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.

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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.

 

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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…

 

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