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.

wax cappings

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.

May doom and gloom…

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

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

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

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

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

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

April fun and games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early days with my bees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring’s on the way…

It has been such a beautiful sunny weekend and I thought I might find a few bees out and about and I wasn’t disappointed. All twelve hives were busy with so many flying bees, bringing in lots of pollen – a beautiful bright orange yellow. I’m not sure where it comes from but, having looked on some pollen charts, it could be grey alder. But, wherever its source, its a good sign that my queen is laying and there are mouths to feed.

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My little hive was extremely busy with lots of comings and goings. It was SO exciting. I do hope they manage to get through the rest of the winter, I would hate to lose a colony again. Last year I was quite philosophical about it – but I don’t think I could be two years running, particularly as I only have the one. But thinking positively, I am planning to have two flourishing hives this year and have already ordered an over-wintered nuc – which, hopefully, will be with me late April.

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There was quite a bit of pollen under the hive with a couple of dead bees – not sure what that is all about. I had a quick peek under the roof to discover that they had eaten most of the fondant so I replaced it with some more in case the weather turns again. The smell of the smoker was wonderful and I just can’t wait for spring…

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Success!

No dead bees lurking outside the entrance and tiny shredded bits of newspaper on the slider. This made me fairly confident about the outcome of my decision to combine the two hives.

I found my queen (Victoria) and she had been laying… I had left the other queen (Liz) with attendants in a queen cage on top of another hive – just in case they rejected her. I now, hopefully, have one strong hive – and I feel so much better about it.  All frames with brood were placed centrally with stores on the outside. I also gave them a syrup feed for good measure. So hopefully, fingers and everything else crossed, they might survive this year.

We had treated the bees for varroa with a thymol based treatment which had resulted in a very low drop onto the slider. So we have re-treated with Biowar strips. Two strips were placed, hanging between the frames, around the brood area.

The slider is the removable floor that sits below the open mesh floor of the hive. You can count how many varroa fall from the bees in a given period, and from that calculate whether or not the bees are in need of treatment. Under normal circumstances I remove the floor so that the hive is well ventilated and varroa can fall out of the  hive.

We also took advantage of the good weather and cleared up the apiary – streaming and cutting back the growth from around the edges. It must have looked quite funny, all dressed up in our suits with the secateurs. Bees do not like strimmers. I took one glove off for about three minutes, and look what happened …

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Another irritation at the moment is that I don’t feel I can visit the apiary on my own anymore. Someone has decided that the shed would make a good place to spend the cold nights. He has broken through the fence on a number of nights and smashed the shed door. I can’t imagine anything more awful that having to sleep rough – but why does he have to be so messy and destructive. If he went in carefully and tidied up after himself we wouldn’t even know he’d been there. But bags of poo and discarded food containers and all that sort of thing are a dead giveaway. Its so annoying.

 

Rethinking uniting…

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Having finally made the decision not to unite my two colonies I felt much better. But then I kept getting a nagging feeling that although both colonies are looking reasonably good, maybe I should unite – to be on the safe(r) side. Everything I read advises erring on the side of caution… and G said that he’d been thinking about it as well and perhaps it would be a good idea. If I had lots of colonies I think I would leave them be – but as I only have these, I don’t want to take the risk and have therefore made the decision – to unite them.

Arriving at the apiary we realised someone had broken in – they had stacked all the chicken wire up in front of the gate – presumably as an early warning. But there was no-one there. They had left the hives alone but broken into the shed. That’s the second break in this summer. It is so depressing as this is such a beautiful and peaceful place with nothing worth stealing. Why can’t people leave what isn’t there’s alone?

Back to my bees. I’ve decided to keep Vic as I think she seems to be the better queen. I’ve never really bonded with Liz (in the nuc). G kindly came to help me. Before removing one queen I had to check the other was actually alive and laying – she was a bit elusive, but I found her in the end. I moved this hive in between the two stands in readiness. Then we found the queen in the nuc and put her into a queen cage. Its very tricky getting the queen and five workers into a small cage – we managed to get three workers to look after and feed her (there is a lump of candy in the cage).

catching-queenHaving done this, we opened the other hive, removed the crown board, and placed a sheet of newspaper over the frames and made two very small slits in it. Then we added a queen excluder and an empty brood. We then moved the frames over from the nuc, added the crown board and closed it up.

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I will now wait a couple of days to see if it has been successful. If so, I will then combine the frames into the bottom box, feed them, treat for varroa*, and hope that they survive the winter.

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Regarding varroa* treatment. We have already treated all the hives with Thymol, but there has been a very small drop. And I’m not sure if this is good news. But G then tried a different treatment and got a much more significant count. So that’s what I am going to use when I combine the frames.

Lesson to self sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind

September, here already

I thought I wouldn’t have any honey at all this year but I was wrong, and have  managed to extract 7lbs. Nothing like last year but I am very pleased to have just a little bit. Our local association hires out extractors and I borrowed a manual one. It didn’t take very long and it was a surprisingly unsticky (and delicious) evening.

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I have also passed my Basic Assessment – which made me very happy. I haven’t taken an exam for so long but I quite enjoyed it. It has been really interesting and useful, but it did make me realise just how much there is to know in the great bee scheme, and just how little I know in comparison. I now need to think about whether or not to start on the BBKA modules.

On a more practical note I needed to decide whether or not to unite my two hives in readiness for the winter. They both seem to be quite happy, and I didn’t know what was best to do. My instinct was to unite them, but my heart didn’t want to. So I thought it best to consult G … who looked through the two colonies with me and thinks that they should be strong enough to over-winter. So thats what I’m going to do. I won’t know if it was a good or bad decision until next year… One thing I do know, is that this year has been a bit up and down with lots of disappointments and things not going to plan. But I have learnt a lot and I have had to think things through. And I have realised that I absolutely love looking after my bees.

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Its that varroa treatment time. Once the honey supers were removed we treated all the colonies in the apiary with Thymovar. The first treatment went on two weeks ago and this will need to be re-applied after three weeks. I did a varroa count over eight days. This was better than last year and the hive had a daily drop of 4 and the nuc had 3. I thought the slider (above) floor looked rather pretty particularly with the different coloured pollen.

This year I have been very concerned about a fair bit of dysentry on the outside of the hive and I wasn’t sure what was causing it. I checked for nosema and that didn’t seem to be present. I may have over-heated the syrup on one occasion which might be the cause. Who knows? I have been trying to be extremely hygienic and making sure all equipment and gloves are thoroughly cleaned before each visit and between hives. Touch wood, it seems to have stopped now.

Also on the disease front I went to the ‘Disease Check’ day held by the association. We checked for nosema and acarine, and both my colonies were clear. That was very good news as nosema was pretty rife in Guinevere’s colony earlier in the year – and that ended in disaster! Its very fiddly trying to remove the bee ‘collar’ to do the acarine test and it took me ages, I seemed to be there all morning, but managed it in the end.