AUGUST

Almost at the end of another season and pleased to report, things are really looking up. We’ve extracted and jarred a reasonable amount of honey most of which has already flown out of the door and the reports that I’ve had back so far regarding the taste, etc. have been really encouraging. The empty supers have been returned to the hives and I’m hopeful that we might have a few more frames to extract within the next couple of weeks. The hives at “C” now have laying queens and the nuc’s. are progressing nicely, one is still a bit irritable but I’m hopeful this will sort itself out in the next couple of weeks as the new brood begins foraging. So, as I said, things would seem to be on the mend. Hive four at the meadow continues to confound me. last week after checking on the progress of the supers, I decided to have a quick look through the brood box, I didn’t plan to spend too long with the box open as if you remember, there was a hatched queen cell at my last visit and if there was, as I was expecting, a new queen running, I didn’t want to unduly alarm her. Imagine my surprise then to find along with a couple of small patches of brood, four capped queen cells. Their size and position on the comb told me that once again hive four had decided to supersede. Why they should do this with a new queen, only a few weeks old and seemingly beginning to lay well, in residence, I’ve no idea. These really were nice cells, large and well formed, far too good to waste. I left the nicest cell in situ and removed the other three. One of these is now in the hollow tree nuc, as it appeared far superior to the emergency cells they had drawn out for themselves, and the others are in Apidea nuc’s. It’ll be interesting, if nothing else, to see what hive four have next up their sleeves.

A week on and my hopes of more honey are fading fast. The weather has, to say the least, has been changeable and the forecast is for more of the same so, my thoughts have been turning to preparing for Winter. I’ve got my sugar and Apiguard sorted and my feeders are all in good nick. I’m looking to start feeding the week after next which will be the third week of the month

JULY

Two days after hiving the swarm from “C” I had guests at the meadow. We had a look into a couple of the hives where, pleased to say, the occupants seemed more than happy to be the centre of attraction. Then on to the hive housing the swarm, ” Now, this colony is a little different from the ones that you’ve just seen” I announced, ” This is a swarm that I collected just a couple of days ago and they won’t have settled in yet, so, don’t be surprised if they react a bit differently to the others that you’ve just looked at”. I fully expected them to react a little bit differently but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I lifted the roof. Not a single bee in sight, ungrateful little beggars, they’d decamped to pastures new. Doing my best to explain to my bewildered guests, that things like this do occasionally happen, whilst consoling myself with the thought, “that she was probably a swarmy queen anyway and I was well rid of her”,I replaced the roof and moved on to my Apidea nuc’s.

I haven’t examined the queen cells in the Apidea nuc’s.yet, that is a job for today’s visit, although, not before I’ve had a look at another swarm. I’m told the bees have taken a liking to the roof of a garden shed, much to the concern of the home-owner. The property in question isn’t a million miles away from me, so, a simple matter to look in on my way to the meadow. For some unknown reason, this season seems to have attracted far more swarms than usual. I’ve certainly been asked to attend far more swarms this year than I can remember previously. As usual, most have been bumble bees or wasps, but a fair percentage have been honeybees. As you know, we have had two swarms in the space of a week, admittedly, they were the same bees, but still, unusual don’t you think?

Still on the subject of swarms, a friend and fellow society member ‘phoned me a few days ago to ask me if I’d be interested in joining him to have a look at a swarm at a local farm. Seemingly, the farmer had discovered the bees after he had felled a tree at the bottom of one of his fields. The tree had been showing signs of rotting so, rather than having it blown down, he had taken the decision to fell it. The sight of hundreds of bees, all intent on wreaking vengeance on the perpetrator of this outrage convinced him that, at some point, bees had taken up residence in his tree, and that’s where we came in. Pulling up at the farm, we were met by the farmer who pointed roughly to the spot where the tree had once stood. Not unsurprisingly, he declined my offer to join us, so the next few minutes saw us, smoker at the ready, negotiating a path through the, not inconsiderable undergrowth, down to said tree. It was a heck of a slope down to the tree so it was a case of step and slide, not the easiest of journeys for a pair of aging beekeepers. This was the sight that greeted us,

