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..

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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.

 

… 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