JUNE

The first few days of June have passed quite uneventfully, thankfully. I forgot to mention that rather than waste the queen cells that “Cam 2″ had left behind when they swarmed I put one, along with the brood frame it was on and a frame of stores into a nuc.  I had a quick look after a couple of days and it didn’t look as though anything had happened. The bees seemed happy enough so I decided to leave them to it. A week or so later I had a look and strangely, although there was no sign of eggs or fresh brood, there seemed to be twice as many bees most of which were busily drawing comb, but the queen cell, far from hatching, looked to have been broken down. Again, the bees seemed far too busy to take any notice of me so I again boxed them back up. They seemed quite happy, just working away there in their nuc. and as they weren’t interfering with anything I decided to leave them to it for another week. This as it happened, was the right decision for the next time I opened them up I was confronted by a completely new frame filled with brood.

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STILL A LITTLE PUZZLED AS TO HOW THE NUC HAD COME ABOUT.

I felt really pleased with the nuc, though still a little puzzled as to how it had come about. I was talking it over with Bob, the owner of the site and said when asked, that I hadn’t decide what to do with the nuc as yet. Well, if you want to have another hive here, that’s fine with us, he said. It’ll mean extending the hive stand by another three feet I told him. That’s not a problem, Bob replied, do whatever you need to. So that was it, decision made. I’ve set about extending the stand and all being well the next few weeks will see a fourth hive at “Mendip C”.

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FINISHED STAND EXTENSION “MENDIP C”

Stand extension finished and Cuprinol well and truly dry, time to move hive three to it’s new position which is, onto the extension, as far to the right as it would go.As there is no rush, I decided to do the move in two visits and completed it two days ago. I wanted to give them a couple of days before moving hive two as I didn’t want any of the flying bees from three returning to two.

Paid a flying visit to “C” this afternoon. Began by strolling up to the hives, pleased to see the bees in three had happily settled in their new position and all were busily going about their business paying little or no attention to me. Time to start moving two I decided. A part of fixing the stand extension was the fixing of a 2×1″ batten. It stretched the whole length of the stand and involved me kneeling in front of the hives while I screwed it in place, sometimes with my face no more than a couple of inches away from the hive entrances. I was wearing a veil and gloves but, even though I was using a battery drill and as I said, no more than inches away from them, they took little or no notice of me. With that in mind, I had no qualms about moving hive two unaided, feeling certain that they would pay me the same lack of attention as they had previously. Now, two is on double brood and currently has three supers on, a fact I didn’t take account of before commencing the move. The hive was a lot heavier than I’d expected and stupidly, I lost my grip and allowed the hive to tilt at an alarming angle for a moment. I’m sure it was less than a few seconds until I managed to get it repositioned and in an upright state, but that was all the occupants needed. Out they streamed, all with only one thing on their minds, “instant retribution”. With too many stings to comfortably count, I made it to the car.

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HIVES TWO AND THREE IN THEIR NEW POSITIONS

I returned to “C” this morning and slid hive two along to it’s final position, no mishaps this time and the bees more or less ignored me. There were one or two who paid me a little more attention than I would have wished, but, pleased to report, no stings on this occasion. If all goes to plan, sometime this week I shall bring an empty hive up from the meadow and hive the nuc. They will become the new hive two whilst two will become three and so on. It was four days ago I last examined the meadow hives so this morning saw me smoker in hand, approaching hive one. I worked my way along briefly checking each hive in turn and pleased to report, with the exception of nine which was desperately short of stores, all were looking pretty good. Four was still streets ahead of her neighbours but although the frame of comb which I’d put in previously was fully cleaned and covered in bees, the queen still hadn’t started laying it up. This not only puzzled me, it disappointed me as I had a feeling that I was going to need that frame of brood when I visited “C” later, and that was to be proved correct! I gave nine a slab of fondant before leaving for “C”.

Pulling into the parking area at “C” I was met by Bob, busy as usual, on this occasion, trying to fit a new head onto his wife’s favourite broom. He had snapped the head off earlier and was trying to get it sorted before she returned home. “She’s had this same broom for years” Bob told me, and with a wink.” mind, it’s had four new heads and three new handles”. Yes, I thought, I saw that episode of “Only Fools and Horses” too, and returned his wink.