Fallen tree at Writhlington 002

THIS WAS THE SIGHT THAT GREETED US

and as it is with sods law, the tree had landed with the bees entrance face down. Not that at this stage it made too much difference as the branches obscured not only the entrance hole, but the rest of the trunk as well. One good thing, the bees seemed totally unphased by their ordeal and were happily negotiating their way through the jungle of interwoven branches, totally oblivious to us. Agreeing that there was nothing we could do at this stage, we made our way back to the top of the field to where the farmer was waiting. We explained that there was little that could be done before A, the trunk was cut to length to where the hollow section was accessible, B, the branches were pruned back to expose the trunk and C, the whole thing was rolled over so that we could see the entrance hole. “Ok, leave it to me” were his parting words. Recalling his earlier reluctance to accompany us down to the tree, I somehow couldn’t imagine him wielding his chainsaw amongst thousands of angry bees, and dressed only in overalls. Driving home, I consoled myself with the thought that today was probably the last we’d see of the farmer and his bees. My knees are no longer up to the rigours of negotiating one in ten slippery gradients and I have to say, today’s episode had left me really struggling.    ” Poor old sod”, did I hear you say?

The evening before last, just settling down in my favourite armchair for a bit of well earned telly, the ‘phone rang, as it so often does! ” ‘Evening Geoff. I’ve had the farmer back on and he’s finished working on the tree, I’ve been down to have a look and I think we can get at the comb. I’ve pinned some board over the ends of the trunk to give them a bit of protection. Do you fancy giving it another go.”

So, ten thirty yesterday morning found us once again, slipping and sliding down the field to where the remnants of the tree now lay. True to his word, the farmer had done all we had asked, the trunk, now little more than a yard long and devoid of it’s branches, lay with the bees entrance now plainly visible and, they were still coming and going as though nothing had happened. I couldn’t begin to visualise just how the farmer had achieved this transformation but, achieve it he had, and without being stung to death which was even more surprising.

writhlington tree swarm 001

THE BASE OF THE TREE SHOWING THE EXTENT OF THE ROT

writhlington tree swarm 002

THE BEES GUARDING THEIR ENTRANCE

writhlington tree swarm 003

SAWN END OF THE TRUNK NOW EXPOSING BEES AND COMB

The comb and the bees were now clearly visible. The first thing that I noticed was the colour of the comb which was almost black, suggesting to me at least, that this tree had been home to these bees for a very long time. The bees took little or no interest in us right up to the moment I started cutting away the comb, and then all hell let loose. I had to reach into the hollow trunk right up to my elbows, which gave the occupants all the time in the world to search out my tender bits on which to wreak their anger. There was no brood, only stores and of course, by the time I had got the comb out my gloves and forearms were covered in honey which for some reason, seemed to excite the bees even more. Soon I could see right up to the flight entrance and had removed all the comb within arms reach. It was as black as any I’d ever seen and still no sign of brood.

Collecting Writhlington nuc 004

THE COMB WAS AS BLACK AS ANY I’D SEEN

The opening at the other end of the trunk was much smaller and only produced a couple of spoonful’s of comb and this was completely empty. So, where was the queen and her brood. We concluded there must be an inner chamber somewhere, but certainly not opposite the entrance. A knife inserted went no further than about six inches. Deciding that there was little more to be done at this visit we covered the ends and made our way back to the car. “What if I come back tomorrow with a frame of brood and place it inside the open trunk where the comb had been” my friend said. What a good idea I agreed, if they are queen-less they will cover the frame and start to draw out queen cells, and if not, the presence of brood on new comb might entice the queen out of hiding. So, that is the current situation, we’ll return in a day or two and re-assess the situation. An odd one though, don’t you think !!

July so far has been as busy as any I can previously remember, and we’re barely through  the second week. Apart from the colony in the fallen tree, we’ve had our own swarm to deal with and another I’ve been asked to visit. I’ve managed to repair and return the bird table and spent half a day with my friend Liz’s bees. We’ve supplied the observation hive for our local village street fayre which thankfully attracted a lot of interest and hopefully, a new generation of beekeepers. I’m very pleased to say, I’ve received a couple more requests, from complete strangers I might add, for them to come and visit my bees, and I’ve been trying to get that arranged. All of these pleasurable tasks but I sometimes have to ask myself, how did I ever find the time to go to work!!

