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.

 

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:

Party bees and disease!

Another inspection today of Hive Rebecca and it was great to have Stuart along to help. We decided to work from the bottom up.

The hive has an open mesh Varroa floor which allows any debris from the hive to be collected for inspection. I’ve looked previously but haven’t ever spotted anything significant, other than dropped wax capping, but this time it was interesting! There was some chalk brood and some Varroa mites.

chalk broodChalk brood is an extremely common disease caused by a fungus and, in itself, isn’t something to worry about.  However, it can be a sign that the colony is ‘stressed’ by something else, and that something else is often Varroa. (picture from the internet)
Varroa is a species of mite, first discovered in the UK in 1992. It lives as an external parasite on the bee and feeds on both adult and brood, weakening them and spreading disease. Unfortunately every colony will have Varroavarroa mite but it’s the degree of infestation that’s important. Severely infested colonies usually die out so it’s important to kept it under control. This is the first time I have clearly seen Varroa so the infection is probably still mild. I do, however, need to treat the infection before the winter when the bees are weaker and the toll of having a parasite becomes greater. (picture from the internet)

IMG_2218Despite the signs of disease, the 2 brood boxes were looking good.  The bees were in a happy IMG_2220mood, possibly the sunny weather, possibly Stuart’s calming influence!  We spotted them doing a party conga line between two pieces of drawn comb!  No idea what they were up too but it was rather amusing.

The queen is still laying in both boxes with 5 combs filled with larvae, capped brood and stores around the edges. There were 11 frames full of stores and 6 frames empty. A colony needs 18-22kg of stores to survive the winter. A frame holds about 2.2kIMG_2221g so I recon there’s 24kg of stores plus the extra round the edges. The empty frames were at the edges of the boxes with the stores in the centre, a good location for the cluster to access the stores in winter. I think I’ll feed once more before the next inspection then start the Varroa treatment.

So all in all, an interesting inspection.