Special Delivery!

Having been concerned that Hive Caitlin’s inconsistent brood pattern was caused by either a failing queen or a laying worker, I decided to re-queen this hive.  The new queen arrived today by Royal Mail Special Delivery!

Stuart and I went through Hive Caitlin, found and killed the old queen and placed the new queen, still in her box, in the middle of the hive.  I felt bad killing the old queen but it’s quite common practice.  I had no idea how old she was so replacing her will provide the hive with a new, young queen with a tested laying pattern.  She is currently in a box plugged with fondant icing and some worker attendants.  The attendants will eat through the fondant and, by the time they have done that, the hive should be used to her pheromones and accept her as their queen.  Fingers crossed!

 

We then inspected Hive Rebecca.  Since the last post about the Snelgrove manipulation, there have been various doors opened and closed with the view to keeping the existing queen in the bottom box and creating a new queen in the top box.  Well, that was the plan! On today’s inspection there was a big, bold, capped queen cell in the bottom box.  This means the bottom box must have swarmed and left a new queen.  Precisely what the Snelgrove manipulation was supposed to stop!  So now I have to wait a minimum of 15 days to see if this queen emerges safely and gets mated.  The supers were looking pretty full, probably one of the reasons they swarmed, so we’ve put on a clearing board and will take one off tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the top box had 3 empty queen cells.  Hopefully a good sign that a queen has emerged and is on her mating flights.  There were no signs of eggs yet!

The nucs have now officially been named Hive Susan and Hive Claire.  We had a quick look in Hive Claire and they’re drawing out the last frames in the box.  We’re going to put some supers on tomorrow and give them more space.

As if that wasn’t enough, before all our own inspections, I helped Sandy hive a swarm he’d caught in North Berwick.  He wanted me to watch out for the queen – not a job I’m renowned for having success with but my eyesight is better than his!  However, I did spot her, on the hive roof of all places, but when I picked her up a gust of wind blew and I thought she’d taken flight – disaster.  But, when I turned by hand round, she was still on my glove so I carefully put her at the entrance and watched her walk in.  The rest of the bees followed.  Amazing to watch.

So that’s 3 queens I’ve seen today.  One arrived by Royal Mail Special Delivery, one was dispatched to queen heaven and one was helped into her new home at Sandy’s apiary.

 

Liquid gold

It’s happened!  We have spun, filtered and jarred our first honey!

We’ve been keeping an eye on Hive Caitlin’s super.  The combs have been filling up and, because I know the bees will have been on the local Oil Seed Rape (OSR), the combs needed to be removed quickly, before the honey is capped, so that it doesn’t set solid in the frames.

On Saturday we inserted a clearing board which has a one way valve.  The bees pass through this, down into the brood box, and cannot get back up to the super leaving it bee free.

On Sunday evening we returned to remove the super.  There were still a few bees in the super but we removed it from the hive and then brushed the remaining bees from the frames.

Sunday night we cut off any wax cappings, placed the frames in the spinner and spun!  The centrifugal force, forces the honey from the cells and after 3 rotations of the frames, all the honey was removed.

We then opened the valve and passed the honey through two sieves to remove any wax or debris, one coarse and one fine, and into the settling tank.  The settling tank was then left for 24hrs to allow air bubbles to escape and any remaining debris to float to the surface.

Last night, we opened the value of the settling tank, filled our sterilised jars and put our labels on.  It was a proud moment for us all to open our first jar of honey and have toast and honey for supper.

This batch wasn’t enormous so we’re going to keep some ourselves and give some to family.  Hopefully this is just the first batch and in a few months a sign can go in the window – honey for sale!

Collection day!

Last November, fearing my one colony might not survive the winter, I ordered 2 nucleus colonies as a backup plan! Thankfully I didn’t need that backup plan but I was still looking forward to their arrival. We collected and hived them today and are now the proud owners of four colonies!

Snelgrove saga continues…

After last weeks debacle, I had no idea whether the queen was in the bottom box, were she should be, or in the top box.  I had hoped to inspect last Friday (day 5 of Snelgrove Method 1) but the temperature was only 9 degrees with a cold wind so it wasn’t possible. I assumed/hoped she was in the bottom box and just adjusted the Snelgrove board exits as per the instruction.

