Has Spring finally arrived?

On the 1st of April, it felt like the weather was playing an April Fool on us as we put another block of fondant on every hive! With heavy rain and very low temperatures, April has been tough going for the bees.

However, it was lovely to feel a bit of warmth this weekend and I felt optimistic for the bees when I saw a honey bee on the newly bloomed flowers of the hawthorn tree in the garden.

As a rule of thumb, on the first day above 15 degrees, you’re supposed to do your first full hive inspection of the season. I mulled this over, feeling quite excited to get in and see how they were doing but then I thought, they’ve waited all this time for a lovely sunny day, to fly, to forage, to feel the sun and then a giant comes along, rips open their home and upsets them. No – we’re not doing that! Instead, we visited the Gosford Apiary and just observed. We saw every hive was active, had flying bees and they were bringing in pollen. This was a good sign as pollen is protein fed to larvae so that should mean someone is laying. Whether it’s a Queen or a Drone layer we won’t know until we’ve done an inspection but it’s an encouraging sight. I removed the mouse guards and adjusted the opening to be slightly larger to give them room to get in and out freely.

We carried on to the Archerfield Apiary and by the time we got there the hives were in the shade. There was no activity from the hive but we took off the roof for a quick peek and could see though the clear crown board that the hives were busy inside. Hopefully we just missed them flying. Again, we removed the mouse guards and adjusted the openings to allow them to get in and out freely.

The weather forecast for the coming weeks looks reasonable with sunny periods and temperatures ranging from 12 to 17 degrees. I’m hoping that the temperature will now remain in double figures so that there will be no mouse threat now the guards have been removed and that the bees will be able to collect their own food rather than us feeding them. If the forecast is to be believed, we’ll plan to do a full inspection on Thursday which will have given the bees a few days to enjoy the sun but not long enough to start misbehaving!

Has Spring finally sprung?

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Flooding update

I’m relieved to say that the flooding has gone and a few brave bees were seen flying in the belief sunshine from hives 1, 2, 3 and 4. Although there is still quite a bit of snow to melt, I’m hoping we’re over the worst and can now start to look forward to Spring.

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Flood threat at the apiary!

As the snow melts, the water level is rising at the Gosford apiary.

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Once again, the Polyhive was a concern. It’s not on a high stand, like the other hives, but close to the ground and therefore had the potential for rising water to get in the entrance. On inspection this morning, we decided to move it to a stand left empty from the Archerfield move. However, this stand is much higher than the normal stands and the more I thought about it, the more it worried me that if the wind picked up, being light, the Polyhive would be at risk of blowing over. So, I went back this afternoon and moved it to a makeshift location but hopefully it will be sufficiently raised up of the ground, sufficiently moved away from the flood waters and sufficiently sheltered from the wind!

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Worryingly, I felt the water level had risen even from this morning. Hive 2, on it’s slab base, is now sitting in about 6cm of water with deeper water surrounding it. This is not good. It’s still a long way from the bottom of the hive but it must be damp and bees don’t like the damp. This hive is too heavy for me to move alone so I’m hoping to go back to the apiary tomorrow, with Stuart, and move it to the high stand I’d tried the Polyhive on. Being a wooden hive, it’s heavier so should withstand any wind.

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The other hives are, at the moment, on the periphery of the flooding. With more snow to melt, I’ll check in daily and take action if required.

However, good news at Archerfield. I checked today and the hives were snow free, flood free and the entrance blocks were in position. I didn’t open them to check on the fondant levels as it’s too cold and damp but I’ll do that job, both at Gosford and Archerfield, possibly Friday when the temperature is supposed to increase and the sun might make an appearance!

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Bees battle ‘Beast from the East’!

Stuart and I have been regularly checking the hives throughout winter and adding fondant when required.  As of last week, all eleven hives were warm and had activity.

With the Beast from the East doing it’s worst, Joe and I decided to walk through the Gosford Estate to see how the bees were coping.

The walk was beautiful and we emerged at the bees to find the road had been cleared but that the entrance to the apiary was pilled high with the removed snow.  Time to climb!

