April started out quite wet and cold. Apart from Easter weekend, it has not been great for the bees. Nevertheless, we got things done. All five hives are flourishing and all the Queens are laying very well. I put on an extra brood box on 4 out of the 5 hives. The brood box is the deeper box that you can see at the bottom of the stack in the photo above. The shallower boxes are called 'supers' and that is where the honey is collected. In between the brood box and the super, I place a metal grid called a Queen excluder - see the photo below.
The Queen is slightly fatter than the worker bees, and this grid is just wide enough to allow the workers get through but not the Queen. This is how we stop the Queen laying eggs in the comb where we want to extract honey. The bees will fill the brood comb around the eggs with honey and pollen, and will store the excess honey above in the supers in case they need it later. It is the excess that beekeepers harvest. At this time of year I am concentrating on producing as many bees as possible in time for the July honey flow. If I can raise enough, the bees will collect and store an awful lot more honey than they need to get through the Winter. That excess is what I collect in August, leaving them plenty to get through the Winter.
To produce a lot of bees, the Queen needs a lot of space to lay in. That is why I have put a double brood box on each hive. Only one hive does not have a second brood box, and that is because it doesn't have enough bees yet to maintain it. Maybe in May I will be able to double that one up. The video below shows the bees on hive No. 5 enjoying a double brood box.
You see the narrow strip of wood on top of the second box? That is the Queen excluder, and the 1st super is just above. The bees are on the outside because I have just been in there to check on things, and they have all come out to see what is going on.
Hive No.2 below, also has a double brood box on and you can see in the video below just how busy it is in the sunshine.
The really good news this month is that I have checked all the hives for Queen cells and there is no sign whatsoever. If the bees are preparing to swarm, the first thing they will do is produce new Queen cells. If I let them swarm, I will lose half my bees and that will mean no honey this year from that hive. Take a look below at what Queen cells look like - they are quite distinctive and look like peanut shells poking downwards. This is a library picture.
The biscuit-like cells in the background are what normal worker bee cells look like. Each one of those has a worker bee pupa in it and they will take 21 days from an egg to hatching out as a honeybee. The Queen cells only take 16 days, so I need to be smart about checking for them. The colony will swarm before the new Queen has hatched. The first Queen to emerge will kill the others whilst still in their cells.