Time to take action

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My plan was to have two healthy colonies by the end of this year. I’m not sure how it has happened, but I seem to have five – three colonies and two nucs. One of these nucs is the result of combining the apidea which has a laying queen with the nuc that I made up on the last occasion. G brought this back from his garden to the apiary on Sunday. Very exciting.

Anyway, having decided I needed to take action, the new queen popped through the letter box a few days ago. I kept her in a dark place for a couple of days, moistening the cage with a little water in the mornings. Then the big day came. Not only did I have to open the hive with the really nasty bees, but I had to kill the old queen, and introduce the new one in her cage. Reading back, I don’t think the bees sounded particularly nasty – but they were horrid!!

Slightly nervous, I checked the other two hives first, and they were both doing well. I realise that one colony has an unmarked queen and so I will have to find her next time and mark her. I have never actually seen this queen, but she seems to lay a lot of eggs and the colony looks well balanced, so I won’t worry… yet.

Then for the big moment. M very sweetly offered to help me. This hive seems to have particularly brittle propolis, so when I remove the crown board it seems to crack. Normally speaking this really sets them off – but not today. In fact today they were really rather lovely. But I had decided to kill and replace her which then seemed rather unnecessary and then I started dithering. Why break up a productive hive if the queen turns out to be OK. Apparently if they have been nasty for a while they won’t suddenly get nice. But it was enough to throw me into confusion.

I had to do something with the new queen so I decided to make up a nuc and introduce her into that. If I decide I still want to replace the old queen I might be more successful uniting two colonies. To create a nuc, I first had to put the queen into a cage. But she is a bit sprightly and no sooner than I had seen her she disappeared – not to be seen again. I had to abort the whole operation. In some ways this was good as it had been a last minute decision and I wasn’t fully prepared.

Next dayI had another go. I was just about to open up the hive when I realised I hadn’t even brought the queen with me. I had to go back home to get her!!! However, this this time I was prepared with all necessary equipment, beautiful fresh frames of foundation and a positive frame of mind. However the same happened again. She was in the middle of a frame, I had an open cage ready, but before I even laid the frame down she had scarpered. I spent quite a bit of time trying to find her, but the bees were, unsurprisingly, becoming a little agitated. So I closed it all up feeling like a complete failure and hopeless beekeeper. I did contemplate making the nuc up without having isolated her, but sensibly thought better of it. I went home feeling decidedly despondent.

Concerned that the little queen cage doesn’t have enough sugar, I have opened the end and pushed in some fresh fondant but making sure she was well away and would not be damaged.

The next day, off I went again but with plan B. I don’t have another spare nuc so I took a brood box and floor with me (below) as when I find the frame with the queen, she is going into this box straightaway to be covered with a crown board until all manipulations have been completed. It will be considerably easier getting her into this instead of a queen cage!!

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I was getting fairly despondent and worried as I didn’t find her until the ninth frame. But she was there and I put the frame straight into the brood box. What a relief. I am glad that no-one was watching me because, as prepared as I was, it still looked chaotic – a complete mess. I was also very hot in my suit which always makes it more of an effort. But I managed to select some good frames, replaced them with fresh foundation and put the old queen back. It was just as I was clearing up that I realised I hadn’t put the queen in the nuc!!!!!!

So I had to open it up again, and try to squish the cage between two frames. Should it be sideways or not? At first it went in flat against the frames but this didn’t feel right (I made a quick call to G and decided to change it.). When I opened the frames up I found a gang of bees were carting the cage down into the depths. So I had to retrieve it . There were a lot of bees and somehow I had to hold it in place while closing the frames at the same time. I found this quite (very) difficult. I have only done this once before and Adrian was on hand to act as my lovely assistant. It was much easier with him. But, after much huffing and puffing it was done. This little lady below was furiously fanning before I put the roof back on.

calling bees home with pheromones

The strange thing was, there were lots of determined bees clustering around the closed entrance. I gently brushed them away and added some smoke.

