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.

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.

IMG_6820

 

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!

 

 

Moving Day!

As some of you may know, I was asked to relocate my hive due to the refurbishment of Hungary House and surrounding grounds, which will become residential. Although this was an initial blow, the Estate very kindly suggested I might consider alternative locations within the Estate and to have a look around and identify what would work for us both.

Having found and agreed a site, I just needed to move the hive – easy? Not so much! You may remember the rule to moving hives – under 3 feet or over 3 miles!  I was going to be moving the bees less than a mile as the crow flies. Time to consult the books and quiz my fellow beekeepers. As luck would have it, if you need to move bees less than 3 miles then the best time to do it is in the winter. As they’re not flying much, their sat nav isn’t set in stone. Theoretically, if they haven’t been flying for a few days or maybe even weeks in a cold period, once they emerge they’ll orientate themselves again, so a new site will be orientated automatically.

The next question, how to move them?  This one had me stumped for a while. Moving in winter reduces the risk of the bees returning to the old site but it increases the risk of them being bumped out of the cluster, chilling and dying. The less bumpy the ride, the less likely they will chill and die. My fellow beekeeper, Clive, kindly offered me his homemade hive ‘sedan chair’ to carry the bees to the new site. Stuart and I decided we’d do this by the end of January.

Where to move them was agreed, how to move them was decided but when to move them? The weather never seemed right, the path to the new site was very muddy and we were worried we’d slip and potentially drop the hive, I had the opportunity to treat with Oxalic Acid and doing this and moving them might put too much stress on the bees, I hurt my back so the possibility of carrying a heavy hive a mile seemed risky and finally Stuart was ill with the cold!  Frankly, any excuse because it was a scary thing – to move my only hive, my girls – so much could go wrong!

Time was marching on. February already! If it wasn’t done soon and the weather started to warm, I’d have missed the winter moving window. I decided today was the day, and we were going to move them by car!

So we closed the entrance, strapped the hive down, put it in the boot and drove, carefully, to the new site.  Once at the new site, we carried it a little distance, over a fence and onto the prepared ground. It looked good! I opened the lid to check all was well and the bees were still alive. They’d been bumped out of cluster but hopefully they’ll settle down quickly. I placed the food back over the feed hole and left the entrance closed so that, after being disturbed, they wouldn’t pile out and die in the cold. I’ll go back tomorrow and open the entrance, placing some branches over the entrance to emphasis the fact it looks different. I’ll also move and re-install the ‘woodpecker protection unit’ and add some wind screening.

 


I cannot tell you how amazing Stuart was at driving the little Zoe down the very muddy field path to Hungary House and back. As he says, when we come to trade it in, I don’t think we can say we haven’t done off-road rally driving in it anymore!  Gings – slipping and sliding, how he managed to save us on that last slide. I thought us, the car and the bees were going to end up in the field!  Stuart admitted afterwards he had a text ready to send to all 4 wheel drive owners in the village to come and rescue us!

After worrying and putting the move off for for several months, it’s done and it looks like it’s all gone well. Thanks to the Estate for the opportunity to relocate within it’s grounds, thanks to Clive for his advice and the loan of his ‘sedan chair’ and thanks to Stuart for his rally driving, help and support.  Hopefully the bees will be happy in their new location!