JULY

A busy start to the month so far. The two queen cells that went to Mendip “C” have both “hatched” and already the mood in one of the colonies is much improved. The queen cells were in different stages of advancement with one having had the end well polished and therefore it’s occupant being on the brink of emerging whilst the other was obviously lagging a few days behind. I can’t remember which hive had which cell but I’m hoping that the colony which has improved was the one with the more advanced cell which suggests she has already taken a successful mating flight and she has now taken over the colony. I only opened the hives long enough to remove the cell protectors and to give them both a container of syrup. I will give them a further week before they have a proper inspection. Hopefully the mood in the second hive will by then, have improved.

Things at the meadow are progressing a pace, all four queens in the nuc’s.have hatched and are each producing copious amounts of brood. They did, if you recall, all emanate from the hive which I’d earlier been given, who’s mood right from day one, was to say the least, unpredictable. I had my doubts at the time whether they were a suitable candidate for producing nuc’s. but as they were the first colony to produce queen cells in numbers and I was desperate to get my colony numbers back up, I decided to take the plunge.  Not entirely unexpectedly, two of the nuc’s.are exhibiting signs of extreme irritability, not what I had hoped for but I do have four nuc’s.full of bees which was what I set out to achieve.

After much thought, I have decided to buy in more queens and will re-queen the nuc’s. next week when hopefully, my queens arrive safe and sound. I’m in the process of re-queening the colony which I’d been given so, that done, they’ll be able to take a permanent place in the apiary and five have received a frame with a primed queen cell from seven who seem to be moving along at an alarming rate. All the hives have received a gallon or more of syrup with hive seven emptying their’s in less than a week. They’ll all receive a top-up later today, something to certainly keep an eye on. With so much activity around the hives and within the brood nests, it’s easy to assume that all is well and to overlook the fact that they might be on the brink of starvation. A mistake I made last year and not one I care to repeat.

So, you can see, I wasn’t joking when I said that it had been a pretty busy start to the month. I’ve been toying with the idea of making a couple of extra roofs for some time now, as a means of getting some of the kit I’ve managed to accumulate, out of the greenhouse where a lot of it now resides, and into the meadow where it belongs. As luck would have it, Wednesday was pretty miserable and that, combined with the fact Wednesday is discount day at B&Q persuaded me that two new roofs were the task for the day. I had enough 5mm ply left over from the nuc. production so all that was required was the 12mm for the sides. Making full use of B&Q’s excellent free cutting service I was in and of the store in little more that half an hour, with all my roof sides tucked firmly under my arm and ready for assembly. I had half a sheet of 5mm ply left over from the nuc’s. which took care of the roof flat section. By mid afternoon both roofs were assembled

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BOTH ROOFS ASSEMBLED

and before I left, both had received their first coat of Cuprinol.

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BOTH ROOFS HAD RECEIVED THEIR FIRST COAT OF CUPRINOL

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THE FINISHED ARTICLE, PITY ABOUT THE BRUSH-WORK

The 4×2′ sheet of exterior grade ply cost £12 as did each of the metal roof covers. Even taking into account the glue, the nails and the Cuprinol, the total cost of both roofs was well below that which you would expect to pay for one, and more importantly, I can now free up some of the space in my shed and greenhouse that I sorely need.

I gave all of the hives what will hopefully be, their last helping of syrup today. It’s amazing how much and how quickly they have taken it down, so as I said, hopefully today’s will be the last, if for no reason other than I’ve now used the last of my sugar reserves. I didn’t spend too long with each hive as it’s only a couple of days since I went through them, I did however, give them all a dose of icing sugar and left them all looking like so many miniature abominable snowmen as they went about their business.

On Saturday just gone, the town where I live had it’s Summer Fayre and Fun Day. Last year, for the first time our society had been invited to host a stall extolling the virtues of beekeeping. It was very well received, not unsurprisingly, and we were invited to do the same this year. We had honey tasting along with copious amounts of beekeeping paraphernalia including an observation hive which attracted enormous interest. It was lovely to watch the children as they searched for the queen and to hear their comments when they found her, and of course, everyone went home with a badge which announced to all that “I spotted the queen”. The sun shone and everyone was happy, a great afternoon!