Having climbed the snow mountain we then found ourselves in a rather deep snow drift with great hilarity. As I sunk deeper, Joe shouted “spread your body weight, crawl like a polar bear!”

Finally arriving at the hives we saw that all the entrances were partially obstructed with snow, which we removed. We then discovered that in three of the hives the wind had pushed the entrance blocks back about 2cm and the gap behind the mouse guard was full of snow. We removed the mouse guard, scooped out the snow, repositioned the entrance block and fixed the mouse guard back on. Afterwards I wondered if, by being blocked with snow, this was in fact making a natural draft excluder and we’d just allowed the Beast from the East to blast the entrances again. However, it’s not good to have something wet and damp in the hives and the entrance blocks are supposed to be the draft excluders so I’m hoping we’ve done the right thing!

There was unfortunately one hive I was very concerned about. The Poly hive doesn’t have an entrance block and I don’t know why I didn’t think to stuff it with grass, but I didn’t! When we checked it, not only was the beginning of the entrance full of snow but the whole bottom of the hive was full of snow, touching the bottom of the frames inside. I scooped out the snow and thought the hive must be a goner but, when I shone my touch in, I could see bees moving at the bottom of the frames. I’m not sure how they survived this or, indeed, whether they will survive. However, I’ve now stuffed the entrance with grass, leaving a little entrance gap and Joe built a snow wall in front of the hive to protect it from the worst of the wind. Fingers crossed we’ve caught it in time and done enough!

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The hives at Archerfield are in a walled orchard and should be more protected from the worst of the wind. I’m not anticipating the entrance blocks to have been pushed back by the wind so there should be no damp snow encroaching into the hives. There may be some snow blocking the entrance but we’ll hopefully venture out at the weekend, when the roads are in a safer state, and can clear any snow then.

Oxalic Acid Vaporisation Treatment

It’s that time of year again when I like to zap those pesky Varroa mites with an Oxalic acid vapour! Although deadly for Varroa mites and humans, it’s a harmless treatment for the bees.

Hopefully, with limited brood this time of year, there should be very little Varroa mites protected in capped cells.  Therefore, the oxalic acid vapours should kill those Varroa mites attached to the bees, they’ll drop off through the open mesh floor and come spring, there should be a significant reduction in their numbers which in turn will reduce their reproduction. That’s the theory anyway!

Having borrowed the equipment from the East Lothian Beekeepers Association, I felt I should use the equipment as quickly as possible so I could pass it on to another beekeeper. However, family commitments and a flat battery in the equipment meant I couldn’t do the treatment over the weekend. With the battery now charged, thanks to the loan of a charger from my friend Euan, I was ready to go. Only one problem, as it’s potentially a dangerous procedure, I needed a buddy to do the treatment with. As it’s a lengthy process, Stuart didn’t have the time during office hours so it was Mum to the rescue! She accompanied and helped me at both the Gosford and Archerfield Apiaries and we got all the hives treated today.

Hopefully another step forward to a healthy and happy Spring for the bees!

Honey show!

Tonight was the first East Lothian Beekeepers Association Honey Show for many many years.  The Association decided to resurrect the show tradition and all members were encouraged to enter.  There were various categories of honey: light, medium, dark, creamed, heather and cut comb.  There was also a honey frame category and a wax category.  It was fantastic to see so many entries and amazing to see the different colours and consistences.

I entered the medium and the creamed categories and, although I didn’t win a prize (this year!), I was very happy with my entry and pleased to have participated.    Well done to everyone who competed, congratulations to those that won and many thanks to the East Lothian Beekeepers Association for a fun and interesting night.

In other news, I checked on the bees last week at both the Gosford and Archerfield Apiaries to see how much fondant had been taken.  To my surprise 3 hives had finished their fondant so I put on more last week with 3 hives almost finished so I went back today and put on more.  I gently smoked them out the empty bag, back down into the hive and I’m please to say, only a few stubborn bees were lost.  Of the other 5 hives, 3 hives have taken some fondant but 2 appear to have taken none. Those 2 don’t have much activity in the hive and only a few bees were spotted.  They may just be working through their own stores or they could be weak and may not make it – we’ll know more by the Spring.

