An unexpected queen

queen bee in the garden.jpg

What is going on with my bees? We are having unseasonably warm weather and so I went to have a look at the bees flying in and out of the nuc in my garden. So many were laden with bright yellow or beautiful soft green pollen. Every now and again a very loud bee arrived and I realised that there were still a number of drones flying in and out. I thought they were supposed to be chucked out in the autumn.

Some were landing on the ground in front of the hive and it was while watching them that I realised the queen was on the ground with them. I tried to stay calm and I watched her try to fly up to the entrance but she didn’t succeed and went back to the ground. This is not meant to happen. Panic!

Anyway, I did carefully lifted her up to the entrance and she hurried back in. But what’s that all about? I have sought advice from some rather more experienced beekeepers – surprisingly they all had different thoughts and explanations. I don’t think anyone really knows.

She queen is clearly unmarked and unclipped (though she looks a good size and so mated) but this nuc went into autumn with a 2018 marked and clipped queen. As it was so warm I decided to have a quick look through to see what was going on. I was pleased to see that it was doing well and was busier than I expected. I found the cell that she’d emerged from – and there was only one. I also saw the unmarked queen again, but no sign of the marked one. She might have been hiding! There was some brood on one frame – not a great amount, and I couldn’t see any eggs. But there was some sealed worker brood and very young larva. So someone had been laying in the last four or five days.

I’ve closed it up and will try to leave it alone and what will be will be.

Lesson to self: always expect the unexpected


Taking stock

inside a hive

I have reached the end of my fourth bee summer – and have four hives and one nuc ready to go into winter. I have been taking a little time to think about what I have learnt, what I might have done better and what I am going to do next year.

One of the year’s successes was doing my first shook swarm. I only did this on one hive but next year I am planning to do more. It felt very drastic, but that particular hive went on from strength to strength and produced a lot of surplus honey. One of the reasons I chose that one was, apart from it being a good strong colony, the comb was old and completely bunged up with propolis and manipulations were becoming difficult. By the end of the season it was once again the stickiest hive! And manipulations becoming difficult…

The main difficulty I had this year was really aggressive bees and right from early on they were not fun – neither for me nor for the others who share the same apiary. I decided to requeen two hives. Not as easy as it sounds as the wet start to spring meant that queens weren’t available to buy until quite late in the season.

Also, I stupidly did not destroy the really nasty queen because I was a bit sentimental and felt she could be tamed (!!??) and she was a good strong and productive layer. What a mistake. I moved her to my garden and put her in a nuc but far too quickly it needed to go into a hive. They are tricky things and when kept in a nuc they seem to control their temper, but once let free in a full size hive they show their true colours. She was foul. So were her bees. I tried introducing the new queen but they kept building queen cells – which I destroyed but they just built more. This was not meant to happen.


I was also really worried about my neighbour’s young children and then Adrian got stung very badly. That was the final straw. In the end I had no choice but to make up a nuc with the new queen and destroy the old hive. I was completely traumatised about doing it, but once done I felt so much better. Something I hope I won’t have to do again. It took a full six weeks for the colony to settle down – a whole cycle. But it was worth it in the end and I can quite happily potter around the garden with all the bees calmly forging amongst the flowers. i like the new queen. Lesson number 1: when the queen has to go, she really has to go. Don’t be sentimental.

Something else I learnt this summer is that once a new queen emerges the workers often reseal the cell – sometimes even with a worker bee trapped inside (this happened in M and R’s hive). One hive wasn’t happy with their queen and early on in the season I had a hive full of queen cells. When the virgin queen emerged they resealed the cell and I thought she hadn’t hatched. I didn’t open it to check. FOOL! Egg laying was severely delayed – probably die to the bad weather – so I assumed they were queenless. I united them with a swarm from another hive in the same apiary. And that was the beginning of the troubles. They seemed to reject all queens after that and it wasn’t until the end of the summer that they finally settled down. I was amazed that this hive actually produced any honey at all. Lesson 2: if a queen cell is still sealed after it should have hatched, open it. If you have your dates worked out correctly, the queen will not be there or she will be dead. If you haven’t kept tabs on the dates, probably best to let nature take its course.

Although this was a productive year on the honey front, one hive was reluctant to move up into the super and consequently didn’t produce very much. On reflection I think it was because I didn’t use fresh foundation and I don’t think they liked it. I have heard that you should warm it with a hairdryer if it is old to soften it a bit. I don’t know if it works but Lesson number 3 is don’t use old foundation!

