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.

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.

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looking for eggs and the queen

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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).

A quick look…

Much excitement! I restrained myself and left the Apidea for two weeks but thought this was long enough without topping up the fondant. I was a bit worried about adding more fondant and accidentally killing some bees, but it was much more straightforward than I expected. I thought I might as well have a quick look at the drawn out comb. I noticed that there was some pollen (good sign) – and then I saw some eggs – not very many, but definitely eggs on one side of one frame. And then, there she was. My new queen. She must have only just started laying.

I can’t begin to describe how thrilling this was. Nature is completely wonderful when it works as it should. Mind you, earlier in the same day, I watched the sparrow hawk swoop down and take one of our baby robins. Only three out of four survived the nest in the shed – and  now there are only two left. Not quite so palatable!

The picture below was taken a couple of years ago but is rather lovely.

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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.

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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.

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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?