Sunday was a good day to inspect because if the queen was in the bottom box, we could carry on as per method 1’s instructions.  If, by accident, she’s in the top box, we could swap to using Snelgrove method 2 as Sunday was day 7 of that plan.  Method 2 requires the queen to have been in the top box for the last 7 days and then moved to the bottom box. The schedule is then re-set to day 0 of Snelgrove method 1.  Are you following?

We inspected the bottom box and found no eggs but there was a queen cell. No eggs meant the queen wasn’t there and must be in the top box. I destroyed the queen cell because no eggs had been left in the bottom box last week and any queen cells would have been made for larvae which would produce a poor queen.

The pressure was now on to find the queen and put her in the bottom box once and for all.  On our first pass through the frames, looking carefully, we couldn’t see her. Lots of worker bees and drones but we just couldn’t see the queen. On the second pass through, I was beginning to loose hope when, on the second last frame, there she was! She was moving fast but we managed to cage her, mark her and put her, finally, in the bottom box with a fresh frame of brood.

The top box is now definitely queenless and has all the brood frames. I double checked the frames and there were very small eggs so this box should be able to raise a new queen from those eggs.

Hive Rebecca is now back to method 1, requiring a Snelgrove board exit change on day 5 (Friday). I will need to inspect the bottom box and destroy any queen cells and I should hopefully see queen cells in the top box. Fingers crossed!

Other news, Hive Caitlin is doing well. It was busy with bees and there were no queen cells. Under normal circumstances, queen cells are a sign the hive is getting ready to swarm. May, June & July are the main swarming months, so regular checks need to be carried out and remedial action take if any are found.

The hive is on a brood and a half (brood and super) which I’d prefer wasn’t the case. I smoked heavily, to force the queen down and added a queen excluder between the brood and the super. Hopefully, she’s gone down and at the next inspection, all the eggs will be in the brood box. Encouragingly, the bees have started to draw out comb in the upper super. Hopefully they’re maybe thinking about filling it with honey!

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Queen under cage at the top

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Queen cell

Snelgroved!

Hive Rebecca, on the double brood, is getting quite large.  I decided that the weather forecast for Sunday was good enough to try to start the splitting process. I have two reasons to try to split the hive, firstly as a swarm prevention and secondly, as a means of increasing my stock by producing a new colony.

I decided to use the ‘Snelgrove’ technique to do this. Having attended a demonstration of the technique a while ago, I chatted it through with my beekeeping friend Fraser, thought it through myself, worked out a plan, looked out the relevant equipment and persuaded Stuart he really did have time to help me even although there was more Gala stuff to sort out (people of the village – you’ll know what I’m talking about!).

This technique relies on you finding the queen, containing her in the bottom brood box, adding one frame of brood and filling the rest of the box with fresh frames.  On top of this, a queen excluder, two supers and the Snelgrove board are added and then the remaining brood, now queenless, is put on top. The flying bees, leave the top brood box by the Snelgrove side door and, after foraging, return to the usual entrance and thus the bottom brood box with the queen.  As the bottom box is virtually empty and broodless, they think they have swarmed and set about making a new home.  The top box, emptying of flying bees, is left with house bees who tend the brood.  They realise they’re queenless and raise a new queen from the tiny eggs I’ve ensured they have available to them.  The queen hopefully gets mated and a new colony is established which can be moved from the top position to a new position within the apiary.  All sounds reasonable!

Stuart and I set up the equipment and got started. Within 2 frames, I found the queen, caught her, marked her and kept her safe.  To cut a long, and quite stressful story short, we moved the relevant frames about, stacked it all back together again and congratulated ourselves on a great job!  Awesome!

