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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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.

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.

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.

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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Vaporising Varroa!

This morning I went to East Linton to help my friend treat his hives for Varroa with the Oxalic Acid vaporising equipment. 

This afternoon, Stuart and I treated our six hives. 

It’s not a difficult treatment but it can be quite dangerous if you don’t follow the correct safety procedures. It does the bees no harm, although by the sound of the roar from within the hive, they don’t particularly like being disturbed! It’s also wise to stand back when you reopen the entrance and put the mouse guards on quickly!!! Running away works too😂. 

Many thanks to the East Lothian Beekeepers Association for the loan of the equipment.