 

 

The Orchard, Archerfield Walled Garden!

It’s been quiet at the apiary with the occasional addition of an extra bag of fondant. All the hives have bedded down for winter and, other than a varroa treatment, there shouldn’t be much happening until Spring.

However, today was an exciting day! As some of you will know, I’ve been looking forward to moving some hives to their new site. I’m delighted to announce that Princess Leia in Hive 11, Daisy in Hive 12 and Rose in Hive 13 are now residing in The Orchard at Archerfield Walled Garden.

Moving hives has a degree of risk but, having cancelled last weeks scheduled move because I was worried that the journey would jiggle them out of their cluster and, at 0 degrees, that could potentially kill them, today was a balmy 11 degrees and perfect. We sealed the hives at about 3pm yesterday so that no bees would come out today prior to the move, and moved them without incident. It’s amazing what you can fit into a Leaf!

I was hoping to leave them sealed to allow them to settle but the bees in Hive 12 had managed to find a tiny hole and, as we took them out the car, a few were filing out to investigate so I removed their foam seal and let them fly. The other two hive entrances will be opened tomorrow. Hopefully the move hasn’t traumatised them too much, they’ll settle into their cluster overnight and, if they fly tomorrow, they’ll re-orientate themselves without difficulty.

I’m thrilled that Archerfield Walled Garden has been so welcoming and a huge thank you to Elly Douglas Hamilton for agreeing to have resident bees, Ross for making it all happen and Erica, Kerry and the gardening team for all their hard work clearing the site beautifully and making sure the bees have enough light. I am very grateful. As always, a big thank you to Stuart for all his help and support.

Fingers crossed for a quiet winter, an expanding spring and a productive summer but, bees will be bees, so anything is possible!

 

 

Bee-n quiet!

I knew I’d bee-n quiet on the blog front but I didn’t realise my last post was May! Sorry for the blog silence and here’s a quick update:

At the end of June, the bees had artificially and naturally swarmed to 13 hives. Some had laying queens and some didn’t. Some had queen cells and some we added queen cells. Once again, we went on holiday not knowing how many viable hives we would return to.

Well, nature is a wonderful thing, and our return from holiday saw 12 viable hives and 1 drone layer. That was fantastic news and they looked like they were building up nicely.  However Hope in Hive 5, always a trouble maker, looked good with a queen spotted mid-July but by the first week in August the hive was completely empty. The queen possibly never got mated so didn’t start laying but, I suspect, it was more likely they didn’t have enough stores because the weather had been so poor with lots of rain. On inspecting the other smaller hives, they looked like they didn’t have much stores in the brood boxes either and the supers were empty. I started to feed them syrup water which proved to be a good decision as they became stronger and busier during August.

Apart from feeding the smaller hives, I decided to mostly leave the bees alone in August. The swarming season was over, drones were being thrown out, there wasn’t a wasp threat, the weather wasn’t great making inspections difficult so I just let them get on with things. Those that had supers were feeling heavy and I was hopeful for a good final honey crop. We removed all the supers at the start of September and, although I got a reasonable honey crop, they had definitely eaten some of their own stores during the poor weather. I was so glad I’d left the supers on for them to eat and I can’t complain having jarred 87kg of honey this year!

Having removed the supers, it was now time to feed the bees to ensure they have enough stores in their brood boxes for winter. With 11 hives and only 6 feeding troughs it was tricky trying to get round them all. Most hives had at least one round of syrup water but it was becoming difficult so I swapped to bee fondant and they’ve been wolfing it down.

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Today the bees were flying in the warm Autumn sun so we did a quick pre-winter check to see how strong they looked. I’m delighted to say all the hives had between 7 and 9 full frames of bees except Rebecca in Hive 2 who had 6 frames of bees. This looks hopeful  for going into winter, although nothing is ever guaranteed! I’ve also got my new site which some of you will know about – official announcement to follow. We visited there today to finalise the arrangements and we’ll be looking to move 3 or 4 hives there in November – exciting times!!

