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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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.

Pollen going in!

It was lovely to see that every hive was active today. Lots of Pollen was going in which means the queen is laying and the brood needs protein – an encouraging sign.  I added extra fondant because April can be a difficult month but I think they’re probably fine and I should really be making plans to remove the mouse guards and decide when to add the queen excluders.  Exciting times are coming!IMG_8414

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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