And now they are all tucked up ready for winter. I had a great deal of difficulty finding two queens, consequently two hives have gone into winter unmarked and unclipped. I will try and remedy this situation as early as possible next year – hopefully before the hives get too crowded and they become difficult to find again. All hives have been treated with Apivar for varroa and mouse-guards are in place. Soon I will cover them with netting to protect them from the woodpeckers.

Although there is far less time spent with the bees at this time of year, I am still busy. I cleaned all my equipment at the weekend – ready for next year – and I am also busy studying to take BBKA Module 2. The more I learn the more I realise I don’t know!

Just off to learn about the dangers of fermentation…





A spot of queen rearing

Hot weather is not fun in a bee-suit. But you don’t get much choice – timing can be critical, so sometimes you just have to don your suit and get on with it. Queen rearing is one such example. It’s been a fascinating but very hot experience. 

frame of queen cells

G chose to use a Jenter Kit, which is a good way of raising a number of queens without having to go through the fiddly process of grafting. It is also much more accurate regarding the stages of development. But timing is key.

A Jenter Kit comprises various components including a Plastic Comb Box (Jenter cage), which contains a sheet of plastic foundation, with pre-drilled holes and a removable back to allow cell plugs to be positioned. The front is covered with a queen excluder with a small opening for introducing the queen. Cell Plugs are fitted into the pre-drilled holes and these are where the queen will lay eggs. They are removable, as once laid up and larvae hatched, they are then fitted into Queen Cell Starter Cups. These small open-ended cones fit over the cell plugs. They form the beginning of the queen cell. Yellow cup-holders are open-ended cones hold the cell plug and queen cell starter cups in place on cell bars, which are held in a full size brood frame.

jenter kit components

As timing is critical in this procedure, it’s not something to be started without some forward planning. Nucs/mini-nucs need to be prepared in advance of Day 14.

In preparation G selected an egg-laying colony – it was strong, productive and good-tempered. A drawn brood frame holding the Jenter cage was placed in the centre of the brood box.

Day 0 .The queen was placed in the Jenter cage. The time was recorded as midday.
Day 1. (24 hours later) Eggs had been laid in each of the starter cups and the queen was removed and released back into the colony.
Day 4. The eggs hatched (larvae 0-12 hours). The plugs holding larvae were transferred to the Bar Frame and fixed in place using Queen Cell Starter Cups and Holders. This frame was then placed into the chosen queenless cell-raiser colony. This colony was selected as it was strong with plenty of brood and therefore lots of nurse bees and wax builders.
Day 9. The queen cells were sealed.
Day 10. All brood frames were carefully checked for queen cells – had they been found would need to be removed.

removing queen cells from frameDay 14. Transferring cells into min-nucs. It turned out to be phenomenally hot and we drove out to the beautiful Surrey Hills to a different apiary where G has a number of very strong colonies. Despite the extraordinary heat and despite the fact that I spent most of the day in a bee-suit, it was thoroughly enjoyable and very informative (if a little  sweaty). G and I transferred 18 sealed queen cells into 18 apideas filled with bees from these colonies (we had left one cell behind in the now queenless cell-raiser colony). It was time-consuming and hard work as each colony had at least three supers and in the middle of the whole process we discovered that the queen had managed to get above the queen excluder in one hive and had been very busy! Not what was wanted, particularly as it took quite a bit of time to sort out. Days like this are so much easier with two people. The apideas were taken back and I put my treasured little box of bees in a cool dark place for a couple of days – and then put it in my garden and opened it.

Day 16. The queen emerged.
Day 20. The queen matured. A few days after this she ventured out on her mating flight.


Despite the bees not behaving and making a phenomenal mess with all their comb in my apidea, the queen mated successfully and started laying eggs. I took two frames from a colony in my garden and made up a nuc. She started to lay well and I have already united her with a queenless hive back in the original apiary. The next task is to mark and clip her – but I’ll do that another day!

Lesson to self. Some procedures look very tricky but they are generally possible with planning and patience.

Collecting my first swarm…

Head down and concentrating on the goings on in one of my hives, I suddenly became aware of a lot of noise and looked up to find I was standing in the midst of a swarm of bees. 

collecting swarm

I watched as they gradually began to settle on a nearby tree, about nine foot from the ground. I have been really keen to have a go at housing a swarm as it isn’t something you can practice unless you happen to find one. And you don’t see them that often.