Next steps will be to add mouse guards, puts on some insulation and administer varroa treatment. We’ve also finally got round to naming the newer hives:

Hive 7 – Joe

Hive 8 – Karen

Hive 9 – Poly (it’s in the only polystyrene hive I have)

Hive 11 – Princess Leia

Hive 12 – Daisy

Hive 13 – Rose

The numbers may change when some are moved to the new site but the names will remain the same!

Finally, there are still some jars of the last batch of honey available. It’s deliciously runny and golden from local flora.  Don’t forget to message me if you want a jar.

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Swarms, stings and steroids!

Quite a lot has happened since my last post – not all good!

After my last inspection, I returned the following day to take off some supers. Unfortunately, just as I had finished loading everything into the car I got stung on the forehead and I took an instant allergic reaction. I got home, took some Piriton but I was uncomfortable, coughing, wheezing, had a tight indigestion like feeling, hives all over my body, blocked nose and ear canals and the soles of my feet felt like they were on fire. We decided it was best to head straight to A&E in case my airway closed. A&E were fantastic. I was given steroids, an ECG and monitored closely for several hours. My airway did not close and I was released to spend the next 4 days with various weird swelling on my face. I have to admit, I got a bit of a fright!

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So, feeling slightly nervous, I returned last Thursday for a full inspection. Stuart decided I wasn’t to go on my own anymore so, as Mum was staying for a few days, she put on a bee suit, brought a chair and her mobile and was the emergency back-up!

On arriving we could see a huge amount of bees in the air – one of the hives was swarming in front of our eyes. What a sight! Thousands of bees circling the air and then coming together on a branch. The first branch broke under their weight and they had to re-cluster on another. Unfortunately, it was high up the tree so I wasn’t sure how I was going to get them down.

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Meanwhile, I inspected the other hives. They were all in varying stages of swarming or not swarming! I think the warm weather and the abundance of Oil Seed Rape has made it very challenging to try to prevent swarming. I’m just trying to monitor and do my best. Some looked Queenless with no eggs but the Queen may still be waiting to mate. It’s a waiting game and if they are Queenless then I can merge them with another hive later on and nothing is lost.

But, what to do about the large swarm up the tree? Stuart and I returned later in the evening to see what we could do and it had gone! However, there was quite a bit of activity in a bramble bush further down the road so we went to have a look and they were trying to cluster on an old log on the ground in the bramble bush. This was challenging as we couldn’t shake them into a box. We cut away the branches around the log and dumped those on branches into a nuc box. We then smoked the rest up into the air and placed the nuc, with a frame of honey, next to the log. As they came back down, they went into the nuc rather than on the log. We just stood back and watch as most of the bees went in. The advantage of using the nuc is that it’s a mini hive which can can hold frames and has an entrance so we just moved it back to the apiary and didn’t have to disturb them again – Hive 10!

No stings that day – so all good!

The following day, Friday, we returned to take some supers off and found another swarm in a tree. We got it into the catching box and left it there to allow them to settle. Unfortunately, when we returned later they’d absconded and were nowhere to be seen. That was disappointing!

