SEPTEMBER

Just back from a short break so yesterday was the first opportunity to visit the bees. Silly I know, but I’ve been really looking forward to seeing them, not individually you understand, but you never know what to expect when you’ve spent some time away, do you. So it’s always a feeling of relief when even from a distance, I first catch sight of my little apiaries. A quick count tells me all are present and looking much the same as when I last saw them. I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to return to find your apiary has been vandalised or that some of your hives are missing. This happened to a friend of mine fairly recently and he tells me that he still has nightmares about it and I can fully understand why.

Taking this late break meant leaving before my bees had taken down all the syrup I’d given them which in turn has meant that it is only now that they can receive their Apiguard. So, my first visit yesterday was to Mendip “C”. From the car park I could see plenty of activity around the hive entrances, always a good sign. While I was suiting up Bob appeared pushing a barrow of cooking apples, needless to say I didn’t need much persuading to accept a bag-full. “Bees are in a good mood, I was able to mow all around the hives the other evening, not one came anywhere near me”. Just the sort of news I’ve been waiting to hear. “Must see me as one of the family at last”, his parting words as he made off for more apples.

So, suit on and apples safely in the car, I made my way up to the bees. Bob was right, the bees were exceptionally good humoured, it may have been because they’d missed me and were glad to see me back, but I doubt it. The activity around the hive entrances suggested there was some sort of flow on, I’ve no idea, but there was certainly copious amounts of pollen going in. So, to hive one, roof and crown board off to reveal Adams feeder full of bees busily licking off the last gleanings of sugar syrup. Just a case of removing the feeder, shaking off the bees and laying a tray of Apiguard above the frames in the brood box. The feeder, now inverted and doubling as an eke then goes back on. Block the access hole, replace the roof, then, apart from fitting the floor slides, it’s job done. Exactly the same with the other two hives, total time, less than twenty minutes.

When the feeding and Varroa treatment is finished, the feeders will be left on the hives, right way up, with a little square of mesh covering the access holes, where they will double as crown boards. I have done this ever since I have had enough feeders for all the hives and apart from not having to mess about with ekes and different methods of feeding, there are, to my way of thinking, other benefits. For a start, the feeders are already on the hives if you need to give a Spring feed, and also, it is my firm belief that the bees benefit from the volume of still air trapped between the feeder and the roof, both in helping maintain the cluster temperature and reducing condensation. I first tried this when I only had a couple of Adams feeders and, convinced of the benefits, I have, over time, made more feeders so that I am now at the stage where I can treat all of my hives in a similar fashion. When the Winter has sufficiently receded and it’s time for the supers to go on the feeders will come off for re-painting and whatever other TLC is required before going into store until they’re needed again.

And on to the meadow where glad to say, the story was much the same. With the exception of hive one, which houses one of my this year’s nuc’s, the same frenetic activity. Even with all the entrances reduced, especially the new hives and nuc’s which are reduced to one bee-space, the wasps, being born opportunists, have been quick to detect the most vulnerable and in this case, it looks as though hive one has borne the brunt of their attentions. From their appearance when I lifted the roof, they were still quite strong in bees and I left them with a tray of fondant to help them out. I’ll have a good look at them later in the week. I had intended to give all of the hives their Apiguard but with the weather closing in, I decided to put that off for another day. The forecast for the rest of the week looks promising so fingers crossed. I did however, take a quick look below each roof, a look which told me that all of the syrup they had been left with had been taken down. No need for a smoker as, because, as another benefit of the Adams feeder is that they allow checking without disturbing the bees, they were totally unaware of my presence.

The activity around the two colonies which were left in the process of uniting, made it difficult to distinguish them from the others, so it looks as though that exercise went to plan. That then is now the other job planned for this week, to get them each on to one brood box.

A couple of days on and back at the meadow things are still looking good with the possible exception of the mating nuc. One side has gone from strength to strength while the other looked to be really struggling. A quick look confirmed why. No brood and very few bees, certainly a lot fewer than the last time I’d looked. The queen which had been a bit on the small side was nowhere to be seen. I decided the best course of action was to unite the two sides and this I did by closing the entrance on the poor side and removing the dividing board. I watched as the bees mingled to see whether there would be any signs of aggression but all seemed peaceful enough. I imagine the reason for this is because, with only a thin dividing board between the two colonies, the odour of both must be very similar, anyway, as I said, they all seemed happy enough with the new situation so I left them to it. I’m certain that the stronger side will feel the benefit of having more space as they had completely filled their five frames with brood and stores. Following on from that, one thing that has been really noticeable, and this appears to be the case with all of the colonies, is that there has been no noticeable reduction in brood production, or of drones for that matter. All of the queens seem to be going flat out in fact it’s as though they’ve building up for this moment. Maybe it’s my imagination but the colonies appear stronger now than at any time this season. As I said, probably my imagination but it will be interesting to see how the next month pans out.