I managed to get to “C” on Monday and went first to the nuc. which had formed the base of the observation hive at Saturday’s street fayre. I forgot to mention that after I had set up the observation hive and had got the frame with the queen on up into the observation section, I managed, in the process of barrowing the thing down to the car park, to find the one exposed root in the lawn and deposited the whole hive out onto the grass. Of course, it had to land upside down and having just filled the frame feeder with syrup, I’ll leave it to you to imagine the mess. I couldn’t open the hive as I didn’t want the bees to escape and by now, I only had a half an hour or so to get to the street fayre. Before  I could attempt to put it into the car, I had to prop it on an angle and wait for the majority of the syrup to run out. I eventually got the whole thing to our stall where I was able to have a look for my queen. She was there but there wasn’t a lot of movement, in fact, all of the bees appeared somewhat subdued, only to be expected I suppose after their ordeal. I kept a watchful eye on her most of the afternoon but she seemed far from happy. Even when I got the hive back home and re-instated the frame with her on, back in the brood section, she still wasn’t moving much. So today, it was to the observation nuc. I first addressed my attentions, and now you know why.

As I got closer it was obvious that the bees were in high spirits, plenty of bees, lots of them carrying pollen, always a good sign. It always gives me cause for concern when I see little or no activity at the hive entrances, especially when there doesn’t seem to be any apparent reason. When it’s raining or overcast I expect things to be quiet but, that’s not always the case. I’ve watched them coming and going during quite heavy showers, when I’ve questioned my own sanity for standing there watching them, me getting soaked and them seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around them. I’ve also seen them, on, what I would describe as quite a mild day, queuing at the hive entrance, apparently reluctant to leave. I wonder whether it might have something to do with air pressure, I don’t know, but whatever it is, the bees can obviously sense something that we can’t. Anyway, it was the nuc’s which I had come to see today, so, first to the bees still in the observation nuc. Plenty of bees running about on the cross bars and there on the second frame, their queen, now moving with purpose between her subjects. A much different scene from when I’d last seen her, also a couple of very promising patches of brood. I carefully replaced the frame, closed up and moved on to nuc. number two. Thankfully, much the same story, queen going about her business, nice patches of brood and stores. Job done I breathed a sigh of relief and made my way back to the car. I decided to leave hives one and three for my next visit as they should both be, at this minute, busy drawing out new queens and we know how skittish new queens can be if disturbed. The last thing I wanted to see, now that things were beginning to look up at “C”, was one of my new queens disappearing over my shoulder so, it’ll be the next visit or even the one after, before I disturb either of them.

It seems that almost every other ‘phone call I get lately is to enquire as to the honey situation. This would be brilliant if we had any but although some of the supers are back-breakingly heavy, for some reason the bees, thus far, seem reluctant to cap them. I’ve seen this at other apiaries and nobody I’ve spoken so far, has been able to come up with a viable reason. In addition to not capping the honey in the supers, it appears that the bees are filling every available space in the brood chambers with stores. This is putting pressure on the queens who, I don’t suppose, are used to fighting for space in which to lay and could be the reason why so many colonies are swarming this year. Anyway, the prime reason for today’s visit to the meadow bees was to check on the progress within the supers and thankfully, things were finally going to plan. I’m sure in my mind that, barring any unforeseen catastrophes, we shall be extracting next week. I’ve mentioned several times that hive four has without a doubt, been my best colony, both in temperament and industry. Not wishing to disturb them unduly, I haven’t fully examined the brood chamber so far. I’ve always seen the queen on the first or second frame of brood and this has been enough to satisfy me that all was well. Added to that, I haven’t wanted to chance accidently damaging her, so as I said, I’ve not as yet ventured beyond the frame that she was occupying. Today’s examination of the supers on four took hardly any time at all, so full were they, and almost fully capped, I decided, on this occasion, to go through the brood chamber thoroughly. Another reason why I hadn’t worried too much about four swarming was that here we had the last of our bought-in queens, barely a year old, of impeccable pedigree and in a 14×12″ hive. So, I reasoned with aging queens and overcrowding not figuring in the equation, why would they possibly want to swarm.

