The Hermitage Sisterhood 2020

The Hermitage Sisterhood 2020

Thursday 15th October 2020 – Ready for Winter at The Hermitage
by The Shilling Queen

Good Afternoon Folks,
This will be the last episode from The Hermitage Sisterhood for this year since The General is ready to go into hibernation. She will also miss her usual trip ‘down-under’ this winter due to your human plague. So just to keep thoughts of winter sunshine alive she did a talk to all our members about “Beekeeping in New Zealand” a week ago and apparently it’s on the website if anyone missed it. She will be reprising it for Newcastle Beekeepers next month too.

I don’t suppose you were expecting to hear from me again since I am the veteran queen of The Hermitage. My yellow crown is getting a bit worn now but I am still keeping up with some of the younger queens and even doing better than some. I have been promoted to the top row and even given a boost of some new bees for the winter – but more of that shortly.

We have had a few setbacks since our last post. The most significant being the loss of two queens following MAQS treatment for varroa. In all 6 families were treated and 2 queens went missing. The General was quite upset about the Hive 17 queen as she was a lovely, green crowned queen with a very strong and gentle family. However her bees have been used to boost the Slim Shady daughter’s family who were set to overwinter in the half sized prefab. This means that the Slim Shadys’ prospects have improved as strong colonies have a better chance of surviving the winter than small ones. The other lost queen was the one in the sandy prefab, again they were a strong family and distant cousins of mine so The General decided that the best course of action was for my family to be merged with these poor queenless bees. This gives us the advantage of being moved up to the top row which has more sunshine and therefore a warmer, drier position than the bottom row in the winter and it also gives me a bigger workforce. All in all, a couple of neat solutions for us. This means that there will be 11 strong queenright colonies going into the winter at The Hermitage, with 3 families on each of the top 3 rows and 2 families on the bottom row.

For those of you who want to know how your favourite families have done this year, here is a brief rundown of The Hermitage Sisterhood families at the end of the season. Most importantly there’s me, your yellow crowned Shilling Queen. Then there is the Hippy, Happy red crowned queen and the Unlucky Thirteen green crowned queen. We are all related to each other and are the senior Hermitage queens. The others are all new girls on the block with blue crowns. The blue queens belong to the following families, one Ginger queen, one Slim Shady queen, one Bright Shiner queen and one Cherryburn queen. The other 4 blue queens are all related to me and the Hippy Happy Queen. Of course there is some measure of family mixing as no-one knows where or how new queens will mate. The Cherryburn and Ginger bees are quite a bit lighter in colour than my family, and the Slim Shadys and Bright Shiners are quite dark.

Well now that you know all about the families, let’s get back to the winter preparations shall we? We have all had some syrup, courtesy of The Banker, so consequently we all have nice full main rooms. The General and Doctor have made sure that we all have a full pantry too, with no puzzle gate separating the two rooms. We all have mesh floors to give some good air circulation so we don’t get too damp. Then the full pantry is on top of the floor with the main room on top. We all have some insulation inside our roofs, either polystyrene board or sheep’s wool in a pillow case. Putting the pantry under the main room is called nadiring – and apparently this is a controversial tactic with some saying it is more natural for us to have our pantry above our heads rather than below. Down here we have been nadired for about 6 or 7 winters now and it has always worked well for us. Our pantries are returned to us early enough in the autumn and while the ivy forage is still abundant, so that we can move our food around to suit ourselves. We don’t have much in the way of brood now to be kept warm, so we are free to move through the boxes as we choose. When I get going properly with the laying again after the Winter Solstice then we will all move up into the top box away from the draughts for the benefit of the new babies. This also means that in the spring all our new brood is in the bigger main room and if this year was anything to go by, then our under pantries will be empty, but we’ll still have some food around the babies in the main room. The Winter Solstice also means The General will have to come out of hibernation for a bit, as we usually get a dose of medicine to kill any remaining pesky mites just before the Solstice and then afterwards we all get a lovely big slab of candy just to make sure we all have sufficient food to get us through.*

The General was here today doing a bit of cleaning up. The woman is a menace with the flame thrower, which she wields with great abandon. It’s a good job The Doctor wasn’t here too as he may have lost his eyebrows! However she has managed to clean up all the half sized houses and stack them away neatly, which does at least mean she can get into the shed now as the cleaning pile was threatening to spill out of the door.

Winter for you beekeepers is all about getting the cleaning done and making plans for next season, so crack on and we’ll see you next year.

May the river provide.
The Shilling Queen

Notes from The General

*The mid December treatment is done with Apibioxal using the trickle method. This is effective when there is no brood in the colony and December is a good time, once we get past the Solstice and the days start getting longer the queens will start laying again.
The Roman Wall Queen has just come back from the heather and as is common with heather bees they come back from the moors without a scrap of brood, this means they can be treated with oxalic acid, which isn’t so risky as MAQs at this time of year and it is done very quickly with no long treatment period which is the downside of thymol treatments this late in the season. We usually put fondant on all the colonies around the beginning of January so the bees have food under, to the sides and above their heads. Some take loads of fondant and some almost none. It will be checked every 3 to 4 weeks and replenished if necessary.
I hope you all have a good winter and will be tuning in to our new Zoom Meetings. They may not be on our usual meeting days but your committee is trying hard to bring you a winter programme. Please watch out for the emails for the links to the meetings. The next one is our Rachel Lowther Lecture and will be delivered by Buckfast presenters Martin Hann and Clare Densley via Zoom on 7:30pm on Tuesday 24 November 2020. The topic is – “What the books don’t tell you and why bees change their minds”. The email with the invitation has already gone out. Please reply to our secretary if you are interested
BIBBA are also running a series of online seminars about improving your bee stocks. Please look at their website for links to the recordings of the seminars that have already happened. We think this is a very important topic and hope to take it further next year.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the exploits of The Hermitage Sisterhood this year and that it has kept you informed and entertained.

Signing off for now.

The General and The Doctor

Thursday 17th September 2020 – Winter Preparations by The Unlucky Thirteen Queen

Hello again! It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote to you but The General and The Doctor have not been idle. Preparations for winter are underway and as with all things bee related the best laid plans ‘aft gang a-glay’. Last week The General had her final merger plans made. She was all prepared to merge The Ginger Queen with The Slim Shady daughter. She intended to keep the Ginger Queen, even though she was a year older than the Slim Shady daughter, as she had the strongest family. The General looked through the Ginger Queen’s family to find that the Ginger Queen had vanished! There was one queen cell almost ready to emerge but also a few quite new, unsealed queen cells. What has happened here? The General and Doctor put on their thinking caps and surmised that perhaps the Ginger Queen was starting to fail and her family started on a supersedure cell, but maybe the Ginger Queen suddenly died and that triggered the production of the emergency cells several days later. The next step was to look through the new Slim Shady Queen’s family. Although she was a late queen, they found that they were starting to build up well. The queen was there and three frames of nice brood. So what was the best course of action to be? After a bit of discussion it was decided that the best way forward was to go with the mated and laying queen rather than relying on an unknown quantity of potential new virgins as it is very late in the season. Therefore the queen cells in the Ginger Queen’s house were all removed but no merger done on that day. That was saved for Sunday as a demonstration for the Apprentices.

On Sunday 13th September we hosted a ‘Preparing Bees for the Winter’ meeting for selected Apprentices. This was a big treat for us as we haven’t seen anyone else all season. It was all very strictly controlled with limited places and apprentices having to book first and provide contact details which were all checked off by The Groundsman, who also ensured they had all the proper kit. The General and Doctor covered all the usual stuff and even managed some demonstrations although the Apprentices had to stay behind the tiny hedge.

The first topic was merging families to make strong colonies to help them survive the winter. They started off by demonstrating the merger of the old Ginger queen’s bees with the Slim Shady daughter family. Before they started the merger they did check both families again just to make sure the Gingers were queenless and the Slim Shadys were queenright. Both families were next to each other and The Slim Shady family is going to be in the lower box so a sheet of newspaper was put on top of their brood box held down by a puzzle gate, this wasn’t strictly necessary but it was a windy day and the puzzle gate stops the newspaper blowing away. Then, after a few tiny holes were poked into the newspaper, the Gingers’ brood box was put on top and the whole topped off with some insulation and a roof. The whole house was moved along slightly so that it now stands in the space between the two original houses.

Varroa counting and treatment was the next topic, this is The Doctor’s speciality and he covered all the possible alternatives. The boards showed that most of our families have quite a number of the pesky mites and these really should be killed off before we start producing our winter bees to ensure we have lots of healthy bees to see us through to spring. So some treatment is on the cards for the families here. The Doctor said he would provide information on varroa counting, assessment and the various treatment options at the end.

Winter feeding was the next topic. Clearer boards and removing cleared pantries was the next demonstration with my family taking part. It is very strange for us to be separated from our food stores in the pantry at this time of the year but The General is concerned that we should have lots of food in our main rooms for winter and once they are filled up then we will get our pantries back. Once the pantries have been removed then feeders with lots of syrup are put on so we can mix the syrup with any nectar coming in and we’ll have lots of food for the winter right around us. The Doctor is reminding me to say it’s thick syrup at this time of year, that’s 1 kg of sugar to 630 ml of water (or 2lbs in a pint of water for those of you who prefer it that way), or use a commercial syrup. The Banker kindly supplies us with lots of commercial syrup to build us up for the winter. When the pantries go back on they usually go under our main rooms. This is called “nadiring” apparently and is the method preferred down here and I must say it has always suited us well. Please note that puzzle gates must be removed for winter so that we can all access our food. My family are very good at keeping me fed but this would be impossible if I can’t get through the puzzle gate to be near the food. In the depths of winter we also get a top up of candy to ensure we have sufficient food to get us through to the warmer foraging days of spring. It is most important to make sure this is kept topped up as most of our winter losses happen in March and April, when I will be laying again but food is short.

Once the days get really short and we are starting to cluster then little guards to keep out mice are carefully fitted across our entrances. We absolutely hate mice and they can make such a mess of our lovely combs. They wouldn’t dare come near when we are active and flying but they can sometimes sneak in when we are clustered high up in the house.

I think the Apprentices enjoyed their visit to see us, many of them said how they had missed seeing us this season and were very pleased to see we were in such good condition. Do they really think it’s down to the care The General and Doctor lavish on us? Surely we are just doing what bees do – planning for immortality.

The Doctor and General were here again briefly today. They had been up to The Heather first and then called in here to administer some varroa killing medicine to some of the families and feed others. We had our pantry removed and a good dose of syrup put on instead. I like the syrup bit but I’m not looking forward to the stinky varroa treatment!

The Roman Wall Queen reports they have had a super time up at The Heather, even though the weather has been a bit variable, and they have all filled up their brood boxes with delicious heather honey and some of them have managed to mostly fill a pantry too. It won’t be long before these families come home as the heather is starting to fade and there’s not so much nectar there now.

Until next time – Unlucky for some but not us.

The “Unlucky Thirteen” Queen

The Doctor’s notes:
• Basic information on varroa can be found on BeeBase. On the page there is a link to a document containing information about treatments available.

• The varroa calculator to see when your colonies need treating is on this link.

• A booklet with everything you never knew you “wanted” to know about varroa can be found here.

Thursday 3rd September 2020 – The General is Making Decisions By The Unlucky Thirteen Queen

Hello Everyone – This week The General and Doctor came to visit us with a very long list of jobs to do. All the established queens and their families had to be checked so that they can make decisions on which families are in good shape for the winter and which look a bit dodgy. The good news is that we are mostly looking in ‘tip-top’ shape, we all have pantries on, which in some cases are bursting but there is some undrawn foundation in some of our main rooms. This needs to be addressed as these rooms need to be full of food for the winter. Therefore they removed the foundation frames and replaced them with drawn comb. It is now too late in the year for the sisters to be wasting food and energy drawing their own comb. They are just concentrating on storing food wherever there is a space. There is still plenty of forage coming in from the riverbanks so some nice ready-drawn comb is very useful for the house sisters to put the fresh nectar into for processing. The other Hermitage queens and I are slowing down with our laying now and in some cases taking a bit of a break before we start to lay the eggs for our winter bees. This means the sisters can fill around the edges of our main rooms with stores for the winter.