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THE TOWN FAYRE AND FUN DAY,  A GREAT AFTERNOON

As we all know, a week is a very long time in beekeeping. Less than a week ago, my new nuc’s. were so irritable that I decided the only solution was to buy in new queens  so it was with the sole intention of culling the incumbents that I drove to the meadow early Monday morning. My new queens were due to arrive on Tuesday so Monday was, for my irritable new queens, to be the day of reckoning. So, to nuc.1, I carefully removed the roof and crown board, fully expecting to be attacked from all quarters as had been the case on each previous occasion, but not today. Today they totally ignored me and went about their business as though I was invisible,

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WALL TO WALL BROOD IN ALL THREE NUC’S.

two and a half frames of brood and one of stores and a queen, easily the biggest I’ve seen for a very long while. I boxed them up and went on to the other three nuc’s. 2 and 4 were exactly the same as 1 whilst 3 was queenless. So, what to do, gone was the irritability of the previous week except for 3 which, being queenless, was to be somewhat expected, and even they were nowhere as bad as they had been previously. So, as I said, what to do, my new queens were due to arrive tomorrow so what ever decision I came to, had to be implemented before I left the meadow. Obviously, the decision on 3 was simple, they would receive one of my new queens, but the other three, had they somehow got wind of my intentions and put on their best behaviour for my benefit. I am of course joking but decided to go through them all again, just in case it was some sort of fluke. Now, in my experience, even the most placid of colonies will exhibit a change of mood if you go through them more than once, especially if you are a little careless or clumsy, so, I did just that. Apart from 3 who did take exception to my second intrusions, the other three seemed completely unphased. I made my decision and exited the meadow leaving behind, two additional nuc’s, each containing an empty frame feeder, a frame of brood and one of stores, my queens had, at least for the moment, won a reprieve.

Having already used the last of my stored sugar and knowing the nuc’s. would require feeding, having finished at the meadow, I decided a visit to Bookers was the order of the day. The price of sugar seems to have rocketed recently with some of the larger supermarkets charging as much as fortyseven pence a kilo and even Lidl charging fortythree. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was on offer at Bookers at ten pounds per 25kg bag or two bags for nineteen pounds. That works out at 38p per kilo, too good an opportunity to miss and after a ‘phone call to my friend Liz, I left with six bags. I spent the remainder of the afternoon making syrup and candy, oh, the pleasures of being a beekeeper.

Tuesday morning and as expected, around ten a.m. an envelope containing my new queens appeared on the hall carpet. I dread to think what they must go through on their journey, a journey that ends with them dropping ignominiously through the letter box and it’s always with a little trepidation that I open the envelope.

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THEY APPEARED NONE THE WORSE FOR THEIR JOURNEY

As usual, I needn’t have worried as they seemed none the worse for their journey and quickly attacked the water droplets which I gave them through the holes in their plastic travelling cage. The white marker spots quickly identified the queens and I watched as they pushed their way between their travelling companions, as I said, seemingly unaffected by their ordeal. Satisfied that I had the queens which I had ordered, all complete with six legs and two pairs of wings, I transferred them, minus their attendants, into Butler cages, and slid them back into the envelope, not before encasing the lower half of each cage in newspaper. I always use two sheets secured with an elastic band, and make sure they extend at least half way up the cage, this to give the queen somewhere to hide if needs be. That done all that remained was to sort out the candy and syrup which would accompany me to the meadow, and load the car.

At the meadow everything went exactly to plan for a change, the nuc’s. which were to house the new queens each had their feeders filled with syrup before receiving the queens in their cages. These were inserted vertically between the two frames. The other nuc’s each had their candy replenished. So, that was it, job done. I shall probably take a quick look at the new nuc’s. in a couple of days time, just to see if the queens have been released, then, apart from topping up the feeders, I shall leave them alone until I see pollen being taken in. Half way up the meadow, I paused and looked back at my little apiary, seven nuc’s. on the go, the best that I can remember.

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SEVEN NUC’S. THE BEST I CAN REMEMBER.

I gave the new queens three days before taking a quick look into their new homes. The whole operation took only a few minutes, in two of the nuc’s. I had only to part two of the frames to reveal the queens scurrying around, the white spots on their backs making them easy to see. The third queen was on the second frame that I removed, again, wandering about quite happily. Nothing more to do than box them up and leave them to it. I looked in on Mendip “C” on my way home to see if the mood of the occupants had improved since my last visit. I didn’t need to open the hives, in fact I didn’t even get that close, the way I was greeted whilst no more than half way from the car park was enough to convince me that there was nothing to be gained by going any further. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I decided to give them another week.

A week on and things haven’t gone exactly to plan, but then, as beekeepers we get used to that don’t we !  Good news from “C”, I was able to approach the hives unchallenged, in fact the hive on the left which I shall refer to as 1, allowed me to approach and stand no more than a couple of feet away from the hive entrance. The other which has become 3 was still showing signs of irritability with a couple of inmates following me back to the car, but at least this time there were only a couple, unlike the previous visits when I had to drive away still suited up.

