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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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!

 

 

Supers, Swarms & Settling in!

I visited the bees on Tuesday with the view to finding out if they’d made any honey from the Oil Seed Rape close by. To my delight, Rebecca in Hive 2, Claire in Hive 4 and Hope in Hive 5 had a full super each. I put on clearing boards and intended to return the following day to remove them. I didn’t do a full inspection because I thought, what’s the point if I don’t have any more equipment. If they’re going to swarm then they’ll just have to get on with it. I did take a video tour of the apiary which I’ll post up separately when I can remember how the technology works! It was quite a chilled visit with time to sit and enjoy the bees!

Driving back yesterday to pick up the hopefully cleared supers, I noticed a lot of bee activity along the fence. Yip, one of the hives had swarmed! It was attached to the fence post but also to a low lying branch next to the fence. At this time of year, I always carry a bee box for such eventualities so I was able to brush the bees from the post into the box and then shake in the large cluster on the branch. I wedged my bee brush into the box to keep the lid slightly open and was delighted to see the bees on the outside of the box march in. I had definitely got the queen!

I then went and attended to the cleared supers, leaving the box open to allow any remaining bees from the swarm to realise the queen was in the box and follow suit. I got the supers off without too much bother and then picked up the box with the swarm and brought them home.

Now to find a home for the swarm. With all my equipment used up, I was going to have to give them away. I had mixed feeling about this. It’s a shame to loose such a big, vibrant colony but I just couldn’t keep them. Thinking positively, swarming is how bees naturally reproduce, so giving them away allows the gene pool to diversify and gives another beekeeper a chance to raise them. Fortunately, Graeme was keen to take them as one of his hives was queenless and dwindling. The bees stayed overnight in the back garden covered with a blanket and then it was off to hive them today.

The bees were find overnight and I took them to Graeme’s apiary this morning. It’s alway slight never racking transporting potentially 20,000-30,000 bees in a box, especially when they’re all not actually in the box – but it went fine. We tipped them into a new hive box and the existing queenless bees were merged with the icing sugar and newspaper technique. It was good to watch them settling in and doing orientation flights. I felt happy leaving them on such a nice apiary site and I’m sure they’ll do well.

I then returned to my apiary to put the empty supers back on the three hives I had removed them from. That was all I was going to do but my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know who had swarmed!

Caitlin in Hive 1 – the queen was seen and I tore down some queen cells.

Rebecca in Hive 2 – no queen seen, loads of queen cells and fewer bees. This is where I think the swarm has come from.

Sam in Hive 3  – no queen seen but no queen cells either so can’t have swarmed.

Claire in Hive 4 – blue queen seen, no queen cells, eggs seen. The artificial swarm must have worked.

Hope in Hive 5 – Didn’t open as they should still be raising a queen and I didn’t want to disturb.

Susan in Hive 6 – Queen seen, tore down some queen cells.

Hive 7 & 8 – Like Hope, I didn’t open as they should be raising a queen and I didn’t want to disturb them.

So, I’m pretty sure it was Rebecca in Hive 2 that swarmed. With having to tear down some queen cells in Caitlin in Hive 1 and Susan in Hive 6, they have the potential to swarm too. It’s been a pretty interesting few days if slightly intense!

The observant amounts you will realise that I’ve taken off supers.  Yes, I spent Wednesday afternoon and evening spinning honey. I’m assuming it’s Oil Seed Rape and it’s currently in the settling tank. I’m awaiting jars to be delivered and then I’ll do the usual FB post if anyone is interested. It tastes good!

Busy few days!

Although slightly on the cool side and a bit windy, I took the risk to inspect the hives on Bank Holiday Monday. Because of the weather, we hadn’t been in to the hives since 1st April, so an inspection was well over due. Unfortunately Stuart wasn’t free to help so I was on my own!

Caitlin in Hive 1, Rebecca in Hive 2 and Sam in Hive 3 were all fine with eggs, larvae, capped brood, drone cells, drones and no queen cells.

Claire in Hive 4 had a few charged queen cells but they weren’t capped yet.

Hope in Hive 5 was a mess.  Multiple charged queen cells over 4 different frames.