The drawn comb has come from the families that have already been merged or have not produced a new queen. My daughter in Hive 16 was one of those. She started off okay with some laying but then seemed to vanish, a test frame from me gave the family a chance to make another new queen and they did draw up one nice queen cell which duly opened and this queen again laid up a small amount of brood both worker and drone but was never seen and has since vanished. Their house had been moved so that the flyers went in to the next door houses to be useful to their new families and this week the last few bees were shaken out and their house removed to the shed. It is sad that I don’t have a daughter at the Hermitage but those bees and their frames of drawn comb and food will be used to supplement other families. Maybe next year I will produce a viable daughter but in the meantime I have cousins galore down here and we are all doing well. The General has been telling me that my daughter is not an isolated case this year. We have had a few similar stories down here. The Ginger Queen managed one successful daughter and one failure. The Bright Shiner Queen has one successful daughter from several attempts. The Hippy Happy Queen has two new Queens, one is doing very well but the other heads a tiny family. Apparently some of our readers have had the same problems. I wonder what it is. The weather hasn’t been too bad and lots of princesses have been married and are producing good strong families but some are just failing. A mystery indeed.

I am sorry to say that you won’t be hearing from the Slim Shady Queen again as The General finally decided today that she would not be a chosen Queen to lead a family into the winter. She was not building up very well and she did have a red crown so was pretty ancient. She has been removed from her house and her family have been moved in with the successful new daughter of The Hippy Happy Queen. This will boost this family with brood and sisters and it will be a good size to go into winter. The Hippy Happy Queen’s other daughter with the tiny family did not make the cut either, her family has been moved in with one of her cousins.

If my counting is correct we are now down to 13 (my lucky number!) families at The Hermitage Sisterhood with possibly two supersedures of old queens (The Shilling Queen and The Hippy Happy Queen) going on. If the supersedures are not successful and the old queens are looking poor then those families may be merged with others taking us down to 11 really strong families for the winter. It is important to us to have strong families for the winter so that we can support each other and it helps us to keep warm in the long, cold, dark days to come. We do of course need lots of food to keep us fed but the extra autumn bees means we can get as much of the available forage as possible.

Golly, the days are getting short now, my sisters have much less flying time than just a week or so ago. I wonder how the Roman Wall Queen is doing at The Heather, maybe we’ll have a report on that next time.

Unlucky for some but not us.

The “Unlucky Thirteen” Queen.

Thursday 27th August 2020 by The Hippy, (not so) Happy Queen

That’s a bit of an understatement, ‘not so happy’ more like absolutely (bee-ping) furious! The woman has gone completely bonkers. I have no idea what possessed her, but last week in her infinite wisdom she decided that it was time to start the winter preparations.

The first stage of which is getting us down to a reasonable number of families to overwinter at The Hermitage. Now this I agree with; fewer big families have a much better chance of survival than lots of small ones. These bigger families will also do better with younger Queens leading them. That’s a bit worrying since I have a red crown. Her first decision is which Queens to choose to go into the winter and she decided that the old red Cherryburn Queen was slowing down quite a bit and looking a bit ragged round the edges, I’m in better nick! I’m not surprised, as this old dear was last year’s superstar, representing us at all the Shows, from the County Show in May to the Bellingham Show at the end of August and a few school visits in between. It’s a hard season’s work, I know, my mother did it a few years ago.

Anyway The General decided that she would likely not last the winter and her medium sized family should be merged with another one nearby of a similar size. Unfortunately the Cherryburn Queen lived next door to me! Since I have moved house twice already this year and am still building my family up, the woman decided that they could move in with my family. That was it – no consultation, no warning, nothing! The old Cherryburn Queen was removed from her family and they were merged with mine. It was all done in a textbook style with a sheet of newspaper under my puzzle gate then the Cherryburn family was put on top of that. Finally the pantries were added, again separated with newspaper. So far, so good. Our house was moved along slightly so that we were more or less in the middle of where the two houses had been. Some of the Cherryburn flyers went into the adjacent house and the rest came into my home. No problem there, it’s always good to have a few more staff to help gather the nectar for the winter stores.

Then the trouble started; the Cherryburn bees started to eat through the newspaper and we were inundated with gingers. They were all over the place, mingling with my nice dark girls and making my nice spacious residence very overcrowded – it was chaos! No fighting to speak of, just an occasional squabble.

The Cherryburn girls don’t seem too happy having a new Queen and a dark one at that, so they have built a couple of queen cells up in their old family room. Anyway the pandemonium has sent me into a bit of a decline and put me totally off lay, you know I like a quiet life. In a bit of a panic my sisters have started supersedure procedures in case I fail too. I’m happy to report that I am still alive and well and The General and The Doctor decided it was best to leave my supersedure cell in with me, just in case. I have to admit the sisters have done me proud with a magnificent example of the perfect supersedure cell. The queen cells in the old Cherryburn room have been removed so it will be a Hippy, Happy Queen that will lead my new combined family into the winter. The rooms have all been re-organised now with the last of the Cherryburn brood being put in with mine. The puzzle gate is back in place, then one nice full pantry for our very large new family, and if this weather continues, we’ll need it. The General commented that it was easy to see which bees belong to which family. The Cherryburns are all very ginger and my lot are all very dark. However after a few days, we are all getting along famously and our focus is now on surviving the winter in style. Wish me luck readers – although they let me think I am in charge, I know that it is really a collective family decision about what happens in the colony.

In other news: The Slim Shady Queen has not managed to produce a daughter this year. The little new family she wrote about last time has not managed to survive and despite The Doctor reducing the entrance down to a two bee sized hole, they have been robbed out by wasps. Very sad but they would probably not have made the winter cut as they were too small and would have been merged with another family.

Two of the hoped for new Queens have not made it. The only brood in both boxes is drone brood and since these families are next to each other they have been merged together. There is someone laying in one of the boxes but is it a drone laying queen or laying workers? Both these families are dwindling now as there really hasn’t been much in the way of brood for 6 weeks. Similarly the Unlucky Thirteen’s daughter has failed but again someone is laying a few drones in here, so this box has been moved up to the top row to bleed off the flyers. The flyers will boost the already massive 17 family and next week The General and Doctor will have a look again to see if they can get a clearer idea of whether it is laying workers or not.

On a good note the Bright Shiner daughter in the little half size house is doing nicely and The General would very much like to keep her. She was moved into one of the half-sized prefabs and boosted with a frame of babies from the Cherryburn’s to give her more staff and they will keep boosting her until she can be merged with a poorer family and hopefully lead a strong brood into the winter. Failing that they may overwinter as a smaller family in the prefab as it provides really good insulation and The General has successfully overwintered small families in them before.

The green crowned Ginger Queen has built up nicely in her half sized box and is bursting out of it. The family has now been put into a full sized bungalow with lots of drawn comb in there and they have been given a boost of a frame of food and also a feeder full of syrup to help them build their stores for the winter.

At this point it started to rain – yes again – and so they decided to call it a day. Next week’s visit will be busy as none of the older established families have been looked at for a good few weeks now. At this time of year The General thinks it’s not a problem to leave them alone for a bit as long as they have plenty of food. All our big families down here have a pantry pretty full of food, so it’s not a problem if the weather is poor and The Doctor is stockpiling full pantries in the shed to be used for winter stores. The forage is plentiful at the river with the balsam still producing well and soon the ivy will start. Please check your own families to make sure they have lots of food and if not then please feed them. I hear that The Banker ordered lots of winter food for our members and that was snapped up so quickly that she has had to order another lot. The General gets her order in early to ensure we have sufficient for the winter.

Have I forgiven The General? I’ll let you know…….

Flower power and all that
The Hippy Happy Queen

Thursday 13th August 2020 – The Return of The Slim Shady Queen and a Postcard from The Roman Wall Queen at The Heather

Did you think I’d vanished? To be honest, The General thought I had today – I really do like to keep her guessing. I thought I was totally out of favour since no-one has been near me in my prefab townhouse for three weeks. Last time The General was threatening me with the winter cut as there was a lot of chalkbrood in my house. Well three weeks on and my sisters have increased dramatically and been hard at work keeping the house spic and span. The General decided that I need to be moved into a full size house for a bit more space so off they went to collect the building materials and started to construct my new house. I must say they are quite good builders.

First the floor was laid then a clean main room was put on top. Then we were moved in without the aid of Pickfords. All the frames from the lower storey were put in and inspected carefully to see if I was present – no, not there. The frames from the top half storey were then inspected – no, not there either. So back they went and checked them all again – still not there. “She’s up to her old tricks again” muttered The General, while she started to check the walls of my townhouse. Definitely not in the lower storey – so any sisters on there were carefully brushed into the new house. The top storey was then examined again: and guess what? I was wandering around (hiding according to The General) on the lower lip of the box – I do like to be difficult. So I was allowed to walk down into my new house with my sisters already starting to make it home. A new ceiling and roof and that’s it I’m nicely set up here, although I’m not sure I approve of a large bungalow, I do like a one and a half storey home best – The General doesn’t agree!

Do you remember the muddle I left behind in the old house, probably several moves ago now, with no visible new princess? Way back on 9th July the super with the drone brood and loads of drones in there was moved down to the bottom row and put on a wooden floor with a crown board and roof, just to let the drones emerge and fly. The idea was it would be left for a few weeks then most likely tipped out for any remaining flyers to be taken in by the neighbours. Well we are full of surprises down here at The Hermitage Sisterhood and today when the Doctor and General had a peep in there were two frames with worker brood and a new queen! She was given a blue crown and moved into my recently vacated one and a half storey townhouse. It is still a very small family so the half size frames with babies were put in the top storey and some food and ready prepared frames were put into the bottom storey with a two-bee sized door to help defend against any pirates. Hopefully the new queen will move down into the bottom storey to lay up there. That is, she will if she is there!!! While transferring the frames she seemed to disappear – ahh, a true daughter of mine. Next week will see if she sneaked in…. or not.

There may be one Bright Shiner daughter too. Of all the options of queen cells that were put in various locations after the Bright Shiner Queen had swarmed, only one has produced a mated queen. This is still a small family in a half sized house, but looking promising. The Unlucky Thirteen offspring have not done well at all with no visible signs of a queen or any laying going on, so a test frame has been put in here to ensure they are queenless and next week if they have drawn up any queen cells then these will be removed and the remaining bees will be merged with the family next door. Despite our reputation for not taking visitors kindly we are pretty good at accepting refugees if they are properly introduced.

We have had a postcard from The Roman Wall Queen who is on holiday at The Heather. She writes that they are all having an excellent time on their holidays. The sisters are out flying from early morning to dusk and the purple buffet is feeding them all very well. They are stocking up their pantries at a great rate and The Doctor and General have been up to supply extra shelves for the pantries to ensure they don’t run out of space. It sounds like huge fun, although she does say it’s a bit colder and windier up there than they are used to.

Apparently, The Doctor made a bit of a schoolboy error when he was there and didn’t zip his veil right up. The first they heard of it was when he squawked loudly that there was a bee in his veil, in fact there were a few and he headed off across the moor with a few more sisters pursuing him, wanting to get up close and personal too (they do get a bit of a handful up there!). Eventually he managed to get rid of them with only 4 stings to his face and neck. I’ve heard him telling the apprentices that they must always check their zips as the sisters will always find any little hole – and he was right – they did! Fortunately he had some Piriton in the car and he didn’t end up looking like the elephant man, but he did sleep well that night. To be on the safe side The General drove home in case he fell asleep at the wheel.

Well folks that’s all for now.

Please stand up – I’m the real Slim Shady!

Thursday 6th August 2020 – Thieves, Highwaywomen and Pirates!
by The Hippy Happy Queen

The General has been off playing with her four-legged friends so this episode is very late. I do apologise for her tardiness in writing up our news – and we do have some news this week. Finally after a shaky start, it seems I might have not one but two new daughters at The Hermitage. The queen cell that was donated to the remnant of the Slim Shady bees seems to have been successful. The family has four frames of babies although The General and Doctor couldn’t spot the new Queen. The house that I was moved out of a few weeks ago, who should have a new Queen the same age as the one just described, has a good laying of eggs on one frame and also a lovely new Queen, who has been given a smart blue crown.