I said things hadn’t gone exactly to plan since my last visit and arriving at the meadow today, the first thing I noticed was bees crawling all over the front of seven

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BEES CRAWLING ALL OVER THE FRONT OF SEVEN

and a great many milling around the hive. My first thoughts were that they were swarming,

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MY FIRST THOUGHTS WERE THAT THEY WERE SWARMING

I had at my last visit, if you remember, left them with what I believed to be a supersedure cell, but there were no bees streaming out of the hive entrance as is usually the case when a swarm issues, and although there were lots of bees in evidence, they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The bees on the front of the hive seemed to be content just milling around as did the flying bees. I have seen bees behaving this way when too much smoke has been used during an inspection, the bees seemingly wanting to re-enter the hive but being prevented by the unfamiliar odour at the entrance. I have also observed similar behaviour when a colony has overheated. Yesterday had been the second of the two hottest days of the year so far, so, could overheating be the problem. Seven is probably my strongest colony and although like all of my hives, they are on mesh floors, unlike the others, this hive is completely unshaded.

I decided to put my theory to the test and with the gentle use of my hive tool inserted a matchstick into the corners between the brood box and queen excluder and each of the supers. Within minutes, the bees around the entrance began re-entering the hive to be joined, very shortly after, by the bulk of the flying bees.

By the time I left the meadow, an hour or so later, hive seven was behaving perfectly normally. I allowed myself a pat on the back, “sorted that one out”, I remember thinking as I drove home.

The following day hive seven swarmed,

I’d got it wrong again, once again the bees had been one step ahead. I don’t know why I’m still surprised when this happens. I know from conversations with others who have been keeping bees for a lot longer than me, that I am in good company when it comes to having our long held ideas and theories dismantled by these tiny creatures. I suppose the lesson is that we shall never truly know what motivates our bees to behave the way they do, I still subscribe to my theory that overheating affects the behaviour of bee colonies. In exactly the same way that it does other animals, us included. Maybe overheating was a contributing factor in persuading seven to swarm, I’ll never really know, but for the moment I’ll console myself with the thought that it probably was.

Suddenly having so many nuc’s. on the go for the first time, I hadn’t thought through properly where best to site them and ended up with nuc.1 on the roof of hive 1. For the first week or so, with few if any flying bees leaving the nuc. there wasn’t a problem but as the numbers built up all of that changed. Of course, in order to inspect hive1, I had to temporarily remove the nuc which led, in very short order, to all of the flying bees buzzing around my head no doubt, wondering where their home had disappeared to. With nowhere they recognised to pitch, most of them chose me. The outcome of this was that yesterday I removed nuc1. to Mendip “C”.

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NUC1 NOW AT MENDIP “C”

I had intended to hive the colony before taking them to “C” so removing the nuc. and it’s contents from the meadow didn’t really represent a change of plan, just a change of timing. What it does mean is that now I can examine Meadow Hive 1 without constant bombardment, I shall remember that when next I’m siting nuc’s. Incidentally, the mood in three continues to improve with only one bee accompanying back to the car on this occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE

Barely a week since I last wrote and only a few days into June but what a difference those few days have made. As I said previously, now that we are firmly into the “swarmy season”, I inspect all of the colonies at a maximum of seven day intervals, for as we all know, a week can be a long time in bee keeping. It’s fairly easy for me, being retired, and so I don’t clip my queens. However, for those of you who have to inspect at more random intervals, unless of course, you enjoy surprises, I would recommend that you clip your queens.

So, my first stop this week was at Mendip “C” where the first thing I noticed was that they seemed quite a lot happier than at my previous visit. Lots and lots of bees now and a great many drones in evidence, on the third frame, the queen scurrying around, and very noticeably, very much slimmer than the last time I saw her. Holding the frame and while trying not to lose sight of my queen, I could see quite clearly that there were queen cells on the face of frame four. Quite obviously, here we had a colony preparing to swarm, and according to all the signs, in quite an advanced state. I had, a couple of weeks earlier, taken an empty 14×12″  hive to the site where it had been my intention to re-house the colony which I had been given. As you know, due to their change in temperament, that didn’t happen and they ended up back to the meadow. The fact that the empty hive was still on site made the decision on what to do with the colony preparing to swarm all the easier. Create an artificial swarm using, “The Pagden Method”. It’s probably the most commonly used method of swarm control for two reasons. Firstly, because it requires the minimum of manipulations and secondly, because it seldom fails. The only requirements are that you have a spare hive filled with frames of foundation and that you can find your queen. Well, I had both, the queen was running around on the frame I was holding and the empty hive was only a few feet away. Sod’s law, I didn’t have an empty matchbox or queen cage with me, I did however, find a “crown of thorns” trap in my suit pocket and with this I gently pinned the queen to the comb. A simple matter now to complete the manoeuvre, swap positions of the two hives,

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HIVE POSITIONS SWAPPED. HIVE ON RIGHT NOW CONTAINS QUEEN

take a couple of frames from the centre of the empty hive and replace with the frame holding the queen, along with one frame of stores from the swarming colony. Close up the gap in the swarming colony, remove all but one of the queen cells and install the two empty frames at the sides. All that’s required now is to check for and remove any additional queen cells in a weeks time. The idea is that all of the flying bees will join the queen in the new hive, and because they have effectively swarmed will set about drawing out new comb into which the old queen will lay. The original colony, now devoid of flying bees will give up all ideas of swarming and concentrate on raising their new queen. As I said, it is a good idea, about a week or so later, to check and remove any queen cells that they might have started.

