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.

Busy hive!IMG_8433

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.

Equipment day!IMG_8431

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.

Hive with double brood and double super.IMG_8434

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!

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.

IMG_6820

 

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!

bee throwing a drone out

bee fighting with a drone

bee attacking a drone

wasp attacking a drone

wasp trap

Genetics!

We inspected the apiary today and all was well.  Caitlin in Hive 1, Rebecca in Hive 2, Sam in Hive 3, Claire in Hive 4 and Susan in Hive 6 were all doing well – eggs, larvae, brood, queens spotted and no sign of disease. Sam in Hive 3 and Claire in Hive 4 were particularly strong with brood over 7 or 8 frames, the other with brood over 3 to 4 frames.

It was interesting to watch Claire’s workers in Hive 4 throwing out the Drones. It’s the first time I’ve seen this happen. Three Drones were being thrown out so it must be getting to that time of year when the men are no longer required and therefore will no longer be tolerated in the hive – interesting!

I also witnessed a bee attacking a wasp that was trying to get into the hive. Fortunately, it was the only wasp about and I’m hoping that this year, I won’t have a wasp problem.

Hope in Hive 5, which you may remember was queenless, had some larvae!  Initially I was very excited – there must be a laying queen! However, in retrospect, I didn’t see the queen so I’m wondering if it’s a laying Queen or a laying Worker? At the next inspection I’ll need to see how good the brood pattern is and then I’ll hopefully be able to tell. I’m still hopeful for Hope!

The amazing thing is that the bees in the apiary are changing.  If I’ve understood the genetics then:

Rebecca in Hive 1 was my original hive that I brought through the winter – it had mongrel bees with a dark striped abdomen.

Caitlin in Hive 2, that I bought in April, also had mongrel bees with a dark striped abdomen.

Claire in Hive 4 and Susan in Hive 6, the two nucs I bought in May, had mild Buckfast bees with a golden orange colour abdomen.

So in June I had 4 hives – 50% with mongrel bees with a dark striped abdomen and 50% with Buckfast with a golden orange striped abdomen.

However, due to various manipulations and splits, Caitlin in Hive 1, Rebecca in Hive 2 and Hope in Hive 5 all now have queens which originated from Claire in Hive 4 – the mild mannered, beautiful golden orange coloured Buckfast bees. Even the Queens look similar – long and orange! Susan in Hive 6, although not the original Buckfast nuc queen, is derived from a queen cell from that queen. It is only Sam in Hive 3 which is from the original overwintered dark striped mongrel stock.

How interesting (or maybe it’s just me that thinks this?) – now I have 17% mongrel bees and 83% Buckfast bees!

As you’ll see from the photos, the majority have a golden orange striped abdomen but some still have a darker striped abdomen.

Holiday hope!

We weren’t sure what we’d fine at today’s inspection.

Before we went on holiday there were six hives, of which only two had queens. Three had nothing happening and one had multiple queen cells over various frames. We moved those frames with queen cell to the hives which had none in the hope that, while we were away, the queens would emerge, mate and start laying.

There was also the added complication of having to feed the bees before we went on holiday. The poor weather and a foraging gap, from the oil seed rape finishing and other stuff becoming available, meant that the bees were struggling for food. Four hives needed fed but I only had three feeders. Three hives were given sugar water and one was left with a cake of fondant. However, because the supers had to be removed to put the feeders on, this reduced the amount of space available should the weather and foraging improve. They couldn’t be left like that for the duration of our holiday so it was ‘call a friend’ time and fortunately, Sandy was only too happy to help. He put the supers on when the time was right.

So, did the feeding and all that queen cell swapping work?  Happily, we seem to have had some success!

Caitlin at hive 1 had a lovely new laying queen from the queen cell we added. The queen was spotted, there was larvae and eggs over 3 frames and plenty of stores.

Rebecca at hive 2, a queen was spotted, so the added queen cell worked, but there was no sign of eggs, larvae or capped brood. This could mean she’s not mated yet, not laying yet or the bad weather has prevented her from being mated and she’s now sterile. We’ll have to wait and see.

Sam at hive 3, again the queen was spotted and this was the original queen produced from the Snelgrove technique. It had 5 frames of brood and was very busy. We’d left them with a pack of fondant and it was all gone and had clearly done them well, as the hive was thriving.

Claire is hive 4 still had the lovely blue marked queen. That artificial swarm worked well.  It had 4 frames of brood and some stores.

Hope at hive 5 was the artificial swarm from Claire at hive 4 and it was the hive that all the frames with the queen cells came from. No queen was spotted and there was, AGAIN, another big capped queen cell. They must have swarmed again! This was the only hive that didn’t have a super on top so they must have felt they were low on space. We’ll just have to wait an see if the queen emerges and can get mated this late in the season. Hope is a good name for this hive!

