Buzzing along

Today I got down to the allotment early to check on Leia and her chicks. It was just possible she might have an extra chick or two. When I got to her coop, I counted five chicks and spotted three eggs remaining. With Tracy’s help, we removed the eggs. It’s important to remove them so the broody will concentrate on the chicks rather than trying to hatch the remaining eggs. One egg wasn’t fertile and the other had a small chick with half the yolk remaining. Sad though this is, it’s likely that chick has some sort of defect which stopped it developing. I spent a happy half hour watching Leia with her chicks – they were definitely giving her the run around.

When I came back from getting some more chick crumb and fresh water for them, I found Leia had walked outside and was half heartedly trying to persuade the chicks to follow her. Worried about the chicks being able to navigate the ramp, I begged some broken bits of slab and bricks to block up either side of the ramp. Last year, we nearly lost Leia to hypothermia at two days old. She had got under the ramp and couldn’t work out how to get back up to Emily. As a result, she spent the night outside which nearly killed her. I had to battle to warm her and get fluids down her before arguing with Emily to make her accept her chick back. It’s not something I want to repeat! It took a while and will need a bit more work but I have blocked up most of the area under the ramp. I also dig over the soil a bit to block off some of the hole that Rey had dug.

By this point, I was joined by my husband and together we fed the chickens in the main coop. The chicks are still keeping separate from the others but they are sticking together as a trio which helps. My husband collected two eggs and I hand fed the chicks. It’s important to keep them used to being handled and hand fed as it makes health checks easier. It’s particularly important for Tommy to stop him being aggressive. He isn’t happy about being picked up and stroked but he is getting better with it.

Next we started on our jobs. My husband got busy hoeing the plot as the recent rain has encouraged the weeds to thrive. As he was working, I was busy weaving the willow arch. The wind has made one side lean into the path so I used several bamboo canes to prop it back into place. Despite all our good weather, the top of the willow still isn’t quite long enough to plait into place permanently. Using a piece of string, I have tied the ends of the willow into place to form the top of the arch. This should encourage the branches to grow in the right direction. When they are longer, I will be able to weave them together properly and remove the string.

Steve appeared as we were finishing and asked was I ready to help with checking the bees. I had brought down my new bee kit this morning and I quickly suited up. After several comments about my new blue jacket from Steve, to which I rolled my eyes, we made a start. Phil was scribe today, recording the number of brood and supers as well as brood games, eggs and whether we had found the Queen. With seven hives, we settled in for a long job.

The first hive was thriving and is looking stable. The next two hives were odd. No eggs or brood and absolutely no sign of a Queen. Usually without a Queen the colony can be very feisty but neither of these were. We decided to check these two next week to see whether the Queen had reappeared. If she is, then she was probably out being mated when we checked today. However, if there is no queen next week, it is increasingly likely the colonies will die out.

Hive 4 presented a new opportunity to mark the queen. The Queen that was there last time was marked with a green dot to show she was born last year. I spotted the Queen today except she didn’t have a green dot. Or any dot. It looked as if the colony have superceded the previous queen with a new one. Using a special tube, I caught the Queen and using the plunger, pushed her up to the top grill ready to be painted. In theory, a keeper should apply this year’s colour dot neatly on her thorax. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? It isn’t. Between us, we painted her. All of her. Arguably, she is more paint than bee but I guess it makes her easier to spot!

By the time we got onto the last three hives, the wind had picked up and the bees were getting more agitated. Quickly, we went through the hives and managed to find eggs and brood so even though we didn’t spot the queen, we know she must be there somewhere. We closed up the hives and left them in peace for another week.

Before I left, I went back to check on Leia. Fortunately, she had decided against taking her chicks out if the nest box today and I spent a happy ten minutes watching the chicks explore the box. They are so much stronger on their legs than yesterday. One chick amused me by trying to hide out of Leia’s sight and then came running out when she called for them. That chick could be trouble!

The plan for tomorrow is to put in a few more plants and try to source some ferns for the stumpery. I have chosen where it will go on the plot, behind the top part of the willow arch on the same side as the pond and bog garden. This side of the plot is always the worst affected by flooding so I have decided to make a feature of it!

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