One reason for today’s decision to examine four more closely was that it suddenly occurred to me that I’d already had two of the colonies at “C” swarm this year and, both of them had young queens and were on extended brood. So, rather than re-instate the supers it was off with the queen excluder and remove the first frame. As before, frames one and two were made up mainly with pollen, nectar and honey but frames three and four, where previously I’d seen the queen quietly going about her business, now each had a supersedure cell and what’s more, both cells had been broken down. There were seven cells in all, each on the face of a different comb and each one broken down. Each frame was filled with sealed brood with a little un-sealed in evidence, but no sign of a queen. There were far too many bees for them to have swarmed, added to which, the queen was clipped, so, where was she and which of them had broken down the queen cells. There was no signs of a cell from which a queen might have emerged. The bees were obviously unhappy with their queen for them to have drawn out so many cells, so, had she broken the cells down or had the bees had a change of heart. Unlikely I thought, and, where was she? I’d reached the last frame and was just about to remove it and there she was. On the top bar of the frame, no more than an inch from the edge of the hive body. Now, I’ve been keeping bees for a while but I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered anything like this before. Queens are usually to be found in the proximity of the brood nest, I’ve found them on the queen excluder before now, and on the walls and floor but invariably close to the brood. I’ve never seen one on the top bar of the end frame before. She didn’t seem unduly agitated so I made to pick her off the frame and deposit her back with her brood but before I could, a worker jumped on her and made as if to sting her. I was in no doubt what she had in mind as her abdomen was fully arched under that of the queen’s and I could see that her sting was extended. I flicked her away and gently picked up the queen, releasing her over the brood. I watched as she disappeared down between two of the frames. Two days later I was back at the meadow and straight to hive four. I removed the supers and queen excluder and there she was, dead and laying on the top bar of the frame where I had released her just two days previously. A sad although not totally,unexpected sight.

dead queen in 4 002

A SAD ALTHOUGH NOT TOTALLY UNEXPECTED SIGHT

I decided to have another look through the brood chamber sure in my mind that I must have missed a clue to the broken down queen cells at my last visit, and sure enough I had. An empty cell from which a new queen had emerged. The sight of all of those broken down queen cells had caused me to take my eye off the ball and I’d missed the one cell I’d been looking for. The empty cell was on the fourth frame and I decided not to go any further at this visit. Hopefully she will have mated successfully and will take up her duties in time. Whilst all this was going on, the bees were taking very little notice of me, just going about their respective tasks. All of this led me to believe that the colony now had a queen that they were satisfied with and so, I took the decision to box them up and leave them to it, at least for the next week or so.

You’ll remember the colony in the fallen tree and how we had left them with a frame of brood and one of stores at the last visit. Well, we returned yesterday, removing the covering that my friend had installed before leaving, revealed the brood frame, now covered with bees. Close examination revealed several  emergency queen cells. So, as we suspected the colony was queenless, she may well have been killed when the tree fell or might have taken umbrage that her home had gone from vertical to horizontal and cleared off, I rather suspect the former. Both frames were placed into the nuc.along with some fresh comb that the bees had drawn which we tied into an empty frame. We placed the nuc. with the entrance as close to the entrance hole in the tree-trunk as possible and immediately some of the flying bees started entering. With the majority ignoring  the nuc. and continuing into the trunk, the object of the exercise was now to get all the bees to switch their attentions to the nuc. So, next step to flood the trunk with smoke which immediately achieved the desired effect in that the air was suddenly filled with flying bees. Blocking the bees entrance in the trunk and replacing the covering over the sawn end and it was almost “job done”. Most of the bees were now entering the nuc. and with bees now fanning at the entrance, we made it back to the car. Barring any unforeseen mishaps, we were feeling pretty certain that on our next visit, we would find that for most of the bees, if not all, their home in the hollow tree was but a distant memory.

The evening before we had decided to collect the nuc.,and hopefully after the bees had ceased flying, my friend visited the site and closed the nuc. entrance.