closing the nucleus colony

It didn’t do a lot of good but I successfully secured it all together with the ratchet strap that I have had for ages, but have never managed to use. I was warned that it can break a hive it too tightly secured. I do seem to have made indentations in the roof, but I am so pleased to have mastered the ‘art of the ratchet’ unassisted.

ratchet strap for nucleus

I wheelbarrowed it home – there seemed to be an awful lot of bees under the floor, so I was accompanied – an interesting experience, especially taking it through the house. Then the gauze securing the entrance came loose and bees were emerging, it was all a bit chaotic. There seemed to be bees emerging from the back too, I think they were under the floor but I am not sure. Much packing tape was applied and it was secured. I then put it in the car, covered it with a thin sheet, and drove it, without further mishap, to its temporary resting place, in a garden in Surrey. I checked the back – there were a lot of bees, but I don’t think there were any gaps.

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Lesson to self. Patience and preparation. Thinking things through beforehand and working out what is going to be required (equipment and manipulations) makes it all much more enjoyable.

 

Feisty bees

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Much has happened since I last posted. I did have two queenless hives that each now have a laying queen and have expanded well. Initially, it was quite difficult as they were bringing in so much nectar and not leaving any room for laying – I should probably have added supers earlier. I’ll know for next year..

This was a particular problem in one hive and I decided to make more room for her to lay. This involved extracting honey from some frames of stores in the brood box (to provide empty, drawn frames to be put back in). I also put frames of stores above the crown board. I scored it to encourage the bees to bring it down into the super. I took and extracted a full super from the strongest hive (above middle) to provide a drawn super for the bees to fill (above right). It seems to be working and after three weeks I have been able to remove the extra brood box and there appears to be enough room to lay.

The weather has been glorious, but there seems very little forage left for the bees. The blackberry blossom and lime trees finished very early. They have been busy on the lavender but also on the hebes and oregano.

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Last year G asked me what my plan was for this year. To which I answered, “Have two strong hives by the end of summer 2017”. But what he meant was a goal such as “clip and mark a queen”. So I thought I had better do something about this.

I have practiced on a number of  drones. I first thought I would mark the queen in the strongest hive but she was a bit frisky so I left that one to G. However, on a lovely sunny day, I prepared myself well, put on a clean, non-propolised pair of gloves, laid out the relevant equipment, and decided to be positive. I managed to pick her up, and quietly, on my own, marked her. I also decided to clip her. I know this is contentious, but if it means I am less likely to lose bees and annoy neighbours it seems like a good plan.

I felt such a sense of achievement as I clearly remember the first time I watched this being done. I thought there was absolutely no chance I would ever be able to do master such a fiddly thing. Such a small thing but it has given me confidence.

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This week I have had to steal myself to do something else I didn’t want to. The strongest hive doesn’t appear to have a very nice queen. She looks great but she is really bad-tempered – I took the roof off one day and one stung me straightaway. So I put it back on and  leave well alone. Then another got inside my t-shirt when I was leaving the apiary and stung me.

But it had to be done. I prepared – long thick trousers and a long-sleeved top under my suit as well two pairs of gloves – one being leather. I don’t know how anyone works in leather gloves as they are so cumbersome and it is very difficult to pick up the frames – you have no feeling.

I have decided to requeen but I can’t do this until I am back from my holiday in a fortnight. I have a choice.

1. Use the laying queen in one of my apideas or,
2. Buy in a new queen that has been bred for good nature and non-swarmy.

The choice was simple as I am not sure that the queen in the Apidea will be that nice. She is a descendant of ‘nasty’ queen. So, I have ordered a new queen from Ged Marshall. This is also a bit of a risk as the queen I had from him earlier on the year didn’t survive.

But what to do with the laying queen in the Apidea. Make up a nuc. I have done this from the unpleasant hive, with some stores from the brood box above the right-hand hive. (Not many stores in the larger hive). I still think I might have to feed the nuc. I can then see what she is like without upsetting an entire colony.

Making up the nuc was no mean feat. Anyway, I battled on with decidedly feisty bees all over the place making me feel very unwelcome. The good news is that the hive has a good strong queen who is laying well (even if her days are numbered!!). I have taken the nuc away to G’s house. He is going to combine the Apidea with these as it is in his garden.

