In the first of two blog posts today, we watched as our beekeepers, Khalil and Salma, took one of the observation beehives apart, then put it together again with extra layers.

Having removed the roof and old supers (more about them later), this photo shows the inspection of the main brood box. Below this is the base of the hive, sitting on a stand, which has the entrance at the side. The brood box is the deepest section, and is where the queen lays her eggs (‘brood’). It is by far the busiest section of the hive, not just because the entrance is there – this is home to the nursery, and also to all the male bees (‘drones’ – the reason will be made clear below).

Normally, the beekeepers check to see if the queen is laying well, as well as looking at the general health of the hive, and any signs they might be ready to swarm. But this colony currently has no queen, and a closer view of the banner image shows what’s happening now.

This hive could have had two brood boxes, but a week ago it was split to prevent swarming; the previous queen together with two frames now form a new colony, adjacent to this hive. So, the original colony needs a new queen; the photo shows special queen cells that the bees have made.

The cells remain open to allow the bees to feed the developing queen copious amounts of royal jelly (a special substance produced by honey bees, rich in proteins and fatty acids). The cells are sealed with a wax capping on the eighth day, then a new queen will emerge about eight days later. The beekeepers will try to ensure only one queen cell remains before a new queen emerges; leaving more could result in the hive swarming.

Fascinating new research has just been published about how queens, especially new queens, communicate: A Bee C – Scientists translate honeybee queen duets.

Once the inspection is finished, a thin ‘queen excluder’ is place on top of the brood box; this wire mesh is carefully spaced so that worker bees can pass through, but not the queen (who is larger). This prevents her from laying eggs in the upper sections of the hive, which instead will be honey stores. The male bees are as big as the queen, so they too can not pass through; thus, they all have to live in the brood box.

Our beekeepers next added two new ‘supers’; these are shallower layers, with frames where the bees can store honey. At this busy time of the year, with the colony still growing and bringing in plenty of nectar and pollen, the bees need more space. On top of this the beekeepers have added a ‘clearer board’.

The design of this board makes it easy for the bees to move down, but much harder to try and get back up. The purpose, as the name implies, is to clear the bees from levels above.

Next, the first of the old supers is put back. This heavy layer is full of combs and honey; hopefully, the bees will travel down through the clearer board but not back up, so that when our beekeepers return it will be much easier to take out the frames of honey without them being covered in bees.

The top edge of this super was covered in wax, but the beekeepers scraped it off before returning it.

The second of the old supers is lifted into place, already now at head height for one of our beekeepers!

The wax cells are not scraped off the top of this super, as they contain honey which is best left for the bees.

To avoid squashing the bees and wax on the top of the second super, a spacer layer if added, then the third of the three old supers is placed on top.

Another spacer is added that will be able to support the roof.

The last board is the crown board, a bit like the ceiling on a house. It helps keep the bees warm, and stops them from building wild comb in the roof space.

Finally, the roof is lowered into place, and the beehive is now complete.

At its largest, the colony will probably have 60,000 or more bees. If the weather continues to be as good as it has been so far, we would hope to take a good crop of honey from here.