There was nothing I could do at the time as I had to get to work, but as I was returning to the apiary later in the day with G, I thought I would try and deal with it then, under supervision and instruction.

I returned with a stepladder, cardboard box, sheet, secateurs, and wooden prop. Under guidance, I started by cutting away the smaller branches on which it had settled. I then gently pushed the cardboard box under the bottom of the swarm, and gave the branch a good thump and they all fell into the box. I passed this to G who quickly turned it upside down on the sheet. We left if or a few minutes to settle and then propped open one corner so that all the bees that hadn’t gone into the box could join the other bees. Fortunately the queen was in the box – otherwise they would have all returned to join her back on the branch. By evening time they were all settled inside the cardboard box and ready to be moved to a permanent spot.

The following day I put my ‘swarm box’ back together just in case I should need it again at some time. I didn’t have to wait long because later that morning I got a call to say there was a swarm in Dorset Road and would I go and collect it. ON MY OWN!!

In my excitement I forgot to photograph the swarm before I housed it, but was in an apple tree about five foot from the ground. It was clustered around the main trunk of the tree and that was not going to move however hard I thumped it.

I  decided the only way to deal with this was to brush them into the box with my hands. It was a little tricky as it was all around the trunk and would not move in one go. But I worked very quickly and seemed to get a good number of bees into the box which I immediately put on to the sheet. There were still a lot of bees on the tree (picture) and although there were a few crawling into the box I wasn’t convinced I had the queen.

After a while all the remaining bees left the tree and the garden was absolutely full of flying bees – just like the original swarm. Although a tad concerned that they were all off again, I tried to look confident so that the residents would think I knew what I was doing. Quite soon it all started to quieten down and they gathered on the box and slowly made their way in. I smoked tree to remove any traces of pheromone that might cause them to go back.

I returned in the evening to collect them – and took them back to the apiary. I had a queen less colony and G suggested that that this could be the solution.

I united them using the newspaper method. I opened the brood box, added a sheet of newspaper, then the queen excluder, then an empty brood box. I threw all the bees into this box and covered them with another sheet of newspaper, a queen excluder and all the supers.

The next day I went back and they had all mingled together, so I removed the brood box and one queen excluder. I then went on holiday for a week. I have left them well alone and after another week I will check to see that they have settled down successfully.

My swarm collection box is ready for action once again…

Lessons to self: The only way to improve is to have a go.



My first shook swarm

img_8182.jpgI was away on holiday during March and, even though I was having a fabulous time walking in Patagonia, I was just a little disappointed not to be poking around in my hives for the first time! I needn’t have worried as when I returned in April the cold weather meant I still couldn’t check them straightaway.

All colonies have done well over winter and I seem to be starting the season with five healthy boxes of bees. One is slightly weaker than the others, so I will unite it with one of the nucs – the one with the lovely docile new queen ever the optimist).

One hive is covered in propolis and is sticky… Time for a shook swarm. I have watched and helped G do quite a few, but I thought I needed to do one on my own – ably assisted by A. This was quite a generous offer from him as these bees are fairly stroppy and if you aren’t used to working with bees, a shook swarm can seem quite alarming. There are bees flying everywhere.

It entails moving all your bees from old comb on to brand new foundation, and into a clean hive. Hopefully my diagram makes it abundantly clear!shook-swarm

All was going well and I managed to find the queen quickly but when I picked her up I promptly dropped her (so glad there was no-one watching!). Having checked that she wasn’t under my feet, I went back through all the frames a couple of times, but she was still nowhere to be seen. I was so frustrated at my clumsiness. Eventually we got down on hands and knees and there was a cluster of bees under the floor – and she was in the centre of it.


I got her into a cage, moved the brood box to one side, placed the fresh box of foundation onto the new floor and added a queen excluder. It all went fairly smoothly after that – I shook all the bees in and bagged up the old frames. The queen cage was very soon covered in flying bees, but it didn’t take long before I could release her into the box.


I placed a pollen supplement directly on to the top of the frames and fed two litres of sugar syrup and closed them up. It was then that I realised I had put the floor on back to front and upside down. By then I didn’t care and, as it wasn’t going to hamper their movement, I decided to leave it until I removed the queen excluder a week later. Finally the job was done and the bees only had to make their way back into their new home. In hindsight, I stupidly chucked ALL the old frames and, if I had bothered to stop and think about it, I could have put a couple of them into the weaker colony to boost it a bit. But I didn’t – something to remember next time.