Collecting Writhlington nuc 005

NUC. ENTRANCE NOW CLOSED

Thankfully, this did the trick and by the time we arrived you could have counted the flying bees on one hand. Not only that, but the hollow trunk was now completely devoid of bees.

Collecting Writhlington nuc 002

TRUNK NOW DEVOID OF BEES

Barely an hour later, the nuc. complete with occupants, was safely installed at the meadow. I haven’t decided on their final outcome, so for the moment, they are on the roof of hive nine which is currently unoccupied. I opened the entrance and left them to it. The day following, I returned with a frame feeder and gave both them and the bird table nuc. a feed of syrup. Neither seemed at all phased by my latest intrusions, in fact, considering the events of the last couple of weeks, the new nuc. was remarkably good humoured. I couldn’t help thinking that the nuc’s.at “C” could benefit from a lesson in manners from these two. Two or three days later I was back at the new nuc. I wanted to check on their progress and also the state of the queen cells they were drawing out. You’ll remember that we had tied the fresh comb that the bees had drawn into a shallow frame and installed it into the nuc. along with the bees. Well, they obviously weren’t too impressed with our knot-tying as the following pic. will illustrate.

wool outside new nuc 004

OCCUPANTS OBVIOUSLY NOT TOO IMPRESSED WITH OUR TYING SKILLS

Considering that there were three lengths of string, each firmly knotted, and about eighteen inches in length, I think this is a remarkable achievement and illustrates, if nothing else, if our bees aren’t happy with something, they’ll move heaven and earth to shift it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE

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

Camely,stand extension 004

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

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

Camely,stand extension 002

FINISHED STAND EXTENSION “MENDIP C”

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

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

moving hives on new Camley stsnd 003

HIVES TWO AND THREE IN THEIR NEW POSITIONS

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

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

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

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

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

queen cell Cam.1 003

THE CELL WAS LONGER THAN ANY I’D PREVIOUSLY SEEN

queen cell Cam.1 002

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

A few days on and I knew that by now the queen should have emerged, that is, if the cell was viable, and I had serious doubts in that direction. On opening the brood box, went straight to frame four where I knew the cell to be. The bees seemed markedly less friendly today than at my last visit so I don’t suppose I was unduly surprised to find that the cell hadn’t hatched. I removed the cell and broke it in half. Dried out royal jelly in one half and a dead queen in the other, not really surprising. Next port of call, hive two. Still no signs of a queen in residence and by now I was under attack from all quarters.

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

With both hives one and two at “C” now confirmed queenless, there was plenty to occupy my mind before my new queens dropped through the letterbox. My first thoughts were, after re-caging them into Butler cages, to introduce them directly into one and two as I wasn’t sure that by the time the queens arrived, I’d have enough spare frames of brood and bees to make up nuc’s. I don’t much like the plastic cages that queens all seem to arrive in these days as there is nowhere for the queen to hide if the resident bees take a dislike to her. With the Butler cage, I always cap it with a couple of pieces of newspaper which as well as sealing the end of the cage, are folded to extend an inch or so up the sides and are held in place with an elastic band. This gives the queen somewhere to take refuge while the bees get used to her. The bees quickly get to work chewing through the paper and have normally released their new queen within 24 hours.

In addition to my queen problems at “C”, hive three at the meadow had also become queenless a couple of weeks previously and I’d given them a couple of frames of brood to enable them to draw out another. They had managed to produce a couple of queen cells but they were very small and appeared of very poor quality. With two queenless colonies at “C” and another potentially so at the meadow it was obvious that the two queens I’d ordered weren’t going to fill the bill. Time to re-think the situation, more queens were called for, and quickly. I decided to take a frame of brood from meadow hive four and give it to hive one at “C”. This would at least resolve their queen problem. I don’t like using queens produced under emergency conditions but at this stage, I was looking to buy time. With still a week before the arrival of my new queens, time to pause and consider what best to do with them. My next visit to “C” presented me with the solution. Other than giving the nuc. a cursory glance, I hadn’t as yet spent much time with them. If you remember, at my two previous inspections there had been no signs of queenly activities and, to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting this occasion to be any different. Wrong! as the song goes, “What a difference a day makes”, or in this case, a week. Three out of the five frames were now filled with brood. So, here was the solution to my problem of what best to do with the new queens. The day before the queens arrived I caught and caged the queen in the nuc. and installed her into hive two. I then made up a second nuc using the best frame of brood from the now queenless nuc. along with a frame of stores from one of the meadow hives. These were to be the homes for my new queens when they arrived.