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The other exciting thing has been honey. I extracted some beautiful light honey in the spring and sold 24 jars through our association which has paid for the fourth hive that I had to buy to support the other three. It is a very expensive little hobby! So far this year I have extracted about 50lb, and seeing as I only had 5lb last year, things are looking up!

Sealed honey in a manley super frame

Lesson to self: many tasks and procedures look very daunting, but by taking things slowly, thinking them through and listening to advice, they are not impossible. Well, most of them…

 

What is going on?

I was really looking forward to my visit to the bees this week as I had two hives that were now queen right and the other was hopefully going to have a newly emerged queen. What could possibly go wrong…?

The nuc is doing so well now that it is in a hive so I thought I’d have a look at that first. It appeared a little light on bees – but it was a really sunny morning so thought maybe they were out and about. Plenty of eggs and larvae, so all was looking good until I found this…

multiple queen cells on base of frame

No sign of my unclipped marked queen anywhere, but she had obviously only just left considering all the eggs. I went through the rest of the frames to choose the best queen cell to leave – but I found a queen. She looked very small – so possibly a virgin – or just mated. But the mystery is WHERE DID SHE COME FROM??!!? However much people tell me to expect the unexpected, I don’t and I imagine it will all play out like the text books. How on earth had I missed all these tell-tale signs?

I cut out some capped queen cells, destroyed the others and made up an Apidea which G had with him. I left another capped cell above the crown board with the intention of coming back later that day to make up another. And that is what I did.

Making up an Apidea is much easier with two people. I am glad no-one was watching me attempt it on my own. The tricky bit is having shaken the bees into a bowl, you still have the frame in your hand but you also need to lightly spray them with water to contain them. Then you have to be quite quick to scoop up a cup full, empty them into the bottom of the Apidea and close it up again. Perhaps it will become easier with practice. I do hope so.

So on to the next hive. This one is doing well and looked as it should. And at last I have actually seen the queen. I had thought that I would attempt to mark and clip her, but she was a bit lively so will do that another time…. They have already cleaned up the supers that I put back on. I had been thinking of putting one of these supers on to the first hive, but in current circumstances I might not after all.

Onto the new hive. I had left one capped cell a couple of weeks ago and this, according to my calculations, should have hatched the previous weekend. I went straight to the frame (which I had sensibly marked) but I was not expecting to see this. It looks as if another queen has been in and killed her. But what queen? There is no brood at all and no sign of any queen. I cut this out and photographed it at home.

attacked queen cell

This is a complete mystery as where could another queen have come from? Fortunately I still had a couple of other capped cells from the first hive. The best one was attached to another, so instead of introducing one I , G helped me affix these to a frame. If there is a queen present she will kill them and if not, there will be one soon.

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I have no idea what to expect when I go back next week. This nuc, purchased at considerable cost earlier this year, has been a bit disappointing really. Although it has expanded really well its had light nosema, dysentry (better now), wax moth (no sign now), dodgy queen and mystery killer. What next?

Lessons to self: expect the unexpected and, before looking at my bees, read the previous weeks’ notes carefully and take them with me.

 

An hour a week…

Before I took up beekeeping I read quite a bit and went on an excellent beekeeping course run by Wimbledon Beekeepers Association. It was a few years after doing the course that I felt I could commit enough time – an hour a week on average according to what I read. Undoubtedly there are weeks when an hour is quite sufficient, but very often this is not the case and this weekend was a case in point. 

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After lunch on Sunday I read through my notes from last week to remind myself what needed doing or to be looked out for. I then gathered all my equipment, made up a new brood frame, loaded up the wheelbarrow and wandered up the road to the apiary – collecting a curious friend en route.

The first hive I looked in was the over-wintered nuc I bought in April. The queen had been rather sluggish last week and I was a bit concerned about her. Rightly so it turned out – she was nowhere to be seen, no eggs and about 15 capped emergency cells. That wasn’t meant to happen. It took quite a bit of time to select a cell and then go through the frames carefully to make sure I hadn’t missed any. It was very useful having a second pair of eyes to help. I marked the frame containing the chosen queen cell. They have really increased their stores since last week and it was quite crowded.

