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!
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!
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.
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.
Checking the fondant supplies today, I was amazed to see how much had been taken in the space of a week. I decided that it was worth putting on a new bag and, taking the advice given by a friend, I suited up and gently smoked just under the fondant bag to encourage the bees to leave the bag and move down in to the hive. This worked and I had very few bees left in the bag when I removed it. I quickly put the new bag in place and left the old bag near the hive entrance for a while to let those few remaining bees return home. The fondant I’m using has pollen in it too, so that will help any brood rearing that may be going on. I’ll check again in a week and see how they’re getting on and I’ll order some more fondant in the mean time.
I also did a quick check of the count floor. As with previous checks, I still have no Varroa drop and only 3 small pieces of chalk brood. I’m very pleased. The Varroa treatment in Autumn appears to have been very successful and the Oxalic acid in January has been a worth while insurance policy.
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!
With the weather turning colder, we haven’t opened the hive since the beginning of October. The bees are now entering a near brood-less period so, other than disease treatments and any emergency feeding that may be required, the bees just want to be left alone to keep warm.
There are, however, a few housekeeping jobs that need to be done before the winter. Last Saturday afternoon turned out to be the perfect day, sunny and about 14 degrees, so we headed down to the hive.
Our first job was to attach the mouse guard. The stores in a
hive are very attractive to predators, as is the warmth and safety of the hive itself. If a mouse entered a hive in the summer, when the bees were active, it would be stung and killed. The bees would try to remove it, and if that wasn’t possible, they would wrap it in propolis and effectively mummify it to protect the hive from disease. However, in the winter, the bees will be in a cluster trying to keep warm. They will not be able to defend their stores or hive and a mouse could therefore cause much damage, leaving the bees vulnerable and at risk. By attaching a metal guard over the entrance, it allows the bees to pass through but not anything bigger.
Next we opened the hive to remove the medicated stripes placed in there 6 weeks ago to tackle the Varroa mite infestation. We did this quickly and didn’t inspect any frames as it was too cold and we didn’t want to risk chilling any brood or reducing the temperature of the hive. The top brood box still felt heavy so there are still plenty of stores. After closing the hive, we removed the sheet from the bottom of the hive used to catch any mites dropped for counting purposes. By removing this sheet, any mites that naturally fall off the bees will fall through the open mesh floor onto the ground and away from the hive. After the initial high mite drop, the drop has been reducing over the 6 week period so I’m optimistic that the treatment has had an effect. There is a highly effective winter treatment that I am hoping to do in December or January when the weather is really cold. This should see off any remaining Varroa mites and the colony will hopefully enter the spring virtually mite free.
It’s important to keep the hive free of long grass and weeds so it’s not in a moist environment. The next job was therefore to strimmer the area and remove any long grass from under the hive. The bees do not like the noise or vibration of the strimmer which is why this job was done towards the end of our visit and why we’re still wearing our bee suits.
Finally, it was time to put on the woodpecker protection unit! I believe it is the Green Woodpecker that’s the main problem as it’s insectivorous. When the frost has made the ground impenetrable, the Green Woodpecker looks for other food options! The Greater Spotted Woodpecker eats insects too but, in winter, it can also feed on nuts and berries so is not quite so much of a threat. I have no idea what type of Woodpeckers there are in the Estate but, I know there are some so, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Stuart and I are not gifted in the D.I.Y. department, but it looks ok and should do the job. We placed it over the hive and pinned it down with tent pegs. It should also deter any attacks from badgers who, like mice, may also be attracted to the stores.
Just before we left, I took 10 minutes to watch the bees negotiate their new fencing. It was quite amazing how they flew towards it, flew back and then negotiated a flight path through the wire spaces. They also investigated it by clinging to it and, what looked like, rubbed against it, presumably to familiarise themselves with it. It was also great to see they were still bringing in pollen. They are incredible insects.
So that’s it! No more opening of the hive and no more inspections until next year. I’ll miss them and I wish them well over the winter. Of course, I’ll still pass by on a sunny day and hopefully see them flying, and I will, of course, be checking on them after any storms. Feel free to do the same and report anything interesting or amiss.