As promised, my new queens, having been unceremoniously shoved through my letterbox, arrived on my doormat the following morning. With the forecast of showers for that day, I wasted no time in relieving the two queens of their attendant workers before re-housing them in Butler cages which they entered most obligingly. Then on to “C” where the new queens were suspended adjacent to brood frames, one to each nuc. My next port of call was hive one. This, if you remember had earlier received a frame of brood from meadow four on which I had scored a cross so I was able to go straight to it. The bees seemed quite affable but then, without a queen, their numbers were reducing by the day, so I suppose that was to be expected. Removing the frame revealed eight sealed queen cells of which four of five looked worth keeping. Breaking down the others I carefully removed the best looking cell. This was to re-queen hive three at the meadow and an hour later, that’s where she was, housed in a spring type cell protector, in exactly the same spot from where I had earlier removed the inferior cells which three had drawn out for themselves.

So, what to do with the remaining cells. As a “belt and braces measure”, I like to leave at least two cells in the hive which I’m re-queening up until a day or so before emergence. It’s at that point when I reduce them to one cell, removing the one that looks the poorer. But, what of the other two cells, I didn’t want to further deplete any of my other colonies by removing frames of brood and stores to make up more nuc’s, but, I didn’t want to waste them. Then a flash of inspiration, there were a couple of Apidea mating nuc’s. in the shed, so why not give them a try. I’ve not had a great deal of success with these in the past, but thinking back, it was probably because I didn’t fully commit and give them enough bees, anyway, time to dig them out and have another go.

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TIME TO GIVE THEM ANOTHER GO

Back to Mendip “C” armed with my Apidea nuc’s.,now with wax started strips fitted and primed with candy, it was time to remove the cells from hive one which I intended to use. Quite a simple matter to cut the cells out of the comb using my hive tool which were then placed into the cell protectors and put to one side for a moment. Hive three had been building up nicely whilst the other two had been busily enacting their “three act dramas”, and seemed to be the ideal candidate to supply the bees for the nuc’s. Around two hundred bees per.nuc. is the recommended number and it was to hive three that I next addressed my intentions. First and second brood frames filled with stores then wall to wall brood as far as the eye could see, all of them covered with bees. I had brought along a small cardboard box for the purpose so it now just a matter of shaking the bees from each of the next two frames into my box, after making very sure that neither frame had the queen in residence I might add, and then scooping a cupful of bees from the box and depositing one each into my upturned nuc’s. It was then just a matter of boxing up hive three, who seemed none the worse for their ordeal, re-fitting the floors to the nuc’s., turning them right way up and inserting the cell protectors through the openings provided.

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QUEEN CELL IN PROTECTOR WITH BEES AND CANDY

Lids fitted, time to take both nuc’s. to the meadow but not before I’d checked my new “bought-in” queens. First job, carefully remove the Butler cages, both queens had been released, pause for a sigh of relief.

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PAUSE FOR A SIGH OF RELIEF

You can see the remains of the newspaper and the elastic band on one of the cages but strangely, both were completely missing from the other. Had the band snapped and released the queen too soon were my immediate thoughts. Only one way to find out and that was to have a look. Always a nervous moment this, until you actually see your new queen peacefully wandering about the comb you can never be totally sure that she has been accepted. Before now I have known queens introduced in this way to be nowhere to be seen at the first inspection. For no apparent rhyme nor reason they have totally disappeared, but thankfully, not on this occasion. First nuc, frame two, a tiny yellow spot moving amongst the bees told me all was well, and it was the same in the other nuc, except this time she was on frame one

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SHE’S QUITE SMALL BUT LOOK HARD, SHE’S IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COMB

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FIRST NUC IN PLACE AT THE MEADOW.

This month has been busier than usual here at Mendip, in addition to trying to resolve  all my queen problems and dealing with the day to day chores, there seem to have been more than the usual number of swarms about, at least, going by the number that I’ve been asked to investigate. One, most unusual swarm that had taken up residence on a bird table that my friend Liz invited me to join her on, but I’ll tell you all about that later.