If this works, and I can see no reason at this moment why it shouldn’t, there will, in a month or so’s time, be two colonies at Mendip “C”, hopefully a sign that things are on the mend. Just a footnote, if you use this method and don’t want a additional colony, it is a simple matter once the new queen is settled and laying, to remove the old queen and unite the two colonies. This will give you a super strong colony headed by a brand new queen and if you’ve left your supers on the original colony throughout the manoeuvre, your honey production will have been hardly affected.

Pausing on my way back to the car, a quick glance showed plenty of activity at both entrances. A couple of bees followed me back to the car which was a bit worrying but as they didn’t persist I put it down to my clumsy handling. It will be interesting to see how they behave when next I open them up. And so, on to the meadow.

The meadow still hasn’t been cut and the first thing I noticed as I made to walk down to the apiary was that the resident Roe deer had now been joined by a suitor. This was the first time this year that I had seen a buck in the meadow  As neither of them seemed concerned at my presence, at least, not until I had got to within twenty yards of them when they upped and skipped away, I guessed that this wasn’t the first time he’d paid her a visit. I imagine that there will soon be another addition to the family, time to re-enforce the fencing around my runner beans I’m thinking.

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GOOD FOR THE BEES, NOT SO GOOD FOR HAY-FEVER SUFFERERS

From barely half way down the meadow I could hear the buzzing coming from the hives. The grass is now nearly waist high and with an abundance of all manner of wild flowers, the meadow is alive with flying insects. I must have passed at least a dozen different types of bumble bee on my way down, an entomologist’s paradise I couldn’t help thinking.

As usual, I began with the colony which had come back from “C”. Literally thousands of bees coming and going, far too busy to pay me any heed which was gratifying as I’ve never quite grown to appreciate being stung. The first thing I noticed was activity in the supers and the increase in their weight since last week, a good start I thought. Into the brood chamber, lots of brood and pollen and this time, the beginnings of a supersedure cell. I was right in the centre of the brood nest and the fact that there was only the one convinced me to leave it intact. On to the colony that I’d been given, the one from which I had taken two nuc’s. at my last visit, These are, incidentally looking quite promising and will receive a top-up of syrup before I leave. This new colony is, if you recall, on double brood, and despite having already fuelled two nuc’s, was noticeably, still extremely strong in bees, also, they had produced more queen cells. Not enough to suggest that they were looking to swarm, more of a supersedure nature. There were four cells spread between three frames. I don’t know the history of this colony except to say, the previous owner told me that they had provided him with four full supers the previous year. He was also sure that they had superseded at some time as he had never personally, at any time, re-queened them.

Obviously a prolific queen heading a very industrious workforce, the state of the replacement frames that I had given them a week earlier told me that. I decided they had enough brood and stores to support another two nuc’s. and ten minutes later, they had joined the other two in the apiary.

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NUC’S. 3 & 4 NOW JOIN THE TOTAL

On to the other three colonies, the queen in three seems to have finally woken up and has more than doubled the amount of brood since my last inspection, no change in five but in seven, a quick look showed they had broken down the original supersedure cell and were in the process of drawing out another. I imagine they must have detected a problem with the first cell but, the second told me that they were still planning to supersede so I boxed them back up and left them to it. Before leaving I topped up the syrup in the first two nuc’s. I didn’t remove the crown boards, just in case the queens had hatched, just slid them across far enough to expose the frame feeders from where, pleased to say, in both nuc’s. I could see plenty of activity. Walking back up the meadow, I was for once, really looking forward to my next visit.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons for choosing the Pagden method of swarm control was that it very seldom fails. Well, there’s always an “exception to the rule” isn’t there!  A week later saw me at Mendip “C”, expecting to find everything going as planned. Now, I don’t know why I should have thought that way, after all, they’ve managed to confound all of my expectations thus far, so, why should this latest episode be any different.

So, first to the hive housing the old queen, and when I say old, this is only the start of her second year, so I think I could have been forgiven for expecting things to be going as expected, but no, first and most noticeable thing upon removing the crown board, very irritable bees, second thing, no queen, no eggs or unsealed brood. I went through the colony twice, very carefully. It wasn’t that difficult as there were, of course, only two frames occupied. So, box them up and on to the original hive. For some reason, they had broken down the sealed cell that I had left them with and raised another three. I have to say that by now, I was feeling really brassed off, and that’s putting it lightly, I was under attack from all directions, and the bees for some reason, seemed to be suffering from some sort of death wish. Before leaving, I removed one of the new cells, placed it into a cell protector and gave it to their queenless neighbour.

