Collection day!

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!

Snelgrove saga continues…

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!

FullSizeRender

Queen under cage at the top

FullSizeRender

Queen cell

Weather window!

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!

IMG_2858
IMG_2857


Original crown board and new polycarbonate crown board.

IMG_2864 IMG_2862

Foam insulation and with blanket added.

IMG_2867

And winter begins….

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 IMG_2723
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 IMG_2727as 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 nexIMG_2734t 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 IMG_2756that’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 wIMG_2742e left, I took 10 minutes to watch the bees negotiate their new fencing. It IMG_2755was 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.

Budding beekeepers!

Taking advantage of the lovely weather, we decided to have a hive inspection last Saturday.  Budding beekeepers, Niall and Alexander, came along too.IMG_2465

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 feNiall and Alexandereding 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.

IMG_2469Alexander 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.

FullSizeRenderFinally, 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.

Varroa mite treatment.

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.

IMG_2427Now 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.

IMG_2419The 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:

Wasp attack! 

I did an inspection yesterday and was pleased to find Hive Rebecca busy and active. Bees were bringing in pollen and there was capped brood and larvae. Interestingly, the brood had moved down to the bottom brood box, leaving the top brood box full of stores. A definite sign they’re consolidating and getting ready for winter. I managed to get stung under the chin when the mesh of my hood pressed against my face. Oh they’re quick!

I was expecting Hive Jessica to be virtually empty but what greeted me was worse! The hive had been attacked and over run by wasps. There were a few queen supersedure cells, but they seemed dead. The few bees remaining were in a sorry state. I closed the hive feeling sad!

Today, Sam and I returned to remove Hive Jessica. I was concerned the wasps would make the hive their home. We dismantled it and removed if from the area. In hindsight, I should have closed the entrance & removed it intact rather than opening it. I was trying to give the last few bees a chance but the wasps were now loose and looking for a new home! Hive Rebecca was under attack in front of my very eyes.

A honey bee will defend it’s hive to the death. Their stingers are barbed and pull out their bodies when they sting, effectively disembowelling them and they die. Wasps stingers aren’t barbed and can sting multiple times. So, wasps have the advantage and it takes several honey bees to take down a wasp.

While the honey bees were going in and out the front entrance with heavily laden pollen baskets, the wasps were going in the back through the open mesh floor. A sneak attack! Were the bees able to defend from that position? Were they being robbed? Would the wasps overrun them? I couldn’t tell and I couldn’t risk opening the hive as this would give the wasps even more of an opportunity.

Some wasps did try to get in the front entrance. This was more easily defended. An alarm was raised and the bees attacked. Quite a sight and not one I enjoyed. Seeing bees fighting a wasp to the death isn’t entertaining!

So, what did I do? I joined my girls and attacked the wasps. For 40 minutes, while Sam watched the front entrance, I stood at the back and killed any wasp that landed on the hive. I must have killed at least 20. By the time we left, we didn’t see any more wasps landing on the hive. I’m just hoping we did enough and the threat has been reduced.

I am not an expert in wasps so I don’t know what type of wasps they were today. But, I do know that the various different types of wasps play an important ecological role. The parasitic wasp controls pests by digesting their host insect. Others are predators, hunting insects.  And some, like the honey bee, are even pollinators.  But, I’m a beekeeper and I’ll defend my hives!

Neonicotinoid insecticides and the impact on bees.

There as been much coverage of late about the harmful effects of neonicotinoid insecticide on bees. As with all these controversial topics, I’m always a little bit skeptical of the medias’ sensationalist approach to reporting the issue, the government’s honesty, the bias of the industry-sponsored impact reports and the environmental groups ‘no compromise’ approach.

However, it is a fact that the European Commission did restrict the use of 3 neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment on bee attractive plants and cereals. These restrictions came into force on 1 December 2013 for a period of 2 years.

15 Member States supported the restriction, 8 Member States voted against (of which the UK was one) and 4 Member States abstained.

The background to this restriction is that in 2012, the European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to study the safety of three neonicotinoids, in response to growing concerns about the impact of neonicotinoids on honey bees. The study was published in January 2013, stating that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored science upon which regulatory agencies’ claims of safety have relied may be flawed. The review concluded, “A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen.”

When first introduced, neonicotinoids were thought to have low toxicity to many insects but, as the research from EFSA and others suggests, there is a potential toxicity to honey bees and other beneficial insects even with low levels of contact.

Neonicotinoids may impact bees’ ability to forage and learn and remember navigation routes to and from food sources. Bees can fail to return to the hive without immediately dying from toxicity.

Bumble bee colony growth and queen production may be affected. Exposure to Neonicotinoids may significantly reduce the ability to produce bumble bee queens. As they are the only bumble bee to survive the winter, no queens means no new colonies the following year.

A 2012 study by Purdue University scientists showed the presence of thiamethoxam and clothianidin in bees found dead in and around hives situated near agricultural fields. Other bees at the hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning. The insecticides were also consistently found at low levels in soil up to two years after treated seed were planted, on nearby dandelion flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees.

Two studies published in 2015 in Nature provided further evidence of the harmful effect of neonicotinoids on bees, although further research is needed to corroborate the findings: Oilseed rape seed coated with a combination of clothianidin and a pyrethroid “reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions”.

Interestingly in January 2013, (just before the Member States voting) the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture (HFFA), concluded that the restrictions would cost billions of Euros to the agricultural industry and significant job losses. The greatest losses would be in wheat, maize and rapeseed in the UK, Germany, Romania and France. The lowered production would induce more imports of agricultural commodities into the EU.

There is a wealth of independent scientific research suggesting neonicotinoids are dangerous. There is government and industry-sponsored research suggesting neonicotinoids are safe. The government has a report suggesting a restriction on neonicotinoids would be economically damaging.

My personal opinion is that neonicotinoids are dangerous to bees! It was with great disappointment that in July I learned of the UK Government’s decision to lift the restriction on two neonicotinoid pesticides for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop. These products will be supplied by Bayer and Syngenta and will be deployed to ward off the cabbage stem flea beetle.

According to a report in The Guardian in July, Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) minister, said the Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoids was an essential element of the protection of pollinating insects. “By lifting the ban government is giving in to short term commercial pressures at the expense of the future of British of farming.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We make decisions on pesticides based on the science only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment. Based on the evidence, we have followed the advice of the ECP and our chief scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides should be granted in areas where oil rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage.”

David Cameron, said: “The EU put in place the ban on neonics, but if scientists start telling us that these things are safer than they thought then perhaps we can licence them.”  Fair enough, but where is this scientific evidence?  Defra apparently told its expert committee on pesticides (ECP) to halt its normal practice of publishing the minutes of meetings at which the neonicotinoid applications were discussed, in order to avoid “provoking representations from different interest groups”.

Disappointing as it was, the lifting of the restriction in the UK was an emergency authorisation, for limited products, over a limited time period, with limited application. However, is this a sign of things come? The European Commission is set to review the restriction at the end of 2015. That’s imminent! Let’s hope they make the right decision. Lets hope the UK Government respects it!  If you’re asked to sign a petition banning neonicotinoids – have a think about it! Let’s hope we can keep the honey bee, bumble bee, solitary bee and all other pollinators safe for their and our own sake.