This last couple of weeks I have been giving a series of short talks and candle making demonstrations at a lovely little Primary School just outside of Cheddar and I have to say, it has been an absolute delight. Even the speeding ticket I received on my way home after one of the sessions took nothing away from the pleasure and warm feelings that I was taking home with me. On the last day I took one of the primed Apidea nuc’s. into the school and showed the children the bees. Their enthusiastic comments told me how much they had enjoyed the experience. Before I left, I was given a little present that one of the children had made for me. I think that it’s absolutely lovely and I want to share it with you.

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I THINK IT’S LOVELY

Now, if that’s not a lovely thought, I don’t know what is. I just want to leave you with a picture of our first candle making attempts before I get back to the subject of swarms. Not bad for a first attempt I’d say.

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NOT BAD FOR A FIRST ATTEMPT, AND WITH SUCH TINY HANDS

Just as a P.S.,in an e’mail that I received earlier today, the teacher who’s class’s I’d been talking to, informed me that it had been one of the children’s birthday that week and when she had been asked by her parents what she would really like for a present, she had replied, “can I have some bees please”. Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm inside, it does me.

So, to the swarm on the bird table. A call from my friend Liz tells me of a swarm of bees who have taken up residence in the garden of an elderly lady living in a tiny village  overlooking Chew Valley Lake, so not a million miles away. They are in a tit box which is part of a bird table that this lady’s husband had made some forty years ago and although she would like the bees removed if possible, the bird table, understandably, has sentimental value and obviously she would prefer it to remain intact. Sounds like another job for the “A” team I replied and the following day found the two of us pulling into the ladies driveway. This was the sight which confronted us.

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THIS WAS THE SIGHT THAT CONFRONTED US

It was mounted on a five foot pole and considering that it had been there for forty years or more, was in remarkable condition. How we were going to manage to keep it like that was my first concern, and one that I could tell, Liz was sharing. You see, when you’ve been a part of the “A” team as long as we have, you get to know these things. We could tell, the box had been used by generations of birds by the copious amounts of nest material the bees were leaving the box with. Some pieces of grass were so long they required a bee at each end and being too long to fly far with were dumped outside the entrance.

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THE LONGEST PIECES WERE JUST DUMPED OUTSIDE THE ENTRANCE

We decided that the best course of action would be to return a couple of days later with the necessary tools and this time, in the evening when the bees had stopped flying, and this we did. The best solution, we decided, would be to remove the top section complete with legs and then decide what best to do with it. After blocking the entrance, we set about levering the legs free from the base board. The nails and screws anchoring the legs offered very little resistance and it was only a matter of minutes before the whole thing was wrapped in the sheet, which Liz had brought with her, and on it’s way to the meadow. On arrival we barrowed it down to the apiary and, thanks to the spacing of the legs, placed on top of one of the empty mating nuc’s.where it fitted perfectly.

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A PERFECT FIT

Two days later found the two of us once again at the meadow. Earlier, that morning, I had put the box back onto the barrow and moved it some five yards away replacing it with a nuc. By the time Liz arrived most of the flying bees were occupying the nuc. so, time to start dismantling the bird table which came apart remarkably easily, due largely to the fact that most of the screws etc.were, after forty years of braving our British weather, more or less non-existent. The sight which confronted us as we removed one half of the roof was quite remarkable. The whole of the floor was still covered by some three inches of birds-nest material and just inches above that was the comb that the bees had already managed to draw. Goodness knows just how many blue-tits had nested in here over the last forty years, but all this nest material will give you some idea.

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THIS WILL GIVE YOU A CLUE AS TO HOW MANY BIRDS HAVE NESTED IN HERE

The bees were busily  working the comb, seemingly totally unphased by the fact that we had removed their roof, and oblivious to the torch-light that we were waving in their faces. Between us we carefully removed the comb, brushing the bees off and into the nuc. Securing the comb in our custom built comb cages, ( they’re only a couple of sections of rigid wire mesh pinned onto a brood frame), but “custom built” sounds good doesn’t it.

