Bad news and good news!

Today, Mum was my able assistant and photographer – thanks Mum!

We started by opening up Hive Jessica. This was the first inspection since moving it last week and I was excited to see what was going on. So, it was with great disappointment that I found very few bees, little stores and no capped brood, larvae or eggs. There were some supersedure queen cells, one of which had a dead semi-emerged queen. Another was capped so could potentially still emerge. But, it looks like this hive is once again queenless, or waiting on a queen to emerge or has a virgin queen. Not a good position to be in at this time of year! We also found a number of dead bees on the hive floor.

With so few house or worker bees and with the uncertainty of whether there is a queen, a merge with another hive isn’t an option. I’m sorry to say, this hive is no longer viable and will naturally die out. It’s disappointing and frustrating but we can honestly say, as beekeepers, we did everything we could to help it survive but nature has had other ideas.

On a happier note, Hive Rebecca was teeming with bees, had capped brood, loads of stores and some pollen. I didn’t notice any larvae or eggs but the queen should be slowing her laying so I’m not unduly concerned.

The frames, full of either stores or stores and capped brood are heavy and stuck down by propolis, the bees own glue. This sticky brown substance gets everywhere including my phone! The weight of each brood box is now at my absolute limit to lift – a great preparation for the winter months to come.

You may remember, this is now a double brood box hive so I had 22 frames to look through. What a treat! This many frames takes a while to inspect. The longer the hive is open, the more annoyed the bees get so today, I got my first proper sting. It was through my glove, on the back of my hand. The alarm pheromone was now in the air and it was amazing to see the other bees rushing to attack the same area. A disposable glove over my bee glove foxed them and I was free to carry on with my inspection.
Some of the frames in the lower brood box are shallower than they should be which allows the bees to extend the frames using their own comb designs. These are clever and beautiful structures but rather unstable when you start moving them. Last inspection, a large section of extended comb fell off. It was full of capped brood so I placed it upright on the floor of the hive. I had no idea if they would die or emerge. Today, I retrieved the comb and to my astonishment, all but a few bees had emerged! The video of thIMG_1952e bee being born is one from that comb. I put the comb back as the newly born bee and those still to emerge would not survive outside the hive.

Today had it’s disappointment and it’s pain but to witness the exact moment a bee emerged and to see the mass of busy bees full of life was a joy! Oh and yes, it’s good to know I don’t have an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings!

Neonicotinoid insecticides and the impact on bees.

There as been much coverage of late about the harmful effects of neonicotinoid insecticide on bees. As with all these controversial topics, I’m always a little bit skeptical of the medias’ sensationalist approach to reporting the issue, the government’s honesty, the bias of the industry-sponsored impact reports and the environmental groups ‘no compromise’ approach.

However, it is a fact that the European Commission did restrict the use of 3 neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment on bee attractive plants and cereals. These restrictions came into force on 1 December 2013 for a period of 2 years.

15 Member States supported the restriction, 8 Member States voted against (of which the UK was one) and 4 Member States abstained.

The background to this restriction is that in 2012, the European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to study the safety of three neonicotinoids, in response to growing concerns about the impact of neonicotinoids on honey bees. The study was published in January 2013, stating that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored science upon which regulatory agencies’ claims of safety have relied may be flawed. The review concluded, “A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen.”

When first introduced, neonicotinoids were thought to have low toxicity to many insects but, as the research from EFSA and others suggests, there is a potential toxicity to honey bees and other beneficial insects even with low levels of contact.

Neonicotinoids may impact bees’ ability to forage and learn and remember navigation routes to and from food sources. Bees can fail to return to the hive without immediately dying from toxicity.

Bumble bee colony growth and queen production may be affected. Exposure to Neonicotinoids may significantly reduce the ability to produce bumble bee queens. As they are the only bumble bee to survive the winter, no queens means no new colonies the following year.

A 2012 study by Purdue University scientists showed the presence of thiamethoxam and clothianidin in bees found dead in and around hives situated near agricultural fields. Other bees at the hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning. The insecticides were also consistently found at low levels in soil up to two years after treated seed were planted, on nearby dandelion flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees.

Two studies published in 2015 in Nature provided further evidence of the harmful effect of neonicotinoids on bees, although further research is needed to corroborate the findings: Oilseed rape seed coated with a combination of clothianidin and a pyrethroid “reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions”.

Interestingly in January 2013, (just before the Member States voting) the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture (HFFA), concluded that the restrictions would cost billions of Euros to the agricultural industry and significant job losses. The greatest losses would be in wheat, maize and rapeseed in the UK, Germany, Romania and France. The lowered production would induce more imports of agricultural commodities into the EU.