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Next I looked in last year’s hive – the new queen is laying well and it is very busy. I didn’t see the new queen but there were plenty of eggs and small larva so I am not worried about this. I would like to find her next week and mark her and possibly clip her wing too. I also removed a super. The porter bee escape had not worked as well this time but I was able to shake the bees off quite easily. It was much easier having someone else with me and particularly with someone who was happy to get stuck in and didn’t appear nervous.

The third hive seems to be expanding well but is still somewhat light so needs feeding.

When I got home I wrote up my notes. I do this in two ways: one using the Bee Craft forms which just record the details in columns with a tiny bit of room for each hives’ particular record (I have modified the forms to suit me) and I also write much more detailed notes in a book which I find both interesting and useful to read back at a later time. I have found it very helpful reviewing last year when thinking about what to do this year.

I then put my suits into the washing machine. I also discovered that the veil of one of my suits had split in several places – not because I had damaged it but because if was faulty. I wrote an email to the supplier who have kindly (and rightly) agreed to send a replacement.

I then drove to collect the manual Association extractor as I was going to have a sticky evening. I then cleaned and tidied the kitchen and covered surfaces with newspaper. I set up the extractor, sharpened my knife, got everything into place and started on the extraction process.

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It was surprisingly less messy than I was expecting. There were only thirteen frames but I now have one full and one not so full buckets of honey sitting waiting to go into the settling tank before putting it into jars. One of the frames became very badly distorted in the process so I removed the wax and melted it down. It was quite a new frame so I cleaned it up and replaced the foundation.

By the time I had cleared up the kitchen and got everything put away it was nearly 11 o’clock. Nine hours devoted to my bees. I loved every single minute but it does show that an hour a week (even averaging out the winter months) is probably a poor guide. But if you are considering taking up a new hobby why would you look to see how little you can get away with. What would be the point?

It didn’t stop there as I went back to the apiary on Monday. As I had disturbed the bees the previous day I worked very quickly with as little disruption to the hives as possible. I didn’t even have to light my smoker. I returned all the extracted frames for the bees to clean up, I fed the light hive a litre of 1:1 syrup and added a super to the very busy queenless hive to make some more room.

And that’s it until next weekend and who knows what surprises that might hold.

… and then there were eggs!

My last post was full of doom and gloom, but as everyone keeps telling me, bees have minds of their own. I was quite nervous about my main hive as the queen had been removed five weeks ago – leaving one queen cell. I haven’t seen any eggs since making up the nuc, let alone a queen. I looked through this hive quite quickly until I got to the frame with eggs (reintroduced last week from the hive that was the nuc). It was beautifully capped with the beginnings of one emergency cell. I then looked on the next frame which had eggs and larvae… woo-hoo! In fact there were four frames of brood and it was looking really healthy and I was SO pleased (understatement!). There must have been eggs last weekend and because of the weather I didn’t look really thoroughly and must have missed them. I am so relieved – on two counts. Firstly, that the hive had behaved as it should and that it was probably just the awful weather that had held her back. Secondly, that I don’t have to wait a further month before the hive is back in harmony. I didn’t bother to look for the queen, but I think she should be marked next weekend. It makes it so much easier.

Despite the worry (and I do worry about my bees) it has been quite good experience as it had made me think through what my options might be and how best to resolve the situation. Not that I came to a decision, but at least I had thought about it!

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I removed a super of honey – the porter bee escapes had worked so well that there weren’t any bees left behind and that make it much easier. I am going to take another super off next weekend so that I can pay for the new hive I had to buy!

The bees that I bought this year still have a little dysentry on the landing board but nothing to what it was like last week. I sprayed them with nosevit for the second time and fed them as the hive has virtually no stores – but plenty of brood. I saw the queen who was very quiet on the frame and being carefully attended – I have no idea if this is an issue but I will keep an eye on her.

