Friday, 22 September 2017

Sick Bees

It's still raining in Somerset... but that's not my biggest problem right now.  One of the hives is sick.  Hive #2 - Maria's hive - has got infected with a disease, which is killing the larvae.  Here's a photo of part of the comb from a frame that I recently pulled out of Maria's hive:

You can see that the brood, which should be plump and curled up, are flat, and the heads have died and turned black.  My first concern was that it might be one of the foulbroods, so I pushed a matchstick into a couple of dead larvae to see what would happen.  When I inserted the matchstick, there was a little resistance and then a slight "pop" as the skin tore and the haemolymph was released.  The haemolymph was milky-white, and not at all discoloured.  This is reassuring - if it was foulbrood then the inside of the larva would be sticky and brown.

So, not foulbrood.  Then what?  Fortunately, the National Bee Unit at DEFRA run an excellent resource called BeeBase, which provides lots of information for beekeepers.  This includes a section on bee diseases, with photos to aid identification.  Based on what I checked over at BeeBase, I think they might be suffering from Sacbrood.  This is a viral infection, which can be transmitted by nurse bees - and also careless beekeepers.  I suspect it's also transmitted by varroa.  It's not necessarily fatal to the colony, so long as it is dealt with quickly and correctly.

BeeBase advises that "re-queening the colony can help to alleviate the symptoms of sacbrood".  Another option is to change the brood frames for new.  In both cases, there will be a gap of a few days during which there are no brood - which means the old brood can't re-infect the new.

Just one problem:  re-queening in September - even if the weather is sunny - is a bad idea, and changing the brood frames is a worse one.  And the weather is not sunny at all.  It is too wet and gloomy for queens to go on mating flights, and there are hardly any drones left to mate with.  And it is too cold for the bees to build comb, even if they could get out to forage.  So, neither option is available to me.

This unfortunately means there is nothing I can do.  I am feeding the hive with syrup (and the other hive, and the nuc) to try to get them to build up a decent store of winter food.  Other than that, I will just have to leave them to it and cross my fingers.  They might survive the winter, or they might lose too many bees to maintain a stable colony.  I will just have to wait and see.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Introducing... Queens Laura, Maria and Elena

Well, over a month has gone by since Harvest, with very little to report as it has rained most weekends and I have therefore not been opening the hives.  I mentioned a couple of posts back that I had finally got round to naming my queens, so here's a little info about each:

The queen of hive #1 is named Laura.  She is named after Laura Bassi, who was the first woman in the world to become a professor in a scientific field.  She lectured in physics, including Newtonian mechanics, and conducted research on electricity.
One of her most important patrons was Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, who encouraged her scientific work.  The Cardinal later became Pope Benedict XIV, and established an elite group of 25 scholars known as the Benedettini - Laura was the only woman appointed to the group.
Laura also earned a PhD – only the second woman to do so – from the University of Bologna.

The queen of hive #2 is named Maria.  She is named after Maria Gaetana Agnesi, who was an Italian mathematician and philosopher.  Maria is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus.
When she was nine years old, Maria composed and delivered an hour-long speech (in Latin) to some of the most distinguished intellectuals of the day; the subject was women's right to be educated.
Maria also earned a professorship – only the second woman to do so (after Laura Bassi) – although she never served due to ill health.

And finally, the queen of the nucleus is called Elena.  She is named after Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who was the first woman to receive a PhD (54 years before Laura Bassi).  After graduation, she became a mathematics lecturer at the University of Padua.
Elena was also a keen student of philosophy and theology, and a member of a number of academies.  She was an expert musician, and played the harpsichord, harp and violin, amongst other instruments.