me on my toes. Identifying the problems and (hopefully) solving them improves my beekeeping.

Even not solving them – and there have been plenty of those over the years – means I learn what not to do next time.

For some situations I’ve got a long mental list of what not to do … though little idea of what I should do.

No worries … perhaps I’ll learn next year 🙂 .

Weather dependence and queen mating

Three weeks ago I mentioned one of my queen rearing colonies had torn down all the developing queen cells, probably in response to the emergence of a virgin queen below the queen excluder. The box was set up with a Morris board, so was rendered queenless while starting the queen cells, and then queenright when finishing them.

One of the things this experience reinforced was the importance of continuing inspections on a queenright cell rearing colony.

Just because things all look OK above the queen excluder 2 doesn’t mean that it’s not all going Pete Tong in the brood box.

My records showed that I had checked the brood box on the 18th of May when I set up the Morris board. Grafts were added on the 25th and were capped on the 30th.

By the 1st of June they’d all been torn down 🙁 .

On finally checking the bottom box early on the 4th of June I found a virgin queen scurrying around.

Mea culpa.

The original queen had been clipped. The colony had presumably attempted to swarm around the time the virgin emerged – or perhaps a little earlier – and resulted in the loss of the clipped queen 3.

June rainfall, Ardnamurchan 2022

And then, as we segued into the second week of June, the weather took a turn for the worse.


I watched for pollen being collected by foragers on flying days. It’s often taken as a sign that the hive is queenright. However, good flying days have been few and far between. I’d also been away quite a bit and there’s not a huge amount of pollen about at this point in the season.

However, is it a way to discriminate between queenright and queenless colonies?

I’ve watched known queenless colonies that are still collecting pollen, though perhaps at a lower rate than one with a mated, laying queen.

Do you remember the recent discussion about queenless colonies ’Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.’ and preferentially drawing drone comb? Those drones will still need a protein-rich diet, so the colony – if it is to have has any chance of passing its genes on – will probably still collect pollen to feed the developing drones.

This particular colony was collecting pollen and was well behaved when I had a brief look on the 10th of June. My notes stated: ’Behaving queenright, but no eggs 🙁 .

On the 22nd of June, the next time the weather and my availability allowed a check, my notes were fractionally more upbeat: ‘No sign of Q or eggs, but no sign of laying workers either (let’s look on the bright side)’.

And then – on my next check – the 29th, there was a small patch of eggs, perhaps 2-3 inches in diameter 🙂 .

My notes this time were a bit shorter: ’Hu-bloody-rrah!’.

I also did some back-of-an envelope calculations which indicated that the egg used to rear the queen was probably laid on the 16th of May, and she was known to be laying 44 days later.

Flying days and mating days

I usually reckon – based upon published literature and accounts from much more experienced beekeepers – that a queen must mate within 4 weeks of emergence 4.

It looks like this one just met that deadline.

June temperatures, Ardnamurchan 2022

We had good weather in the first few days of June, but the middle fortnight was cold and/or wet, with the temperature rarely exceeding 14°C.

Assuming the queen emerged on the last day of May she probably probably went on her orientation flights in the good weather at the beginning of June.

As an aside, I’m not sure of the weather-dependence for queen orientation flights. For workers – based upon hive entrance activity – it’s pretty clear that they preferentially go on these flights on warmer days. However, if queens restricted themselves to good weather – particularly in more northerly climates – they might limit their chances of making successful mating flights. Perhaps queens go on orientation flights even if the weather is sub-optimal, so that they’re ready 5 when there’s a suitable ‘weather window’ for mating flights?

Anyway, back to this queen … I doubt she went on her mating flights in early June because there were no eggs in the colony when I checked on the 10th or the 22nd. My eyesight isn’t perfect, but I looked very carefully. There were definitely ‘polished cells’, but no eggs.

The temperature reached a balmy 19.4°C on the 24th of June (a day with only 7mm of rain!) and she was laying a few days later.

Being able to relate queen age with the weather helps determine whether she may have missed her chance to mate successfully. This is important in terms of the development of laying workers, or the colony management to avoid this.

The extremes of the season

For those readers living in areas where the weather is a lot more dependable this might not be something you ever think about.

Queens just get mated.

No pacing backwards and forwards in the apiary like an expectant father 6 waiting for the good news.

Lucky you.

But, there are times when this weather dependence might be relevant. Early or late in the season it’s likely that the weather will be wetter, windier and cooler. At those times you also need to think about the availability of sufficient (and sufficient quality – they decline later in the season) drones for queen mating.

Queen rearing – or queen replacement of a colony that goes queenless – might be successful, but is it likely to be dependably successful?

On the west cost of Scotland this enforces a ‘little and often’ regime to my queen rearing. Rather than using lots of resources to produce a dozen or two at a time I do them in small batches. Some batches fail – grafts don’t ‘take’, colonies abandon cells, queens fail to get mated – but others succeed.

Little and often – mini nucs (some balanced on an unoccupied – and now unneeded – bait hive)

I’ve got a batch of mini-nucs out in the garden now, and will probably try one or two more batches before the season draws to a close.

Our most dependable (and these things are all relative 🙂 ) pollen and nectar is the heather which is still a fortnight or so away. If that coincides with good weather then there’s a good chance for some late season queen rearing.

Global warming

But don’t forget global warming. This affects all beekeepers whether living in the balmy south or the frozen north. Global warming, and more specifically climate change, is leading to more weather extremes.