The first section of the cage has the last inch bent at right angles so as to sit on the bottom bars of the frame with four or five wires left long. These are bent to form a hinge around the second piece. The first piece is pinned securely, top and bottom, to the frame whilst the second piece forms a “door”, hinged at the bottom and held closed with pins along the top after the sections of comb have been inserted.

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“CUSTOM BUILT” COMB CAGE

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CAGE WITH FIRST PIECE OF COMB INSERTED

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APOLOGIES FOR THE QUALITY, LENSE BY NOW COVERED IN STICKY STUFF

Apologies for the quality but this was one of the better pic’s and it does give you an idea of where we were. I’m sure Liz won’t mind me saying but most of the other pic’s largely featured her left thumb so I won’t bother you with them. After all, when you’ve seen one thumb, you’ve seen them all, I say. Within an hour we had all the bees safely in the nuc. and the bird table was back at the top of the meadow where I shall do my best to put it back together at the first opportunity. Although we didn’t see the queen, the sight of numbers of bees fanning at the entrance suggested that she had taken up residence and the presence of brood when I had a quick look at them a couple of days later, confirmed it. I’m sure that with a little luck I can turn the bird table back into something resembling it’s original glory, and if I can, and get it back on it’s pole in the lady’s garden, I shall consider the whole exercise another triumph for the “A” Team.

I mentioned earlier that when making up the Apidea nuc’s. I had taken bees from hive three to make up the numbers. Understandably, the occupants weren’t too happy at being first shaken from their frames into a box and from there, into the nuc’s so I tried to complete the exercise as quickly as possible. On the second frame I did notice two very small queen cells and broke them down before replacing the frames. I thought no more about them, concentrating mainly on finishing the nuc’s. That done, and with the nuc’s safely at the meadow I was happy to call it a day. One way and another, it’s been quite a hectic couple of weeks and as I drove home, was quite looking forward to a hot shower followed by maybe a visit to my local hostelry. Quiet day tomorrow, I had promised myself, an hour or two wandering around the shops followed by maybe a pub lunch or similar. Morning arrived, first job, draw back the curtains. Sun already cracking the pavements, it’s going to be a good day I remember thinking. Just about to close the front door and the ‘phone rang, I paused, probably some guy with an eastern accent ringing to enquire about my PPI. or recent motor accident again. Against my better judgement, I went back into the lounge and picked it up. “Is that you Geoff ?”  Recognising the voice on the other end of the ’phone as the lady of the house at Mendip “C”, I replied, “Yes, good morning Fi.” Knowing what the next line was going to be, I paused. “Glad I caught you, thought you ought to know, your bees have swarmed again, they’re in the same shrub as before. We’re off out now, see you later.”

I drove towards “C”, visions of my shopping expedition and pub lunch already a distant memory. Suit on, smoker lit and with skep at the ready, I made my up towards the hives. I was mentally kicking myself, the only colony in a position to swarm was in hive three, the one from which I’d taken the bees for the Apidea nuc’s., the one in which I’d seen the two small queen cells. I knew at the time, that I should have made a thorough examination of the brood chamber but, not only was I in a hurry to complete the nuc’s , I couldn’t imagine why this queen, barely a year old and in a 14×12″ brood box, would consider swarming, anyway, she had and the evidence was there before me.  The shrub they were in had quite a sparse covering of leaves so the cluster was quite plain to see.

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THE CLUSTER WAS QUITE PLAIN TO SEE

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QUITE A SIMPLE MATTER GETTING THEM INTO THE SKEP

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BEES SAFELY IN UPTURNED SKEP, RESIDUE BEEING FLUSHED FROM SHRUB

Within an hour most of the flying bees had joined their sisters in the skep, the frantic fanning at the entrance told me we had the queen. A fairly simple matter now to lift the corners of the sheet to encase the skep and it’s occupants and take them to the meadow where I knew I had an empty hive waiting. Once there it took less that ten minutes to get them into the hive,

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SWARM NOW SAFELY IN THEIR NEW HOME

box them up and make for home. It was barely one o’clock so, still plenty of time to get the day back on track. An interesting morning I remember thinking as I pulled out of the driveway.