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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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.

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.

 

 

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!

 

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.