It looks like The Ginger Queen also has a new daughter, there are two frames with eggs but again they didn’t manage to spot the Queen. The fourth family, a new daughter for the 17 Queen, has been seen and given her blue crown, although she is just getting going with some eggs on two frames. All families will be left alone for two weeks now to get going and then checked to see how they are getting along. Fingers crossed that they are all successful.

All us older Queens were checked and we are all doing well although I think plans may be afoot for a successor to the old Shilling Queen. She is still there in the house but The Doctor had spotted a single queen cell in there a week ago, which was left alone as she is now a very old queen by today’s standards. The General didn’t look for a new queen as she didn’t want to disturb the colony too much if they are superseding The Shilling Queen. This process is called perfect supersedure, when the sisters produce a new queen and mother and daughter work alongside each other until the old queen fails. Leave it to us, the Sisters know best!

While The General was looking at some of the families she realised that some had pantries that were and one or two were a bit short on food. She lifted one very full super that had been cleared of bees onto a wooden floor so that she could take a couple of shelves of food out and while doing that she discovered that the sisters had not kept tidy shelves and some honey was accidently scraped off onto the floor as one shelf was lifted out. Well, you wouldn’t believe the kerfuffle that ensued. The General worked very quickly to move the pantry away onto a fresh floor and sealed it up, so no sisters could get in. The wooden floor with the spilt honey was moved to one side a bit away from the hives and immediately it was covered in bees, even the bees in The Gaffer’s house roof were joining in. They were in full robbing mode. There was a great humming and some frantic flying to ensure the sisters got their share of the spoils. The floor was left in place until all the spilt honey had been licked up, this is because if The General had moved it again or washed off the honey then the sisters would be on the lookout for any more easy pickings and may rob out one of the smaller families. Leaving it in place until the honey is all gone means that the sisters settle down quickly and resume normal duties, as they know that all the spoils have been divvied up. They did in fact settle down very quickly and normal service was resumed in short order.*

The signs are all there in the apiary that the sisters know we are into late summer. There is very little drone brood in the houses now and some of the boys have already been evicted to fend for themselves. The sisters know that they are stocking up for the winter and any easy to come by stores are greedily acquired and taken back to the pantries. The river is still producing large quantities of late summer nectar with the Himalayan Balsam, Willowherb and Golden Rod being excellent forage. The General will be extra careful from now on as the robbing impulse will get stronger and small families may be at risk. At the end of the visit The Doctor went around some of the smaller families and made their front doors much smaller so that they are more easily defended from the pirates, thieves and highwaywomen.

Flower power and all that
The Hippy Happy Queen

*Note from The General and Doctor
Now we are into ‘robbing’ season be careful to only open one hive at a time and shut up as quickly as you can. Reduce entrances on smaller colonies to help them defend the hives. There is nothing more distressing than seeing a hive robbed out. The signs are clear as honey cells look like they have been exploded with ragged edges and there are loads of cappings littering the floors along with dead bees. Robbing by wasps is fairly easy to see but robbing by other bees is harder to spot as from a distance a hive just looks busy.

Thursday 23rd July 2020 – The Ginger Queen introduces a Guest Columnist: The Roman Wall Queen

Hi Folks
It should be high summer but it doesn’t seem like it, not that I’m complaining too much, it’s warm enough and forage is good but we do just keep getting some cold and wet weather and it was like that this morning so I wasn’t expecting to see The General and The Doctor today but about 4pm they rolled up. The sisters were just starting to get out in force and do some afternoon foraging when they arrived. Balsam and meadowsweet are abundant at the river along with good stands of goldenrod and common and rosebay willowherb. Pollen of many different colours is coming into the pantries to keep us going over the winter.

They only stayed for a short visit and checked the older queens. Every other family will be looked at again next week. As there is not much going on here this week, I have invited a guest to tell us her news. Let me introduce you to the Roman Wall Queen. She is one of the Doctor’s experiments in that her mother was taken to a site not far from the Roman Wall to forage on the wildflowers up there in the spring. While there she has produced a lovely big, and very ginger (nothing wrong with ginger!) daughter, The Roman Wall Queen.

The Roman Wall Queen
Is that The Doctor being rude about my appearance again? Really can he not be satisfied with 10 frames of babies and lots and lots of sisters in my house? I have a good flying force and heaven knows my girls have had to work hard for all that forage. My mother tells me that it is much colder up here than at home, where she grew up, and there have been no big fields of the yellow peril here to fill the pantries in the spring. We did however have a very large field of dandelions just across the road and all our wax in bright yellow in colour and very distinctive. Actually the forage here hasn’t been bad at all, although the colder and windier weather has meant that we have eaten quite a bit of what was brought home from the dandelions. I have been living in a green prefab which does keep us quite warm and cosy. My poor aging mother was moved out to a little wooden house to make room for me but she is ticking along quite nicely still, even if her crown colour is red. I have a very smart pale blue crown, which I think is very stylish.

The Ginger Queen kindly asked me to contribute to this week’s episode because there is some excitement afoot. We are going on our holidays! And not just us, apparently there are five other families joining us for a 6 week holiday. We are going to somewhere called The Heather. Apparently it features an all day purple buffet and we will have luxury accommodation featuring a special enclosure, nestled down out of the wind and facing south east so we get the early sun. We will also be sited so that the buffet will be uphill, so the sisters can fly up empty and tumble back down when they are full up. I have been told by my mother that the buffet is quite intoxicating and there is sometimes bad behaviour. It all sounds very exciting! The Doctor is in charge of the arrangements and he and The General have already been to view our accommodation. The buffet is almost ready and so preparations are in progress although I’m not so sure about some of them. Our pantries have been replaced by a totally empty one -well save for one shelf of food. This makes it easier for The Doctor to lift us into the transport and gives us lots of space to store the proceeds of the purple buffet. It will make us a bit squashed but The Doctor has promised that we will get another pantry as soon as we need it. Although we think we are a bit tight for space, some of the others that are going have had to squash two families into one house. The Doctor explained to me that although we are a big enough family to go on holiday some others need a bit of a boost to make sure they have enough flyers to take advantage of the buffet.

The Doctor wants his holiday colonies to be big and strong and headed by a blue crowned queen and it is an opportunity to make use of the bees of older queens who may not make the winter cut*. What he has done is positioned the two families he wants to merge next to each other and then he removes the queen he does not want to keep. (I’m not sure I approve of this but it is the survival of the fittest, so I’m going along with it.) Then he places a sheet of quality newspaper, held down by a puzzle gate on top of the box with the blue crowned queen in, which will ensure the queen stays in the bottom box and then the queenless box goes on top and any pantries on top of that. If the pantries have come from different families then more newspaper is used to separate the boxes so that there is no fighting. The sisters then chew through the newspaper and mingle together until they are all one big family, which takes about a week for full integration. After a week, The Doctor and General come along and rearrange the frames of furniture so that all the babies are in the bottom box and they clear down the broodless box using a one way puzzle gate so that all the sisters are in the one main room and their pantries. The next stage is to give the very busy, crowded family an empty pantry just like mine and clear all the sisters down into the new set up of one main room and one almost empty pantry.

Once all the families have been packed like this then we will be off on our jollies. Although The Doctor says we will be going in two separate lots, as the transport requires it, but he has assured me that my family will definitely be in the first lot.

We’re all going on a summer holiday!
The Roman Wall Queen

The Doctor’s notes:
*The winter cut – we raise more colonies from swarm control and breeding than we intend to take through the winter and tend to choose good dark queens with dark, well behaved bees to take on to next year. So this is our first stage of selection by reducing the feistier and/or older queens and utilising these bees to boost our heather colonies.

Thursday 16th July 2020 – The Test Frames by The Ginger Queen

Hi Folks – The General seems to have recovered somewhat from the traumas of last week and came prepared as usual with a clipboard of planned inspections. Trusting (perhaps foolishly) that the crowned Queens can move to fortnightly inspections, she has decided that today the focus will be on the other families.

Do you remember the test frames that The Doctor put in last week? Well here is my report on them. They have proved to be very useful. Just to give you a recap: A test frame is a frame containing eggs that is put into a family to check to see if there is a queen there. If there is a queen then the sisters will not draw up queen cells and if not then more than likely they will draw up queen cells. So last week 4 test frames were put into various houses down at The Hermitage to see if there was a queen hiding anywhere.

In the old Slim Shady house (now number 23) the sisters had drawn up several queen cells on a frame donated by the Hippy Happy Queen. So no queen here, the best queen cell was kept to see if they will raise a new princess from it. Hive 4 had also drawn up several queen cells so their queen had obviously vanished very recently as there had been 3 frames of brood last week. Again the best queen cell was left and the others taken down.

Now onto the blue and yellow prefab where my daughter had been seen and marked a few weeks ago but there was no sign of her last week. There was no brood in the main room except for the test frame which had no queen cells just capped brood. These sisters obviously think they have a queen somewhere – The Doctor and General just looked at each other – the supers? Yes, in both pantries there were several frames of brood and eggs too, but no queen to be seen. They looked really carefully, twice, until eventually The General spotted her on the wall of one of the boxes. She is very slim and dark and had obviously gone up through the puzzle gate but had not been able to get back, as she hadn’t been moving freely up and down as the Slim Shady Queen had. So my daughter hasn’t vanished, she was just hiding. This family are now on brood and a half and the second super with food in it has been donated elsewhere. Next week, if she is laying in the main room they will try the puzzle gate again to see if it can keep her down there.

Next up was the Unlucky Thirteen disappearing Princess, the queen cell in there had not been opened last week and The General had given it one more week to see if a new Princess will emerge. This week the queen cell had been opened with that classic chewed off bottom so she did not look any further not wanting to disturb a new Princess. They will look again in two weeks to see what progress is being made.

Finally, they looked in on the family where the Hippy Happy Princess had failed and evidence of laying workers had been seen a couple of weeks ago. Again no signs of laying workers and the sisters here have produced some nice queen cells on the test frame, 8 in all. So yet another experiment – The Doctor does like his experiments. As this colony is getting smaller and last week’s flying bees were bled off. They moved this family into a 6 frame nuc and moved it up in front of the third row. So once again it will lose its new flyers, who will return to the adjacent houses on the bottom row and all 8 lovely queen cells have been left. Hopefully this will allow the bees to choose their preferred Princess and because there will be very few flying bees they should not be able to produce a series of casts. That’s the theory – let’s see if the sisters agree with it!

The little nucs still have queens in them although neither has started laying yet and The Doctor’s improvised door screen seems to have bamboozled the wasps. All the nucs were checked to see if they have sufficient food to see them through to next week and they have. There is evidence in most of the families that the Himalayan Balsam is now flowering and the sisters are out there gathering it in. If you haven’t seen it before, some of the sisters are coming in like little ghosts dusted in white pollen. When they clean themselves off they cannot reach all the pollen and so leave behind a very distinctive hour glass shaped white mark on their thorax. Surprisingly to me, The General tells me that not everyone likes the Balsam but it is a fabulous supply of food for all us sisters and also our wilder neighbours, the bumble bees, the solitary bees and all the other essential pollinators in the Tyne Valley.

May your pollen stores be plentiful.
The Ginger Queen

Thursday 9th July 2020 – The General has a Nervous Breakdown by The Ginger Queen

Hello readers, I was beginning to think this week’s episode would never be written and that I might have to dance on the keys with my six lovely legs instead of The General’s two stubby fingers. I think the poor soul has had to lie in a darkened room for several days after the latest visit.

Let’s start on a good note shall we? All of us yellow, red and green crowned queens are doing beautifully, well except for the Slim Shady Queen but we’ll come to that later. Also three of the new blue crowned Queens are doing well, so that’s nine lovely families doing well. The houses that were inhabited until last week by the Hippy Happy Queen and myself have now had the best queen cell selected and hopefully we will have new princesses in a couple of weeks.

