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”!

 

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.

 

MARCH

Well into the month now and all the signs are promising, Crocus and Primrose continue to bloom in abundance, much to the delight of my bees. Blossom, on what I imagine to be Flowering Cherry, is now very much in evidence and the nearby Oil-seed Rape fields are turning speedily yellow. We have enjoyed a brief spell of really pleasant weather during the last week or so, with yesterday being the warmest day of the year so far. Time for this season’s first inspection I decided. On each of my last few visits there have been greater numbers of flying bees issuing from all of the hive entrances, enough to convince me that they were no longer clustered so, today was the day!  As usual, “C” was my first port of call, so, for the first time this season I approached with smoker in hand. Always a feeling of nervous anticipation accompanies my first inspection. I know what I’m hoping to find but am never quite sure until that first crown board has been removed and the hive’s contents revealed. This will not be the first time this season that I’ve removed my crown boards but the other occasions were just to administer candy and to re-assure myself that I was feeding living colonies, none of the frames were disturbed. So, first to hive 1, supers and upturned feeder to one side. I hadn’t removed the supers at the close of last season as there seemed little point. The fact that they were above the upturned feeder ensured the bees had no access to them and with both supers having some drawn comb in meant each hive would be sure of keeping their own, quite important I feel. And so to hive one, gently removing the feeder revealed exactly what I was hoping for, hundreds of bees crawling over the tops of the frames, the fact that I had just torn the roof off their home didn’t seem to bother them at all. A vastly different scene from that which we were greeted with when first we took on this site. If you remember, each of the colonies we brought from the meadow became ill-tempered within a very few days of arriving, to the point where they had to be returned to the meadow where surprisingly, they reverted to normal placid behaviour. Apart from the behavioural problems, we were beset with swarming and failed supersedure attempts. Also, two of my “bought in” queens mysteriously disappeared. So, as I said, to see them behaving in this way is really gratifying. Although it was a lovely warm day, I planned to keep my inspection as brief as possible so, straight to frame one. I’ve mentioned previously that all three hives are fitted with castellated runners. The absence of propolising and the additional 2mm. spacing really does make frame removal a simple matter, increasingly important when using 14×12″ brood boxes as a full frame can be quite heavy and awkward, especially when propolised. With that in mind, I expected the frame to yield when I gently inserted my “J” tool under the lug and began to lever, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see there was no brace comb or propolis holding the frame and I was afraid to lever any more firmly for fear of snapping the lug off. Eventually a combination of hive tool and fingers persuaded the frame to relinquish it’s hold and I was able to slowly withdraw it. The frame hadn’t been stuck in place as I had first imagined, instead it was the sheer weight of stores which was holding the frame in place. I can’t remember ever seeing a frame this full, and so early in the season, before. This is when I’m glad that we go to the trouble of fitting an additional cross wire, imagine that lot falling at your feet or worse still, into the hive.

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1ST FRAME FULL OF STORES

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4TH FRAME, BEES, BROOD AND STORES

It was frame four before I reached bees in any numbers and when I did I was pleased with what I saw as the above pic. will illustrate. On frames six and seven evidence of brood so time to box them back up. Thankfully, it was much the same story in hives two and three.

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BEES IN 2

Hive two is the only one of the three still on standard 14×9″  brood as, if you remember, they were born of the last remaining nuc. and it was too late in the year to get them on 14×12″. They are progressing at an alarming rate, so much so that I have earmarked them for my nursery hive. I will install a second brood box at my next visit and if all goes to plan, hive two will host this year’s Cloake Board queen rearing operation.

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2 PROGRESSING AT AN ALARMING RATE

I fitted a queen excluder and re-instated the two supers on hive one before I left as it looked as though they were in real danger of running out of space. I will be keeping a close eye on three as they weren’t very far behind one and I’ve every expectation that they too will be wearing supers before the month is out.

On then to the meadow where thankfully, the story was much the same. Not quite so advanced as “C” but then, being at the bottom of a meadow, next to a brook and partly shaded by a belt of trees they always take a little longer to warm up, but, lots of activity and brood in all of the hives. Not really much more to be done with the hives at the moment other than to change the floors. I shall wait for the next prolonged warm spell for this and combine it with my first full inspection. Any used comb has been removed from the empty hives and has now been rendered down. I usually do this in the greenhouse at the top of the meadow, it gives me something to do on a day that’s too wet to do anything else, and the fact that it’s raining keeps the bees from making nuisances of themselves.

