Swarms, stings and steroids!

Quite a lot has happened since my last post – not all good!

After my last inspection, I returned the following day to take off some supers. Unfortunately, just as I had finished loading everything into the car I got stung on the forehead and I took an instant allergic reaction. I got home, took some Piriton but I was uncomfortable, coughing, wheezing, had a tight indigestion like feeling, hives all over my body, blocked nose and ear canals and the soles of my feet felt like they were on fire. We decided it was best to head straight to A&E in case my airway closed. A&E were fantastic. I was given steroids, an ECG and monitored closely for several hours. My airway did not close and I was released to spend the next 4 days with various weird swelling on my face. I have to admit, I got a bit of a fright!

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So, feeling slightly nervous, I returned last Thursday for a full inspection. Stuart decided I wasn’t to go on my own anymore so, as Mum was staying for a few days, she put on a bee suit, brought a chair and her mobile and was the emergency back-up!

On arriving we could see a huge amount of bees in the air – one of the hives was swarming in front of our eyes. What a sight! Thousands of bees circling the air and then coming together on a branch. The first branch broke under their weight and they had to re-cluster on another. Unfortunately, it was high up the tree so I wasn’t sure how I was going to get them down.

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Meanwhile, I inspected the other hives. They were all in varying stages of swarming or not swarming! I think the warm weather and the abundance of Oil Seed Rape has made it very challenging to try to prevent swarming. I’m just trying to monitor and do my best. Some looked Queenless with no eggs but the Queen may still be waiting to mate. It’s a waiting game and if they are Queenless then I can merge them with another hive later on and nothing is lost.

But, what to do about the large swarm up the tree? Stuart and I returned later in the evening to see what we could do and it had gone! However, there was quite a bit of activity in a bramble bush further down the road so we went to have a look and they were trying to cluster on an old log on the ground in the bramble bush. This was challenging as we couldn’t shake them into a box. We cut away the branches around the log and dumped those on branches into a nuc box. We then smoked the rest up into the air and placed the nuc, with a frame of honey, next to the log. As they came back down, they went into the nuc rather than on the log. We just stood back and watch as most of the bees went in. The advantage of using the nuc is that it’s a mini hive which can can hold frames and has an entrance so we just moved it back to the apiary and didn’t have to disturb them again – Hive 10!

No stings that day – so all good!

The following day, Friday, we returned to take some supers off and found another swarm in a tree. We got it into the catching box and left it there to allow them to settle. Unfortunately, when we returned later they’d absconded and were nowhere to be seen. That was disappointing!

On Saturday, I decided to do a quick perimeter check for swarms as the apiary is close to the EMF route and I didn’t want a potential problem on Marathon day. My sister and family were visiting so Claire accompanied me to see the apiary to be my backup. We didn’t find any swarms and the bees seemed calm. I was just getting into the car, having taken my vail off as there were no bees at the car, when a bee came from nowhere, flew past Claire at high speed and stung me on the forehead about 2mm from the last puncture mark – unbelievable (that wasn’t the word I used at the time)! I quickly took a double doze of Piriton and got home. I recognised straight away that this was completely different from the bad A&E reaction. It was just localised and the swelling was coming up straight away and I didn’t feel ill. I took this as good sign and applied ice. The swelling continued until it closed my left eye. Then my right eye began to close. The prospect of not being able to see was beginning to worry me and I was all for taking the dogs prescription steroids but Stuart decided I needed a doctor, and fast, before my right eye closed too. The wonderfully kind Doctor Cara came to the rescue and gave great help and advice in the nick of time. My right eye closed to a slit and then started to re-open. The left eye finally opened the following day and I’ve been slowly returning to normal with just a little swelling today. However, I’m taking all this as a positive. I didn’t have the ‘bad reaction’ so I haven’t built up an intolerance, which was what I was worried about. I’m also convinced that I must have still had some sting pheromones in my forehead because that bee came out of nowhere just to get me! I’ve set up a new protocol – I’m wearing a sweat band (like the 118 guys) over my forehead at all times while in my bee suit (I look a right plonker) and I don’t take the vail off until I’ve driven down the road a bit where I can pull over and take it off away from the apiary.

So today’s job was to move the bramble bush swarm from the nuc box into a full sized hive. Simple and quick until we noticed that two of the hives seemed busier than usual. Yip, they swarmed in front of our eyes. We watched them pile out and settle in a tree. They seemed to cluster in two distinct swarms. We’re not sure if both hives swarmed at the same time or whether one swarmed and they’ve just clustered in two groups. We caught them separately, one in the newly emptied nuc box (Hive 11) and the other in a catching box which was later put in a hastily constructed hive (Hive 12). We’ll soon know if there are two queens or not! My new protocol worked and I didn’t get stung!

This bee business is becoming a full time job and slightly out of control. I haven’t even done my inspection this week!

 

And again!

Stuart said, “I’m really good at making Queens.”

I said, “I’m really bad at keeping bees!”

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They’re in a closed bee box in the back garden with some frames of honey to keep them going until the new hive arrives. Hopefully there won’t be another one tomorrow or I’ll have to consider crowdfunding!

Turn the volume up and have a listen to them in the box….

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.

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.

Holiday hope!

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!