There is a wealth of independent scientific research suggesting neonicotinoids are dangerous. There is government and industry-sponsored research suggesting neonicotinoids are safe. The government has a report suggesting a restriction on neonicotinoids would be economically damaging.

My personal opinion is that neonicotinoids are dangerous to bees! It was with great disappointment that in July I learned of the UK Government’s decision to lift the restriction on two neonicotinoid pesticides for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop. These products will be supplied by Bayer and Syngenta and will be deployed to ward off the cabbage stem flea beetle.

According to a report in The Guardian in July, Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) minister, said the Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoids was an essential element of the protection of pollinating insects. “By lifting the ban government is giving in to short term commercial pressures at the expense of the future of British of farming.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We make decisions on pesticides based on the science only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment. Based on the evidence, we have followed the advice of the ECP and our chief scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides should be granted in areas where oil rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage.”

David Cameron, said: “The EU put in place the ban on neonics, but if scientists start telling us that these things are safer than they thought then perhaps we can licence them.”  Fair enough, but where is this scientific evidence?  Defra apparently told its expert committee on pesticides (ECP) to halt its normal practice of publishing the minutes of meetings at which the neonicotinoid applications were discussed, in order to avoid “provoking representations from different interest groups”.

Disappointing as it was, the lifting of the restriction in the UK was an emergency authorisation, for limited products, over a limited time period, with limited application. However, is this a sign of things come? The European Commission is set to review the restriction at the end of 2015. That’s imminent! Let’s hope they make the right decision. Lets hope the UK Government respects it!  If you’re asked to sign a petition banning neonicotinoids – have a think about it! Let’s hope we can keep the honey bee, bumble bee, solitary bee and all other pollinators safe for their and our own sake.

Bee bedlam before bed – round two

It was time to move the ‘bee bedlam before bed’ hive to it’s final home. By replacing the floor and brood box last week, we were hoping the hive would be more stable when in transit. So, with some trepidation, we got our equipment together and headed off in plenty of time before it got dark!

Having done this a few times now, we had a plan:IMG_3564

  1. Close the entrance and nail it shut.
  2. Strap the hive toget
    her tightly.
  3. Wrap it in a large sheet.
  4. Place it carefully in the car without moving the sides.
  5. Drive slowly round corners.IMG_3578
  6. Transfer the hive to the trolley for transportation to the apiary.
  7. Unload, unwrap and unstrap.
  8. Open the entrance.

And the plan worked! No bees escaped.  Nobody had to flee the scene. No bees were harmed. The hive arrived intact and, when we opened the entrance, the bees emerged to have a look around. Bit boring! Just joking!

A big thank you goes to Stuart for carrying the hive to the car, pulling the trolley to the apiary and lifting the hive over the gate. It was super heavy and not without hazard. The boys did a great job lighting the apiary at the unwrapping. It was getting dark but at least we could still see!

There was some discussion this morning over the name of this hive. I was going to call it a new name, as it’s a new colony. However, the boys think it should be Hive Jessica as it’s the swarm that came from Hive Jessica. Technically speaking, it’s our missing queen. So, I think the boys win. Hive Jessica has returned!


I did a full inspection of Hive Rebecca today and was delighted to find capped brood and larvae in both brood boxes with plenty of stores.  The merge appears to have been a success.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I was on my own with nobody needing to rush back for work, friends or the Xbox so, I took the time to watch the hive entrFullSizeRender 3ance to see what they were up to.  The bees were busy flying pollen into the hive. It was pollentastic! Baskets were full of pale green, lime green, pale cream, bright orange and yellow pollen.  I love the mystery of where the bees have been and what flowers they have been on.  I think the pale green could be from Field Thistle, lime green could be from Bell Heath and the bright orange could be from Common Lime.


I also caught, and destroyed, a cheeky wasp trying to get in.  There’s no harm in giving the bees a little helping hand!

Bee bedlam before bed.

Bee bedlam before bed! The inspiration for this blog!

The swarm caught by Colin in July, which was left with Sandy, was being returned to me!  However, Sandy’s apiary was not more that 3 miles away from my apiary.  In order to move them, and not have them return to Sandy’s, we were going to temporarily move them 3 miles away for 1 week, then bring them back again.  By doing this, we hoped to reset their satnav.  Easy!

Again, transportation has to be done late evening to ensure all the bees had retuned to the hive.  So, last Wednesday we strapped the hive up and put it in the boot.  Unfortunately, we left it slightly too late and arrived at our destination after dark.  Torches at the ready, we opened the boot to find the hive had moved and hundreds had escaped.

