Feisty bees


Much has happened since I last posted. I did have two queenless hives that each now have a laying queen and have expanded well. Initially, it was quite difficult as they were bringing in so much nectar and not leaving any room for laying – I should probably have added supers earlier. I’ll know for next year..

This was a particular problem in one hive and I decided to make more room for her to lay. This involved extracting honey from some frames of stores in the brood box (to provide empty, drawn frames to be put back in). I also put frames of stores above the crown board. I scored it to encourage the bees to bring it down into the super. I took and extracted a full super from the strongest hive (above middle) to provide a drawn super for the bees to fill (above right). It seems to be working and after three weeks I have been able to remove the extra brood box and there appears to be enough room to lay.

The weather has been glorious, but there seems very little forage left for the bees. The blackberry blossom and lime trees finished very early. They have been busy on the lavender but also on the hebes and oregano.

hebe and oregano

Last year G asked me what my plan was for this year. To which I answered, “Have two strong hives by the end of summer 2017”. But what he meant was a goal such as “clip and mark a queen”. So I thought I had better do something about this.

I have practiced on a number of  drones. I first thought I would mark the queen in the strongest hive but she was a bit frisky so I left that one to G. However, on a lovely sunny day, I prepared myself well, put on a clean, non-propolised pair of gloves, laid out the relevant equipment, and decided to be positive. I managed to pick her up, and quietly, on my own, marked her. I also decided to clip her. I know this is contentious, but if it means I am less likely to lose bees and annoy neighbours it seems like a good plan.

I felt such a sense of achievement as I clearly remember the first time I watched this being done. I thought there was absolutely no chance I would ever be able to do master such a fiddly thing. Such a small thing but it has given me confidence.

frame of bees.jpg

This week I have had to steal myself to do something else I didn’t want to. The strongest hive doesn’t appear to have a very nice queen. She looks great but she is really bad-tempered – I took the roof off one day and one stung me straightaway. So I put it back on and  leave well alone. Then another got inside my t-shirt when I was leaving the apiary and stung me.

But it had to be done. I prepared – long thick trousers and a long-sleeved top under my suit as well two pairs of gloves – one being leather. I don’t know how anyone works in leather gloves as they are so cumbersome and it is very difficult to pick up the frames – you have no feeling.

I have decided to requeen but I can’t do this until I am back from my holiday in a fortnight. I have a choice.

1. Use the laying queen in one of my apideas or,
2. Buy in a new queen that has been bred for good nature and non-swarmy.

The choice was simple as I am not sure that the queen in the Apidea will be that nice. She is a descendant of ‘nasty’ queen. So, I have ordered a new queen from Ged Marshall. This is also a bit of a risk as the queen I had from him earlier on the year didn’t survive.

But what to do with the laying queen in the Apidea. Make up a nuc. I have done this from the unpleasant hive, with some stores from the brood box above the right-hand hive. (Not many stores in the larger hive). I still think I might have to feed the nuc. I can then see what she is like without upsetting an entire colony.

Making up the nuc was no mean feat. Anyway, I battled on with decidedly feisty bees all over the place making me feel very unwelcome. The good news is that the hive has a good strong queen who is laying well (even if her days are numbered!!). I have taken the nuc away to G’s house. He is going to combine the Apidea with these as it is in his garden.

nuc in wheelbarrow

The other exciting thing has been honey. I extracted some beautiful light honey in the spring and sold 24 jars through our association which has paid for the fourth hive that I had to buy to support the other three. It is a very expensive little hobby! So far this year I have extracted about 50lb, and seeing as I only had 5lb last year, things are looking up!

Sealed honey in a manley super frame

Lesson to self: many tasks and procedures look very daunting, but by taking things slowly, thinking them through and listening to advice, they are not impossible. Well, most of them…



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.


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!