A few hours later, I decided to go through the photos to have a look at the queen again only to discover it wasn’t the queen at all but a drone!  In my inexperience, I’d caught and marked a drone – idiot!  Now feeling totally devastated, I phoned Stuart (who was at the Community Hall sorting out Gala stuff!) to say we had to go back and find the queen.  So, instead of the hive being in a nice, logical Snelgrove state, I’d created chaos!  The bottom brood could be queenless, full of foraging bees with no eggs to make a new queen. The top box, teaming with house bees and brood, could have the queen and therefore be too full and want to swarm.  Or by some miracle, Stuart kept going on about ‘probability’, the queen is in the bottom box and all is well.

We returned and when through the busy top box twice and couldn’t find the queen.  She’s either very good at hiding or is, indeed, in the bottom box.  Only time will tell.  According the the Snelgrove technique instructions, I’ve to inspect on day 5 to see if there are any queen cells in the top box. The perfect scenario would be eggs in the bottom box, proving the queen is there and a queen cell in the top box, proving she is not there.  If that’s not the case, and I can’t find the queen, I think I’ll have to re-merge and try again another time.  Ho hum!  I’ll let you know what I find.

 

 

 

Inspection Day!

Today has been a busy bee day! This afternoon Sandy was inspecting his hive with help from Graeme and I was invited along to help and observe. We then went to Graeme’s apiary and inspected his three hives. It was so interesting to see how other beekeepers inspect their hives and to observe the little things they do which make life easier. A very informative and productive afternoon.

With the weather being so cold, it’s been a while since I’ve managed to inspect my own hives. With the sun shining, the thermometer showing 14 degrees and enthused by my afternoon, Sam and I heading out at 5pm to inspect the hives.

Great news! Hive Rebecca has 12 frames of brood in all stages between the two brood boxes, capped drone cells and plenty of stores. I couldn’t see any Varroa on the count board, although I’m sure there will be some, but there was quite a bit of chalk brood.  Hopefully that will just sort itself out. I’ve asked a beekeeping friend when he thinks I should split the double brood into two single broods and I’m awaiting his advice. It might still be too early if there aren’t many drones flying – no point producing a queen if she can’t be mated!

Hive Caitlin also looked good. When the cold weather hit again, I removed the queen excluder from between the brood box and the super because weirdly, there was absolutely no stores in the brood box, it was all in the super. If the colony clustered and moved up into the stores with a queen excluder in place, the queen would have been left behind and she would have died. So, the inevitable has happened and the queen has started to lay in the super as well as the brood box. I now have what’s called a brood and a half!  Having said that, I’m please to say she’s laid over 5 frames in both the super and the brood box with nice looking larvae, capped brood and some drone cells too. Again, I didn’t notice any Varroa on the count board and there were not other signs of disease.

Sam was a fantastic help today. He helped crack the hives open, smoked when it was needed, took photos, observed carefully and was completely unfazed when the bees started to get tetchy. Unfortunately on the way home, while holding the smoker out the car window because it was still smoking, he burnt his thumb. I just loved his explanation when his saxophone teacher asked him how he’d managed to burn this thumb. He said “We’re beekeepers and I burnt it on a thing called a smoker.” Not my Mum is a beekeeper or I was helping with the bees but “We’re beekeepers.” He is, he’s a beekeeper!

 

 

 

 

 

First inspection of Hive Caitlin

We managed to have a quick inspection of Hive Caitlin at the weekend when the sun was out and it was about 14 degrees.

The top super box had empty drawn comb. It looked old and probably needs discarding but  I’ll check with a beekeeper friend. We removed it as it didn’t seem be serving a purpose at the moment.

The next super was full of stored honey. The smell was devine but it’s for the bees so no stealing it!

And finally into the brood box. The comb on the outer edge was empty, black and had some dead, decomposing bees stuck to the bottom. Having never seen this before,I felt slightly worried but I continued to go through the frames and found some capped brood near the centre, then some larvae in various stages, and then some eggs. Yippee – the Queen is there and she’s laying. There aren’t as many bees as I was expecting but then I’ve never seen a hive re-establising itself coming out of winter! Although we never actually saw the Queen, we moved the queen excluder to in-between the brood box and the super with the stores. In all likelihood she was in the brood box and we’d like to container her down there. I forgot to take photos because I was concentration of finding the queen, brood and any signs of disease – a mistake because it’s always good to go back through the photos and take a second look. However, Stuart and I agreed that we hadn’t see any obvious signs of disease, other than a little chalk brood, and there was signs of laying, so hopefully all good!

