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 …

hands

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…

separate-hives

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.

united

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.

honeyandtoast

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.

slider-1

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.

 

 

My new queen…

The last four weeks have been quite a learning curve on many fronts.

BEES ON FRAMES

The most exciting advance is that I have successfully introduced a new queen to the queenless colony. She arrived in the post with five workers in a JZ BZ cage, which I hadn’t seen before. But, no matter…

I read quite a lot about queen introduction which seemed to involve letting the workers out in a dark room with light coming in from a small window and then catching and putting the queen back in the cage if she had been released out as well. This wounded remarkable tricky and I could not for the life of me see how I would get her back in the cage – and alive! My only experience of queen introduction to date was watching G introduce a new queen, but with attendants – so I thought that was probably the best way to go about it.

So that’s what I did. This was a big moment for me. I wedged the cage in between two good frames of brood, leaving the seal over the candy, closed up the hive and left her for a couple of days. Then I removed the seal, put the cage back in the same place and crossed my fingers. The following day I had a very quick look to check that she had managed to get out of the cage – which she had – so I left well alone and didn’t look for another week.

SUCCESS!!! Eggs, larvae and a happy queen. And a happy beekeeper. It was the most exciting thing, I just kept smiling. After another week I had a better look and she is laying well.

I have also been keeping a good eye on the nuc with Liz. She seems much happier in her nuc and seems to be doing quite well. So I now have to decide whether or not to reunite the two colonies. I think I better get a second opinion.

The other bit of learning that has kept me busy was for the ‘Basic Assessment’. It was early evening and all very relaxed, but it was getting quite dark and the apiary I went to was rather shady. It seemed to go OK but it wasn’t at all easy to see any eggs in that light. In fact I had to ask the assessor to see if he could see them as I knew there were probably some on the frame, but it was beyond me! I’m sure its not meant to be like that… but there you go. At least I’ve done it.

Lesson this month: Stay positive.

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.

IMG_1663

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.

robins

 

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.

queen-rearing-1

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.

queen-rearing-2

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.

swarm

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!!

 

Looking better

may-bees

Liz seems to be doing well and the colony is expanding. I have been moving the new frames, once drawn and containing eggs towards the centre of the brood. Today I introduced a second brood box and I have put the old frames in it and placed it at the bottom. Then added a queen excluder and put the new frames with the queen into the top brood box. Fed them and closed it up.

I will leave this for 24 days for all the brood to emerge.

It is quite interesting as they have only drawn the new frames out to the depth of the smaller frames – whereas when I transferred from one size frame to another last year they built masses of brace comb under the frames, filling all the space.

The nuc is not good news – I have no idea if the emerged queen is in the colony or not. She certainly isn’t laying yet.

But the other really exciting thing is that we are going to have a go at queen rearing. G has put one frame of new ‘V’ shaped foundation into the centre of one of his colonies and the theory is that by next week they will have started to draw this out. Hopefully the queen will fill it with eggs and we will go from there. He has kindly given us each an Apidea mating hive, and I have already made up the frames – somewhat prematurely!

I do look forward to my visits to my lovely bees. I am so lucky to belong to such a beautiful place, to be able to just sit and watch. It is difficult to believe that this little haven of peace and quiet is to be found in the London suburbs.

Out of the apiary I have made some delicious honey and ginger ice cream – it is so easy and I have put my recipe on this site.