The other hive was also extremely light so I have fed this as well. I am really pleased with how this is doing.

I am slightly concerned that I now have three unclipped queens. I know not everyone agrees with doing this but it was how I was taught and having thought about it, it makes sense. I used to clip my chickens’ wings after all! I rely rather too heavily on G for this sort of thing as I don’t have the confidence to do it myself. I need to practice on more drones – marking and clipping – so that by the end of this summer I might have the confidence to actually pick the queen up and do it myself.

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Lessen to self: patience and practice

May doom and gloom…

After the exciting and active sunny days in April I am now having a bit of a reality check. I do have to remember that this time last year I had already lost one colony and had just acquired a nuc that wasn’t in as good shape as it should have been. This year I now have three colonies, which is an improvement whichever way you look at it.

My new ‘Oxfordshire’ bees have settled well into their hive and they are the most gentle bees you could imagine. I wish all my bees were so calm. But – and why does there have to be a but – I have already found several wax moths and the association Bee Disease Inspection Day showed signs of ‘light’ nosema. There is a good spattering of dysentry on the landing board. I am going to treat with Nosevit this weekend and see if it has a positive effect. With all this horrible weather the hive is very light so I have given it a feed of 1:1 syrup. I put a drop of tea tree oil in the syrup, as it might help and I don’t think it will do any harm.

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The colony that was growing at such an alarming rate in April is a bit touch and go at the moment. Having made up a nuc with the queen, I left one queen cell, but it didn’t appear to have hatched as still sealed. There are no eggs and I couldn’t see a queen – but I must admit I didn’t give it a really thorough look as I didn’t want to disturb the colony at this stage unnecessarily. Her lack of egg-laying may be down to the weather. I cut the queen cell out today to see what is going on. There was nothing inside, so she hasn’t died in her cell. The bees may have resealed the cell after she emerged but I just don’t know what is going on. What I do know is that there are no eggs and that they are jolly feisty. There doesn’t seem to be queen. On the plus side, there is about 50 lb honey already on this hive. I’ll need to do some thinking and make a decision this weekend.

The nuc seems to be doing well. I have fed it syrup as it was quite light; they are also a little feisty but I think the weather last weekend may have had something to do with it.  She is a pretty good queen and is laying well. If all goes to plan I think I will change her later on this year before she starts to fail.

The Apidea in the garden has been interesting. It has been so busy with lots of coming and going except on the dull days (there have been quite a few of those now I think about it). There was lots of activity at the weekend. This evening I decided to have a quick look in the top through the plastic so as not to disturb them. NO BEES. And I really mean NO BEES. Not one (except a dead one). They had all buggered off. That was my back up in case there was a problem with the new queen in the hive at the apiary. I didn’t back up the back up. I had a look inside – beautifully drawn comb, but no eggs.

Lesson to self: don’t get too excited as bees have a mind of their own and anything may happen. They lull you into a false sense of security.

April fun and games

We have been pretty lucky with the weather so far this Spring and, unlike last year, my bees seem to be enjoying life. My original hive is expanding at enormous speed – I am pleased to say – and already has three supers sitting atop.

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However, they are producing queen cells at an alarming rate and over Easter it was getting beyond the point of no return – time to make up a nuc. Two frames of brood and two frames of bees shaken in. It is now resting in G’s garden and doing incredibly well. Next weekend – weather permitting – I will transfer it into a hive.

It was very exciting in the apiary this Sunday and I experienced all sorts of bee activity that I hadn’t seen before. One of the hives (not mine) was full of very ripe queen cells –  so ripe that they started to emerge. One hatched out in my daughter’s hand and then I found one crawling around mine, it was wonderful experience and I’ve never seen anything like it. But then I rather unceremoniously dropped on the floor when I a bee stung me. Fortunately no damage done and she seemed quite happy. Then while I was checking my hive, a swarm emerged from someone else’s hive. I was standing in a cloud of bees!