I wanted to change the hive floor because, when in cluster, the bees are unable to remove the dead bodies from the natural winter bee wastage. Stuart lifted the hive and I removed the old floor and put in place a new wooden open mesh varroa floor. However I wasn’t expecting to see quite such a black, sludgy mess on the bottom of the old floor. This matched the strange black decomposing bees on the bottom of some of the frames. Having researched it, there was no need to worry. It’s all looked perfectly normal for decomposing dead bodies and the black dead bees on the frames had probably fallen out of the cluster and got stuck between the frames as they fell to the floor.

The last thing to do before closing the hive, was to dust the bees with icing sugar. This encourages them to groom themselves and, in the process, will increase the Varroa mite drop. I’ll go back in a week and see what the count is and then take appropriate action.

We brought the old floor and the top super home for cleaning and disinfecting. I’ll ask my beekeeper friend whether the top super frames and comb are too old to be reused. And finally, I’ve got lots of research to do to put together a plan for replacing the old frames and comb and moving forward into the summer.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to inspect Hive Rebecca and the weather has turned again. I’ll need to do that as soon as the weather allows and put a plan in place for the summer.  IMG_3832

 

To feed, or not to feed!

It’s at times like this that I recognise I’m a beginner beekeeper and that there is lots still to learn.

IMG_3137I’m supposed to ‘heft’ the hive and see how
heavy it is, thus judging how much stores are left. If it’s heavy they don’t need feeding, if it’s light they do – easy!

We did this yesterday, and I have no idea! The brood boxes were stuck together to it was impossible to determine the weight of the stores versus the weight of the bees. It just felt heavy!
Bees can die of starvation if they’ve used up all their stores early in the winter. With this unseasonably warm weather it could mean they haven’t needed to use their stores because they’ve been flying and bringing in what they need. Or, it could mean they’ve useIMG_3139d the stores quicker because they’re still producing brood and need to feed the babies. I don’t know!
We decide it’s better safe than sorry and feed the bees some special bee fondant icing. I cut the bag to allow access to the fondant and placed it over the feed hole. Some bees could be spotted venturing up to see what was going on. We put the insulation and lid back in place and secured the ‘woodpecker protection unit’.  All good – or maybe not?

IMG_3140Because it’s a double brood, I don’t know where in the hive the bees are clustered. If they’re clustered, their unlikely to be able to move about the hive and could potentially not reach the fondant. This could results in isolation starvation. That is, there’s food but they’re
isolated from it. Nothing is simple!

So, how do I find out where they’re clustered without opening the hive and chilling them?  How do I get the fondant over the cluster without disturbing them?

IMG_3142I posted my questions on an online forum and I got some helpful advice but I’m still a bit unsure. I think the best thing to do is to go back in a week and see if they’ve taken any fondant. If it’s gone, then they’ve managed to find it and I can put more on. If it’s not gone, then I’ll need to think of another way of doing it. Meanwhile, I’ll put the Varroa monitoring board back which will collect wax capping dropped by the bees.  This will at least give me a bit more information about their location horizontally but, not which brood box.

Fingers crossed that next week the fondant will be goneIMG_3154 and all will be well!

 

 

 

 

Weather window!

Just like SpaceX needs the right weather window to launch a rocket, I need the right weather window to open the hive. Having treated myself/the bees to a polycarbonate crown board and foam insulation strip, I’ve been waiting for the rain to stop and the sun to shine!

Today, a short weather window opened and I managed to get both in place. The bees were calm and, once the polycarbonate crown board was in place, it was lovely to be able to view them while they kept warm.

I’ve got one more piece of winter insulation to put in place, a Snuggle Board!  This goes above the stand but below the hive so I will need Stuart to lift while I put in place – another weather window to watch out for in the future!

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Original crown board and new polycarbonate crown board.

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Foam insulation and with blanket added.

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