Susan in Hive 6, by the time I’d got to this hive I was quite tired having just gone through 3 double broods and 2 single broods. I was a bit confused because, although we’d spotted the queen in the lower brood box at the last inspection and put on a queen excluder, there were eggs in the first super. Either she’d got through the excluder, moved before we put the excluder on or there were 2 queens. And to top it all off, there might have been a queen cell in the bottom brood box but I wasn’t sure.

Because I was on my own, I didn’t manage to take any photos but I did end up in A&E! Having been stung 4 times on my right hand ring finger and once on the back of that hand, I could feel my hand swelling in my glove but forgot I had my ring on. By the time I got home the ring wouldn’t come off and my finger wouldn’t stop swelling. After a quick call to NHS24, I was told I’d need to go to A&E. Rather embarrassing, I turned up to a full waiting room and a 3 hour wait. When I tried to ‘un-book’ myself the very patient and lovely Nurse Practitioner understood that I knew what I was doing i.e. Piriton, cream etc and just needed the ring off, so she took me straight away and cut it off. My beautiful diamond ring isn’t so beautiful anymore but I’m grateful to the NHS for ‘saving my finger’!

Once all that was sorted out, it was action stations to try to prevent Claire in Hive 4 and Hope in Hive 5 from swarming. I made up equipment on Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon, on my own again, I tried to artificially swarm Hope in Hive 5.

As this hive had the most queen cells I thought it was the most urgent. Having followed the instructions and moved the old hive to the new site and put the new hive on the old site, I went though all the frames and couldn’t find the queen anywhere. With 3 capped queen cells and many uncapped, I think she’d gone! I probably should have searched for the queen the day before and worked out whether they’d already swarmed before doing the manoeuvre. However, having moved all the bloomin hives about, I decided to leave them that way. I don’t know if it was the correct thing to do.  Neither hive has a queen but they both have queen cells so they should follow the natural course of queen rearing.

On Wednesday morning I made up the very last of my equipment and, again on my own, tried to artificially swarm Claire in Hive 4. This time, I thought I’d see if the queen was actually there first. I found her on the 2nd frame which was fantastic but had to put her back because I hadn’t moved everything. I moved the old hive to the new site and the new hive to the old site then tried to find the queen again. She’d hidden! I had to go through both brood boxes twice before I found her again! With the queen safely in the new hive on the old site, I added a frame of stores, the queen excluder and the supers. I left the rest of the frames with the queen cells and bees in the old hive on the new site and closed it up. All the flying bees from there will return to the queen in the new hive on the old site and the old hive on the new site should raise a new queen. The swarm prevention went to plan, hopefully it will work.

The instructions on how to move hives:

I then decided to have a look through Susan in Hive 6 again.  I found the queen in the super next to the eggs. What to do? I could remove the queen excluder and let her have 2 brood and 1 super but that seemed excessive and also, they don’t tend to go back down to lay but move up so, she’d end up with less space even although it’s an enormous hive.  Instead, I trapped her in the super with a queen excluder top and bottom. I went through the 2 brood boxes and couldn’t find another queen so I’ve assumed there is just one queen. I then went back through the super, eventually found her, and moved the frame she was on back into the brood box. I put on a new queen excluder and the supers. I also didn’t see any queen cells so I must have been mistaken on Monday. So, hopefully that’s her back down in the brood boxes and the hive can carry on as normal.

I did get a few photos today.

 

However, by the time I’d opened them all on Monday, fiddled around with Hope in hive 5 on Tuesday the bees were really mad with me on Wednesday, greeting me at the car before I’d even done anything to Claire in hive 4 or Susan in hive 6. By the time I’d finished, I was covered in really angry bees but amazingly only got stung once. I had to abandon trying to get in the car because there were so many around the car and me and I had to walk away, down the road. On my second attempt I had to again, walk away but this time sit and wait 10 minutes.  On my third attempt I got in the car but there was still one determined bee trying to get in! I realised afterwards, that my suit had been stung on the Tuesday doing Hope’s artificial swarm so I was already covered in sting pheromones which would have alerted them to danger straight away.  They are funny and my suit has now been washed!

So lessons learnt:

  1. Check they haven’t swarmed before you do a swarm prevention manoeuvre.
  2. Don’t wear any rings while inspecting bees.
  3. Wash your suit between big manoeuvres to get rid of any sting pheromones.
  4. It’s better to do an inspection with Stuart because he’s good a lifting all the heavy stuff!