“Bees weren’t very happy yesterday, got stung twice”. He showed me quite a nasty swelling just below his left eye. Not the sort of news you want to hear when you are in the process of increasing the size of your apiary. I apologised and repeated that I was in the process of sorting out my queen problem. I hate the thought of Bob or his wife getting stung, they’ve been so good to me and as yet, haven’t even had a jar of honey, by way of a thankyou. “It’s not a problem”, Bob repeated, ” we love having the bees here and we knew from the start we’d get stung from time to time”.                           Most of the time the bees seem to be ok, even with the queen problems, it’s me opening them up that seems to galvanise them into action and this can last for up to twentyfour hours. Bob said that he was quite happy to stay away from that part of the garden until I had sorted my queens and I agreed to leave a note for him to tell him if I’d been playing with them.

With mixed thoughts I made my way up to the hives, this queen problem had now taken on a whole new sense of urgency. No-one’s patience lasts forever, and I couldn’t expect my owners to accept that part of their garden had become a “no go” area indefinitely.

I can’t remember whether I mentioned earlier, but hive one has been in the process of superseding for a couple of weeks or so. There was only one queen cell and the bees seemed happy enough so I’d left them to it. The cell was quite a bit longer than any I could remember seeing previously which did strike me as a bit strange at the time but, as I said, I left them to it.

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THE CELL WAS LONGER THAN ANY I’D PREVIOUSLY SEEN

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THESE 10 AND 5P PIECES WILL GIVE YOU SOME IDEA OF SIZE

I fully expected to find the cell had hatched at today’s visit and on opening the brood box, went straight to frame four where I knew the cell to be. The bees seemed markedly less friendly today than at my last visit so I don’t suppose I was unduly surprised to find that the cell hadn’t hatched. Next port of call, hive two. Still no signs of a queen in residence and by now I was under attack from all quarters.

Once home, I was straight on the ‘phone. “I want two queens please, yes, marked and clipped”. “Can’t deliver until next Friday,” came the reply, “and they will cost you £86 “. Ten days was longer than I’d expected to have to wait and the cost made me cough a little, but, if it solves my queen problem and keeps my owners “on side”, it’ll be a price well worth paying.

 

 

MAY

May is for me, where the season really begins. This is when hopefully the weather finally sorts itself out and falls into some sort of pattern, a pattern which has the meadows and hedgerows bursting with life, the welcome return of the swallows and our bees busily filling supers. Unfortunately, it is also the return of the swarming season and it was with this in mind that I went through all the hives during the last week of April. We had hired a holiday lodge in deepest Devon, for the first week of May and I wanted to be sure that when I returned, I would find the hives as I had left them. I carefully examined all of the brood boxes removing anything which even remotely resembled a queen cell or play cup, not that there were any to speak of, and left feeling somewhat smugly, that this would be one occasion when they wouldn’t catch me out.

Arriving late afternoon and with the weather closing in, it was a case of, a sandwich and a cuppa out on the veranda followed by a quick unpacking of the cases. By the time we had finished, it was raining quite heavily, this is a **** good start to the week I remember thinking. Fortunately, being no stranger to British holiday weather, we had packed a large umbrella and with the local hostelry beckoning, it was quickly pressed into service. It never ceases to amaze me just how differently the world appears through an upturned glass. Over a couple of pints and an hour’s mellow chat the prospects for the week ahead were definitely looking rosier. After all, with the bad weather now firmly behind us, it was all to look forward to, wasn’t it

Sunday was also dotted with the odd cloud burst, but the sight of the sun coming through a chink in the bedroom curtains on Monday morning, told me that breakfast on the veranda was the first order of the day.