I did top up the syrup with another litre during the week but I didn’t look inside until a  week later. I was absolutely amazed to find all frames fully drawn and eggs on three. It is absolutely extraordinary just how quickly they have done this. We have had the advantage of a really warm week, which must help.

My hive with the particularly unpleasant bees (followers) is expanding at an extraordinary rate and I had already added two supers to ensure they have enough room. Despite this, I did find a few queen cells with eggs last week so I wasn’t surprised to find that there were queen cells in abundance. There were a couple that were sealed but I was very pleased to see that the queen was still present. I had prepared a nuc just in case and so I made this up with two frames of brood and lots of non-flying bees (I shook about three frames in). G offered to take these to his garden but they are so unpleasant that I thought this was a bit unfair. Instead I have brought it home to our garden. I stuffed the entrance with grass so that they acclimatise slowly and hopefully don’t all fly back – but most bees shaken in were non-fliers so hopefully they will stay.

Lessons to self. Shook swarms are much easier when well prepared and much quicker with someone to help. And, no matter how much room is provided bees will swarm if that’s what they’ve decided to do.


Best laid plans…

I am about to go into my fourth year of beekeeping and I’ve been looking back over the last three years at how I have progressed, and at my plan going forward.

frame of bees.jpg

My first colony of bees were given to me in spring 2015 but, sadly, they did not survive their first winter. In April 2016 I bought an over-wintered nuc and started from scratch. I have continued to be mentored by G, a very experienced and patient beekeeper – he has been so generous with his time and has been a great support.

My plan for my second year had been to take two colonies into the following winter. To cut a long story short it was a difficult season at the end of which I had achieved two colonies but they were very weak. After much deliberation, I united them. I learnt a lot that summer – especially that things don’t always go to plan.

The start of the 2017 season was a much happier affair and my decision to unite was good as I started with one very strong colony. Such a relief after the previous experience. G asked me what my plans were for the year. My answer was obvious – two strong colonies by the end of summer. I thought that was pretty ambitious after the previous year!

But that that was not what he meant! Instead, what was I planning to do to take my beekeeping forward. I didn’t set myself any outlandish objectives, but decided I really needed to learn to pick up, mark and clip a queen and, of course, maintain two strong colonies. I also thought. I would do some studying.

multiple queen cells on base of frame

Although the colony was doing extremely well and expanding rapidly, I wasn’t properly ahead of the game and foolishly didn’t provide enough space – and by the second week in April they were showing distinct signs of swarm preparation. Prevention was required, and, by the middle of April I had made up a nuc and used another cell to make up an Apidea – this was the first time I had done this on my own so I was pleased that it worked out. Within two weeks, I transferred the nuc into a hive. But it wasn’t until the end of July, that the Apidea was transferred into a nuc.

Earlier, in April, I had bought an over-wintered nuc. This involved a very early trip to the Oxfordshire countryside. It was a beautiful, quiet misty morning and as we stood in the apiary with the sun coming up, a sparrowhawk flew through the hives – it was a lovely experience – and one that I wouldn’t have had without my bees. I was very excited about a second hive, but sadly, it didn’t go very smoothly. Although they were beautiful calm bees, there were issues with dysentery, I also found wax moth (I probably should have gone back to the supplier), and after about six weeks I noticed that the queen was looking a little sluggish. But I wasn’t experienced enough to know if a sluggish queen was an issue.

It obviously was, as the following week she was nowhere to be seen and the hive was full of queen cells! Eventually it all sorted itself out but I was left with decidedly unpleasant and stroppy bees – and they had been so calm when I first had them. This was NOT part of my plan.

marked drones.jpg

I clearly remember the first time I watched G pick up a queen. I was completely fascinated and couldn’t imagine I would ever be confident or skilful enough to do it. But I had to start somewhere. I have very long-suffering drones and I started with them. The marks were a bit splodgey to start with. But I gained confidence  and managed to mark them more delicately and succeeded in clipping their wings (from experience I can say that this is a decidedly more delicate task from clipping those belonging to a chicken!).

marked and clipped queen

By late June I had two hives with unmarked queens, so I had to put the practice into action. The key thing was preparation – having everything to hand. I had extremely clean gloves, the pen lid loosened and the scissors to the side. I managed to find her easily which meant I was probably relaxed and consequently more confident.
The mark was a bit mess, as you can see in the photo above, and I am not sure that I clipped a perfect third. But I did it and she survived and, more importantly, continued to lay. I was was over the moon. I really didn’t think this was something I would be able to do. That WAS part of the plan, so I could tick that off!!

