Well, we're back from a 12-day holiday in Scotland, during which time we had to leave our Beepol bees to fend for themselves.
For a strong colony, of course, this is no issue. However, those of you following the blog will know this was not the case with our nest. Indeed, when we left the colony seemed to be down to about 4 bumblebees, of which one (at least) seemed to be a Queen collecting pollen. So, in fact, we had a "dual colony" situation, where a new queen appeared to have started a new colony in her birth-nest, before going off to hibernate.
It was hard to tell which bees were in the nest; some were distinctive, so we could uniquely identify them. And we guaged the number by the level of activity we saw at the entrance and the various roles adopted inside the nest. (For example, one bee took entire responsiblity for arranging the bedding we added).
As a set of precautions to help the bees through any tricky weather while we were away and to encourage successful brooding (if indeed that's what was going on), we took the following steps:
- Adding extra nest-material bedding to the hive. This had proved incredibly successful a few days before, with a small worker bee taking immediate advantage and entirely covering the core of the nest with the bedding we provided. So, we topped this up. Not surprisingly, this small be again spent many hours re-arranging it just how it wanted.
- Adding infra-red lighting below the bee lodge. The idea here was to create some extra heat below the nest area to help with keeping the temperature up to 30 degrees. We'd seen two sick/poorly formed bees emerge earlier and I was concerned about the required temperature for development.
- Adding some pollen and honey water. This was just to give the bees a little more by way of supplies in case (quite literally) of rainy days. Of course, they drink the honey water immediately, rather than save it. But judging by the CCTV it lasted 3 days for them; every little bit helps.
- Installing remote-reboot capability to all our CCTV monitoring. My BT hub is pretty lousy in terms of long term stability and often needs rebooting. Since it is required for remote access to the CCTV, I needed to have a system for being able to reboot the hub if it lost its internet connection. The solution was a "Phone controlled" power switch, that allowed me to dial in over the ordinary phone and turn the hub power on and off. It turned out we needed to use this during the first week. I also added an IP power switch to the CCTV system itself. Using a similar principle, I can control the power to (up to) 4 devices by logging in over the internet and flipping the power. As long as the hub is working, then I can log in and power cycle the CCTV. (Though I didn't have to do this while away).
- Sheltering the lodge with our original hive shelter. We used the shelter from our original Koppert installation to shelter the Beepol lodge. This protected it from wind and rain and improved thermal stability. The bees seemed to cope with the change in surroundings without any problems.
- Adding a dozen wasp traps to the garden. Although our plastic trap door seemed to have helped prevent wasps raiding honey from the bee nest, I didn't want to take any chances, as the trap was not 100% secure. I tried several designs of wasp trap around the garden, ranging from homemade coke bottle systems to fake wasp nests. Judging by the incredible number of wasps trapped on our return I would say that the Waspinator fake wasp nest is a waste of time and money.
We didn't get a lot of time to check on the bees remotely while away, though we did see them from time to time. Mainly I looked at the event logs on the CCTV to check that there was some motion being detected (which there was) so I knew that something was happening. We didn't even really get chance to go over the recorded footage while we were away.
When we got back everything seemed to be intact, although one sad discovery was one of the bees dead outside the box, floating in some water. It's not clear if it drowned, but this seems unlikely. More that it died outside the nest and subsequent rain fell. Unfortuntely, its bedraggled state has made it impossible to tell whether it was a large worker or a queen that we suspected was in the nest. It certainly it fairly large and there is evidence of pollen on its legs so it was collecting.
It will be a great sadness if this turns out to be the queen that we thought was brooding inside the nest: while her young are still waiting to hatch, she goes out to collect pollen and supplies both for herself and for them.
Meanwhile, the CCTV shows that there are two known bees left in the nest. They are both quite distinctive with markings and shape. One of them is busy going out every day to collect pollen, which is mainly bright orange or yellow at the moment. I have no idea where she is finding it, but she is. She is quite fluffy and large, but I don't think she is a queen.
The second bee is a little smaller - more narrow and long in shape and much less fluffy. So much so, the abdomen shows up as distinct stripes on camera. She is extremely busy having taken responsibility for organising the bedding as well as maintaining the security of the nest. She regularly patrols inside the nest and comes out to the entrance, sometimes as frequently as every 5 minutes. This involves coming into the entrance vestibule and either coming out onto the ledge or occasionally sticking her bottom out of the trap door!
Obviously with the bedding as it is shown above it is impossible for us to now see what is going on underneath. Our hope is that a queen is under there brooding and keeping her wax pots warm, but at the moment we have no real idea. That's why I hope it's not a queen we discovered dead.
What we can say with certainty, however, is that our two little workers are in there and very active, making the most of their time - and while pollen is being collected we still cling onto the hope that it's for the purposes of a brood that may be about to emerge.