After a demonstration on how to light the smoker Alexander smoked the hive entrance. This tricked the bees into thinking there was a fire and they’d need to save their honey and flee. Eating the stores gives them a feeling of fullness which, in theory, should keep them satisfied and calm while we have a look around.
We took the roof off and removed the super containing the blanket. This keeps them cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather. Using natural materials rather than insulation tiles allows moisture to escape. A damp hive is not a good environment for the bees as it encourages mould growth, disease and reduces the temperature of the hive.
We removed the next super containing the rapid feeder. This will no longer be needed as the time for feeding has finished. Late feeding can result in the bees being unable to reduce the sugar water to stores in time for winter and may give them dysentery.
Alexander had a good look in the top brood box and was keen to lift some frames but I did the lifting because the frames, being full of stores, were very heavy. He did get to see how to use the hive tool and we discussed the differences between nectar and honey. With only the outer frames being empty, there should be plenty of stores for the winter months.
Alexander did an excellent job using the hive tool and lifting frames for inspection in the bottom brood box. He was very knowledgeable about bees, having read quite a few books on the subject, and he put this knowledge to good use. He was able to see undrawn comb, drawn comb, stores and capped brood. He saw the bees’ own extended comb at the bottom of the shallow frames and enjoyed watching the bees do their ‘conga line’ between the combs. Niall and Alexander were unfazed at being covered in bees and neither were stung. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky and was stung on the chin again. I’ve been sporting a large double chin for several days now!
My only observation was that I didn’t see any evidence of fresh laying. The queen should be reducing her lay for the winter so hopefully that’s all fine.
Finally, we checked that the Varroa medicine strips and then closed up the hive. We checked the bottom board and the Varroa count was less than in previous weeks but there was still some chalk brood. I’ll keep an eye on this.
We were going to attach the winter mouse guard but we realised this should have done this at the beginning of the inspection when all the bees were inside. Not at the end when many were outside. A job for next time along with some woodpecker protection!
As we left, there was a bee with packed pollen baskets resting on Niall. I put her on my finger and took her back to the hive.
Thanks to Niall and Alexander for being fantastic beekeepers – knowledgeable, gentle, calm and most importantly excited to be there. You are welcome back any time.
Having noticed some Varroa at the inspection with Stuart, I returned the following week to check the mite drop count. To my dismay, there were approximately 100 mites dropped in a week. This was a high count and required action immediately. Fortunately, I had already purchased the relevant medication so I applied it that day, along with a 2:1 sugar solution in a rapid feeder above the top brood box.
The medication is administered via strips of plastic impregnated with a chemical which slow releases over a 42 day period, killing several successive generations of Varroa mites. Two strips are suspended, per brood box, between the frames in the heart of the brood. By adding the feed, it encourages the bees to be active in the hive, thus distributing the medication quicker.
Now the season is coming to an end, I’m trying not to open the hive too many times and have been enjoying observing the bees flying to and from the hive. I went down on Monday this week and what a stunning day it was! The hive is in such a beautiful spot. The bees were flying in with pollen and those who looked slightly drunk, fluffing their landing, must have been full of nectar! I noticed the ivy was beginning to flower and although the bramble bushes were no longer flowering, the brambles near the hive have had an exceptional bumper year, possibly thanks to the close proximity to the hive. My apple and bramble crumble was delicious.
The purpose of this visit was to check the Varroa mite drop and again, there was a high count but I’m assuming this was due to the medication kicking in! There was also quite a high count of chalk brood so the hive must still be stressed. Hopefully now the treatment is in place, the bees will recover.
The treatment is due to be removed no later than the 28th of October. This is to avoid encouraging the development of resistance. If the medication is over used, the effectiveness diminishes. However, between then and now, I’m hoping to open the hive a few more times to say hello before we part company for the winter.
Bees enjoying a sunny day in September:
It’s good news for US bees as a federal court overturns the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval for the toxic neonicotinoid Sulfoxaflor. Click here to read the story.
Thanks Fraser for passing on the good news!