Next up, The General and Doctor had a look in the new Queens that were given their blue crowns two weeks ago and that was where the trouble started. My daughter in the blue and yellow prefab has vanished! There was no sign of her at all, no Queen, no eggs but a couple of queen cells on one frame. Good grief! She had laid up five lovely frames of babies and now she has gone. The Doctor put in a frame of eggs from the old red Cherryburn Queen to see what they would do with that. A ‘Test Frame’ he called it. It will be examined next week to see if the sisters have drawn new queen cells on it. If they have then there is definitely no queen in there and “decisions will have to be made” said The General ominously.

Next up, they wandered along the row to see if the Unlucky Thirteen daughter bees had raised a new princess yet. You will remember that last week she had disappeared just like my daughter and left one queen cell, well it hasn’t emerged yet so The General left it well alone and will check again next week. That makes two new emerged and laying Queens that have vanished in mysterious circumstances. If you think it sounds like a case for Miss Marple just wait till you see what comes next.

There were 3 families to be inspected to see if they had new Queens – well, one of them did. The Cherryburn Princess is now a Queen but is so small she can escape through the mesh on the queen crown marker. She now has a blue crown but is she strong enough to lead a Sisterhood family? In Hive 4 there were 3 frames of nice worker brood but no sign of a queen or eggs – not another one! So a test frame from her mother’s family was put in here to see if she is just shy or has disappeared too. The last one was the offspring of the Slim Shady Queen.

There was no brood at all in the main room but loads and loads of drone brood in the supers and a very loud, low, deep hum when the house was opened as it was full of boys. The Doctor had a good look through and it seems that the queen cell that was left had a chalk brood mummy in there. So no new queen here either. The supers with all the drone brood were moved away for further inspection next week and a spare queen cell from the Hippy Happy family put in the main room to see if they do anything with it. We most definitely are not having a good year for new queens down at The Hermitage. So far, out of 10 potential princesses, we now have only 4 new queens and one of those is positively tiny.

Over their sandwiches, The Doctor and General had a discussion about what might be going wrong here. The same methods are employed at The Hermitage as they employ at home and it’s even the same beekeepers, so what is different? Maybe the Sisterhood is missing the apprentices, or maybe we are just a bit too crowded, who knows? No wonder The General was having a nervous breakdown – she has suddenly turned into a very bad beekeeper!

Now, if you remember from last week, they did a bit of experimenting with spare queen cells into two colonies with laying workers. The General thought that any laying workers would kill any newly emerged Princess and today she was all ready to chuck out the little nuc box with the tiny swarm that definitely had laying workers last week only to find no sign of laying workers and a new Princess walking around on the furniture! They were quickly shut up and left for another week. Similarly the other box had a new Princess too! Just what is going on here? The Doctor is a bit concerned about the second one as it was in a full size house and is a tiny colony. He put it into a half size box with a screen in front of the door to bamboozle any wasps and robbers.

Finally, onto the failed Hippy Happy daughter; you will remember last time they had moved the house away to spread the laying workers out and surprisingly there was no sign of laying workers in here. The General is reeling, convinced there were laying workers last week and just moving the box seems to have ‘cured’ them. The Doctor with his pragmatic and scientific attitude deployed yet another test frame from the Hippy Happy Queen to see what they do with it.

So, while The General lies down in a darkened room to contemplate everything she knows about beekeeping (apparently this can now be written on the back of a postage stamp), I will wish you a good week’s beekeeping and hope it isn’t as traumatic as The General’s.

I wonder if we will see her next week of if she has forsaken us six legged creatures in favour of four legged ones, even though the four legged ones steal her sandwiches.

May your pollen stores be plentiful.
The Ginger Queen

Oh, I nearly forgot about the Slim Shady Queen. She seems to be producing lots of babies that turn into chalk brood mummies – so her future is looking quite bleak. More bad news for The General.

Thursday 2nd July 2020 – Here We Go Again by The Ginger Queen

So you thought the swarm season was over, well I can tell you that’s not the case down here at The Hermitage. For the second time this year I have been moved to another new half sized house with a very small part of my household. The remainder has been left to raise another Ginger Princess to join the new rather darker one in my original blue and yellow prefab. Gingers are on the rise! The Doctor is not so keen on our colour but our temperament is second to none here at the Sisterhood.

It was much cooler this week and The General was much happier as a result. After The Bright Shiner Queen moving out last week the old Queens were a priority today, which was just as well because The Hippy Happy Bees were preparing their old girl to move out and she was mightily relieved when The Doctor found the signs and moved her pronto into a half size box down onto the third row. The General then found the same was happening with my family. After trying for years to raise a successor to my mother, which eventually resulted in me, she thinks it ironic that my family suddenly want to reproduce our special genes. I’m now on the 3rd row next to The Hippy Happy Queen.

The other old Queens are fine and not showing any signs of moving on again – yet. To be clear, The Bright Shiners, The Hippy Happy Bees and my family were the first to be swarm controlled this year and maybe the others who were a bit later will stay put now. But I think The General and The Doctor will still be keeping an eye on them for any more shenanigans. The Slim Shady Queen has stopped sulking and is building up in her 6 frame prefab. Given her previous exploits The General has added a half brood to her prefab to give her bit more space without having to build her a new full sized house complete with extra furniture.

Once all the old Queens had been thoroughly checked, they got down to the interesting business of checking all those queen cells that were distributed from The Bright Shiner house last week. In the Bright Shiner house the best one was selected and this looks to be fine and fingers crossed they will raise a nice new Princess. In what was house 18 and is now a half sized house, they had drawn up new cells some of which were unsealed and these were left. The sealed queen cell that had been there from last week was removed which was a good thing, since on examination it had a dead larva in it.

You will remember from last week that the original box was moved away and the flyers would return here. Hopefully they will raise a new princess from one of the unsealed cells. Two were left as it is a small colony and should not produce a cast. The other two experiments don’t look like they will be successful since there are definite signs of laying workers in both boxes. They have been left for another week but I expect the laying workers will kill any new Princess. Similarly, The Hippy Happy split that looked as if it might have laying workers definitely has. Since this is still a big colony, The Doctor was unhappy about tipping it out today because if all the bees returned to the nearest house they would most likely swamp The Shilling Queen’s family and he did not want to risk her being killed. The General suggested a two stage compromise. The laying worker house was moved down below the bottom row in between two strong families, the flying bees should go into the Shilling house, which should not be too many to cause a problem. Next week the rest of the bees can be tipped out and they should spread themselves between the other colonies, again thinly enough that they don’t swamp another family.

Three potential new princesses were examined next. First up was the Unlucky Thirteen Princess that was examined last week with a few eggs present. Today, there was capped worker brood, but no young larvae or eggs, no Queen and one large queen cell. This gave rise to speculation about what has happened here. Has the new queen started laying then failed or did the sisters not like her for some reason and want to produce another Princess? This happens more often than you would suppose with almost immediate supercedure of a newly laying queen and we have seen it a few times over the years at The Sisterhood. One week a new queen is marked then two or three weeks later she has vanished and an uncrowned Queen is in there. We aren’t doing very well this year for new Princesses becoming Queens , this now makes three failures out of five potential princesses.

The visit did end on a good note however as daughters of the Shilling Queen and the now re-homed Six Queen have been successful with lovely frames of capped worker brood and stunning big Queens. Both of which were given smart blue crowns. So we now have four successes out of seven, which doesn’t seem so bad with another three new Princesses still to be examined.

That’s all for this week people.

May your pollen stores be plentiful.
The Ginger Queen

Thursday 25th June 2020 – Double, Double, Toil and Trouble by The Shilling Queen

I’m the Shilling Queen, the most senior Queen of the Sisterhood. My yellow crown is fading a little but I’m still going strong and thriving down on the bottom row. With all the goings on down here this week I thought it was time for you to hear my thoughts on today’s visit.

It was hotter than a witch’s cauldron down here on Thursday when The General and Doctor visited. They were really a few days too late – but I’ll get to that shortly. Eleven days is too long between visits, however we know they are busy people with many families of their own to look after as well as a number of 4-legged beasts to sort out too. You’d think they’d have realised by now that those of us with 6 legs are the most important beings on the planet and that those of you with two legs are just our servants. We love the heat, the girls just soak it up and fly happily to forage and there is lots of food still coming in with the meadowsweet, brambles and other summer plants starting to flower in the verges. Sadly, I have to report that The General does not like the heat, especially togged up in her PPE which makes her crosser as the afternoon wears on, her face gets redder and the specs slide down her nose with the sweat – not a pretty picture! I have to say that I don’t think we helped her temper much either. It’s a good job The Doctor was here with his clear thinking and bright ideas.

Let me take it from the top:
They arrived with a long list of old queens to check as well as various other jobs. They started with my next door neighbours. If you remember from last week, this hive was given a frame of eggs from the Hippy Happy Queen as there did not appear to be a new princess in this house. They wanted to see if the girls would try to make another princess and start making queen cells. Well, they haven’t drawn up any queen cells on the added frame and it looked as though someone had been laying babies in there, but the furniture is quite dark and hard to see, sadly the ones that were visible looked more like boys than girls. Does this mean there is a drone laying queen in the house or have some of the workers been laying eggs? It does happen from time to time that the workers get a bit desperate and start laying but it always ends in disaster as the babies all turn out to be boys and the family dies out. It wasn’t clear cut, so The Doctor thought the best thing was to put in another frame of eggs from The Hippy Happy Queen to ‘hold them’ for a week and it may be clearer next time once the new babies are sealed in their cells.

After that disappointment they got on with the old Queen checking, which was going well was going well with The Cherryburn Queen and the ’17’ Queen being moved up to full size houses. The Slim Shady Queen is still sulking and only building up very slowly in her half size prefab so she was left as she was. The General came down to check me and was quite relieved to be in the shade and visit my lovely family. She was very happy with us and smiling, despite her specs sliding down her nose, until The Doctor called from the top row with the news that The Bright Shiner Queen was gone. She still had space in her home but had decided that she was moving on. Really, the Queens in that family are so ungrateful! The girls they breed are very well tempered but the Queens are a bit independent minded.

Obviously if they had been checked at 7 or even 8 days instead of 11 they might have been relocated within the Sisterhood. In The General and Doctor’s time-honoured fashion they decided it was time for a sandwich, a drink and a discussion about what to do. So they shut up the Bright Shiners, without taking down any queen cells as they might be needed to rescue some families whose princesses had failed and moved into the shade for a bite to eat.

After lunch they visited the house which should have had a new daughter from the Bright Shiner Queen (Number 18). Sadly there wasn’t. It had drone brood and several queen cells, which would have had boys in them. No queen was found – Oh dear! Two new princess failures out of two! Double, double indeed! So, is there a drone laying queen hiding in there or is it laying workers? What to do? The General was sweating even more and starting to get quite despondent. The Doctor came to the rescue – “Let’s make a nuc up on this site with a frame which has a queen cell and lots of capped brood and a frame of food together with their adhering bees from the swarmed Bright Shiner house, after all, they are the same family. We’ll move the 18 house away to a temporary stand and the flying bees will return to the nuc and we’ll see if they raise a new queen”. So that’s what they did and for good measure since there were lots of queen cells in the swarmed Bright Shiner house they put one into this house too just to see if they will raise it. If there are laying workers or a drone laying queen in there they will tear it down, but at least once all the flyers return to the new nuc then it will be easier to see what is going on in there.

Those of you with good memories may remember that a few weeks ago a small swarm was collected from the front of the 18 house and placed into a poly nuc. At the time The General and Doctor thought it was a strange place to find a swarm, so maybe the ‘swarm’ had been bees that had flown out to accompany the new princess on a mating flight but she didn’t return and they were hanging out waiting for her. We will never know what happened here but hopefully using a variation of Roger Patterson’s two frame nuc method will give a good result.

