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.