Made my first visit of the month to the meadow yesterday. Arrived mid morning with the sun beating down, too hot for a full suit I figured, so settled for my jacket and veil, my first mistake as it happened. I made first to the nuc.hive and the hives from C. Prior to going on holiday last month I had given hive two a frame of brood from one as they had appeared queenless and I was keen to see what they had done with it. So, first to two and the first thing I noticed was that they seemed a lot happier than on my last visit. The second was that they were now in the process of superseding. From the advanced state of the procedure I think that I was mistaken to think previously that they were queenless, she must have stopped laying for a spell, but why now supersede. This was the colony which swarmed two weeks after I moved them to the new site. So, of the three colonies that went to the new site, we’ve had one swarm, two supersedures and one which became a drone layer for a spell and all this from queens still not a year old and all housed in 14×12″ hives. On to one who, considering they had lost a frame of brood at my last visit, were going great guns, seven full frames of brood, no mean feat on extended brood and they received their first super. The nuc.hive was also doing very well and in addition to filling their brood chamber with brood of all stages, were working on their super, I’ll give them a second on my next visit. Equally pleasing, was that they seemed to have lost their irritability. At my last visit, if you recall, they made a real nuisance of themselves, even following me back to the car, but today, it was as though I wasn’t there.
From there I went on to the meadow hives, the sky, quite surprisingly, had now become quite overcast and although the temperature hadn’t seemed to drop, there was a definite hint of damp in the air. I decided to make the rest of my visit as brief as possible. One was pretty much the same as on my last visit and a certain candidate for re-queening as soon as possible. The cell that I had given two had hatched and there were now distinct signs that the new queen had taken up her royal duties which was great. The hint of damp in the air had by now turned into a light drizzle and if I’d had any sense, I’d have called it a day there, but I especially wanted to have a quick look at three, especially the three supers which they had been busy filling at my last visit. And they really had been busy. Now, whether it was the clumsey way I removed the supers, they were really quite heavy, or the sudden change in the weather, I’m not sure. I do know that my removal of their queen excluder seemed to be a signal for them all to come out and have a go, and have a go they did. I only got as far as half way removing one brood frame before their attentions convinced me that this was not a good idea, as I said earlier, just wearing jacket and veil had not been my brightest decision of the day. At that point I called it a day, apart from the numerous stings I was now nursing, it was by now, raining quite heavily. I was pleased that the signs suggest that we may have turned the corner and things are “on the up” at last. I shall have a look at other meadow hives and the one at Mendip C tomorrow, the forcast is for a brilliant day, so I’m looking forward to that. The other good thing to come out of yesterday’s visit, I’m pretty sure I shall be extracting next week, so, fingers crossed!
As you might imagine, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the three hives that went to the new site, or to be precise, their queens. It had been my hope that they would provide this years batch of new queens but, with all the happenings of the last few weeks, that thought has now gone out of the window. Of the colonies in the meadow, there are none, certainly at the moment, who stand out as suitable candidates. After some deliberation, I have decided that it’s time the apiary got some new blood. I am expecting three new queens to arrive in the post this morning from Ged Marshall’s bee farm. He is very well known in these parts and his queens come highly recommended. I have seen a couple of his queens at work at other apiaries and they really do seem to perform well. I have never “bought in” queens before now, always preferring to produce our own, but, as I said earlier, I think we’ve come as far as we can with what we’ve got, so, “new blood” it is! This will be a new experience for me, and one I’m quite looking forward to. Thanks to my friend Liz’s help yesterday, two of the hives are ready for their new queens as the third should be later today so, hopefully, the next couple of days should find the new queens happily taking up their royal duties. Delivery was promised for Tuesday of this week so as you can imagine, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the postman. I had hoped that he would spot “Live Bees” on the envelope and knock or that I would hear him at the door, but, sods law being what it is, neither of these things happened. The first I knew was when I heard my letterbox being prised open and saw my precious parcel appearing where luckily, it momentarily stuck. The one thing I wanted to avoid was to see my bees falling to the floor but, of course, before I could reach the door, the rest of my mail came through the letterbox and the whole lot ended up on the mat. I must say that it was with more than a little trepidation that I opened the envelope but thankfully, the occupants didn’t seem any the worse for their experience, but of course, only time will tell.