I’ll jump ahead here since it makes more sense. As a general rule you should always examine a swarm last unless you are absolutely sure where it has come from, in case there is any disease in the swarm, and that’s what they did but I’ll report on that now. The swarm in the poly nuc was most definitely queenless with obvious signs of laying workers present, with several eggs in most cells, many on the sides of the cells. The only solution for laying workers is to take them a good distance away from the original site and tip them out. The flyers will come back and find their way into neighbouring hives and this manoeuvre is one that should most definitely be done after all other jobs have been finished. The Doctor was absolutely on fire here and suggested they put a fresh nuc on the site with yet another queen cell from the swarmed Bright Shiner house, so that’s what they did. The flyers from the tipped out box will return here and as the laying workers are usually lost they should not cause a problem. These queen cell experiments may come to nothing but it will be interesting to see the results in a few weeks time.

Ever hopeful, The General and Doctor started to look to see if there were any successful Princesses at the Sisterhood this year or if they were all going to be ‘duds’. The Sandy Prefab was the next up and Hurrah! Babies on 6 frames, phew! The new queen was seen and she was given a smart blue crown, the first one this year at The Hermitage. Her Mum was quite dark but this one is pretty ginger. This cheered The General up no end!

Next they moved down to see if the Ginger Queen had a new Princess on the block. This Princess is in the blue and yellow prefab and yes, there is a new queen here too and she was given a blue crown as well. Her Mum is very ginger and this one is quite dark. Just goes to show how mixed the genetics are in the Tyne valley. Most of the brood was not yet sealed but it looks like nice worker brood. Hurrah, it’s no longer two failures from two but now two successes from four.

The Doctor and General had planned to look at another 3 potential new Princesses on this visit and they did look at one more. There were eggs and some small larvae in cells but no queen was seen, so they decided it was probably too early to look in the others and operations were suspended for the day. The General nearly had to be poured out of her beesuit at the end of the session.

Oh, by the way, if you are wondering what they did with the swarmed and now very depleted Bright Shiner hive. It was left with one open queen cell with a nice fat grub but still about 4 frames of brood, so hopefully, although the Bright Shiner Queen has moved on to pastures new we may have at least one if not 4 new daughters from her.

Until next time – May the river provide.

The Shilling Queen

Notes from The General and The Doctor
In a normal year you would not expect all of your potential matings to be successful and we think 50 to 60% is probably average, with some variations on this due to weather conditions. This year, although the weather has generally been much better than we often see in Northumberland in the spring and early summer, it seems that both at home and at the apiary, the very earliest splits have had a few more failures and some new queens have taken a long time to start laying. We wonder if this was because there were fewer mature drones very early on. It will be interesting to see if the later splits produce a higher success rate.

The Roger Patterson ‘2 frame nuc’ was described by Roger at our meeting at Newton last March and also on one of his recent BIBBA webcasts. This link will take you to BIBBA’s webinar page. Look for the “2 frame nuc” recording from 23rd June.

Sunday 14th June 2020 – The Waiting Game by The Hippy Happy Queen

Hi everyone! Me again, I’m sitting happily as you would expect up here on the second row with a good view over the Hermitage and able to keep an eye on the goings on down at the Sisterhood. June this year looks like it will be a lull in proceedings with not much happening, especially since the Slim Shady Queen is safely tucked away in her little prefab. This next couple of weeks marks the watershed between all the swarm control that The General and Doctor have been doing over the last few weeks and waiting to see if the new princesses have successfully married and are producing new families of their own.

We don’t have much of a June gap down here near the river and the villages and my girls always seem to be able to find some forage. The local gardens are a big bonus for us with lots of flowering shrubs humming with the sisters just now. The clover is also just starting to come into flower and that is always a good source of food for us. The biggest problem over the last week or so has been the weather; it’s been really cold and wet. In fact The General was due to visit last Thursday but I think she stayed in bed – we certainly did. It is a good job that we have all been filling our pantries over the last couple of months, we needed to dip into the stores to keep us going but the weather is improving and all the families at The Hermitage are out and foraging well. When the General and Doctor visited today we were busier than Heathrow airport making up for lost time. We could have done with a bit of air traffic control. It’s amazing we don’t have lots of mid air collisions the space is so busy but we are bees and flying is what we do best.

The main business today was to check up on all us ‘old’ queens to make sure we have space and stores to see us through. The queens in the half size houses were the first to be checked for space and food. Those ‘unlucky’ Thirteens are doing really well and The Doctor moved them up into a full sized house. The others are still OK in their little homes for now as they have mostly stayed still since the last visit, which is totally due to the weather. However, everyone has sufficient food to see them through the next week or so until the next visit.

The only other job was to inspect the house on the bottom row that I came from to see if my new princess was married and laying up a new family. Sadly, I have to report that the signs were not good. When the General opened the house up the sisters were pretty noisy, not a good sign from one of my family. As she looked through the main room of the house she grew increasingly despondent, no signs of a new queen at all, not even any space made for a new queen to lay. When she got to the old queen cell it didn’t look as if it had been opened and there was a dead bee in there, although it looked more like a worker than a princess, so we aren’t quite sure what happened there. All is not lost however, while The General continued to look through the main room and also check the pantries just in case a Princess had wandered up there and got stuck (she hadn’t). The Doctor came up to see me and as I have been rebuilding my family pretty well since I moved, I have lots and lots of frames with eggs and babies. The Doctor selected a good frame with some well developed babies and also quite a few eggs and this was whisked down to the other house and placed in the middle of the main room to see if the housemaids will draw up a new princess. This of course will need checking in a week or so to select the best queen cell and I hope they make a better choice this time, as the last one was pretty rubbish.

The pantries of quite a few of our families are very well stocked and some frames that were full and nicely capped were selected from 3 families and put into a box to take to The Dirty Jobs Lady as she doubles up as The Honey Extraction Lady when needed. The General made sure that all of the families were left with lots of food in their pantries just in case it gets cold again.

Well it’s a short report this week and I think it will be another week or so before we see them again but no doubt The General and The Doctor have enough to keep them busy with their own sisters at home. The General did tell me that some of their families are off on their holidays to visit some fields of beans – yum, really good forage there.

Look out for our next episode when, hopefully, there will be some good news about Princesses becoming new Queens and starting their own families.

Flower power and all that.
Your Hippy Happy Queen and her bees

Thursday 4th June 2020 – Puzzles and Another Hermitage Mystery
by The Slim Shady Queen

I’m still sitting here sulking in this little prefab with my much diminished family. It’s a very different life for me at the moment and sounds rather like the lock-up you humans have all been experiencing recently. At least we have food and some of my housemaids have been promoted up to foraging so they are off to the village when the weather permits to feast on the pink humming bushes and the beautiful white blossoms of the firethorn. I thought I’d amuse myself by telling you the outcome of the muddle left behind when I was unceremoniously dumped along here.

My regular fans will know that I have been escaping through the puzzle gate, well not so much escaping as treating it with complete disdain and coming and going as I chose. As you know the puzzle gate is designed to keep queens in their main rooms and not parading around their pantries. Well, I have done this not only once but twice through two different puzzle gates, much to the annoyance of The General, so that means I have left behind a main box with babies in various stages and also two pantry boxes with more babies in various stages, most of which are darling baby boys. Also spread around my babies are liberal frames of food and pollen, no-one goes hungry in my family. There are also lots and lots of new boys mooching about the house with their shades, bomber jackets and deep voices. Oh I do love a good group of boys in my house. The General is very happy to see lots of my sons here as, although she says I am a right royal pain in the posterior, my girls and boys are the loveliest, quietest and some of the darkest bees in the whole Hermitage and she is very happy for my boys to influence the temperaments of the newest families.

OK, back to the job in hand. The General wanted to sort this muddle out before a new princess emerges and also to check all the frames for queen cells, which is quite difficult when my housemaids went a bit off piste with their comb building in the top box. It was definitely a two man job, so three wooden floors were brought in and one pantry box was put on a wooden floor on top of my neighbour’s house and the other pantry box was put on a wooden floor on top of a couple of roofs. The Doctor had decided he wasn’t going to be bending down as far as the ground and kneeling wasn’t a good idea as the grass was quite wet today. Why the third floor I hear you ask? This was their cunning plan, they brought down an empty pantry box from the shed and this was to be used to help sort out the muddle of my two pantry boxes. The General sorted through the main box and made a chalk mark on any frame with queen cells and then they started on the pantries.

Oh boy! A proper puzzle, it did make me chuckle to see how hard they had to work. Any frames with just food were put into the new pantry box. Then any frames with just small patches of brood and no queen cells were put in until that box was full. Now we came to the ‘nitty gritty’ of sorting through the frames of baby boys and girls and looking in all the nooks and crannies for any elusive queen cells. Any frames with queen cells were marked. Eventually the best queen cell in the main room was selected as the most promising new princess and the main room was all put back together neatly. All the other queen cells were taken down to ensure there wouldn’t be any cast swarms. On top of the main room a newly cleaned puzzle gate was added because The General does not want my successor playing in the pantries.

Oh no! I can hear you exclaiming what about all the baby boys still to emerge – they’ll get stuck in the puzzle gate and there is nothing more upsetting than boys stuck in the puzzle gate. All is well however, a few years ago Trog made some comb change pieces to fit between boxes that will give an upper entrance above the puzzle gate so hopefully all my lovely boys will exit the top boxes that way. Although I have to say that some of them are a bit dim and may still try to get through the puzzle gate rather than use the new door. The General has promised that she will check the top boxes next week to let out any boys that haven’t managed to find the new way out.

So, that is my puzzle all sorted out and hopefully my new princess will continue with our line. The two other families that had their queens moved out last week were also reduced to one potential princess but that was a much simpler operation and went very smoothly. We should have a nice succession of new princesses emerging to be mated at The Hermitage, some may not make it as we discussed last week and the weather this last week hasn’t been great for those princesses wanting to get out and fly so fingers crossed.

The Mystery of the Swarm
Do you remember from last week’s episode that The Doctor saw a swarm on the front of the old Bright Shiner house and put it into the other half size prefab? Well they both had a look to see what the state of play was in there. I can report that all the bees were still there and they were drawing out comb on the bare furniture and bringing in lots of nectar, however it was not a prime swarm as there was no brood yet. The furniture frames looked as if they were being prepared for some laying with nectar and pollen around the outsides of the furniture and space left in the middle for a new queen to start laying. The General thought she saw an egg or two but not enough to be sure anyone was laying up properly. This was five days after the swarm was collected so just about the time you’d expect a newly married Queen to be getting started. They didn’t linger as they didn’t want to disturb her too much.

The mystery deepens: If this is a swarm with a virgin or just mated Queen, where did she come from? The first suggestion was that she was from the old Bright Shiner house, so they had a quick look in there. The whole house was absolutely hooching with bees so quite unlikely they had lost a significant number of bees in a swarm. So if not from there, then where? Did they come from somewhere else and just decided that the front of the Bright Shiner house was a good place to break their journey and rest for the night? Or are they actually Hermitage sisters that got a bit confused and drunk with excitement after accompanying their new princess on her mating flight and couldn’t find their own house, like proper Geordie lasses on a hen night? Not the first time this has happened and probably not the last. I’m not sure that this mystery will be solved. Once The General starts looking for newly married Queens she may find a house that doesn’t have one and that may be where the mystery swarm came from. Particularly if the Sandy prefab is queenless as this is next door to the old Bright Shiner house, although that doesn’t say much for the orientation skills of her bees if they mistake a neat wooden house for the hulking great Sandy pre-fab!

So that’s this week’s episode almost done and dusted and it has kept me amused recounting all the goings on at The Hermitage to you. A puzzle sorted out and a still unsolved mystery. All of us relocated Queens are well and a couple have been moved up from half sized houses to full sized bungalows as we are growing fast. In another week or two The General and Doctor will need their best observation eyes as they will be starting to look for newly married Queens. But, for this week, that’s all from The Hermitage Sisterhood.

Please stand up –
I’m the real Slim Shady!

Thursday 28th May 2020 – Comings and Goings by The Slim Shady Queen

Drat, drat and triple drat! I’ve been captured and moved to a half size prefab prison. The Doctor found me today and into the prison I went, no more roaming through three storeys in unfettered bliss. Now I’m confined to this little box with some of my housemaids and only 1 frame of babies for company, at least they have given me somewhere to lay and some food but it is serious demotion and I am not a happy Queen.