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VIEW FROM THE VERANDA

Breakfast over, nothing better to do than relax over another coffee whilst deciding what to do for the rest of the day. Although you can’t see them, there were Canada Geese and Moorhens nesting on the lake and a lone duck which would appear from nowhere at the rustle of a biscuit wrapper. It was whilst sitting alone with my thoughts, sipping my coffee and admiring the view that my mobile rang. The name in the window told me that it was the owner of Mendip “C”.  ” ‘Morning Geoff, thought you’d like to know your bees are swarming”. Just the news you want to hear on the second day of the holiday you’ve been looking forward to for weeks. “I think they’ve only just swarmed so if you’re quick, you’ll probably get ‘em”!  A quick reminder that I was some eighty miles away in Devon seemed appropriate at that time. After a short pause came the reply, “They’re in a shrub, only a few feet from the ground, I’ll try to get them into a box or something”. “I shouldn’t worry about them Bob, it’s not worth getting stung and they’ll probably be gone by the morning”, I replied. “I’ll see what I can do” and he was gone. I retired to bed later that evening, wondering why it is that Sods Law seems to dog my every move. I mean, why not swarm a couple of days earlier or a few days later?  Anyway, as early as decent etiquette would allow, I was on the ‘phone, “how did you get on”? my first words. ” Well, after I put the ‘phone on you, down we decided to go onto the Internet to see if they had any ideas on what best to do and ended up with a pile of the supers from the stable next to the swarm and a wooden board leading from the bees up into the supers, this was for them to walk  up.” Seemingly that was what the internet article had advised and of course, as the bees hadn’t read that particular article, they stayed put in the shrub. “What then” I asked, hoping to hear that they had decided to leave them to it and fearing all the while that I’d be hearing next of how many times they’d both been stung. “Well, after a bit it was obvious that they weren’t going in of their own accord so I put my gloves on and transferred them by hand”. “Didn’t you get stung” I nervously enquired. “Only a few times but we’d made up our minds by now, that we weren’t going to be beaten and it was worth it to get this close to the bees. And when they started fanning at the entrance, I knew we’d cracked it. I couldn’t wait to get out there this morning to see the results of our efforts and guess what ?” I knew exactly what Bob was going to say by the tone of his voice. “They’d gone” I enquired. “Yes, not a bee to be seen.” I thanked them for all the effort they’d put in and mumbled something about, “That’s beekeeping for you, I’ve been keeping the little blighters for years and they never cease to confound me, it’s nothing personal.” “I know” said Bob,” but I really thought we had ‘em.” I thanked them both again and hung up.

I’ve shared this little tale with you to illustrate just how lucky I am to have my little “Mendip C ” apiary and to have the owners as my friends. I ask you, how many couples do you know who would have spent their Sunday afternoon and evening the way they did. Not only their time, but to go to the trouble of searching the Internet for clues as to the best way to go about it. Not too many I would venture to suggest which all goes to reinforce my feelings that my couple are very special people.

Well, it’s been a real mixed bag since returning from my break, we’ve not experienced any more swarms from our own Apiaries, but so far, I’ve been called out to five. A couple of these have been Bumble Bees but it does seem, from discussions I’ve had with other beekeepers, that this has been a particularly swarmy season so far. Why this should be I’ve no idea but it does reinforce the need to have a regular inspection regime in place.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many people don’t know a Bumble Bee when they see one, highlighted by a comment made during one of my visits. Seeing bees issuing from the roof of a garden shed I advised the owner not to worry, that these were Bumble Bees and they would soon be on their way. “Are you sure” he replied, “how can you tell”. After spending several minutes describing the differences and repeating that there was nothing to worry about his parting words were, “I’m amazed, I thought they were all the same”. I don’t know why this still surprises me, after all, I must have heard it dozens of times. But coming from the lips of a grown man, and one living in a country village at that, it still does. If nothing else, it illustrates the difference between looking and actually seeing.

Going back to our own bees, as I said earlier, it really has been a mixed bag. In one hive the queen has suddenly become a drone layer before disappearing all together, and this from a queen in her first full year. Another has superseded while at the other end we have hives working on their fourth supers, so as I said, a mixed bag. Convinced that the root of my problems lies with my poor queens I am once again concentrating my efforts on remedying the situation. The best colony at the meadow by far, is in hive four,the one housing my one remaining “bought in” queen so they are still earmarked to be my donor colony. Sticking with The Cloake Board method of queen rearing, as I said earlier, hive two at “C” was intended to be my nursery. To that end, they are on double brood and at the time of going on holiday, were building up really nicely. Any of you who are familiar with the “Cloak Board” method will know that it ends with the nursery hive surrounded by a circle of nuc’s, the nuc’s you are looking to populate. I had already been told that I could use the field behind “Mendip C” so the plan is, when hive two is full to bustin’, to take them back to the meadow for a couple of weeks or so, remove the queen, and graft my larvae from hive four. I shall stick with the Doolittle method of making wax cups as I don’t much like the idea of using plastic. It’s then just a matter of installing the frame into the nursery hive and waiting.

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WAX CUPS PRIOR TO FIXING TO FRAME

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FRAME COMPLETED AND READY FOR GRAFTING

When the cells are sealed the nursery colony, along with the nuc’s, will go to the field behind “C” for the final phase which is the sharing of the stores and brood frames, complete with queen cells, between the nuc’s which will by then be encircling the nursery hive. Well, that was the plan, right up to the ‘phone call because of course, it was hive two which had swarmed and although I’ve seen the empty queen cell, I have as yet, seen neither a new queen or any signs that she exists. Added to this the fact that they have now become extremely irritable suggests to me that either the new queen hasn’t started laying yet or they are in fact queenless. In an effort to resolve this, yesterday I placed a standard frame of drawn comb in the centre of Meadow 4′s brood box which I’m hoping the queen will seize on and lay up. This I will then give to my queenless colony which will hopefully get my plans back on track. In the mean time, I’m still trying to get my head around why hive two decided to swarm, they were on double brood and headed by a young queen so it wasn’t down to overcrowding or aging queens. There was plenty of drawn and partially drawn comb so it wasn’t down to a lack of laying space so, it must be down to poor queens, something I shall have resolved one way or another by the end of this season.

