One year on (and a bit!)…

hive entrance

Last year I wrote about how I lost the queen in February, and how I then united that colony with a nuc, headed by a queen that had been raised from that very same hive. It flourished. And the queen turned out to be as gentle and lovely as the previous one and the colony expanded rapidly and provided a large harvest of delicious honey. G and I used this garden colony for queen-rearing again last summer using a Jenter Kit. We raised about ten queens and I successfully took two through the winter in six-frame wooden nucs.

Forward to this year and to my garden hive. I did my first inspection in March (the day we went into lockdown). Its nerve-racking but exciting opening your hive to see how well it has fared over winter, but I really look forward to it, filled with a mixture of excitement and dread at what I might find. But I didn’t need to worry – it was bursting with bees, the queen (2018) was laying well and I had to add a super straightaway to make more room. Later in April, having already added another super, I found charged and sealed queen cells. But fortunately the queen was still there. I don’t know if this is the case, but I have heard that a clipped queen does not leave the hive quite as soon as an unclipped queen. I have certainly found many queens still in residence despite finding sealed cells.Not really a sign of a good beekeeper!

Anyway, I caught her just in time – the queen was still there so I made up a nuc. I left one unsealed cell and carefully cut out a couple of sealed cells to make up two Apideas. I was chancing it a bit as I couldn’t cut out a lot wax around them and it was difficult to secure them properly. But she was such a lovely queen it seemed a pity to waste the opportunity. Everything seemed to be going to plan – the chosen queen cell hatched as expected and I left her alone.

laying workers apidea

In the meantime I kept an eye on the Apideas – just in case! One of them drew out a little comb and there were many eggs in some of the cells. Laying workers in an Apidea!!! I wasn’t surprised that it failed but it was a bit of a first for me…

The other one was a different story. Surprisingly successful! A laying queen. I united her with the nuc from the original colony but didn’t have a plan for it. I do know that I do not want to increase colony numbers.

But a laying queen was the sign that this should be the case in the hive too. But no!! No sign of a queen at all. I tested it with a frame of eggs and sure enough there were several emergency cells in no time. I don’t know what happened to her. I just assume she didn’t make it back from her mating flight. So, very keen to get this colony back on track before the flow I decided to remove the frame with the chosen queen cell (into another nuc) and then reunite this colony with the other queen, now in the nuc, originally from this hive, and raised in the Apidea.

I used the newspaper method, with the queenless colony at the bottom, then using newspaper and queen excluders either side of the box containing frames from the nuc with my lovely new queen. I went back a few days later and mixed the frames together, taking the opportunity to remove some of the older comb. It was a relief to get the hive to a slightly more manageable size again.

Tall colonies are very bad for backs. This year I have decided not to allow a colony to get too tall. Three supers is enough and this colony only has four because I removed some honey and put it back on for the bees to clean up. One is above the crown board hoping to encourage them to take it down.

Where does my honey come from?

Last July I took part in the UK Centre for Ecolgy and Hydrology’s (CEH) National Honey Monitoring Scheme. This involved taking a couple of samples of fresh honey from one of my hives, putting it in the containers provided and sending it back to them. The first results that came back were moisture content. It registered 15% moisture and 83% sugar. So that was all in order.

In February the pollen analysis came back and found it completely fascinating – particularly compared with other local beekeepers. My honey was dominated by Bramble (Rubus and Rubus sivaticus) which didn’t surprise me as my apiary is surrounded in scrubland covered in brambles. Altogether the sample contained 27 pollens but only 15 are pictured below and represented on the graph (below).

The image below shows the top 15 taxa which comprised 97% of the sample. top 15 taxa in honey sample

The sample also included Tamarix, Black Mulberry, Hairy Ceanothus, Sycamore, Common Poppy, Peach-leaved Bellflower, Garden Privet, Cabbage, Clematis and a another variety of Sumach. The graph below shows the breakdown.

Amanda ceh honey sample

But what I found really interesting was comparing this with three other local beekeepers and their samples. Obviously bees will forage on different plants depending on the time of year and this will determine just what is present in the samples submitted. However, we are all geographically close enough to experience the same weather conditions and we have fairly similar habitats surrounding our apiaries (scrubland, cemeteries, parks etc. 

Samples were taken:
Mike: 28th April in Morden
Alison: 29 June Raynes Park
Amanda:  14 July South Wimbledon
David: 27 July Tooting
Alison and Mike’s bees are kept just under 1km from each other and mine are only 1.4km away from both of them. David is 3km from me and 4km from the others. 