I know my housemaids were just starting to build my replacement and The General had spotted it but I still don’t think it’s any excuse to put me in such a pokey little prison. In a week or so I could have been flying free with half my household to found a glorious new empire.

While I sit and sulk along the row from my old palace and all my foragers desert me for the new princess in waiting, I will amuse myself by telling you all about the other families in the Sisterhood this week.

Apart from me, two other queens were moved out this week and that is the last of the swarm control moves done here. The three families whose queens were moved out last week have had their new potential princesses reduced to one apiece.

On the forage front, the yellow peril is almost at an end but the pink humming bush is going strong in the nearby villages and we will be reliant on lots of garden flowers as well as the hedgerow goodies for the rest of the summer.

I think the big news this week is that 3 of our green crowned Queens and one red one are moving to new homes to continue their dynasties in other areas. The Hermitage Sisterhood will soon take over the Tyne Valleys and beyond. New houses were dropped off for our moving families and The General and Doctor checked the families thoroughly to make sure they were fit for the move and new green crowns applied to 2 of the Queens as they had worn off a bit. Because it was very hot the green stuff was a bit runny and the Queens got a bit more colour than they were expecting, not The General’s normally tidy crown application, I think the sweat was running down her face and blurring the already dodgy vision.

30th May update
The moves went smoothly and all the families went off to their new homes tonight. The General and Doctor waited until all the foragers were in for the night then blocked up the entrances, strapped up the houses and moved them up past the shed to be collected. The new keepers all looked delighted to be acquiring Sisterhood families and I’m sure they will be very happy in their new homes.

While they were waiting for the families to be collected, The Doctor spotted a large collection of bees on the front of the old Bright Shiner house, where there should just be one new princess – did they miss another potential princess and was she moving out or is it a swarm from somewhere else? Who knows? Anyway they swept all the bees from the front of the house into the other half size prefab and moved them into the space recently vacated by one of our moving families – jumping and graves comes to mind here.

The General had wanted to make some space as we were becoming very overcrowded down here, especially since there were 3 more house splits done this week. Today we got up to 22 houses of various sizes, which is far too many for 4 terraces. The General was congratulating herself on finding new homes for 4 of our Sisterhood girls and making a bit of space, but then they find this swarm and what had been 4 spaces quickly became 3. So we now have 19 houses with full crowned Queens in 8 of them and 11 houses with potential princesses in them.

The question now is: How many of the potential princesses will get out to find many husbands and return safely to found their own new families? The pitfalls are many: Will the new princess emerge from her cell in good shape and manage to gain her strength and test her wings before flying out on those most perilous of flights? Will the weather be good on the days when she wants to fly? Will she get eaten by a great tit or swallow? Will she find her way back to the right house? If all these things go well then she should be back in her own home and start laying new babies about 2 – 4 weeks after she emerged from her warm cocoon.

As a rule The Doctor and General leave about 4 weeks after they have selected the best queen cell before they look again to see if there is a new laying queen. And if they can’t see any evidence of a new queen, if the family feels OK and is not distressed then they will leave it another week before looking again and give the girl a bit of time to get herself together and start laying. So if any of you out there are itching to look to see if you have new queens and if they are laying, we at The Sisterhood would say please don’t disturb your new princesses too soon, they can be a bit flighty and you don’t want to lose her.

I did hear The General tell The Doctor that this would be the last of the marathon sessions down at The Hermitage for a couple of weeks. Next week there will be 3 families in which to select the best queen cell and the old queens (I’m sure they don’t mean me) to inspect to make sure they have sufficient space and don’t need moving up to full size houses but they won’t be inspecting the new princesses for a couple of weeks yet.

Please stand up – I’m the real Slim Shady!

Thursday 21st May 2020 – The Hermitage Mysteries – By The Unlucky Thirteen Queen

Triskaidekaphobics beware! Here is this week’s episode courtesy of me the Hive 13 queen. That cousin of mine the Hippy Happy Queen dubbed us the “Unlucky Thirteens” and now it has stuck. But I am here to tell you there is nothing unlucky about me or my girls. I am the first of the younger queens to join the Sisterhood authorship, up to now this year your correspondents have all had red crowns but I have a beautiful green crown given to me last year and this is my first time getting ready to move house. Yes, more moving going on at The Hermitage with another three families on the move this week, but first I need to tell you about this week’s mysteries.

The Mystery of the Missing pen and a Missing Queen dominated this week. It sounds like Enid Blyton in beesuits. It was a very long session for the poor old dears today, made even longer by The Hermitage Mysteries. The first mystery was the missing green pen, the very one that gave me my green crown last year. They wanted to remark one of the other green queens as her crown has almost rubbed off. The Doctor had a blue, red and white pen in his toolkit and The General had a blue and yellow pen in hers. They both looked in the other toolkits and all the shelves in the shed but to no avail. No green pen! Where on earth could it be? It was there last year as several of us were given a green crown and now it has mysteriously disappeared and apparently not to be found.

The second mystery, which took a fair while to unravel, was the mystery of the missing queen. This of course is that slippery character the Slim, Shady Queen. She is the difficult girl on brood and a half if you remember. Well, the storeys were split and The Doctor took the main box and The General looked through the small second storey. As they were going through we could hear them discussing what they could see. Both had lots of sealed brood, a few larvae but very few eggs. The General’s box had lots and lots of boys ready to emerge. When the were about half way through The General was wondering whether they had already moved house, it looked likely with lots of drones, lots of capped brood and very few eggs, but as they both got to the end of their boxes no queen cells and no Slim, Shady Queen. I’m sure you avid Sisterhood followers are well ahead of me here. They looked at each other and then at the pantry lying on our house roof – she couldn’t have done it again, could she?

The General started to look through the pantry, the first couple of frames were all honey and nectar and there on the third frame were lots and lots of eggs! Three frames in the pantry had lots of eggs but as a couple of frames were cross combed it was very difficult to see all parts to look for her. Slim Shady wasn’t to be found anywhere. So the new queen excluder has failed to hold her too. “Beggaring about again” at least that’s what I thought The General said. The upshot is the Slim Shady bees are now on brood and two halves!!!! The General is not a happy soldier. She is making plans for Slim Shady the next time she is found – I think it’ll be straight into a half size house, but finding her in that “Beggers’ Muddle” is going to be challenging.

So the “Mystery of the Missing Queen” is partly solved: she’s there somewhere and not moved out, so watch out next week to see if she is found. As for “The Mystery of the Green Pen”, that looks as if it might not be resolved without a total shed clear out. The prospect of which made The Doctor quickly suggest they could bring the green pen from home next time.

I said it was a long session for the poor old dears, five hours in fact, although they did stop for a couple of breaks, good job they bring a picnic. After a short break they were back to the seasonal and labour intensive house moving going on at The Hermitage: I was top of the list for inspection by The General this week as I had 8 furniture frames of babies last week and sure enough my housemaids were discovered busy building my replacement. My family is in tip top health, although The General has warned the housemaids about building queen cells on the top bars as they do tend to get ripped when the frames are separated. The General has moved me and some of my housemaids out into a half sized house and I’ve been promoted from the bottom row all the way up to the top row in the sun. The same has been done for the old, yellow crowned Shilling Queen, I bet she was glad not to have to fly at her great age. She is now on the bottom row in a half sized house too. The Tanner bees have also been split up and the Tanner Queen is now also on the bottom row, that makes 7 Hermitage families that have moved house this month already, with possibly another 3 to go next week. Where on earth are they going to go? The Doctor is making plans for temporary stands.

The other major job for The Doctor and General this week was the selection of the best queen cell in the families that moved out last week. This was done with minimum fuss again and these families will be left in peace now for the next four weeks to give the new princesses time to get going without interruption.

The previous two Hermitage Sisterhood episodes have covered moving house and selecting new queen cells, so I won’t bore you with it again and I think The Hippy Happy Queen and The Bright Shiner Queen covered the details very well. The Doctor has found a really useful article on selecting the best queen cell that you, dear readers, might find useful and has attached a link to it at the end of this episode.

Just a quick update on the two small colonies, they are doing well and expanding nicely now although The General is hopeful they won’t want to be moving house anytime soon. The queens that have already been re-homed were checked too and they are all going on nicely. The General is hoping that the majority of the house moving is nearly over and after three weeks of hard work with probably one more to go they may be able to do a bit less. Poor old souls they need to get their feet up a bit more.

That’s all folks. Join us again next week for more of the same and fingers crossed that slippery Slim Shady Queen will make a re-appearance.

Unlucky for some but not us.

The “Unlucky Thirteen” Queen.

Queen Cells… quantity and quality” – Link to article in The Apiarist

Friday 15th May 2020 – By The Bright Shiner Queen

Here we go folks – another new queen for this week’s update. I’m The Bright Shiner Queen. I was a Polyhive princess once. I have a red crown and have been around for a couple of seasons now. My sister, the Slim Shady Queen, has already written for you and now it’s my turn.

The Government has told us it’s OK to move house. So a few of us here have taken that advice literally and we’re making preparations for moving out. Some of us are further on than others. My near neighbour, the queen in the Sandy Prefab, obviously didn’t like their new extension too much and are just thinking about a new property and the Ginger Queen in the blue and yellow prefab are a bit further on again with their preparations and were looking to move in a few days. But my family, well, we just about had the Pickfords truck at the door, when The General and Doctor came to visit today. They split our two storeys down and The General looked through the top storey and The Doctor through the bottom. A few frames of furniture in and The General found me moseying about, nicely slimmed down ready to fly, just packing up my last few possessions and, as is their current habit, quick as a flash placed me in a small prefab to keep me safe.

At this point they hadn’t seen our moving preparations, but because so many of us are thinking about moving they are taking a small prefab to each family they inspect so that they can put the queen in when they find her and know she is safe, in case they have to do some alterations to our houses and it’s so much easier if they know where the most important resident is. Anyway, on with the story:

Just after I was put safe in the small prefab, The Doctor found several open queen cells with royal jelly and a larva in each. As he moved through our furniture frames he came upon two queen cells that my housemaids had only just finished completely! We were literally on the point of moving out. They were both very relieved that they had caught me in time. If we hadn’t gone later this afternoon then we would definitely have moved out tomorrow.

I’ve now been moved along the row to the other side of the Sandy Prefab, in fact, and it was all done in the same way as The Hippy, Happy Queen last week – so you can look at last week’s episode if you need to know the details. My flyers will all return to the original hive and The General and Doctor will come back there in six or seven days to check on my new princesses and reduce them to the best one. I’m not sure whether I’m happy or disappointed. On the one hand, I don’t have to fly out into the great unknown and I am safe in my house with an albeit reduced staff of housemaids – but, maybe it would have been an adventure, and you never quite know where you are going to end up. We could have been in a palace, a hollow tree or left miserably hanging from a branch!

Since the three families (that’s us, the Ginger Queen and the Sandy Prefab bees – do keep up!) have now been split up and moved around today, and then there was The Happy, Hippy Queen moving last week too, we now have four new houses on the stands at The Hermitage. It’s starting to look like Coronation Street here with back-to-back houses. It looks like another couple of families will be ready to move in the next week or two, so we are going to be even more crowded. I know that not all our princesses will be successful but I really think The General needs to think about moving a few families to new homes, or finding us more space from somewhere. The queen from the Sandy prefab was moved into a half-sized house rather than a full sized single storey and the next few moves should also go into half sized houses so that should help a bit. We are all on the move quite early this year, I think it’s all the dry weather we’ve had recently. Some years we are only starting to think about moving in late May or early June.

The other major job for The General and Doctor this week was to inspect the queen cells in the house the Hippy, Happy Queen moved out of last week. They had drawn up lots of queen cells and The Doctor and General had discussions about which was the best one to keep. They had to be reduced to just one, since this part of the family kept all the flying bees and if more than one princess emerges then the some flyers will take each one out into a cast swarm, which would deplete the family too much to survive. All candidates for good princesses were examined. One nice looking one in a patch of drone brood was rejected – it might be a drone. Two very close together were rejected too, since one might be damaged if the other was removed. One at the bottom of a frame was rejected because it was a bit bent by the bottom bar of the frame. One was rejected because it was too long, the larva might have dropped off the royal jelly. ‘Picky’, do I hear you say? Yes, very ‘picky’, but it is the future of the family that is at stake.