I’ve potentially got 2 new hives now.  I’ll call them hive 7 & 8 just now, names pending should they succeed. There is no more equipment so any other hive wanting to swarm will just have to get on with it. Next inspection should be next week weather dependant.

April, April, quite contrary!

My apologies for not keeping you up-to-date with the latest bee news!

We had our first opportunity to do a full inspection on 26th March when the weather was warm and sunny.  We were delighted to find Queens in all but one hive but that hive did have eggs and larvae so she must just have been hiding.   However, the hives were chock-a-block with stores, so full in fact, that there was no room for laying.  Extra room was required urgently to prevent early swarming from lack of space. We also removed the mouse guard as the warm weather would mean any furry friends would be happy in the fields.

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To recap, in the Autumn, we made the decision to overwinter 4 of the most active hives as brood and a half (brood and super) to ensure they had plenty of stores going into winter.  The expectation was that they’d eat all the stores and have free space by this time of year to start laying and we’d split the empty, used super from the brood box with a queen excluder in the Spring. Unfortunately, we fed them too much leaving no space and the only solution we could think of was to add an additional brood box.  Many beekeepers work on double brood (2 brood boxes) rather than single brood, but it’s typically seen as harder work, has a higher chance of damaging the queen and produces less honey.  Note to self – don’t feed so much next year!

The other two smaller hives were wintered with just the brood box so they will remain as single broods.  Maybe an interesting experiment to compare and contrast.

Our opportunity to put the double brood box plan into action came on 1st April when again, the weather was warm and sunny.  Fortunately, we found Queens in 3 out of the 4 hives so we absolutely knew the Queen was down in the existing brood box when we added the additional brood box. The queen excluder was then added but then the dilemma, what to do with the full super? We decided to put the full super above the queen excluder in the hope that they’d move the stores down into the empty brood box.  We then added an empty super above to cope with the Oil Seed Rape flow.  We don’t know if this will work, time will tell.

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The hive we didn’t find the Queen, we smoked heavily through the super which will probably have forced her down in the brood box.  We’ll need to carefully inspect the supers next time, just in case she’s up there, but we’re confident she’ll be in the brood box.

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Having found the queens in the two single brood hives, we added the queen excluders and a super each to them.  The easy single brood box method!

Unfortunately, that was the last of the sunny weather.  Since then, it’s been FREEZING!  The poor bees must be so confused.  I just hope that, having thought the weather was warming up, we haven’t chilled them by giving them more space and separating their food stores.

I stopped by today to have a look. It was only 9 degrees so way to cold for an inspection but I looked in the polycarbonate crown board and all but one hive had bees in the upper super.  All the hives had flying bees and all had bright yellow pollen going in, possibly from the Oil Seed Rape.  I can only hope the hot weather didn’t induce early swarming at the beginning of April and that the cold snap hasn’t chilled them.  The next inspection will be when it’s warm again – whenever that will be??

Today’s busy bees covered in pollen and guarding the entrance.

Feeding Fondant!

The mild weather has confused many plants, animals and insects this winter. It’s only February but the grass looks like it’s starting grow, I’ve seen trees in bloom and a friend found a queen wasp in her garden the other day!

It also means the bees are more active than usual for this time of year. Bees don’t die from the cold, in fact, it’s good for them to stop working, cluster together and stay warm. What kills bees is damp conditions and no food. Starvation is a real threat this time of year, particularly if they’ve been building up the colony early but there’s no pollen or nectar to forage.

With this in mind, I put the first bags of fondant in the hives on the 29th of December.  The theory is that the bees won’t take it if they don’t need it. Sam in Hive 3 and Claire in Hive 4 have already had their bags of fondant replaced but yesterday, with the weather set to change, I replaced the near empty bags in all the hives but one. It was nice to have a look through the polycarbonate crown board and to smell their familiar smell. There were a few determined bees who didn’t want to leave the bags so, once gently shaken out, it was lovely to hear the buzz, have them land on me and then watch them make their way back to the hive.

In total they’ve consumed 8 bags of fondant and have 6 new bags to keep them going. My bees are very lucky with the estate providing fabulous winter forage from their snowdrops so maybe they’ll head out for the real stuff! However, that’s still quite a lot of fondant consumed! The Queen must be laying and the colony building up. What worries me is, if all this is happening earlier than normal, when will the swarming season start???