More escaped when we put the hive back into position and wrapped it in a blanket.  Fortunately, the four of use were suited but Sandy was not!  Stuart and I dealt with the bees, Sam shone the torches while Sandy and Joe took refuge 20 metres away, under a tree, in the pitch dark.

By torchlight, Stuart carried the heavy hive of angry bees through a wood and over a potato field to their new location.

It took some time to clear ourselves and the car of bees.  We drove off with the windows open and hoped any remaining bees would find their way out!  For beginners, we’ve covered a fair few interesting moments!

However, in all seriousness, it was a bad beekeeper moment – bees died.  The moral of the story is: make sure that straps are tight and hives don’t movIMG_1783e!   

I was relieved to see bees flying in and out when we returned the next day to add a feeder and a more stable floor.  We returned again yesterday to swap the brood box.  We had a quick look at the frames and it’s not a big colony but it seems to have survived this trauma.  Now with a more stable floor and brood box in position, hopefully the return move will go without a hitch!

A big night for the bees.

7th August was the big night – merge night! The reason for doing it at night was to ensure all the forager bees had returned to the hive.

Jessica was now right next to Hive Rebecca.  We opened Hive Jessica and sprinkled icing sugar on the bees.IMG_1675  We then opened Hive Rebecca and did the same.  A single piece of newspaper was placed on top of Hive Rebecca’s brood box and Hive Jessica’s brood box was placed on top of the newspaper.  A super with a feeder was added and the lid was replaced.

Bees don’t like bees from other hives.  They will attack and defend their own homes.  You can’t just add one to the other.  By sprinkling them with icing sugar it forces them to groom each other, thus exchanging smells.  The newspaper slows the meeting process because they have to chew their way through it in order to come together.  That’s the theory and we were hoping it would work!


The next day we had a quick look.  There were bees going in with full pollen baskets, we didn’t see any fighting and we didn’t see any dead bees.  It was too soon to open the hive up but it was a good sign.

We did a full inspection 4 days later and it looked good. The bees had eaten away all the newspaper, groomed themselves clean of icing sugar and appeared to have accepted each other. The top brood box, which was queenless, was now full of stores for the winter and the bottom brood box had larvae & capped brood.  Hears hoping Hive Rebecca will be in good shape for the winter.

Home from holiday but nobody is home.

Back from a lovely holiday and our first inspection told us that there was no queen in Hive Jessica.  This was a disaster.  Having swarmed round about 23rd July, by the time we got back and the weather was good enough to inspect, there should have been signs of a queen and there was not, not even an empty queen cell!

Even if there was an unmated queen by the time she’d matured, been mated and started laying, the first forager bees wouldn’t start work until September.  Way too late to build up a strong colony for the winter.  The old saying is correct: A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.  We had the remains of a swarmed colony and it wasn’t going to amount to much!

The only option was to merge the remains of Hive Jessica with Hive Rebecca.  However, bees have amazing satnav.  Once they are used to flying to and from a hive in a particular position they will return to that site.  If you move the hive, bees will return to the old site and not to the hive.  So you have to move them less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles!  Hive Rebecca was more than 3 feet away!

A nightly program of moving Hive Jessica towards Hive Rebecca commenced.  Every evening, for a week, Stuart and I walked to the apiary and moved them just a little bit closer together.  It’s funny how nice the bees are on a sunny day and how terribly terribly grumpy they are when you disturb their hive at 9pm!  We weren’t opening it, just lifting it slightly and moving it.  They dive bombed our veils, made a lot of noise and followed us a good 20 metres before they decided to head by home! I must have had a hole in my suit one night as one got through and into my hair.  It was particularly annoyed and very noisy but thankfully didn’t sting.

Meanwhile the inspection of Hive Rebecca showed it was doing fine.  Eggs, larvae, capped brood, stores and pollen.  It was still small, but by merging with Hive Jessica, hopefully the merged hive would be strong enough to survive the winter.  Or disaster could strike, both hives would fight it out and there would be carnage.  It was a risk but if we did nothing Hive Jessica would definitely die out.

Hive Jessica swarmed.

We got an email while on holiday so say that Hive Jessica had swarmed.  It was so unlikely nobody could believe it.  Colin had checked on the hives and Hive Jessica was unusually aggressive.  On leaving, he discovered a swarm in a bramble bush.  The good beekeeper that is, he returned home, got his equipment and caught it!  He gave it to Sandy, where the swarm had come from originally.  Everyone was flummoxed.  They had swarmed in May so shouldn’t have needed to do it again. They had enough space in both the brood box and the empty super.  Colin had put on a feeder because the weather hadn’t been great for forging so they had enough food.  It was a mystery!  I was disappointed.  I’d lost half my bees!