Another little job that I like to catch up on at this time is replacing the foundation in the frames which Liz and I boil up at the close of each season. These are frames which either been replaced because of the condition of the comb or had come from a colony which we’d lost. If we do lose a colony, whatever the reason, we never take a chance with re-using the comb, nor the box for that matter, not until it has been scraped, torched and given a fresh coat of Cuprinol. The frames, having had the wax removed, are stored in black bin liners until we have enough to warrant dragging the boiler out of store at which point they each receive a good dousing in boiling water laced with a spoonful of washing soda, and a vigorous scrubbing. The whole operation takes no more than a couple of minutes per frame and the results are truly remarkable, apart from which, you now have the piece of mind in knowing your frames aren’t harbouring any nasty’s. After hanging them in the roof of the greenhouse for a couple of days until they’re completely dry, they either go into empty nuc’s or brood boxes, or clean bin bags where they await re-waxing which is where we are now.

The last few days haven’t been brilliant weather-wise, so I’ve spent part of them fitting new foundation. The addition of a re-enforcing cross wire to the 14×12″ frames makes the job a bit of a chore, but for the peace of mind it gives me, I think it’s worth the extra trouble.

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ADDITIONAL CROSS WIRE, WORTH THE TROUBLE IF ONLY FOR PEACE OF MIND

A different story with the standard frames as I had quite a number of them which had received the boiling water treatment at the back end of last season, so, a simple matter to ease off the retaining bar and insert the new wax foundation. I usually move the pins to a new position which gives the bar a better hold and even with doing that, the whole operation only takes a couple of minutes. These standard frames are destined for the second box on hive 2 at “Mendip C”, and that’s where they are now. I no longer have empty standard brood boxes available but it was a simple matter to prise one of the eke’s off of one of the empty modified 14×12″ hives. That done, the box received a quick scrape and torching and yesterday took up residence at it’s new home.

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HIVE 2 NOW ON DOUBLE BROOD.

This pic. gives an idea of the numbers of bees but this was after I’d returned to the car for my camera, two minutes earlier the front of the hive was literally black with bees. I’ve every hope that they will now stride on and be ready for my Cloake-board queen rearing in a couple of month’s time.

I returned the following day to satisfy myself that they had accepted the new addition to their home. Knowing how unpredictable bees can be, and having returned to a similar situation on one occasion to find more bees crawling over the outside of the hive than in it, there obviously being something they were averse to, I was keen to know all was ok. I needn’t have worried, they were all busily coming and going as though nothing had happened.

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ALL GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS AS THOUGH NOTHING HAD HAPPENED.

I mentioned earlier that following my first inspection at “C” I had left hive 1 with a couple of supers, such was their rate of growth and left vowing to do the same to 3 at my next visit. Well, following fitting the additional brood box to 2, I opened 3 fully expecting to see much the same as I had in 1. The activity at the entrances was much the same in fact, 3 was a bit busier if anything, which further boosted my expectations. Imagine my surprise then to find that 3 were lagging behind 1 by at least 50%. They seemed happy enough and there was still quite a lot of candy left. There was brood and stores so I wasn’t overly concerned but, why were they so far behind 1. From my notes I see that it was in June last year that both were re-queened. They had each received sealed queen cells on the same day and from the same meadow colony. A quick look a week later confirmed that both queens had emerged and the copious amounts of pollen being taken in shortly afterwards, indicated that both queens had began to lay. My notes for September and October recorded that both colonies were progressing at a similar rate so why I ask myself, is 3 now lacking so far behind. As I said, I’m not unduly concerned but I will be keeping a watchful eye on them and if nothing else, It gives me an excuse to scratch my head.

The weather forecast for today was that it would be the warmest this year and it has to be said, after a less than promising start which included mist and fine rain, around eleven o’clock the sun finally broke through and stayed with us for the rest of the day. Thankfully the forecasters had for once, got it entirely right. By the time I reached “C”, I had the car windows down and couldn’t wait to get out of the sweat shirt I was wearing. For the first time this year I spent the rest of the day in a T-shirt. The bees, as you might imagine, were in fine mood and paid little or no attention to me. 1 and 2 were exactly as I had expected, lots of bees, all of them doing what bees do best, but it was 3 that I was most anxious to have a look at. What a difference since my last visit, bees on nearly every frame, I would guess their numbers had more or less doubled. I took a quick pic. but as usual, by the time I got my ‘phone sorted out, half of the bees had disappeared, but it does give you an idea of what confronted me when I lifted the roof.

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MOST OFTHE BEES HAD GONE DOWN BY THE TIME I’D TAKEN THIS PIC.

Another thing which surprised me was that they had finished the tub of candy which they seemed to be taking very little interest in when I last looked at them. I refilled the tub before leaving and I must say, I left today, feeling a lot happier than at my last visit.