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 …


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Nature is cruel too…

My newly emerged queen – who we shall call Boudicca – has successfully filled up the Apidea with little eggs, so it is time to move her on.


looking for eggs and the queen








The bees haven’t really thrived with Liz in charge, so I decided to split the colony and put Liz into a nuc and then introduce the new queen to the hive. I made up the nuc with two frames of brood, a frame of stores and another frame of bees shaken in. I added three frames of foundation, closed the entrance and then tied it securely ready for a journey to its new location in Surrey.

Back to the Boudicca. I introduced her to the, now, queenless colony by laying a sheet of newspaper over the brood box and placing the Apidea, opened at the bottom, on top. Then the queen excluder, super, crown board and roof.

Then I took Liz and her nuc to a temporary home in Surrey. They seemed pretty happy and by the end of the afternoon there was lots of pollen being brought in. I had a quick look in the apiary in the early evening and was a bit disappointed to see dead bees in the grass outside the entrance. I’ll leave it a few days so that when I check I will know that any eggs will be Boudicca’s not Liz’s.

Three days later and the sun is shining. It has been so hot this week and really not the sort of temperature one wants to get all togged up in a beesuit and wellies, but I did. I find it so difficult as my glasses steam up and I get all hot and bothered which makes it really tricky for egg-hunting.

But egg-hunting I went. There weren’t any. Nor was there a queen – she isn’t marked but I had a good look. There were also the beginnings of five queen cells. I think it is fair to say that murder has taken place. But at least they are taking steps to do something about it.

While I was there I gave them a good spray with Nosevit and a light sugar solution. There was quite a bit of dysentry on the hive again last week, so I scrubbed it clean to see how much reappeared. I don’t think it is as bad as it was, but G helped me check it under a microscope and we couldn’t see any evidence of Nosema. We even checked the poo. So not sure what it is.

Tip for the week: If you have difficulty collecting 30 bees in a matchbox – use a bigger matchbox. Its so much easier!

PS. The sparrow hawk was back and took one of the adult robins and I have nasty feeling it was one of the adult pair feeding its brood in a nearby shed (not mine this time).

Apidea in the shed

It would seem that no two beekeepers do anything in exactly the same way – but its all much the same principle. And there’s nothing like seeing the reality rather than reading the theory. One of the very best ways to learn is if you are lucky enough to spend some time watching and helping an experienced beekeeper.

I was lucky enough this week to be asked to help out preparing some more Apideas. Already I felt a bit more useful as I now know what the process is and so could anticipate how I could help. We made up five Apideas – one of which was mine. I hadn’t included quite enough fondant, but I think there is enough for now. I hope I can carefully add some thick syrup later on. I am spraying a little water on the ventilation grid every day and after about three days, when they are all settled, I will put them outside and open up the entrance. I will then restrain myself and not have a look for at least two weeks… Here it is nestled in the shed. I love the sound of them all buzzing away together.
apideaI also had my first experience watching a queen introduction. This particular queen is not laying well and the hive could be doing a lot better, so a new one makes a lot of sense. The new queens arrived in the post in a DL envelope – it even says ‘live bees’ on the outside. Its fantastic. We are so wrapped up in red tape in this country but there are some surprising little things that are allowed and just make you smile.Having found and killed the incumbent queen, the queen cage, containing the new queen and her five mates, was slotted at 90º between two frames at the centre of the brood. By the time the bees have eaten through the fondant plug the others should have got used to her and hopefully accept her happily into the colony. Fingers crossed!Tip for the day: there’s nothing quite like practical experience to broaden your knowledge base.

Queen rearing – again

G asked me if I would give him some help at one of his other apiaries – a really peaceful and beautiful woodland spot. Fortunately, and unusually for this summer, it wasn’t raining. There were a couple of queen-less hives with several sealed queen cells that needed to be removed (obviously leaving one in situ).

The first hive was fairly straightforward, with two good strong cells. G removed one.

