With a honey super in the kitchen waiting to be extracted, I have some angry bees trying to get in along with this beauty. It’s a Horntail or wood wasp. I’ve released it into the woods and I’m hoping it doesn’t come back!
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!
We inspected the hives today and things weren’t as we’d hoped for – again!
Susan 1, which I artificially swarmed the last time, didn’t look good. It must have swarmed anyway, because there were very few bees, no sign of the lovely blue marked queen and very little stores. We decided to merged it back together with Susan 2 which, although queenless, had queen cells and therefore the hope of a queen in a few weeks. We also put on a feeder with sugar water as the government Beebase website has been advising beekeepers to feed their bees and, I have to admit, they had absolutely no stores.
Claire 1, also artificially swarmed, still had the lovely blue marked queen. There was brood, larvae and stores – thank goodness! Claire 2 had queen cells but no stores so we’ve left that one to hopefully emerge and mate a queen and we put a feeder on top with sugar water to help them along.
Rebecca 2 (the split) had eggs, larvae, brood and stores. Hopefully they’ll just keep going like that.
Rebecca 1 had no brood and no queen cells but it did have stores. We took a frame with queen cells from Susan 2 and put them in this hive. Hopefully they’ll accept the new queen when she emerges.
Hive Caitlin is still queenless and getting really rather grumpy but it did have plenty of stores. Again, we took a frame with queen cells from Susan 2 and put it in here with the same hope. Only time will tell.
So,we’ve now got 6 hives. Only 2 have laying queens but 4 have queen cells so there is still hope they will recover.
We are, as I’m sure you are, getting rather confused by the naming of the hives. When we’re surrounded by bees, under pressure, trying to think what’s best to do, it’s hard to remember who is who! I think we will move to a more traditional method of naming them i.e. 1,2,3,4,5,6 and put the numbers on the hives to avoid confusion. I’ll keep you posted!
So, fingers crossed July is a kind month and any newly emerged queens can get mated and start laying.
It’s an unpredictable business this bee business!
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!
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.
It’s happened! We have spun, filtered and jarred our first honey!
We’ve been keeping an eye on Hive Caitlin’s super. The combs have been filling up and, because I know the bees will have been on the local Oil Seed Rape (OSR), the combs needed to be removed quickly, before the honey is capped, so that it doesn’t set solid in the frames.
On Saturday we inserted a clearing board which has a one way valve. The bees pass through this, down into the brood box, and cannot get back up to the super leaving it bee free.
On Sunday evening we returned to remove the super. There were still a few bees in the super but we removed it from the hive and then brushed the remaining bees from the frames.
Sunday night we cut off any wax cappings, placed the frames in the spinner and spun! The centrifugal force, forces the honey from the cells and after 3 rotations of the frames, all the honey was removed.
We then opened the valve and passed the honey through two sieves to remove any wax or debris, one coarse and one fine, and into the settling tank. The settling tank was then left for 24hrs to allow air bubbles to escape and any remaining debris to float to the surface.
Last night, we opened the value of the settling tank, filled our sterilised jars and put our labels on. It was a proud moment for us all to open our first jar of honey and have toast and honey for supper.
This batch wasn’t enormous so we’re going to keep some ourselves and give some to family. Hopefully this is just the first batch and in a few months a sign can go in the window – honey for sale!
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!
Hive Rebecca, on the double brood, is getting quite large. I decided that the weather forecast for Sunday was good enough to try to start the splitting process. I have two reasons to try to split the hive, firstly as a swarm prevention and secondly, as a means of increasing my stock by producing a new colony.
I decided to use the ‘Snelgrove’ technique to do this. Having attended a demonstration of the technique a while ago, I chatted it through with my beekeeping friend Fraser, thought it through myself, worked out a plan, looked out the relevant equipment and persuaded Stuart he really did have time to help me even although there was more Gala stuff to sort out (people of the village – you’ll know what I’m talking about!).