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Feeding Fondant!

Having given the bees all that sugar water back in September they really should still have plenty of stores. However, just to be on the safe side, we gave each a cake of fondant today. It’s there if they need it, and if they don’t, they’ll just leave it alone.

It was good to have a quick look through the polycarbonate crown board.  Caitlin in Hive 1, Rebecca in Hive 2, Sam in Hive 3 and Hope in Hive 5 were all busy just under the crown board. In fact, some of the bees from Hope decided to come out and see us off!

Claire in Hive 4 and Susan in Hive 6 had no bees in sight and this was the case the last time I had a peek in!  However, I had a good look down between the frames and I could see bees so they’re still in there!

Next visit will be to treat for Varroa in January or February.

Winter preparations.

We’ve spent the whole month of September feeding the bees. They’ve consumed 120kg of sugar, that’s 72 litres of sugar water. Thank goodness for Aldi, although it was starting to get slightly embarrassing buying 24 bags of sugar every week!

We’ve been battling the wasps all this month too. My homemade wasp traps were full after 2 weeks and we had to replace them with fresh traps, which are also now full. The hive porches definitely helped and, although there were still wasps about today, I’m hoping the numbers will start to diminish soon.

We ‘hefted’ the hives to see how heavy they were to judge the amount of winter stores. They were very heavy so we removed the feeders. We’ve left the smaller hives with a single brood. However, the larger ones have been left with a brood and a super (brood & a half) just to ensure they have enough stores for the winter. We’ve removed the queen excluders from between the brood & super so that the queen is free to move with the colony throughout the hive and stay warm. We also put in Apivar strips to medicate for Varroa, changed the crown boards to clear polycarbonate and put on insulation.

Once home, I cleaned all the removed equipment in a 1:5 solution of Soda Crystals and water and I will blow torch the equipment made from wood to ensure it’s sterilised before being stored for the winter.

The bees were out flying today in the beautiful warm October sun but they know winter is on it’s way!  Our final job will be to add the mouse guards once the wasps have gone and remove the Apivar strips in 6 weeks time. After that, the hives won’t be opened again until the spring.

Hope by name, Hope by nature!

We did a quick inspection today and our lovely friend Lynda joined us as a beekeeper apprentice. What a natural – well done Lynda!

The exciting news is that Hope in Hive 5 definitely has a laying queen. Although we still haven’t seen the Queen, there was a lovely brood pattern over several frames and the hive was healthy and mild.

Drones have been expelled and the supers are not being refilled so the bees are definitely feeling autumnal. Clearing boards were put on every hive to clear the bees from the empty supers and these will be removed in a few days. After that, we’ll start feeding sugar water so they have enough time to process it into stores for the winter.

As Autumn takes hold, the bees will reduce for winter and inspections will be fewer as the temperature drops. I’ll miss the buzz, excitement, stress and bewilderment but I’m absolutely thrilled to have 6 viable hives, particularly as 2 of these were made by splitting existing hives.

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Wasp attacks!

We were at the apiary this morning and noticed a considerable increase in the number of wasps and, worryingly, some were trying to get into the hives.

We put on reduced entrances and also blocked the reduced entrances with grass to leave a smaller area for the bees to defend.

At home, I made some wasp traps with used plastic drinks bottles filled with jam and fruit juice. I returned this afternoon and positioned them around the apiary. I closely watched all the hives and, although most hives had some wasp activity near them, the hive with the most activity was Claire in Hive 4. This surprised me because it’s the strongest hive and I would have assumed they’d have attacked the weakest – so I watched some more…

Claire in Hive 4 is still throwing out Drones. It’s vicious! Bees are attacking & physically expelling the Drones who are desperately trying to get back in. The wasps seem to be hanging around waiting for the Drones to be killed or weakened & then going in for a feed! I know Wasps are scavengers and will eat other insects but it’s all a bit gruesome!  Apparently they like to take the thorax of bees back to the nest as it’s the ‘meat ball’ i.e. the flight muscles!

I’ll pop back tomorrow and check the hives and traps. I hope the hives are strong enough to cope as there isn’t much else I can do!

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wasp attacking a drone

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