The meadow colonies were pretty much as I had left them the previous week. Both of the first nuc’s, now fifteen days old, were showing activity around the entrances with pollen noticeably being taken into one of them, a good indication that at least one has a laying queen. I’ll open them both at my next visit, not a simple operation with fingers firmly crossed.

A week on and as usual, Mendip “C” was my first port of call. At last signs that things were on the mend with both queen cells hatched. I didn’t spend too much time with them as the occupants of the new hive were still markedly irritable, I’ll check for brood  at my next visit by which time hopefully, they’ll be feeling a little happier. By the time I arrived at the meadow, it was raining quite steadily. That has been the pattern this past week, so, although I have visited the meadow most days my activities have been rather limited.

I did manage to assemble the 14×12″ ekes which I bought in a seconds sale earlier in the year.

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EKES AWAITING ASSEMBLY

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FINISHED ITEMS, AWAITING A COAT OF CUPRINOL

I think a couple of them should have been labelled thirds but after juggling the bits about I did finish up with four passable ekes. Dodging the showers, I managed to get them assembled, then brought them into the greenhouse for a couple of coats of Cuprinol.

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GREENHOUSE IS IDEAL FOR DRYING NEWLY STAINED HIVE PARTS

I’ve fitted the fasteners so all that is left is to fix them to my four remaining standard brood boxes. I shall put a small bead of mastic on the mating surfaces just to make sure they are completely weather proof.

The rain which accompanied me to the meadow proved to be little more than a shower so I was able to have a quick look at the new nuc’s. Eggs and brood in the first two and every sign that the other two were about to follow suit. It’s not unknown for very young queens to take flight if alarmed, so I didn’t hang about, any way, it was beginning to rain again so, time to call it a day. Weather permitting I shall open the meadow hives tomorrow, quite a pleasantly optimistic proposition I’m thinking.

Some months ago my society was approached with a view to being represented at a function promoting outdoor activities in Wells, Somerset. It was to take place in the Museum grounds adjacent to The Cathedral. We are always eager to be a part of anything which promotes our hobby so, last Saturday saw us setting up our stall, complete with observation hive and related beekeeping paraphernalia. Within moments of starting and almost before we had got all the bits and pieces out of the cars, it started to rain. At that point, realizing that the heavens were against us, we should have re-loaded the cars and gone home but, five minutes later saw us and our stall set up in the hall although, one or two brave souls braved the elements and stayed outside with their stalls. I don’t think that we saw more than a dozen visitors all day but the other stall-holders were very pleasant and helped while away what would have otherwise been a very long day. The lady on the stall next to us was very pleasant and took a great interest in the observation hive. She told of seeing a honeybee being attacked by a white spider and showed me the pictures that she had taken. I had never seen anything like it and thinking that you might be interested I asked if I might publish them. She very kindly agreed so here are a couple.

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WHITE SPIDER WITH HONEYBEE. reproduced by kind permission of Ailsa Mosquera.

Following my visit to the nuc’s. I returned to the meadow the following day to go through the hives. Again, very obvious was the activity at the nuc. entrances, pollen now being taken into all four. All of the hives with the exception of five continue to expand, the colony from “C” now with every frame occupied which, considering they are on extended brood is, to my mind, quite remarkable bearing in mind the lousy weather so far this year, and the fact that we are still only in early June. Anyway, I took the decision to give two frames to five. It’s “The last chance saloon” for them, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond this time.

Thursday the 23rd today. One or two errands to run, quick visit to the Town Hall to cast my referendum vote and then over to the bees. The forecast for today isn’t brilliant which is really no more than a continuation of weather we’ve had this past week. We’ve had the odd spell of sunshine but rain and overcast skies have persisted on most days and as today promises more of the same, I won’t be hanging about.

I’ve been pushing on with my hive modifications, making full use of the greenhouse and at this moment, I’ve only one left to do so, it hasn’t by any means, been all doom and gloom. Making the most of what bright spells we have had, I’ve managed a walk down the meadow most days and have been really pleased with the amount of activity issuing from each hive. I think the bees must queue up inside the hive while it’s raining, just waiting for a break in the clouds. If I get close enough, I can actually see them milling around just inside the entrance, then, as soon as the rain stops, out they pour in their thousands.

A day on and I’m back at the meadow, the main purpose today, to give feeder of syrup to number five. I want to give them every chance to succeed with the frames they had received a couple of days ago. The rest of the meadow hives continue to look good so I decided to leave them to it and push on with my hive mods. That done it was time to visit Mendip “C”. I was hoping to find them in a friendlier frame of mind than on my last couple of visits but it wasn’t to be. As soon as I pulled into the car park and suited up I had one or two unfriendly bees circling around me and even before I had removed the crown board on the nearest hive, those numbers had swelled considerably. I can’t think of a less pleasant experience than going through an irritable colony, no amount of smoking seems to dissuade them from their obvious intention which seems to be, to find the most tender spot on your body and sting it as many times as they can. Even if they don’t get you, the constant pinging off your veil and high pitched whine makes it very difficult to concentrate on the job in hand. Even with all of the unwelcome attention, I managed to go through each colony twice and by the time I finally left, I was totally convinced that both were still queenless. The bees that accompanied me back to the car, and the couple that got in with me, meant that for the first time in memory, I had to leave still wearing my veil and gloves.

