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.

 

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.

uniting

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