Extreme weather is becoming more frequent

Warmer, wetter and windier is the likely forecast. The first of these might help your queen mating, but torrential rain or gale force winds will not.

And that’s before you consider the impact on the forage your bees rely upon … which I’ll deal with another time.

More misbehaving queens

The conditions for queen rearing on the east coast of Scotland are far more dependable. I’ve been busily requeening colonies, making up nucs and clipping and marking mated queens for the last couple of months.

Most of this has all been very straightforward. All of it forms part of the ’reactive’ part of the season I referred to above.

If a colony makes swarm preparation I make up a nuc with the old queen and leave the queenless colony for a week. I then destroy all the emergency queen cells and add a mature queen cell or a frame of eggs/larvae – in either case derived from a colony with better genetics.

In due course the new queen emerges, gets mated and starts laying. I then mark and clip her.

This time last year I discussed a queen that fainted when I picked her up to clip her. That queen recovered, I clipped and marked her the following week without incident and she is still going strong.

Although I’d never seen it before, It turned out that several readers had experienced the same thing, so it’s clearly not that rare an event.

Pining for the fjords? 7

One of my good colonies – #38 in the bee shed – started to make swarm preparations in the third week of May. I removed the old queen to a nuc, left the colony for a further week and then reduced the queen cells, leaving just one which subsequently emerged on the 2nd of June (I also ‘donated’ one spare queen cell to a neighbouring hive that was also making swarm preparations).

Colony #38 wasn’t checked again until the 20th 8 when I found a good looking mated, laying queen.

I gently picked her up by the wings.

She didn’t feint 🙂 .

She died 🙁 .

That is an ex-queen

At least, I’m pretty sure she died.

She curled up into a foetal position and showed no movement for 15 minutes. There might have been a slight twitching of an antenna, but the regular expansion and contraction of the abdomen during breathing was not visible. I wasn’t even certain her antennae moved.

I had other hives to inspect so I popped her into a JzBz queen cage and left her with the colony whilst I got on with things.

When I returned – an hour or so later – she was still looking like an ex-queen.

I had little choice but to leave her lying on a piece of paper underneath the queen excluder 9. She was quickly surrounded by a group of workers.

Mourning or moving?

I closed the hive up, crossed my fingers 10 and went off to another apiary.

Like mother, like daughter

The following week the colony was indisputably queenless.

Their behaviour was less good and – a much more definite sign – they had produced a number of emergency queen cells from eggs the queen had laid. I knocked all the queen cells back and united colony #38 with another hive.

Uniting colony #38 with another after the queen ‘popped her clogs’

One week later they were successfully united.

Only later, when comparing my notes with last season, did I realise that the queen that died was a daughter of the queen that fainted last year. I wonder whether the ‘dropping dead’ is just a more extreme version of the fainting I had previously observed?

This implies it might be an inherited characteristic (as at least one of the comments to the fainting post last year suggested).

For clarity I should add that I’m certain that I didn’t directly harm the queen when I picked her up. She was walking around very calmly on the frame. I waited until she was walking towards me, bending at the ‘waist’ (either to inspect a cell, or crossing a defect in the comb) so pushing her wings away from the abdomen. I held her gently by both wings and immediately dropped her into my twist and mark cage.

No fumbling, no squeezing, no messing.

I’ve done this a lot and it was a ‘textbook example’.

Except she never moved again 🙁 .

And like sister?

If, as seems possible, this is an inherited characteristic it will be interesting to see whether the neighbouring colony I donated the spare queen cell (from colony #38) to also shows the same undesirable phenotype 11.

Not so much ‘playing dead’ and ‘being dead’ when handled.

The original fainting queen is currently heading a full colony in another apiary. I’ve had no cause to handle her since last June. She didn’t faint the second time I picked her up (for marking) but I might see how she reacts next time I’m in the apiary.

If she faints again, and particularly if the sister queen reared this season faints (or worse 🙁 ), I’ll simply unite the colony with another.

Firstly, it will be getting a bit late in the season for dependable queen mating and, secondly, it’s clearly an inherited genetic trait that I do not want to deal with in the future.

It doesn’t really matter how gentle, productive or prolific the bees are if the queen cannot cope with being (gently but routinely) handled. It doesn’t happen often, but the risk of ending up with a corpse when I manhandle her into a Cupkit cage, or have to repeat the marking, makes some aspects of beekeeping impractical.

Nicot Cupkit queen rearing system

But look on the bright side … it will be a very easy phenotype to detect and select against 😉 .

Hive records

If there is a take home message from these two anecdotes it’s that good hive records are both useful and important. They help with planning the season ahead and avoiding real problem areas of colony management.

I use a (now propolis encrusted) digital voice recorder (and spreadsheet) when inspecting multiple hives

Far better to know that the queen is almost certainly too old to mate than continue to hope (in vain) that it’ll work out. If you are certain – within a day or two – of her emergence date you can intervene proactively (e.g. by uniting the colony, or supplementing it with open brood) to delay or prevent the inevitable development of laying workers.

By also watching the weather you can also work out when she should have been able to get out and mate.

Similarly, by keeping a pedigree (which sounds fancy, but needn’t be) of your queens, you can avoid selecting for undesirable traits. These fainting/dying queens might be unusual, but there are other behaviours that might also be avoidable.

The original queen in colony #38 might have been a ‘one off’, but if her daughters also behave similarly then I should avoid using them to rear more.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “To lose one fainting queen may be regarded as unfortunate, to lose two looks like carelessness poor record keeping”.