Varroa mite treatment.

Having noticed some Varroa at the inspection with Stuart, I returned the following week to check the mite drop count. To my dismay, there were approximately 100 mites dropped in a week. This was a high count and required action immediately. Fortunately, I had already purchased the relevant medication so I applied it that day, along with a 2:1 sugar solution in a rapid feeder above the top brood box.

The medication is administered via strips of plastic impregnated with a chemical which slow releases over a 42 day period, killing several successive generations of Varroa mites. Two strips are suspended, per brood box, between the frames in the heart of the brood. By adding the feed, it encourages the bees to be active in the hive, thus distributing the medication quicker.

IMG_2427Now the season is coming to an end, I’m trying not to open the hive too many times and have been enjoying observing the bees flying to and from the hive. I went down on Monday this week and what a stunning day it was! The hive is in such a beautiful spot. The bees were flying in with pollen and those who looked slightly drunk, fluffing their landing, must have been full of nectar! I noticed the ivy was beginning to flower and although the bramble bushes were no longer flowering, the brambles near the hive have had an exceptional bumper year, possibly thanks to the close proximity to the hive. My apple and bramble crumble was delicious.

IMG_2419The purpose of this visit was to check the Varroa mite drop and again, there was a high count but I’m assuming this was due to the medication kicking in! There was also quite a high count of chalk brood so the hive must still be stressed. Hopefully now the treatment is in place, the bees will recover.

The treatment is due to be removed no later than the 28th of October. This is to avoid encouraging the development of resistance. If the medication is over used, the effectiveness diminishes. However, between then and now, I’m hoping to open the hive a few more times to say hello before we part company for the winter.

Bees enjoying a sunny day in September:

Party bees and disease!

Another inspection today of Hive Rebecca and it was great to have Stuart along to help. We decided to work from the bottom up.

The hive has an open mesh Varroa floor which allows any debris from the hive to be collected for inspection. I’ve looked previously but haven’t ever spotted anything significant, other than dropped wax capping, but this time it was interesting! There was some chalk brood and some Varroa mites.

chalk broodChalk brood is an extremely common disease caused by a fungus and, in itself, isn’t something to worry about.  However, it can be a sign that the colony is ‘stressed’ by something else, and that something else is often Varroa. (picture from the internet)
Varroa is a species of mite, first discovered in the UK in 1992. It lives as an external parasite on the bee and feeds on both adult and brood, weakening them and spreading disease. Unfortunately every colony will have Varroavarroa mite but it’s the degree of infestation that’s important. Severely infested colonies usually die out so it’s important to kept it under control. This is the first time I have clearly seen Varroa so the infection is probably still mild. I do, however, need to treat the infection before the winter when the bees are weaker and the toll of having a parasite becomes greater. (picture from the internet)

IMG_2218Despite the signs of disease, the 2 brood boxes were looking good.  The bees were in a happy IMG_2220mood, possibly the sunny weather, possibly Stuart’s calming influence!  We spotted them doing a party conga line between two pieces of drawn comb!  No idea what they were up too but it was rather amusing.

The queen is still laying in both boxes with 5 combs filled with larvae, capped brood and stores around the edges. There were 11 frames full of stores and 6 frames empty. A colony needs 18-22kg of stores to survive the winter. A frame holds about 2.2kIMG_2221g so I recon there’s 24kg of stores plus the extra round the edges. The empty frames were at the edges of the boxes with the stores in the centre, a good location for the cluster to access the stores in winter. I think I’ll feed once more before the next inspection then start the Varroa treatment.

So all in all, an interesting inspection.

Chain Bridge Honey Farm

I was at a talk today given by Willie Robson, owner of the Chain Bridge Honey Farm. What an amazing guy. He’s been beekeeping since 1962! A family business, started by Willie’s father in 1948, it now employs its third generation of Robsons.

With a nonchalant air, Willie spoke for an hour about beekeeping at Chain Bridge Honey Farm.  He, his son and one other employee, look after approximately 1,600 hives. I don’t think there is anything he doesn’t know about bees and beekeeping. His wife organises the honey deliveries and his daughters are involIMG_2215ved in packing honey and making products like cosmetics and soap.

We got a behind the scene tour showing the machinery used, the storage rooms for jarred honey and processed wax, the jarring process for propolis ointment and, from the viewing platform, honey being harvested from the comb.

If you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit. There’s a super visitors centre detailing the history of bees and includes an observation hive.  The shop sells all their products from honey to face creams, books to honey cake. We had lunch in the cafe, a double decker bus, which serves delicious sandwiches, scones and cakes. There are even vintage vehicles!

Go to their website at Chain Bridge Honey Farm and have a look.

Thank you to the East Lothian Beekeepers Association for organising the visit.

Wasp attack! 

I did an inspection yesterday and was pleased to find Hive Rebecca busy and active. Bees were bringing in pollen and there was capped brood and larvae. Interestingly, the brood had moved down to the bottom brood box, leaving the top brood box full of stores. A definite sign they’re consolidating and getting ready for winter. I managed to get stung under the chin when the mesh of my hood pressed against my face. Oh they’re quick!

I was expecting Hive Jessica to be virtually empty but what greeted me was worse! The hive had been attacked and over run by wasps. There were a few queen supersedure cells, but they seemed dead. The few bees remaining were in a sorry state. I closed the hive feeling sad!

Today, Sam and I returned to remove Hive Jessica. I was concerned the wasps would make the hive their home. We dismantled it and removed if from the area. In hindsight, I should have closed the entrance & removed it intact rather than opening it. I was trying to give the last few bees a chance but the wasps were now loose and looking for a new home! Hive Rebecca was under attack in front of my very eyes.

A honey bee will defend it’s hive to the death. Their stingers are barbed and pull out their bodies when they sting, effectively disembowelling them and they die. Wasps stingers aren’t barbed and can sting multiple times. So, wasps have the advantage and it takes several honey bees to take down a wasp.

While the honey bees were going in and out the front entrance with heavily laden pollen baskets, the wasps were going in the back through the open mesh floor. A sneak attack! Were the bees able to defend from that position? Were they being robbed? Would the wasps overrun them? I couldn’t tell and I couldn’t risk opening the hive as this would give the wasps even more of an opportunity.

Some wasps did try to get in the front entrance. This was more easily defended. An alarm was raised and the bees attacked. Quite a sight and not one I enjoyed. Seeing bees fighting a wasp to the death isn’t entertaining!

So, what did I do? I joined my girls and attacked the wasps. For 40 minutes, while Sam watched the front entrance, I stood at the back and killed any wasp that landed on the hive. I must have killed at least 20. By the time we left, we didn’t see any more wasps landing on the hive. I’m just hoping we did enough and the threat has been reduced.

I am not an expert in wasps so I don’t know what type of wasps they were today. But, I do know that the various different types of wasps play an important ecological role. The parasitic wasp controls pests by digesting their host insect. Others are predators, hunting insects.  And some, like the honey bee, are even pollinators.  But, I’m a beekeeper and I’ll defend my hives!