Trouble at the apiary!

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!

Bloomin Bees!

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!

 

 

Special Delivery!

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.

 

Liquid gold

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!

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!

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Queen under cage at the top

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Queen cell

Snelgroved!

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.

 

 

 

A second opinion.

It was good to have my beekeeper friend, Sandy, to cast an experienced eye over both Hive Caitlin and Hive Rebecca yesterday.

Sandy confirmed what I thought at my last inspection, Hive Caitlin has brood and larvae and no obvious signs of disease. He also confirmed that most of the combs were old and needed replaced. As the comb is reused many times, the cell sizes become smaller and they harbour more diseases, making the hive less desirable and clean. I was considering a complicated comb exchange but I was worried that this would divert precious energy away from building up the colony. As there was no brood or stores on 5 of the old combs, Sandy suggested we just swap them with frames of drawn comb. So, as we left it, 2 of the original frames were fine, 5 frames of clean drawn comb have been swapped in which leaves 3 old frames containing the brood. These can be swapped out later in the season. Hopefully now, Hive Caitlin is cleaner and nicer for the bees. Our last job was to check the Varroa count board. There was quite a bit of debris but no signs of Varroa, so that’s a relief.

We managed to have a quick look in Hive Rebecca and the top brood box was teaming with bees. It had four frames covered with a decent size brood pattern and it had plenty of stores on the outer frames. The lower brood box also contained brood over 3 frames. A slightly smaller brood pattern but plenty of stores. This is a strong colony with no obvious signs of disease. I’d like to split this hive into two.  This would get rid of the double brood setup, increase my number of hives and prevent swarming. I need a plan and someone to help me find the Queen!

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!

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Original crown board and new polycarbonate crown board.

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Foam insulation and with blanket added.

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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.