I checked my hive carefully – selecting the cell I was going to keep. I went for one at the side of the frame and well protected. I removed all the rest and G cut out another to use in the Apidea I had prepared. This way if anything goes wrong with the new queen I’ll have back up (in theory!). I’ll go back midweek and clear out any more that have appeared. The Apidea is in the shed and on Wednesday I will open the entrance and put it out into the garden.

My new colony is incredibly gentle – and seems to be reasonably happy. I removed one of the manky frames of brood to be replaced by a nice clean new frame of foundation. I don’t like dirty frames and I am looking forward to getting them into a position where all frames are as they should be with correct bee space.

But the worst bit was that there was some wax moth and I removed five horrible larvae. I also saw a bee with withered wing – so I have put a slider in place to do a varroa drop count. It is very disappointing. I don’t seem to have much luck with bought nucs.

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The good thing is that I enjoy the challenge and the learning so much – I find it all so interesting and a bit unpredictable. This time last year I was struggling with a dying colony and had just ordered a replacement. This year I am aiming to have two strong colonies by the end of the summer. I already have two colonies and a healthy nuc, but I realise anything could happen before summer ends.

Early days with my bees

I was ridiculously excited about the thought of looking at my bees again. I was feeling fairly optimistic as I had seen so much pollen being brought into the hive. It seemed very active but last year had been such a dreadful disappointment that I wanted to have a good look before I could relax. This year has had a much more positive start. 

img_4023.jpgI did my first quick inspection on a beautiful warm sunny day in late March. I didn’t see the queen but saw plenty of eggs and young larvae. It all just felt right. I was so relieved. The hive was bursting with bees so I added a super to make some more room.

A week later I did a more thorough inspection – I saw the queen and she is laying well. The hive is very busy and despite the super, there were many bees crowding out above the crown board. Rather alarmingly, I found the beginnings of a queen cell with a larva resting happily in a bowl of royal jelly. There was lots of drone brood and much activity. I need to make sure there is plenty of room so added a second super of drawn comb. IMG_4010

I swapped one of the older and more damaged frames of stores with fresh foundation. I put this at the edge of the brood next to the stores. I am considering doing a shook swarm this year but I can’t decide – the frames were all new last year and I could just replace a third of them. I will probably decide after our local association’s ‘Disease Checking Day’. If there is any sign of nosema I think I will do it.

The other great excitement in my bee life is that I have bought a second colony.
I went with G to collect them from British Honey producers in Steeple Claydon. We had to make a very early start so that the bees weren’t closed up for too long. Driving through the Oxfordshire countryside with mist hanging low in the fields as the sun rose was a real treat. The farm where we collected the bees was in deep countryside and a sparrowhawk flew through the apiary as we were standing there.

Once back, I put the poly nuc on the spot where they would go into the hive later in the week. I chose to transfer them today as it is lovely and warm. The apiary was so peaceful – the pink crab apple is stunning and all the fruit trees are in blossom. I have managed to find a beautiful spot for my bees.img_4081.jpg

It was all very straightforward moving them across with the exception of some of the frames. They seem to be back-to-front hoffman frames – some of them sitting flat end to flat end and some point to point. I cannot understand why (or even how) they are like that. I’ll get rid of them slowly. The only difficulty was working out how to get all the bees out of the brace comb with which they had filled the feeding compartment. After much smoking and shaking I managed. I am now the proud owner of two colonies of bees in a beautiful corner of south west London – I wonder what this year will bring with it.

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Lesson to self: I need to start thinking and working things out for myself. I am very lucky with the support I get from other beekeepers, particularly from G, but I need to be more confident. I also need to move that ugly ladder that ruins all my photos!

Warmer weather

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The weather is making it feel like spring – the bulbs are out and it is so much warmer. I can’t wait to get in and have a look at how my bees have fared. I probably could have done a quick inspection on Saturday but didn’t really have time, and I did want to enjoy my first look. Last year was such a disappointment – I really hope this year will be better.

There’s a lot of pollen under the hive and I’m concerned that it is being knocked off the bees as they pass the mouse guard – so that has been removed and as the front of the hive seems to be covered with bees, I have also opened up the entrance.

Lesson to self: This year, have a clear plan before each inspection.