This technique relies on you finding the queen, containing her in the bottom brood box, adding one frame of brood and filling the rest of the box with fresh frames. On top of this, a queen excluder, two supers and the Snelgrove board are added and then the remaining brood, now queenless, is put on top. The flying bees, leave the top brood box by the Snelgrove side door and, after foraging, return to the usual entrance and thus the bottom brood box with the queen. As the bottom box is virtually empty and broodless, they think they have swarmed and set about making a new home. The top box, emptying of flying bees, is left with house bees who tend the brood. They realise they’re queenless and raise a new queen from the tiny eggs I’ve ensured they have available to them. The queen hopefully gets mated and a new colony is established which can be moved from the top position to a new position within the apiary. All sounds reasonable!
Stuart and I set up the equipment and got started. Within 2 frames, I found the queen, caught her, marked her and kept her safe. To cut a long, and quite stressful story short, we moved the relevant frames about, stacked it all back together again and congratulated ourselves on a great job! Awesome!
A few hours later, I decided to go through the photos to have a look at the queen again only to discover it wasn’t the queen at all but a drone! In my inexperience, I’d caught and marked a drone – idiot! Now feeling totally devastated, I phoned Stuart (who was at the Community Hall sorting out Gala stuff!) to say we had to go back and find the queen. So, instead of the hive being in a nice, logical Snelgrove state, I’d created chaos! The bottom brood could be queenless, full of foraging bees with no eggs to make a new queen. The top box, teaming with house bees and brood, could have the queen and therefore be too full and want to swarm. Or by some miracle, Stuart kept going on about ‘probability’, the queen is in the bottom box and all is well.
We returned and when through the busy top box twice and couldn’t find the queen. She’s either very good at hiding or is, indeed, in the bottom box. Only time will tell. According the the Snelgrove technique instructions, I’ve to inspect on day 5 to see if there are any queen cells in the top box. The perfect scenario would be eggs in the bottom box, proving the queen is there and a queen cell in the top box, proving she is not there. If that’s not the case, and I can’t find the queen, I think I’ll have to re-merge and try again another time. Ho hum! I’ll let you know what I find.
Today has been a busy bee day! This afternoon Sandy was inspecting his hive with help from Graeme and I was invited along to help and observe. We then went to Graeme’s apiary and inspected his three hives. It was so interesting to see how other beekeepers inspect their hives and to observe the little things they do which make life easier. A very informative and productive afternoon.
With the weather being so cold, it’s been a while since I’ve managed to inspect my own hives. With the sun shining, the thermometer showing 14 degrees and enthused by my afternoon, Sam and I heading out at 5pm to inspect the hives.
Great news! Hive Rebecca has 12 frames of brood in all stages between the two brood boxes, capped drone cells and plenty of stores. I couldn’t see any Varroa on the count board, although I’m sure there will be some, but there was quite a bit of chalk brood. Hopefully that will just sort itself out. I’ve asked a beekeeping friend when he thinks I should split the double brood into two single broods and I’m awaiting his advice. It might still be too early if there aren’t many drones flying – no point producing a queen if she can’t be mated!
Hive Caitlin also looked good. When the cold weather hit again, I removed the queen excluder from between the brood box and the super because weirdly, there was absolutely no stores in the brood box, it was all in the super. If the colony clustered and moved up into the stores with a queen excluder in place, the queen would have been left behind and she would have died. So, the inevitable has happened and the queen has started to lay in the super as well as the brood box. I now have what’s called a brood and a half! Having said that, I’m please to say she’s laid over 5 frames in both the super and the brood box with nice looking larvae, capped brood and some drone cells too. Again, I didn’t notice any Varroa on the count board and there were not other signs of disease.
Sam was a fantastic help today. He helped crack the hives open, smoked when it was needed, took photos, observed carefully and was completely unfazed when the bees started to get tetchy. Unfortunately on the way home, while holding the smoker out the car window because it was still smoking, he burnt his thumb. I just loved his explanation when his saxophone teacher asked him how he’d managed to burn this thumb. He said “We’re beekeepers and I burnt it on a thing called a smoker.” Not my Mum is a beekeeper or I was helping with the bees but “We’re beekeepers.” He is, he’s a beekeeper!