But the second hive didn’t go quite to plan as there were eggs – and lots of them. For some reason she has stayed, despite the fact that there were at least three good sealed cells. So we found her and put her in a cage and cut out two of the cells. We left her in her cage on top of the crown board, under the roof as G was going to go back the following day and make up a nuc. They will look after her.

The cells had to be carefully cut out with plenty of extra wax so that each could be positioned easily and securely in the Apidea. Then bees had to be collected (three cupfuls – one for each) in a bowl which had been lightly sprayed with water, and after the bees were put in there, lightly sprayed again to stop them flying off. I was a bit concerned that I had made them a bit too wet – but they seemed to be OK.


Each Apidea was prepared with three small strips of wax, and some fondant. The air vent had to be open and the small doorway closed. It was then opened from the bottom and a cup of bees ‘woodshed’ in and then closed up. Then the queen cell was carefully placed in the top of the box and then it was closed. These will be put in the dark for a few days to establish and for the queen to emerge. It will be necessary to give them a daily light spray of water through the ventilation holes. The door apertures will then be opened so that she can go on her mating flight… Lets hope it all goes to plan.


Back to my bees – the swarm I collected did turn out to be queen less. But, as I said, its all good experience. Liz and her ladies seem to be expanding steadily but not as quickly as Guinevere did at this time last year. I can’t imagine that the weather is helping – but even despite that they are a bit slow. I haven’t done the actual nosema test yet, but I have given them a few drops of tea tree oil in some sugar syrup. I will also spray them with Nosevit this week.

I find all the advice regarding nosema hugely frustrating. As there are no treatments, the cure for nosema is preventative – good apiary hygiene and maintaining good strong colonies. But if you are doing that, as well as you can, and you have nosema – what is the answer?






Collecting a swarm – almost

Queen rearing was a bit of a disaster as the bees did not do as they were supposed. Instead, they just filled in the gaps in the foundation with drone brood. But the idea was exciting… We’ll need to attempt plan B – not sure what that is yet.

22 days on since my last post and all the brood on the shallow frames (in the bottom brood box) has emerged, bar a few drone. I have removed the empty frames and the box and shaken all the bees in together. There are still four frames which haven’t been drawn out at all – but hopefully they will get a bit of a move on  now. I will give them another feed tomorrow.

I am little concerned that Nosema could be lurking in this hive too – there are signs of dysentry on the front of the hive, but the frames inside were looking clear. I’ll take a sample of bees next weekend and test them. I find it very tricky collecting 30 bees – but practice makes it easier and I will need to be able to do this for my Basic Beekeeping Assessment (which I have just applied to take). I’ll probably fail on that bit…

But much excitement and sadness in the meantime. I decided the end was nigh and I have emptied the bees out of Guinevere’s nuc – well away from the other hives – and have cleaned it up ready for use again.

A few days ago I was told that there was a swarm that I could have if I collected it. It was in fact the second swarm to arrive on a fence in one week, so it was likely to be a caste or secondary swarm- probably with a virgin queen. It had actually been put into a cardboard box by someone else, and I just had to wrap it and put it in the boot of the car once all the bees had settled down inside. Trouble was that when I got there, there were still quite a few bees lurking on the fence.

photo 5

I had a bit of difficulty getting them from fence to box – and I was quite glad there was no-one watching as text book it was not!!! But no matter, in the end they were nearly all inside, so I secured it and headed off home. As it was beginning to rain I decided not to ‘walk the bees in’ but just knock them into the prepared nuc. They went in cleanly in one solid ‘lump’. I closed them up and left them for a couple of day to settle. Its wonderful having bees on all the wild flowers my neighbour has in her garden.


But when I went to check them, 48 hours later, they had not drawn out ANY comb at all and were all huddled together between a frame and the wall of the nuc. I’m not even sure that there is a queen in there at all. I only had a quick look. I have consulted G who thinks it might not have been a secondary swarm – possibly just residue from the first one. So I spent an evening collecting a small box of bees.

Lesson from this week: Its all good experience!!