APRIL

Into the second week of April now and I’m really getting the feeling that Spring is finally here. The meadow is alive with dandelions and there is an abundance of blackthorn in flower. Having all of this food so close at hand means the bees don’t have to fly more than a few yards before they can start taking advantage of this rich bounty, evidence that they are, being borne out by the copious amounts of pollen returning to the hives. As is to be expected when there is such a flow on, the bees are in remarkably good humour. I mentioned previously that four and seven housed my remaining two “bought in” queens and how seven had eventually given up the ghost. Four, by comparison, after what looked like a shaky start, I’m pleased to say, has really taken off. They began life as half of one of my mating nuc’s. Following the failure of the queen in the other half, I removed the partition and they were allowed to unite and this was how they went into Winter. What all of this means is that they are the last colony remaining on single brood and also, they are tying up one of my mating nuc’s, something I’m hoping I shall be sorely in need of as the season progresses. Well, it costs nothing to dream, does it!

Following two very poor seasons, I had, if you recall, decided that an infusion of new blood was called for and this was the thinking behind my decision to, for the first time, buy-in new queens. Although this exercise wasn’t exactly an unbridled success, with hive four now housing the one surviving queen, I am still firmly committed to bringing in new blood and now that she is finally exhibiting all the signs of a very good queen, I’m seriously considering her’s as donor colony for this season’s Cloake-board exercise. That is still a couple of months away but was still one of my reasons to have four on extended brood as soon as possible and last Monday presented the perfect opportunity. Following a very pleasant weekend, Monday dawned bright and clear and by ten o’clock, with the sun very much in evidence, and my drivers window wound right down, I made my way to the meadow. I had, the day previous, placed a new 14×12″ box, complete with floor and frames on the hive stand between four and five so, this morning, just a case of swapping the positions of the two boxes and manipulating the frames to suit.

I had my smoker to hand but I needn’t have bothered, so docile is this colony, another good reason for wanting to breed from them. With the new box in position, the returning flying bees started entering immediately and even with both roofs off, none of them took the slightest interest in me. The standard frames would need extending or replacing with extended and to that end I had a number of frame extensions and new 14×12″s with me. Just in case you haven’t come across the extension pieces before, they are available from Thornes along with the foundation strips.

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14X12″ FRAME EXTENSION PIECES

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EXTENSION FITTED TO STANDARD BROOD FRAME

When I want to re-wax reclaimed extensions and have spare standard foundation to hand, I just cut a standard brood wax sheet in half with a sharp pair of scissors, it fits perfectly, and you don’t have to pay postage! Fitting the extensions to frames crawling with bees takes a little more care and you will need a rampin. In case you haven’t encountered one before, this little gadget enables you to insert gimp pins without the need for a hammer. I think even the most docile of bees would take exception if you were to start hammering an extension on with them in residence.

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RAMPIN IN USE ON MANLEY FRAME,

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AND ON FRAME EXTENSION.

As I said, a little more care is required when fitting the extension to a live frame, as it were, but if I can manage it, I’m sure that you can.

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STANDARD FRAME A COUPLE OF WEEKS AFTER FITTING AN EXTENSION.

The new box has castellated runners so it was a simple matter to replace the frames in the order I had removed them from the old box. A couple of the existing frames hadn’t been started so they were replaced with new. All of the others, with the exception of the one with the queen on, had extensions fitted, I didn’t want to risk upsetting her. In fact, it’s not absolutely necessary to extend every frame if you don’t want to, the bees will happily extend any standard frame that you leave them and provided you leave them between extended frames which they will use as a guide, they will maintain the bee-space all of the way around.

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NOT A PARTICULARLY GOOD EXAMPLE BUT IT GIVES YOU AN IDEA

I didn’t time myself but I doubt the whole operation took little more than an hour and that included tidying up and removing the old box. The following day I gave them a feeder of syrup. They’ve got a lot of fresh foundation to draw out and I want to give them all the help I can.