Bitter Sweet!

It’s taken me almost two weeks to write this post as we’ve had a bitter sweet start to the season.

The sweet bit first!  Stuart and I inspected the three hives at Archerfield on Wednesday 18th April and were delighted to see eggs, larvae and brood with a growing colony of bees. All hives were very light on stores and two of them had sustained substantial losses as the floor of the hive was littered with dead bodies, but they’d survived the long, cold winter.  Knowing the area was surrounded with Oil Seed Rape about to flower and hoping for the predicted sunny weather, we put on the queen excluders and the first supers of the season. They’ve got the brood box to fill with stores first but at least we’ve given them space to grown into.

 

The following day we visited Gosford and found a similar situation. All but one hive had eggs, larvae and brood with growing colonies. My worries about the Polyhive not surviving the winter after the snow ingress were unfounded as they looked fine, it was Hive 2 which didn’t survive for some reason! All the hives have 2017 Queens except Claire in hive 4, which has the original blue marked Queen from 2015, and we were delighted to spot her in amongst the workers. As at Archerfield, some of the hives had sustained heavy losses and all were light on stores. The hives that were double brood, the bees were in the upper box with the lower box being empty so we swapped the boxes around to give them space to move up as well as adding queen excluders and a super to each hive. Some remedial work is required to swap out old comb for new but we’ll get round to that at the next inspection. Although the sun has been shining, there’s still quite a cold breeze so we’ll need to wait until it heats up a little bit more before we can get back in. Hopefully we’ve given them all enough space for the moment and kept swarming at bay!

All in all, a great result of ten surviving hives and only one loss. We were really pleased.

Now for the bitter bit! I unfortunately got stung on the finger. An occupational hazard as your handling frames with bees on them and one that doesn’t particularly bother me.  However, on this occasion I started to cough almost instantly, my sinuses filled, I began to sneeze and my ear canals felt like they were on fire. We finished up as quickly as possible and retreated to the car where I took 2 Piriton and 1 Piriteze. When we got home I wasn’t feeling their effects so I decided, with EpiPen at the ready, to take my ‘in case of reaction’ steroids. Stuart wasn’t happy and decided we’d make our way to A&E and should all the medication kick in, we wouldn’t go in, but if not, we were headed in the right direction. Fortunately, the medication worked and I stopped coughing etc. so we came home. However, it was unpleasant and unsettling. According to my retired doctor beekeeper friend and Google, this would appear to be symptoms of anaphylaxis and it’s not the first time I’ve had this happen. So this has put the whole beekeeping activity in jeopardy. I’ve got a doctors appointment this Friday to discuss if further but I’m pretty sure I’ll be told that there’s no way of predicting the future, that I’m probably at risk and it’s my decision whether to continue or not!

I feel really sad about all of this and have no idea if I’m over-reacting or not. However, the bees are carrying on regardless so Stuart has offered to carry out the manipulations with me supervising to try to avoid any stings until a decision is made. I’ll keep you posted!

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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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.

 

 

And again!

Stuart said, “I’m really good at making Queens.”

I said, “I’m really bad at keeping bees!”

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They’re in a closed bee box in the back garden with some frames of honey to keep them going until the new hive arrives. Hopefully there won’t be another one tomorrow or I’ll have to consider crowdfunding!

Turn the volume up and have a listen to them in the box….

Checking for Swarms

Given it’s felt quite muggy, I decided to do a quick perimeter fence check of the apiary this afternoon for any swarms. I wasn’t far into my check when I came across a small swarm attached to the old fence post between the two newer barbed wire fences – handy location!

As it was on the fence post, I couldn’t shake them into the box so I attempted to brushed them in. The style of the post, the location and the attached fencing made this quite difficult and it became obvious that I hadn’t brushed the queen into the box as the bees were returning to the post almost as quickly as I was brushing them away. I had one last attempt at getting as many in the box as possible then put it on the ground with the lid wedged open. A secondary cluster was forming on another post so I was thinking I hadn’t got the queen when all of a sudden, I noticed her landing on the outside of the box. Unfortunately, a large gust of wind dislodged her and she flew off, a potentially disastrous situation as she could be lost. My heart sank but then, she fought the wind, approached the box and flew in the gap of the lid. That was very fortuatous! I left the box ajar and came home to think about what to do.

Unlike the last swarm, this one was quite small so I suspect it’s a secondary swarm. Meaning, the hive has swarmed already with the first queen and most of the worker bees and this is a second attempt with a new queen, possibly still unmated, and fewer worker bees. It’s not really worth offering it to another beekeeper as the quality won’t be as good as a prime swarm. I’ve hived it myself in the dregs of my remaining equipment and we’ll see how it gets on. They were fanning the entrance and doing orientation flights before I left. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!