Has Spring finally arrived?

On the 1st of April, it felt like the weather was playing an April Fool on us as we put another block of fondant on every hive! With heavy rain and very low temperatures, April has been tough going for the bees.

However, it was lovely to feel a bit of warmth this weekend and I felt optimistic for the bees when I saw a honey bee on the newly bloomed flowers of the hawthorn tree in the garden.

As a rule of thumb, on the first day above 15 degrees, you’re supposed to do your first full hive inspection of the season. I mulled this over, feeling quite excited to get in and see how they were doing but then I thought, they’ve waited all this time for a lovely sunny day, to fly, to forage, to feel the sun and then a giant comes along, rips open their home and upsets them. No – we’re not doing that! Instead, we visited the Gosford Apiary and just observed. We saw every hive was active, had flying bees and they were bringing in pollen. This was a good sign as pollen is protein fed to larvae so that should mean someone is laying. Whether it’s a Queen or a Drone layer we won’t know until we’ve done an inspection but it’s an encouraging sight. I removed the mouse guards and adjusted the opening to be slightly larger to give them room to get in and out freely.

We carried on to the Archerfield Apiary and by the time we got there the hives were in the shade. There was no activity from the hive but we took off the roof for a quick peek and could see though the clear crown board that the hives were busy inside. Hopefully we just missed them flying. Again, we removed the mouse guards and adjusted the openings to allow them to get in and out freely.

The weather forecast for the coming weeks looks reasonable with sunny periods and temperatures ranging from 12 to 17 degrees. I’m hoping that the temperature will now remain in double figures so that there will be no mouse threat now the guards have been removed and that the bees will be able to collect their own food rather than us feeding them. If the forecast is to be believed, we’ll plan to do a full inspection on Thursday which will have given the bees a few days to enjoy the sun but not long enough to start misbehaving!

Has Spring finally sprung?

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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.

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.

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!

bee throwing a drone out

bee fighting with a drone

bee attacking a drone

wasp attacking a drone

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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.