This site is beginning to give me sleepless nights, not just because I don’t seem to be able to get to the bottom of the problems that seem to be constantly beset by, which is worrying enough, but because I don’t want to alienate the owners of the site. They have been so kind to me. Considering that we had never met before the day they offered me the use of their lovely gardens and meadow, they have made me feel so welcome, even suffering the occasional bee sting,  and I don’t want anything to sour that relationship.

Obviously, over the next couple of days the Mendip “C” apiary and the need to re-queen was uppermost in my thoughts. The most simple solution would be to give each a frame of eggs and young brood and let them get on with the job of raising another queen for themselves. The problem with that is that having already taken frames of brood from the hives that could spare them to support my nuc’s. and hive five, which by the way, now seems to be on the mend, I don’t want to further deplete my strong colonies by taking more frames away from them.

My next visit to the meadow began as usual, with the colony from Mendip “C”. It was they that had provided the two frames that I’d given to five. At my last visit, a lone queen cell, in the centre of one of the brood frames, had convinced me that they were preparing to supersede and so I had left it untouched. Today was different, the appearance of several more queen cells suggested that they had changed their minds about superseding and were now intent on swarming. Why they should have had this change of heart I don’t know, they’ve plenty of room and a young queen. Maybe they were miffed because I’d stolen two of their frames of brood. Whatever the reason, my first thought, could this be the solution to the problems at “C”. I removed the two best cells, placed them in cell protectors and broke down the others. An hour later, after I had finished my inspections at the meadow, they were in their new homes at Mendip “C”. Unless it’s obvious that things have gone horribly awry, I won’t open either of them for another ten days, so until then ?

 

 

MAY

To those of you who regularly join me as I stumble to achieve my bee-keeping goals, let me apologise. For the first time since I began this Blog, I have missed a month. I can’t imagine why anyone would be desperate enough to hack in to my computer in an effort to steal my scribbling’s but somehow I have managed to lose half of my pic’s along with all of my notes for April. In my ignorance, I probably pressed the wrong button, “OK, I know they’re called keys”, but what ever it was, it wasn’t until last week that I managed to get the site back up and running. So as I said, please accept my apologies.

The second couple of weeks of April saw a marked improvement in the weather and with it, much increased activity around the Apiaries. So much so that during the third week I managed a full, if brief, inspection of all the colonies. The single colony remaining at Mendip C was doing exceptionally well. It is, if you remember, on extended brood and already there were five full frames of brood along with a couple of good frames of stores. I headed to the meadow, at last something to write home about I remember thinking to myself.

Arriving at the meadow and still suited up, it didn’t take long to get to, and open the first hive. This colony, if you recall had begun life in one of my queen rearing nuc’s. at the meadow before being transferred along with two others to the new site at Mendip C. The whole exercise had been a disaster from the beginning with the first colony swarming within a fortnight and both of the others superseding shortly afterwards. The hive at the meadow now houses the swarm which since returning to the meadow have shown no further inclination to swarm and appear to have gone from strength to strength. This colony is also on extended brood and on removing the first frame it was immediately obvious that here we had a queen fully living up to her potential. One puff with the smoker was enough to send the bees down and that was where they stayed throughout my visit. Wall to wall brood on at least five frames and an abundance of stores on the others. Quite a few drones in evidence but not a single queen cup. All of this reinforced my feelings that here we had a very good queen. A good job I didn’t follow my first instincts on transferring her and her swarm to the meadow which was to replace her as soon as possible.