Susan at hive 6, a queen was spotted, so the added queen cell worked, but no eggs, larvae or capped brood. It’s in a similar position as Rebecca in hive 2. There was lots of stores and we’ve just got to wait and see what happens.

We’ve now got five out of six hives with queens, three of which are laying, and one hive with a queen cell. I think we’ve come home to a more promising situation that when we left. I’m happy with that. Although, as is the nature of bees, it could be all changed by next week!

Bloomin Bees!

Today’s inspection did not reveal what we were expecting or hoping for!

The lovely new queen which arrived special delivery was nowhere to be seen in Hive Caitlin. There was no brood but lots of queen cells so I can only conclude that the hive didn’t accept her. It was worth a try. We’ll just have to see if any of the queen cells produce a viable queen. If not, I’ll merge with one of the other hives. It was a bit disappointing.

Hive Rebecca is a continuing mystery. There is now brood in the top brood box so a new queen has emerged and been mated – great news. I now need to work out how to move it to another site within the apiary. The bottom box has no brood but queen cells. The old queen must have swarmed so we’ll have to wait and see if a new queen emerges, mates and is viable. The Snelgrove technique hasn’t worked, probably due to my inexperience, and I’d be cautious to use it in the future.

We hadn’t ever fully inspected Hive Claire or Hive Susan because, as nucs and only with us for 4 weeks, they should only have been building up. However, on inspection today, we discovered they’ve built up so much that there were several capped queen cell in Hive Claire and several uncapped queen cells in Hive Susan! Fortunately I spotted the queens in both hives so I knew they hadn’t swarmed yet but they’re still getting ready!

I rushed home, got together the very last of my equipment and headed back to the apiary.  I felt Hive Claire was the more urgent, as it actually had capped queen cells, so I managed to artificially swarm it before the rain started. I moved the existing hive one meter to the right and I put a new empty hive on the original site. I found Queen Claire and put her in the new hive on the original site with one frame of stores and filled the rest with undrawn brood frames. The old hive, now one meter away, had all the flying bees, house bees, brood and capped queen cells but no queen. The theory is that the flying  bees will leave the old hive on the new site and return to the new hive on the old site after foraging. The new hive on the old site with the queen thinks it’s swarmed because there is a lovely empty hive and no brood. The old hive on the new site is full of house bees which will raise the brood and a new queen from the capped queen cells.

I’ll need to do the same with Hive Susan but the weather turned. I’ve got a little time on my side because they won’t swarm until they’ve capped a queen cell or until the weather gets better so fingers crossed I get back to them in time.

So I’ve used up all my equipment and I still have to work out what to do and where to put  the top brood box of Hive Rebecca. I’ll have to make another bee equipment order!

 

 

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.

 

Vaporising acid!

You may remember those nasty Varroa mites that live on the bees and in the brood, weakening them and making them susceptible to disease and colony decline. I treated the bees with strips impregnated with medication in the Autumn but that doesn’t kill the mites living in the capped brood cells. When the brood emerge, so too do the new Varroa mites, and the cycle starts again. So, today with the hive having either no or very little brood it was time to treat the bees with Oxalic acid.

This is a highly effective treatment against Varroa with a 90% efficiency. However, it will not penetrate the brood capping, hence doing it at the most broodless time. Vaporised Oxalic acid is not toxic to bees but is highly toxic to Varroa mites and to beekeepers!

Having seen a demonstration of how to vaporise Oxalic acid at one the East Lothian Beekeepers Association meetings, my friend Fraser and I borrowed their equipment and arranged to meet up today to treat my hive, and then to treat his hives.

Firstly, Fraser and I read the instructions carefully! I blocked the entrance so no bees could escape. I then inserted a solid board below the open mesh to create a floor. I removed the fondant from the top and plugged the hole with some foam. We put on our protective equipment and I inserted the crucible on the new floor, plugged the gap with moist foam, linked the crucible to the battery and vaporised the acid. This was done for 2.5 minutes, disconnected from the battery and the crucible left in the hive for a further 2 minutes and then finally, the crucible was removed and dipped in a bucket of cold water to cool, with the hive remaining closed for a further 10 minutes to allow the vapour to act on the Varroa mites. When time was up, I removed the foam and the solid board floor, reinserted the Varroa count sheet and reopened the entrance.

 

I will return in a week and count the Varroa drop on the count sheet. I’m hoping any Varroa not killed in Autumn will now be dead and the bees can look forward to a healthy start to the spring.

We then headed off to Fraser’s apiary and repeated the procedure. I’m glad to say no bees or beekeepers were harmed in the vaporising!

A big thank you goes to Stuart for pulling the trolley with the equipment and a very heavy battery, to Fraser for suggesting we treat the bees this weekend and for his help with the process and to the East Lothian Beekeepers Association for their advice and loan of the equipment.