I had a lot of difficulty finding the queen in the ‘Oxford’ hive – I wasn’t particularly worried as she was laying well, but I did want to have another chance to practice my new skill. In September she obligingly made herself known. The sense of achievement was wonderful. Fortunately, this mark was much cleaner than the previous one. I think she was better clipped too.

However, there’s another problem – my bees are not very nice and one colony in particular is decidedly unpleasant. I was not enjoying my dealings with them and was in danger of avoiding inspections so I bought a new queen. But before I introduced her the colony calmed down considerably and became quite easy to handle. I made the mistake of dithering and not working to plan.

Instead of putting my lovely new queen in the hive (like a sensible person) I decided to make up a nuc. Consequently, by the end of September I had three strong colonies and two nucs. This was not in the plan either. I have, however, picked up, marked and clipped a queen. So something went right. I also took Module 1 – I am not sure it was terribly successful and I have a nasty feeling I might be taking that again next year!!

My problem now is that I have unpleasant bees in at least three of my colonies. I am getting ready to unite the nuc (with the calm queen) with the worst of the hives. While the weather has been cold I have brought the nuc alongside the hive in preparation.

new shed

Winter is a good time to get ready for the spring. Apart from cleaning and sorting all my equipment I am getting ready to install a new shed. I was given this for Christmas and I am looking forward to having somewhere to keep all my kit – it really does start to mount up very quickly and no-one tells you about this when you start!

Plans for next year? Sort out my stroppy queens and learn how to maintain three hives with lovely, calm bees… This is important for two reasons. 1. stroppy bees are anti-social and unnecessary, and 2. I can start wearing thinner gloves, rather than my marigolds.

Reviewing the year

dorset triangle

It seems no time at all since I was standing in front of my hive, in March, watching my bees bringing in their little golden baskets of pollen and hoping that this year would be more successful than the previous one. And now it is a frosty November and they are all tucked up again ready for the winter and it is time to reflect on this year’s successes and failures and to make some plans for next year.

On the whole, it has been a pretty successful year. I seem to remember I was hoping to have two strong colonies by the end of the year. Instead, my one hive has grown (with a little reinforcement) into three strong colonies as well as two good nucs. I had a healthy honey harvest – much welcome after last year’s dismal crop – and I have learned so much both from working with the bees but also studying to take the BBKA Module 1. I know anything can happen over winter, but my plan is to maintain three colonies next year – at least that is my thinking at the moment.

Unfortunately my bees are rather stroppy and this is pretty unacceptable. One exception is the nuc that I made up with the new queen I purchased from Ged Marshall late in the season. I was very indecisive about what to do with her and I should have put her into colony 3 when it started getting bad-tempered. Instead, I dithered about.

I need to do something about this situation, so the plan is to move this nuc (the green one), next to the most scary bees (far hive) in the cold winter weather. As the bees will be clustering and not venturing out, I will be able to move them without worrying about the 3 foot rule. As soon as it is warm enough, next spring, I will remove the stroppy queen and unite the two together, replacing the hive floor, brood box and half the frames at the same time. The intended outcome is a wonderfully calm colony with lovely friendly bees in a beautiful clean and hygienic new hive.

The trouble is that the other hives will still all be fairly unpleasant. I will need to give this some thought as I won’t have any other queens to play with at that time of year. I’ll just see how they all fair over winter and then make some decisions.

efb3There was an outbreak of EFB at one of the association apiaries which has been a stark reminder of how important each inspection is and to know what to look for. It was so sad to hear about all the hives that had to be destroyed. It’s when something like this happens that you realise how much you need to know.

