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.

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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!

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Warmer weather

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The weather is making it feel like spring – the bulbs are out and it is so much warmer. I can’t wait to get in and have a look at how my bees have fared. I probably could have done a quick inspection on Saturday but didn’t really have time, and I did want to enjoy my first look. Last year was such a disappointment – I really hope this year will be better.

There’s a lot of pollen under the hive and I’m concerned that it is being knocked off the bees as they pass the mouse guard – so that has been removed and as the front of the hive seems to be covered with bees, I have also opened up the entrance.

Lesson to self: This year, have a clear plan before each inspection.

Spring’s on the way…

It has been such a beautiful sunny weekend and I thought I might find a few bees out and about and I wasn’t disappointed. All twelve hives were busy with so many flying bees, bringing in lots of pollen – a beautiful bright orange yellow. I’m not sure where it comes from but, having looked on some pollen charts, it could be grey alder. But, wherever its source, its a good sign that my queen is laying and there are mouths to feed.

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My little hive was extremely busy with lots of comings and goings. It was SO exciting. I do hope they manage to get through the rest of the winter, I would hate to lose a colony again. Last year I was quite philosophical about it – but I don’t think I could be two years running, particularly as I only have the one. But thinking positively, I am planning to have two flourishing hives this year and have already ordered an over-wintered nuc – which, hopefully, will be with me late April.

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There was quite a bit of pollen under the hive with a couple of dead bees – not sure what that is all about. I had a quick peek under the roof to discover that they had eaten most of the fondant so I replaced it with some more in case the weather turns again. The smell of the smoker was wonderful and I just can’t wait for spring…

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All settled down for winter

It is the most beautiful, warm sunny day and I thought this was a good opportunity to check the varroa drop and decide whether or not to remove the Biowar strips.

I counted about six mites, fallen over the last couple of week so decided  to remove them as they already have been in place for six weeks. I tried to work as quickly and carefully as possible as I didn’t like to disturb them now that they are all clustering ready for winter. They were very docile and probably a bit irritated with me for interfering. There were quite a few bees out and about taking advantage of this late sunny weather.

I also removed the remaining syrup as they are not taking this down. The hive feels good and heavy so I have decided not to add any fondant yet. I have also put wire around the hive to protect it from woodpeckers – I am pleased to see there are lot around this year despite the number of parakeets muscling in on their territory. We had young green woodpeckers feeding on our lawn this summer, which I haven’t seen before.

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I went to the National Honey Show for the first time this year – it quite amazing to see all the different things that people do with honey and hive products. I bought myself a jacket which I feel will be much more useful at this time of year than the full suit.

I have enjoyed this year with my bees so much – but I had hoped I would be going into winter with two hives. I am disappointed that this isn’t the case so have ordered a over-wintered nuc for next spring. Once again, my plan is to have two hives this time next year. We shall see…

Lesson to self: things don’t always go to plan but you generally learn a lot more.

 

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).