Eventually they decided on a nice medium sized one that was quite gnarly which shows the housemaids have been working it diligently. This was put back into the middle of the box surrounded by brood. The bees will now be left undisturbed with their new princess for about four or five weeks. This will give her time to emerge, be fed and grow strong in the house with the family, then if the weather is good fly out to meet several new husbands. About a week after that she should be ready to start laying and hopefully continue the family.

Well, I think that’s all my news for this week. I think the weather is going to get warmer next week, so watch this space more families might be on the move. Pickfords, who needs Pickfords, when the General and Doctor are here for the house moving?

Keep flying
The Bright Shiner Queen

Friday 8th May 2020 – By The Hippy, Happy Queen

It’s back to me for this episode since my family provided the most excitement this week. That Slim Shady Queen was a bit rude about me last week! Well, all I can say is she knows nothing and you will be able to judge for yourselves if I’m boring.

The Doctor and The General seem to be doing OK. They haven’t caught your human breathing tube virus yet, which is just as well seeing we need our two slaves to provide us with new furniture and new pantries as we fill up the store cupboards. The weather has been lovely this week, hot and sunny, good foraging weather and my girls have been making the most of it. They’ve found a field of yellow peril that isn’t too far away and some are busy bringing that nectar into the pantries. The beautiful fruit trees right next to us are in flower and others are busy there bringing in lovely pale cream coloured pollen and lots of appley nectar. The river always seems to have a good selection at its food bar with wild flowers and many of the trees are in flower too and some of my girls forage there regularly. The horse chestnut is also just starting with that pretty dark red pollen that contrasts so nicely with the creams and yellows in the store cupboards. All in all we are getting a good varied diet and nice weather in which to be able to collect it. The General says it may be much colder next week so we’ll need our stores if we can’t get out as we have a huge number of mouths to feed in my family.

The General seems to have an uncanny knack of knowing who to look at first. This week she decided it was my family that needed to be first and probably just as well. The nice weather has prompted my family to start house hunting, well it’s that time of year and we are outgrowing even our two storey residence. The scouts have been out looking for a suitable new home for me and my young flying bees, meanwhile my housemaids have been starting to grow and feed new princesses so that when I move out the colony here will continue. The Doctor and General came prepared with a small prefab and a spare floor. They opened up our storeys, putting the pantry to one side and put my top storey on the spare floor on the stand next to the bottom storey. This meant that they could each look through a box and get the inspection done as quickly as possible – well, that was the theory.

The second frame in the top box had evidence of my housemaids princess growing, half developed queen cells with royal jelly and a larva in each one. That slick, well-oiled machine that is General and Doctor practising swarm control clicked into action. The frame with the queen cells was marked with chalk, frames with lots of eggs on were also marked with chalk and then the hunt was on for me. Fortunately I was on the fourth frame in the top storey, obligingly in full view and immediately placed into the small prefab on my frame to keep me safe. Then came a complete restructure of what was my beautiful two storey home. As I had 10 frames of young spread over both storeys, they decided to split our two storeys into two separate bungalows with me in one and my prospective princesses in the other. So it all took a bit longer than was expected.

My new home was prepared carefully with three frames of older brood that is almost ready to emerge. This means that very soon I will have new housemaids to tend to my babies and the older girls can get out and forage. The doctor ensured that no queen cells had been sneaked in by mistake. Then I was given some frames of nicely drawn out furniture with space for me to lay and some for my girls to build on, a couple of frames of honey and pollen and a good covering of sisters to keep my babies warm. I was then moved up to the 2nd row, which I seem to remember is where I was last spring until I was moved down here. I was given a new roof and that’s my new home done. I know that some of the flyers that were in my bungalow will go back to the old one on the bottom row, but that’s OK I’m quite happy with my new place and a small family to start building with again. To be honest I’m quite happy not to have to bother with the slimming and extra exercise that flying off to find a new home involves and even then I’d not be sure where we’d end up.

As for the other part of my family that has been left behind on the bottom row, they have 7 frames with the queen cells containing the prospective princesses and lots of eggs so they can build as many practise princesses as they like. They have also kept the pantry as this part of my family has all the flyers and will need the storage space.

The General and The Doctor will come back in 6 or 7 days and keep the most promising queen cell. They will carefully brush bees off all the frames so that no potential princesses are damaged and then reduce to the best looking one. Why 6 or 7 days I hear you ask? Well if you think about it a new queen is an egg for 3 days, capped after 8 and emerges on day 16, so an open cell with a baby in is between 4 and 7/8 days old. The housemaids can use a larva that is up to 3 days old to try and make a princess from, so after 6 days (egg for 3 days, larva for 3) there should be no new queen cells being built and the open cells that were seen on inspection will not have emerged by day 14 if the colony is left 7 days. Before 6 days the colony may build more queen cells and after 7 there is a risk of the princesses starting to emerge and having several cast swarms. As always timings with the sisters can vary a little, sometimes new princesses have been known to emerge on day 15 or even day 17, so 6-7 days is the optimal time for re-inspection. I know that my new princess will be in good hands as both The Doctor and The General have been doing this stuff for a while now. Let’s just hope for a successful emergence and nice mating weather for my new princess. Long live the Hippy, Happy bees!

Oh, do you want to hear about the other families too? Well no-one else was ready to move house just yet. That Slim Shady Queen is busy laying up her half box, she seems to prefer that one to her main room and no, she hasn’t got through the new puzzle gate but whether that’s because she can’t or whether she has lots of space in her new room and hasn’t tried yet no-one knows.

The family in the sandy prefab are growing fast and have been given two storeys but it looks pretty much like the house that Jack built with their second storey being wood and a slightly different size on the outside and even weirder because it’s stuck between a prefab lower storey and two prefab pantries on top. The Banker has been asked for funds for a new prefab 2nd storey and also some other bits and pieces to tidy it all up so it looks a proper job. This Queen is a cousin of mine and quite frankly deserves better than this and also it just lets down the whole image of The Hermitage Sisterhood. I hope your plague doesn’t hold up delivery of more suitable accommodation for them.

The Bright Shiners and The Ginger Queen are both going well in their respective two storey homes but not yet ready to move out as they still have plenty of space. The ‘Unlucky Thirteens’ (The General says I have to stop calling them this!) are doing really well and The General added another pantry. All the mid size families are growing nice and steadily and even the two tiny families are starting to grow. The Cherryburn Queen seems to have kicked into laying gear and they now have 4 frames of good brood and her sisters have obviously decided that she’s a going concern. Similarly Hive 11 now has 3 frames of good brood and are growing steadily. The Doctor gives them a frame of food from time to time to make sure they are well provisioned.

Well I think that’s all from me in my new single storey residence up on the second row. I quiet like the view from up here; it’s a bit sunnier up here too. We hope you are all enjoying being locked up, if the weather predictions are correct we may be locked up this week too, but no worries we all have pretty full pantries to see us through, spring cleaning and house move planning will no doubt be going on in some of our bigger families. Ah bliss, I’ll just get my slippers on, I’m so glad that I don’t have to worry about moving out now. Flying? Not sure I can remember how to do it these days.

Flower power and all that

Your Hippy Happy Queen and her bees

Note from The General and The Doctor
We much prefer the ‘queen removal’ method of swarm control. Removing the Queen from her flying bees is the safest method of ensuring your bees don’t swarm. You do need to make sure you check the queen-less box for queen cells after 6/7 days and reduce them to the best one. We would do this into a nuc if the colony was on single brood but on double brood you can split the boxes and move the queen away.
More details on this technique can be found here.

Sunday 26 April 2020 – The Real Slim Shady

I thought it was time we had a bit of attitude here and a new Queen to bring you up to date. I mean that Hippy, Happy Queen is just too laid back, and boring, and so goody, goody. Yes, I know how perfect a family she leads and quite frankly her sisters, nieces and cousins are just all over The Hermitage so I thought it was time for a new family in the Sisterhood.

I was a Polyhive princess before I set up my own family in 2018 and achieved a red crown. Last year I was moved into a brand new house with all new furniture that we had to upholster so that I could lay my babies, and we did very well with it. My family came through this winter with 4 frames of babies, lots of pollen and a fair amount of food, although we had completely emptied the winter cellar. In the last 2 weeks we have started to fill the pantry again since the weather has been good and there has been plenty of forage for my girls to gather.

I led the General a merry dance this Sunday when she came to inspect us. She looked all through the main room and found we now had 6 frames of babies but she couldn’t find me anywhere, despite looking twice! She knew I was there somewhere as my girls were all well behaved and she could see lots of newly laid eggs, although she wasn’t very impressed with my laying pattern – the cheek of her – I just lay where I feel because I’m that kind of a girl! She’s crafty that one though, she had noticed there were lots of housemaids in the pantry and so decided to look for me there and guess what? There I was with 3 frames of babies, happy as anything, laying up in the middle of the pantry. I have been slipping back and forth through the puzzle gate and laying where I choose. No-one is going to confine me to the main room! I can get through the puzzle gate because I’m a super slim, long-legged, dark model of a Queen, hence my name. Do you think it suits me? The General hates what she calls brood and a half but guess what? That’s just what I have now. I have my main room and what was my pantry is now my extra laying space, then the General put on a different puzzle gate that she hopes will confine me (but we’ll see about that) and then a new pantry on top. I like it, it makes me distinctive. My Bright Shiner sister has 2 storeys in her house so we are both standing up for our family genes and doing well.

Ooh! The General has just reminded me, that you, dear readers, want to know what is happening with the rest of the families at The Hermitage, especially the three that were in a bit of trouble last time. Well you can just wait a bit. Are you enjoying the suspense?

The other ‘Good’ families are all doing well, ticking along nicely, not ready for moving out yet, and as I mentioned before, The Hippy, Happy Queen has the biggest family and is doing very well in her two storeys with 6 frames of babies in the lower storey and 4 in the top storey. She, of course is too fat to get through her puzzle gate. The Ginger Queen and my Bright Shiner sister have just moved into their second storeys and have lots of space. None of us are laying up many boys yet, just a few here and there. The General says that this is what she looks for to give her an indication of when we might be thinking of moving out.

Now for the news you have been waiting for: Last time’s ‘Bad’ families –

Hive 13 was inspected by The Doctor this week and he reported that they are doing very nicely with their new mesh floor, no mouldy bits and 6 frames of babies, lots of space for the queen to lay and getting on with filling their pantry. So this is now a ‘Good’ family.

Hive 11, you will remember this is the family that The General tried to starve but just managed to rescue from imminent death last time. Good news. They are still a small colony but now have 2 frames of babies and the Queen is just moving onto the third and starting to lay that one up too. They have doubled in size from last time so The General is quite relieved. She has left them with just a main room and some candy to supplement what the foragers are bringing in. We are all relieved that they are coming through and will continue to grow.

Now to those ‘Ugly’ Cherryburn bees: Did they murder their Queen? No of course they didn’t! They must have just been jostling her out of the way when their home was opened. They are a small colony too but their green-crowned Queen is still there, although the crown is starting to wear thin. The General and Doctor didn’t dare try to re-apply the crown in case it set off another wave of ‘Queen jostling’ amongst her housemaids. This lot bear watching and they need to pull their socks up if they want to remain part of The Hermitage Sisterhood.

Well that’s it from me for now. I hope you have enjoyed hearing from a new Queen and that you are all enjoying reading about our exploits down at The Hermitage Sisterhood.

Please stand up – I’m the real Slim Shady!

Friday 10 April 2020 – First Inspections – Part 2

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Good heavens you must have thought I’d moved house, it’s been so long since the first part of this episode. However, I blame it squarely on The General, she says she has been too busy to type up my words of wisdom for you all. Doesn’t she know that you are just desperate for the next instalment? She says it’s not as if it’s Killing Eve or something.

She is pleading that she has been busy whilst locked up, processing industrial quantities of wax from her own sisters and trying to unearth a garden from the wilderness outside her back door – apparently two garden paths have emerged so far. Really, I’m not interested in her excuses, so here we go with the actual action from the First Inspection. I hope the title has whetted your appetite. Because many of you don’t have bees or are perhaps last year’s apprentices we have decided to do this in some detail.