One of the two colonies which we united is now on one brood chamber while, the other, I’ve left on brood and a half, their original state.The reason being that there was an abundance of brood in both boxes, too much to cram into one. Both queens have been laying well with a good proportion of unsealed brood in both hives. I’m sure in my mind that neither colony will have any problems over-wintering and I’m really pleased that I took the decision to unite

Into the last week of September now and things are continuing to look good. The wasps show little signs of abating so I’ve been keeping the traps topped up, I’ve still got all the entrances reduced and the bees seem to be coping ok. The weather hasn’t been brilliant these last few days but with the promise of patchy sunshine this afternoon, I’m hopeful of giving them all their final top-up of syrup. Barring any unforeseen catastrophes, that will be the last time the roofs come off until they get their oxalic acid after Christmas.

AUGUST

August has all but come and gone. I’ve left it until now to update the blog as it’s been another month of mixed fortunes and I didn’t want to bore you with more of the same. The weather, in it’s somewhat erratic form has continued to dictate largely what we’ve been able to do and the mood of the bees seems to have followed suit. I’m pleased to report that all three colonies at “C” are now behaving impeccably, I’ve hived the nuc. which now seems to be going from strength to strength.

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NUC.NOW HIVED AND GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

I visited the site yesterday to check on the stores situation and was told by Bob, the owner that for the first time he’d been able to strim right up to the hives without feeling threatened in fact, the bees took no notice of him whatsoever. He told me that the one bee which did accidently bump into him, apologised profusely before returning to it’s business. So, for what was probably the first time, I left feeling that at last “C” was about to fulfil it’s potential.

I’ve continued with my regular visits to both sites throughout the Month and happy to report, although the weather hasn’t always been kind, with the exception of the one colony which I was given earlier in the year, both the hives and the nuc’s have begun to live up to my expectations. I have united two of my nuc’s. to colonies that looked as though they would benefit from re-queening, hived another two and transferred the two remaining into one of my mating nuc’s.

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MATING NUC. SHOWING REMOVABLE DIVIDING BOARD

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CROWN BOARDS IN PLACE, HOLES WILL BE COVERED TO KEEP COLONIES APART BEFORE REPLACING ROOF.

Placing the frames containing brood either side of the dividing board encourages the bees to cluster against the board which means that they then share their warmth. I’ve also adapted a couple of Adams feeders enabling both nuc’s. to be fed from the same feeder.

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ADAPTED ADAMS FEEDERS

Plastic cups placed over each access post allows bees from either nuc. to feed from the same feeder without coming into contact.

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PLASTIC CUPS OVER EACH ACCESS POST KEEP BEES APART

Perforations in one cup allows bees from one nuc. up into the feeder as it empties to clean up, again, without coming into contact with the other. Removing the cup finally allows bees to find their way out of the feeder more easily.

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FINALLY REMOVING CUP ALLOWS BEES TO LOCATE POST MORE EASILY

I mentioned that last month I had made use of a few off cuts left over from my nuc. making efforts to knock up a couple of floors. Well, carrying on in the same vein I’ve now got a couple of spare floors made from all the thin strips which were left. I bought the two perforated sheets which from memory cost about five pounds each. The frames were made by gluing and pinning strips of 12mm ply together and the floor slides made use of the remaining 5mm ply.

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TWO NEW FLOORS MADE USING OFF-CUTS FROM NUC’S.

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TWO COATS OF CUPRINOL AND THEY’RE FIT TO GO

Cutting thin pieces on a saw bench does take a little care as the fact that I now have one thumb shorter than the other will testify but, I still feel it was well worth the effort and all of this, seven nuc’s.,two roofs and two new floors from just two sheets of ply, courtesy of my local B & Q.

The month finished with a visit by my bee keeping friends to my Mendip Apiary. As usual the guest speaker was excellent, the weather was kind to us and, afterwards we all enjoyed a friendly chat over a sandwich and a well deserved cuppa. A brilliant end to August.

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A BRILLIANT END TO THE MONTH !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 were 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.