Mike sample

Mike’s sample would appear to be from over winter.
“I remember it was hard to find a decent patch of capped honey at the time. The ivy and clover matches that. But the forget-me-not and cherry would suggest that there was early spring honey in there.  It’s a real mix.”

Alison honey sample

Alison’s bees are situated in allotments – but surprisingly there is no evidence of any veg or fruit in her sample. Like Mike, hers was predominantly forget-me-not.

david honey sample

David’s bees are in his garden but he lives very close to an enormous cemetry. His top three were green alkanet, bramble and cat’s ear (false dandelion) – three plants that will thrive when left to their own devices.

I’m looking forward to doing this again this year and see just how different the samples will be.

 

Looking through the lens

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I recently spent a fabulous weekend in Devon studying ‘Microscopy for Beekeepers’. This was one of a number of different courses run by the NDB and they are held all over the country – many much closer than Blackbury Farm – even locally in Morden Hall Park. They rightly have a very good reputation but get booked up quickly. They are good value as heavily subsidised for BBKA members. It is worth being put on the waiting list if you don’t get in at first.

This course was run by father and son, Ken and Dan Basterfield, who presented it as a bit of a double act and made it informative and entertaining. They are both know so much and the facilities and equipment were all excellent. It was well worth the time, money and distance travelled. I certainly came away knowing a lot more than when I arrived. I also left considerably fatter as tea and coffee breaks were accompanied by delicious home-made cakes and biscuits and it seemed rude not to partake. The breaks were a good opportunity to meet other beekeepers  – and naturally the Asian hornet was discussed.

There were twelve of us, with varying degrees of experience as beekeepers as well as in microscopy. It’s aimed at beginners and some of the day was power point learning but most was hands-on use of microscopes. 

On the first day we spent time examining the bees external anatomy using a dissection microscope and then learnt to set them in wax so that we could dissect them, without them sliding all over the place. We also learned how to remove the bees collar to see the trachea and check for acarine. Although this has not been in evidence recently the Basterfields thought acarine may have a bit of a resurgence with the reduced use of chemicals in varroa treatment. One side effect of the chemicals being the control of acarine. Up to now I have failed miserably at this task and when we have our Association Bee Disease Days I seem to find it completely impossible. However, I have now successfully mastered it!  I’ll have to wait until the next disease day to see if I have really improved.

The second day was the turn of the compound microscope and after we had learnt how it worked we went on to check for nosema. This involved cutting upmbees and the man next to me was an engineer involved with medical robotics and he worked very neatly – so I learnt from him as well!! 

We made pollen slides from fresh flowers and examined them and we mounted parts of the bee onto slides – I chose the wings. They are absolutely beautiful in close-up and I had no idea they were hairy. The most extraordinary thing are the row of hooks called hamuli which connect the front and rear wings so they beat together when the bee is flying.

Then we packed up, said our goodbyes and then had a long wet and windy drive back to Wimbledon, but it was worth every moment and I look forward to doing another course… possibly queen rearing next year.

… turns out she’s a drone layer!

Having decided to leave well alone and let be what will be, I was quite excited to have a quick look inside my nuc as it’s really active with lots of pollen going in. It was all far too disappointing – many drones and far too much drone brood. In fact it was all drone brood. I still have no idea why the queen was out of the hive in February, but it wasn’t a good thing, and she certainly wasn’t successfully mated after the supersedure.

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Luckily for me, G had given me an over-wintered nuc which is extremely busy and was intended to be united with the problem hive (when I thought it might be queenless). Incidentally, this hive’s queens resulted from the ‘queen rearing’ I wrote about last July. Its a poly hive and although they look really unattractive they do provide a lot more insulation and I think I will have a go with one next year.

I was concerned this  nuc might need feeding so peeked into the top to find that they had gone completely wild!! It was in serious in need of space. There was little point in uniting it with the drone laying queen as the workers will be dying out soon and there is little value in so many drones just now. It just needed moving into a full sized hive. At last my Christmas present has come of age!!

It wasn’t too messy removing all the comb and I managed to set the new hive up quickly and I was surprised just how smoothly they moved into their new home. The frames are standard nationals and the new hive is a 14″ x 12″ so, once settled, I will have to move the old comb outwards. They are pretty old and dark so not a bad thing. I fed it with strong syrup to help them settle and to get going on the new comb.

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I then thought I would kill the queen in the other nuc as at least that would stop the drone factory. But I couldn’t find her, despite going through it twice. I will have a look again in a day or two and go from there…

Lesson to self: beekeeping aesthetics sometimes have to take second place!

An unexpected queen

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.