As I may have previously mentioned,we are down to just four colonies at the meadow, they are the colony which came from “C” and what were hives three, five and seven. I haven’t moved them from their original positions and it helps my failing memory to refer to them by their original numbers. So, from “C” on to three and five. From the activity at the hive entrances, obviously the weaker of the four. In three, nowhere the number of bees as in “C” and the brood, such as there was, was patchy. There were eggs and larvae but not anywhere near the amount I was hoping to see, more evidence that the previous year’s queens had been poorly mated. In five, no signs of a queen at all. The bees were perfectly well behaved and they were bringing in pollen and nectar but no signs of brood. A couple of weeks earlier following my first brief inspection I had given five a frame of brood to see if they would draw out a new queen. Today’s visit showed they had made no efforts in that direction suggesting to me that they still had a queen, but if they did, where was she and what was she playing at. I moved on to seven which thankfully was in very good health, much the same as “C”. Pleasing to see but the overall picture is far from satisfactory. Since the same time last year we have lost more that half of our stocks and of those we have left, half now appear now to be failing. Thinking back over previous years, If I had lost a single colony over winter I would have felt really aggrieved and be searching my records to try to find a clue as to where things had gone wrong but, compared with the results of the last couple of seasons, losing one colony would have counted a real success. Anyway, back to the present, what to do with three and five. Last Spring, I made what was to prove to be a big mistake by taking brood from my strongest colonies and giving it to the weakest. In previous years this had provided the boost they’d needed and they had progressed from there to become productive colonies. Last year, for some reason, was different, the poor hives didn’t benefit from the additional brood so they were given more. Looking back, I liken it to investing in an ailing company, if your stocks fail to improve, do you invest more in the hope that things will improve or do you write off your original investment. Well, stupidly, I continued to invest until I reached the inevitable terminal outcome when, not only did the original ailing stocks fail but the hives from which I had taken the brood struggled and in some cases, never fully recovered. I have decided not to risk jeopardising the two remaining good colonies helping three and five, instead they will be united at the first opportunity from when, they can take their chances.

Something which did happen in April which I haven’t yet mentioned was that I was given a new colony of bees. Earlier I had received a ‘phone call from a Society member informing me that he was moving house and as a result would have to, at least for the immediate future, relinquish his apiary site and asking me whether I could take his bees. He told me that he had one colony and that they were on double brood. I accepted his offer gratefully and one mild Tuesday evening towards the end of the month found us in the orchard where he housed his bees. By the time we arrived, most of the flying bees were in the hive, which was of course the plan. They seemed a happy bunch and paid little or no attention to my removal of the roof and empty super which I had to do in order to get them into the car. There was still a little candy under the roof and the empty super was being used as an eke. I fitted a crown board, secured the entrance, strapped up the hive and manoeuvred them into the car. While all this was going on, not a sound from within. Even when I got them out of the car at the meadow, not a murmur. It was by now getting dark so I decided to temporarily leave the hive on one of the tables in the orchard at the top of the meadow. I’ll make the decision tomorrow on what to do with them I decided. I removed the tape covering the entrance, still not a sound. Driving home I did begin to wonder whether I might have collected an empty box. The reason I’m telling you this is to bring into prospective what happened later.

The weather the following day, was to say the least, pretty grim. I made it to the meadow shortly after lunch prompted by what can only be described as an apology of a gap in the clouds through which a watery sun was doing it’s best to shine, unsuccessfully, it has to be said. I messed about in the greenhouse for an hour before deciding that enough was enough. The rain had made way for a fine drizzle by now so I decided to give it another ten minutes before heading home. The right decision as it happened for suddenly, the clouds parted and out came the sun. The threatening clouds all around suggested that this was to be a brief interlude, so I made my way straight to the new hive. It was at the top of the meadow, if you recall, so I didn’t have far to go. I arrived within a couple of minutes and already there were bees issuing from the entrance. As one would expect, they weren’t going very far at this point, but within a very short while, there were bees crawling all over the front of the hive. Even though the rain had only just stopped, all this activity suggested that that this colony was in fact, very strong in numbers. Another thing very apparent, was that they appeared to be taking little or no notice of the fact that I was standing no more than a couple of feet away. There was by now, a steady flow of bees leaving the hive and I had bees circling all around me but not a single one landed on me.

I left the meadow in really high spirits, for the first time in a long while it has to be said. Always the optimist I was already thinking, I now have what appears to be a very strong colony on double brood. Can this be the nursery colony to rear this year’s queens. And, if they turn out to be as placid as they appeared today? As I said, always the optimist !

The following day was by contrast, lovely. A hasty breakfast followed by a twenty minute drive found me at the meadow, which was by now, carpeted with wall to wall sunshine. A week had passed since my last inspection so, out with the smoker and on with my jacket. Inspecting the four colonies which now comprise the meadow apiary took less than an hour. The two weak colonies showed very little change but the other two had each added a frame of brood. I was pleased to have been able to carry out a full inspection and now that the swarming season is upon us, I shall continue with weekly inspections for the foreseeable future.

That evening, the 28th of April, I returned to the meadow and removed the new colony to Mendip “C”. The hive strap was still in place so it was a simple matter to just close off the entrance and put them back in the car, some fifteen minutes saw the job done. Re-opening the entrance saw one or two bees casting an enquiring eye towards me but no more interest than that. The fact that they seemed so good natured was the main reason for me taking them to “C”. You may recall that I had previously returned two colonies to the meadow because of their bad behaviour and I didn’t want to go down that road again. The following morning I paid them a quick visit, the hive stand is some thirty yards from the car park and from where I stopped and got out of the car, the volume of activity around the new hive was immediately apparent. I approached the hives slowly, I didn’t want to disturb the new colony, just to get some idea of their mood now that they were in their new home. They were by now, streaming out from the hive. I stopped some three or four feet, and slightly to one side, of the hive and watched. Now there were bees returning with pollen, all of them seemingly oblivious to me, it was as if they had always lived there. I decided to give them a few days to settle in before opening them up and so it was almost a week later when I returned, suited up and with smoker in hand.