On Saturday, I decided to do a quick perimeter check for swarms as the apiary is close to the EMF route and I didn’t want a potential problem on Marathon day. My sister and family were visiting so Claire accompanied me to see the apiary to be my backup. We didn’t find any swarms and the bees seemed calm. I was just getting into the car, having taken my vail off as there were no bees at the car, when a bee came from nowhere, flew past Claire at high speed and stung me on the forehead about 2mm from the last puncture mark – unbelievable (that wasn’t the word I used at the time)! I quickly took a double doze of Piriton and got home. I recognised straight away that this was completely different from the bad A&E reaction. It was just localised and the swelling was coming up straight away and I didn’t feel ill. I took this as good sign and applied ice. The swelling continued until it closed my left eye. Then my right eye began to close. The prospect of not being able to see was beginning to worry me and I was all for taking the dogs prescription steroids but Stuart decided I needed a doctor, and fast, before my right eye closed too. The wonderfully kind Doctor Cara came to the rescue and gave great help and advice in the nick of time. My right eye closed to a slit and then started to re-open. The left eye finally opened the following day and I’ve been slowly returning to normal with just a little swelling today. However, I’m taking all this as a positive. I didn’t have the ‘bad reaction’ so I haven’t built up an intolerance, which was what I was worried about. I’m also convinced that I must have still had some sting pheromones in my forehead because that bee came out of nowhere just to get me! I’ve set up a new protocol – I’m wearing a sweat band (like the 118 guys) over my forehead at all times while in my bee suit (I look a right plonker) and I don’t take the vail off until I’ve driven down the road a bit where I can pull over and take it off away from the apiary.

So today’s job was to move the bramble bush swarm from the nuc box into a full sized hive. Simple and quick until we noticed that two of the hives seemed busier than usual. Yip, they swarmed in front of our eyes. We watched them pile out and settle in a tree. They seemed to cluster in two distinct swarms. We’re not sure if both hives swarmed at the same time or whether one swarmed and they’ve just clustered in two groups. We caught them separately, one in the newly emptied nuc box (Hive 11) and the other in a catching box which was later put in a hastily constructed hive (Hive 12). We’ll soon know if there are two queens or not! My new protocol worked and I didn’t get stung!

This bee business is becoming a full time job and slightly out of control. I haven’t even done my inspection this week!

 

No Swarms today!

As of 1.30pm today, there were not swarms at the apiary – yeah.  I’ll check again tomorrow in case they did it from 1.31pm onwards!

Full inspection today. Sorry no photos as I was on my own, had to concentrate on queens and queen cells and it was very hot!

Caitlin in Hive 1 – No Queen seen, no eggs but larvae, and capped brood. Tore down all queen cells except two uncapped. That should be enough to raise a queen and hopefully prevent a secondary swarm. Honey ready in the super so I put on a clearing board.

Rebecca in Hive 2 – I wasn’t suppose to open this hive as I believed it had swarmed and was making a new queen but I wanted to check that there weren’t multiple queen cells which would cause secondary swarming. I did spot the new queen but no eggs so she’s possibly still unmated or not ready to lay. I tore down all the other queen cells which should prevent that queen from swarming as there are no queens to follow. Honey ready in the super so I put on a clearing board.

Sam in Hive 3 – Still no queen cells so not intending to swarm. But, I found eggs in the first super again above the queen excluder – puzzling! Either there are two queens or she’s getting through the excluder. Honey ready in the other super so I put on a clearing board.

Claire in Hive 4 – Blue queen seen, no queen cells. Artificial swarm seems to have worked. Honey ready in the super to I put on a clearing board.

Hope in Hive 5 – Did not open as they’re making a queen. No honey in super – it was light.

Susan in Hive 6 – Queen seen in lower brood box. Eggs in super – again puzzling. Either there are two queens or she’s getting though the queen excluder. I cut down all queen cells to prevent swarming. Honey in the other super so put on clearing board.

Hive 7, 8 & 9 – Didn’t open as they’re making queens. Entrances were busy. Hive 7 was making honey but it wasn’t ripe yet. Hive 8 was taking fondant. Didn’t look in Hive 9.

The hive’s seems be in various stages of queen rearing but most are taking advantage of the Oil Seed Rape flow. Hopefully I’ve taken the necessary measures to curb any more swarming but daily checks are still require.

Unfortunately I heard today that the large swarm I had given to Graeme last week had absconded. Sometimes the bees do this – they all just leave for some reason. That was disappointing and the hive was empty. However, I still hadn’t found a home for the swarm I caught yesterday. Graeme is on holiday, so Sandy and I visited his apiary and installed yesterday’s swarm into his hive. I added two frames of honey so hopefully that will entice them to stay.

Other than the swarm checks, hopefully that’s me done for another week.