Since I last posted I applied to take BBKA Module 1 (Honey Bee Management). As I won’t be able to take it next Spring I decided to have a go in November. I knew I was pushing it, but I did study really hard. However, I seemed to go to pieces in the exam. I came out and would have liked to start all over again as I knew most of what I was asked but couldn’t get my act together in the allotted time. I hadn’t taken an exam since I was eighteen and it was a bit of a shock!! Although I haven’t had the results yet I think I know the outcome. The annoying thing is that I won’t be able to retake until next Autumn – but the good thing is that I really learned a lot and it has given me a more confidence. I now understand some of the principles behind the various things going on in and around the hive. I am not sure I will be up to a retake as well as doing a second module at the same time. Perhaps I need to start revising now.

the apprentice

I was busy the weekend of the National Honey Show, so didn’t go this year. I did however enter several items – two cakes, biscuits, fudge, medium and light honey and a painting – into our association’s Show. It was very disappointing as many of the usual members weren’t around this year and as a result it was very poorly attended. The upside was that I actually scored most points and will receive an award from the association. But I feel like a complete fraud as it was all for cooking etc and that is not what beekeeping is all about. Hopefully next year we can encourage more members to have a go at something.

I am going to take advantage of the very much reduced time spent in the apiary and clean and prepare all my equipment for next year. I also need to check how well I have stacked all my supers as I am a little concerned that they are not protected against wax moth who can cause complete havoc. Its very cramped and not easy to manage all the kit in my current shed. So when I have a little more energy I will prepare the end of the garden for a new shed. I have already cut down the philadelphus in anticipation…

So much to do.

Lessons to self from this year: Be decisive; have the courage of my conviction; make sure I can recognise all the different signs of pests and diseases.



Marking and clipping a queen

It’s a month since I decided to make up a nuc with the new queen from Ged Marshall, and all hives are now back at the apiary. There are two unmarked queens in my five colonies – I know not everyone likes to mark them but I do. Likewise, I know that clipping is highly controversial. But my reckoning is that should the bees swarm, a) the swarm doesn’t amount to anything (less irritating for neighbours), and, b) I may lose the queen but at least I won’t lose my bees.

2017 queen

One of the unmarked queens has been somewhat elusive and on the one occasion when I did find her, she was far to nippy to stay still long enough for me to catch and mark her. But this week was SO much better. Determined to find her, I changed my gloves in anticipation (they get so sticky from all the propolis at this time of year) and I found her and managed to pick her up almost straightaway. She stayed very still while I marked her – and yes, I did rather overdo it – and then I managed to take my time while I clipped her wing. She is a really beautiful little creature and didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to leave my hand.

I so clearly remember the first time I watched G pick up a queen. I was completely amazed and couldn’t imagine ever doing it myself. But I have. And I have done it twice. It was certainly much easier with the little bit of extra confidence I had gained from doing it before. I have achieved the goal set for me for this year. Let’s hope she hasn’t been upset by it and continues to lay well in preparation for the coming winter months.

The other colony with an unmarked queen is a nuc with the queen which was raised from an Apidea which I made up myself. Thinking about it, this is another step forward, something else I have done successfully for the first time this year. It is doing really well and I am hoping that this will over-winter successfully. They produced some wonderful brace comb in the gap where the Apidea frames had been left.

pouring honey

My honey has been harvested. I hired a manual extractor and had great fun spinning all the honey and collecting it into buckets. After my very disappointing year in 2016 when I extracted 5lb of honey, this year has been much better and I have had not far off 100lbs from two productive hives. I didn’t extract it all now – I had removed half of it in spring.

a sunny day in the apiary

Now that the honey has been removed I am treating the hives for varroa using Biowar strips. These worked really well last year. Once this treatment has been removed (after six weeks) I will put a super of honey back onto the productive hive. On the disease front, I have also checked for presence of nosema. This was done at the Disease Check day organised by our association. One of the hives had light nosema in the Spring, but am pleased to say that they are all clear now. The images below are taken through the microscope. The left is checking for acarine and the other is a slide showing absolutely no nosema, but some rather lovely pollen instead.

I can’t believe the active beekeeping season is coming to an end. I am determined to keep ahead of the game in terms of equipment cleaning and maintenance. Also, I am going to be more organised about thinking ahead to what I will need for the spring.

I have decided to tackle a BBKA module (or two?) in the spring. And if I am organised enough one of the NDB practical courses.

Lesson to self: Be more confidence in my capabilities. If other people can mange to do things there is no reason why I shouldn’t learn and do them too..

Time to take action


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!!


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.


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


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.

hebe and oregano

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.

frame of bees.jpg

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.

nuc in wheelbarrow

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…