All our families went into the winter with a cellar full of honey under their main rooms. The General calls this under-supering although it is apparently called nadiring (which sounds to me like something from the underworld) and have had candy added through the winter as we have needed it, so on this first inspection the plan for all families was to clean our floors and put our main rooms back directly onto the clean floors with a puzzle gate next and then the pantry put back over our heads. To do this the Doctor put down a temporary floor next to the family to be inspected, then together they moved the family off their old floor onto the temporary one. The Doctor then inspected the old floor and gave it a quick clean and blast with the flame thrower before replacing it in its original position. The main room was then put back on the clean floor and we were given a thorough health check. One went through the main room and the other went through the pantry just to make sure us Queens hadn’t been sneaky and laid in there. In all cases I’m pleased to say we had only laid our babies in the main rooms. Once we had been given a clean bill of health then we decided what sort of new rooms and furniture were to be added to keep us safe and happy for at least 2 weeks until The General and Doctor can get back to us. Most of our pantries were pretty empty after the winter but we have all been putting our newly foraged pollen and nectar around our babies to make it easier for the housemaids to feed them all efficiently. Obviously we are only guessing at whether the weather will be good enough for us to forage, so time will tell if the decisions were correct or not.

The Good
My family is in Hive 2 and I am pleased to say that we have 7 frames of young in all stages, good stores and pollen. The Doctor admired how dark I am and they could see that we have survived the winter well as my red crown is still in evidence and my family is doing well. We decided that I should have a second storey in which to put my babies. A puzzle gate was put on above that and then the pantry put back. By the way the new second storeys have some furniture ready for me to lay in and some part made for my housemaids to finish off.

Next door to me is The Ginger Queen in Hive 10, her family occupies the green prefab and although a few weeks ago I was concerned that they may be small, they are also doing well with 6 frames of young and good stores and pollen. She looks very different to me as she is quite ginger and has a green crown. The Doctor prefers my dark looks but the General says there’s nothing wrong with ginger! This family was also given a second storey, then a puzzle gate and the pantry put back.

The Bright Shiners in Hive 9 were the third family to be given an extra storey. They had 5 frames of young but they were well filled and there were lots of bees. The Bright Shiner Queen has a red crown.

The family in the sandy prefab at Hive 15 were also doing well and were given an extra pantry as they had 5 frames of young but these were not so well filled as the Bright Shiners and not so many bees. This Queen has a green crown

These 4 are our strongest families.

We then have 5 colonies with 3 to 4 frames of young with moderate stores but judged by the Doctor and The General to be doing just fine and dandy and about right for this time of year. These families had their main rooms put back over clean floors then a puzzle gate and the pantry replaced. We judged that they didn’t need any further rooms put on just yet.

Please remember 10th April is very early for a first inspection and some years we don’t even get looked at until May. Many of you at home will be thinking that this is about the right size for your own families at this stage of the year. You might be panicking that some of us have 7 frames of young already and wondering why your families aren’t as strong. Remember too that we live in a very sheltered spot down by the river and if we come through the winter strongly then we get a head start down here.

The Bad
Oh dear, how to say this without incriminating The General? But I won’t mind her feelings, the truth has to be told. She has broad shoulders (and short legs). The first case isn’t so bad and it involves my neighbours along the row in Hive 13 – I told her not to use that number, bees never seem to do well in Hive 13. She overwintered them on a solid floor, not our usual mesh floors – and on the bottom row too, definitely a mistake – if only she’d asked my advice. When The General and Doctor moved the rooms off the floor they could see it was quite mouldy at one side and the outside two frames of furniture were a bit mouldy too. However it was quickly rectified by finding a new, clean mesh floor, removing the mouldy furniture and replacing it with nice fresh stuff. Sorted in a trice! This family had 3 frames of young and although they were quite a small colony they looked none the worse for spending the winter in damp accommodation.

Now for the Really, Really Bad: It involves Hive 11, they were a lovely family with a red crowned Queen, one of my cousins in fact. They were coming through the winter nicely when the General decided they needed more candy. She uses the big packs and cuts a hole in the plastic so the housemaids can access it. Well on this occasion she either didn’t cut a big enough hole or missed the place to put it (probably too many gins – or still shivering after returning from her winter down under in the warmth) anyway the upshot was the sisters couldn’t reach their candy and some of them starved. Just BAD BEEKEEPING I say. When The General and Doctor lifted the rooms off the floor there were lots of dead bees and they both were dismayed to see this. When they inspected the rooms there was not a scrap of food to be seen anywhere and some girls had their heads right to the bottoms of the cells licking the last crumbs. Miraculously they were just in time, my cousin was still alive and even laying a few babies, with some of her housemaids tending to her and the babies and managing on the meagre food the few foragers were finding. The Doctor quickly fetched a new floor from the shed and her home was made tidy. The empty pantry was removed and a full pack of candy put on by The Doctor, just to make sure! They are now a very small colony but hopefully they will survive. And now for the final family:

The Ugly
The Cherryburn family have always been a bit strange, not always the friendliest and always the first family to move out come swarming time, sometimes twice. I know that The General has thought a few times about whether they are best suited to be a part of The Hermitage Sisterhood. This time they may have sealed their own fate! The General and Doctor were doing their examination, it is a small colony with only a few frames with sisters on and when The General lifted one frame, carefully as she always does, the housemaids started to surround their green crowned queen and jostle her about. The Doctor was quick with the chimney and gave them a good smoking to disperse the housemaids and hopefully disguise the scent of the queen a little. On further examination there was plenty of stores but only a few small patches of young over 2 frames, maybe this was why the bees were so agitated with their Queen as she is perhaps failing. Whatever the reason I cannot condone regicide. The General and The Doctor decided that there was nothing to be done for this family just now except wait and see so they shut it up and will look again in two weeks.

There you have it The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. More from us soon.

Flower power and all that.

Your Hippy Happy Queen and her bees

Friday 10th April 2020First Inspections – Part 1 – A New Strategy

A Happy Easter to all our Readers from the Hippy, Happy Queen

A very good day to you all.

Hasn’t the weather been much better these last few days?  My girls have so enjoyed getting out and foraging in the sunshine.  Lots of the spring river plants have burst into flower and are providing us with some lovely natural sustenance, although my scouts are reporting that there doesn’t seem to be much of the Yellow Peril around us this year.  Last year we had a positive carpet of the stuff for miles in every direction, with unlimited and easy feeding opportunities for my girls.  However, we are making do with a lovely varied diet, including dandelions, daisies, blackthorn, celandines and some early fruit trees too.  We are just waiting for the orchard next door to burst into life, there are a few early blossoms there but soon it will be covered in beautiful flowers for us.  They will be equally pleased to see us as they need us as much as we need them.

Unsurprisingly, given the lovely weather, The General and The Doctor have escaped from being locked up and arrived today for what turned out to be a marathon session with us.  They even brought their lunch with them.   We are concerned that your situation seems to be quite serious with lots of you locked up (you must have been very naughty) and not allowed out.  It seem though that we are essential – I always knew we were the most important  beings on the planet and have always planned to be immortal – so The General and The Doctor are allowed special dispensation to see to our needs.  It does mean that there may have to be some changes in our management though.  The General had an audience with me today and we discussed at some length what plans we were going to put in place to deal with the situation. Obviously there are to be no mass meetings and no apprentices visiting us, but our care and welfare is essential.  Therefore it will only be The General and The Doctor visiting us, as they are from the same family, although we have had special permission for The Under Gardener or The Groundsman to come and cut the grass from time to time. 

In the spirit of your lock up, which means no unnecessary journeys and keeping away from other people, together we have come up with the following strategy.  The General and The Doctor will visit as little as possible and to facilitate this we will be given plenty of new, main room and pantry space so we don’t outgrow our homes and think about moving on.  I rather like this idea since we’ll have lovely new space with new furniture and we can just get on with what we do best, raising babies and storing food.  When they come to visit us they will be here a long time and get all the jobs done in one go and they’ll definitely need their picnic with them since we are currently 12 families here.  It will be a lot of work for the poor souls, but since they are locked up for the rest of the time they should quite enjoy it.  What could be better than spending several hours in our company on a lovely day?

The General is also rueing the fact that she didn’t organise an apiary clean and tidy in the Autumn (she said the weather wasn’t good enough) so now she is going to have to do it herself (although I noticed it was The Doctor who cleaned all the puzzle gates while she faffed around checking how many boxes of new furniture were in the shed). 

Their first job today was to sort out and clean 12 puzzle gates, which are evil grids designed to keep me out of the pantries. Although since my housemaids serve my food to me directly I guess I don’t really need to be in there, although one does like to inspect one’s premises from time to time, doesn’t one – do you like the royal tone? Once The Doctor was on with those, The General ransacked the shed rooting out new rooms for us and assembling the furniture, some of which she had made that morning, she does love us!  Then it was getting on lighting the chimney, making sure all the tools were clean, getting the PPE on (that’s a new term I’ve just learned from her, apparently it’s the new buzzword from your infestation) and then deciding who to look at first….

Well, I think I might leave it there for now as I really need to go and lay up some new frames and my housemaids are chivvying me along to this important work.  I’ll finish my report on our First Inspection in the next instalment in a few days time.  Sufficient to say that my family and I are in tip top health and have come through the winter as the biggest and obviously most important family at The Hermitage.

Flower power and all that

Your Hippy Happy Queen and her bees

Sunday 22nd March 2020 – From the new Hippy Happy Queen

Well folks it’s been a long time since you heard from us. Almost two years in fact – my mother, the blue Hippy Happy Queen, did tell me that The General was inclined to slack if she wasn’t kept up to the job. So today I collared her when she visited with the Doctor and told her we should really let people know what’s going on down here. Most of the Queens that used to blog have now been superseded by us younger generation, but we are still as interesting as before and are keen to keep you up to date with the Sisterhood. So here we go!

The General did quite a bit of shuffling around last Autumn, moving families in together to help us keep warm for the winter. Then in the middle of December, The Doctor, Trog and The General came and dosed us with some medicine, nasty, even if it was disguised in sugar solution. It was to kill the pesky mites they said. At the same time they gave us all a nice lot of candy to help keep us fed through the winter – and we thought it was our Christmas present but maybe it was just to take away the taste of the medicine! Anyway, The Doctor and The General have been down to see us few times since then, topping up candy where it has been needed.

The General has been off for her usual jaunt to warmer climes and even spoke about us to beekeepers down under. She says she will give a talk on beekeeping down under in the autumn. She said those southern folk were impressed by our survival skills, and shocked when she showed them photos of bee hives in the snow.

Today the sun was out but the air was quite cold, so for the first time we could show The General how well we all were after the winter and impress her with our pollen collection. All 12 branches of the Sisterhood are still going, some are stronger than others and we are one of the strongest. The new Ginger Queen next door seems to have a small family, but hopefully they will grow when the weather improves. They should be warm enough because the have had the new blue and yellow prefab since last summer.

The General and Doctor had a bit of a discussion about whether they should remove the mouseguards but decided on balance to leave them for another few days and see what the weather is going to do. It has been a long old winter this time, although not too cold but certainly wet for the last couple of months. The General, as usual, has decided that it is probably too cold just now to open our houses to see how we all are. She usually waits until April for the longer days. At the moment it’s still cold in the late afternoon and she doesn’t want us disrupted and chilled. It looks like she is going to have time on her hands for a while, which makes a difference as she is usually rushing from one thing to the next like a demented hamster.

She has been telling us that we might not see many apprentices or indeed anyone else for the summer as many of you have a human virus that attacks your breathing tubes and you are all in quarantine and have to stay inside. Although, apparently, you are allowed to look after your livestock. I’m not sure I like me and my sisters being described as livestock – it makes us sound like cows. I’m glad we don’t have to stay 2 metres apart – we’d stretch from Wylam to Newcastle and back.

I’ll update you all next time I manage a chat with The General, that might be the first time she comes to inspect our houses.

Flower power and all that.

Your Hippy Happy Queen and her bees