As I approached, and from fully five yards away, I could tell there had been a mood change since my last visit. I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt that way, whether the pitch of the buzzing had changed or the way they were entering and leaving the hive I don’t know. I think that over time you seem to develop a sixth sense about certain things but whatever it was, I was right. By the time I had removed the roof there were bees pitching on me and before I had finished lifting off the top box I had already received several stings. No amount of smoke would pacify them, intent as they were on letting me know my attentions were unwelcome. The main reason for today’s inspection was check for queen cells and to verify how the queen was performing. Lots of brood in both boxes and no queen cells so that was ok. but why the change in mood. I boxed them up quickly and made my way back to the car with all the way, bees pinging off of my veil and jacket. If that wasn’t bad enough, “good morning Geoff”, it was the owner    coming up the path from the cottage. I quickly explained the situation vowing to move the hive back to the meadow later that evening but, unfortunately, not before a number of bees had transferred their attentions from me to him. I spent the rest of the day mulling over what had happened before returning as promised and collecting the hive.

It has been more than a year now since I set up Mendip “C”. It is undeniably a beautiful spot. As I have said before, there is a meadow of about an acre situated behind the apiary site, it isn’t grazed and enjoys an abundance of wild flowers. It is bordered by hedges of Blackthorn and Hawthorn and there is an orchard of about a quarter of an acre next to the apiary. There is no passing traffic as the whole site is well away from the nearest road, and that is little more than a single track width for much of it’s length. Just the farmer next door and the occasional rambler or cyclist use the lane which leads to the cottage. So, why is it that this site seems to have been dogged by bad luck from the start, or, is it bad luck.

If you recall, I began with three brand new colonies, each with queens that I had bred the previous year. Some time before taking them to the new site they had been transferred from their nuc’s into brand new 14×12″ hives which they had immediately set about filling with brood and stores.

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NEW COLONIES READY TO GO FROM MEADOW TO MENDIP “C”

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NEW 14×12″ HIVES, NOW AT MENDIP “C”

Within a month one of the colonies has swarmed and shortly after, the other two had superseded. The colony which had swarmed became extremely irritable and was taken back to the meadow where it rapidly lost all signs of it’s former irritability and has continued to prosper. The swarm and the two colonies which superseded eventually failed as did two of the queens which I bought in from a very reputable source. I had never bought in queens before but had managed to convince myself that the failures must have been down to my queens either being, in some way inferior, or having been poorly mated. But now, with the demise of my bought in queens, I was having my doubts.  The one remaining queen was a present from my friend Liz and she still heads the one remaining colony, very ably it has to be said. So, as I asked earlier, can all this be put down to bad luck or co-incidence.

The last week in May now and things have really started to move. Strangely, the two strongest colonies at the meadow have both decided to supersede. They are each on extended brood and are busy working supers so I’m not concerned that they are short of space, also the fact that they have only produced one queen cell each tells me that they are not preparing to swarm but it does seem a little odd that they should each be behaving in the same way. Having said all that, the next time I look, I’ll probably find that they have all swarmed, you just never know do you ! Hive three is looking the best it has all season, they still lag behind the others by some distance but they appear to be doing their best to catch up. I haven’t united them with five yet who still seem as happy as Larry despite there having been no sign of a queen all season. I’m very please to be able to report that the new colony that I had to move back to the meadow from “C” has now calmed down to the point that they allowed me to examine them last week without stinging me once. In fact, they had produced three nice queen cells on two frames with which I gratefully started two new nuc’s.

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AT LAST A JOB FOR ONE OF MY NEW NUC’S. HOPE THE BEES APPROVE

I will be very interesting to see whether they progress. As well as two frames of brood and stores they both have a frame feeder filled with syrup and I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on them over the next couple of weeks.

The fact that the behaviour of the new hive appeared to change almost overnight really does suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong at Mendip “C”. To further re-enforce that is the fact that the mood of the one remaining colony had deteriorated at my last visit with bees following me back to the car, something they have never done before.

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned before, but there are two rows of solar panels in fairly close proximity to the apiary.

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SOLAR PANELS. THE SHADDOW ON THE LEFT IS OF THE NEAREST HIVE

I can’t imagine how they would be affecting the bees, but, something certainly is. I mentioned this to our guest “expert” at this month’s apiary meeting and neither he or anyone else there had encountered anything similar. I have now contacted BBKA NEWS to see if they can shed any light on the situation. I’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say. If any of you have any thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear from you. The e’mail address is on the ABOUT MENDIP APIARY header.