THEY DIDN’T SEEM ANY THE WORSE FOR THE EXPERIENCE
And of course, that’s the truth, only time will tell. The only thing that you can be really sure of, is what happens to your bees after you’ve received them. I’m sure that reputable breeders take every care to ensure that their bees are in perfect condition when they leave, it’s the bit in the middle that most worries me. Anyway, no point in worrying about that now, I’ve got my bees and thankfully, they look perfectly happy, if all goes according to plan, the next couple of days should see them homed.
There seem to be several schools of thought as to the best way to introduce queen bees, how long a colony should be queenless before re-queening, whether to house your new queen in a nuc.for a while before introducing her to her new colony, Snelgrove’s method using a wet matchbox, and I’m sure there are many more. As I said earlier, buying in queens is a whole new ball game for me, and I was understandably keen to “get it right”. In the past I have used a Butler cage, covering the open end with newspaper held in place with an elastic band. Taking the paper an inch or so up the cage gives your queen somewhere to shelter if the bees are initially agressive towards her. From memory, I can’t recall a single time when this method wasn’t entirely successful so I decided this was the method of release I would use. So, the next decision, whether to introduce my new queens directly into the hives that we’d removed the old queens from or to make up nuc’s. I decided that two should go directly into hives and one into a nuc. comprising two frames of brood with attendent bees, one of stores and two of foundation, this being the way I usually configure my nuc’s. So, decision taken, I made up my nuc. and left the meadow.
NUC.READY TO GO.
The following morning I transfered my new queens from their travelling cages into the Butler cages. Tipping them out onto a white tea towel, it was a simple matter to coax the new queen into the new cage before taking the towel outside and shaking the attendant bees off into a flower bed. I doubled the newspaper before attaching it to the cage, I figured this would take a little longer for the bees to chew their way through giving them all a little longer to get aclimatised.
The two colonies which Liz and I had de-queened in order to take the new Ged Marshall queens were hive one from Mendip C, now at the meadow, and meadow hive one. At my last visit I had decided to cull the queen in meadow one at the first oportunity, although she looked to be in good shape, lovely plump abdomen and offspring with lovely disposition, her brood was becoming increasingly patchy and there was some chalk brood. Now, whether she had got wind of my intentions I don’t know, but today, on opening the brood chamber I was presented with a new frame of wall to wall brood and whereas on previous inspections she seemed to be limping aimlessly around the combs, today, there seemed to be a renewed vitality, a sense of purpose in her actions. I decided on a temporary reprieve and popped her into a cage and into my pocket. The other queen, which Liz and I had removed, now caged, was destined for eight which I had decided was queenless. Before inserting the cage, and just to be sure, I laid the cage on top of the brood frames for a couple of minutes. Normally if the bees show no signs of aggression towards the cage and it’s occupant, you can assume that they are in fact queenless, and that was the case in this instance. The bees were quick to come up to examine the cage, crawling all over it, but absolutely no signs of aggression, so, into the centre of the brood chamber she went.
After spending some time in the nuc.,It had been my intention to use my third Ged Marshall queen to re-queen the colony remaining at the new site. Up until now they couldn’t seem to make up their minds what they wanted to do, one minute superseding then on my next visit, the cell having been broken down. Then a spell of no eggs, then just when I had convinced myself that they were queenless, patches of fresh brood. At my last visit, again no new brood, so I decided to give them the queen I was carrying in my pocket. On the way home I called in at the new site and did just that. This was not intended to be a permanent arrangement, simply to try to introduce an element of stability into the colony prior to them receiving their replacement queen.
Earlier that day I had put two of the new queens, minus attendant bees but still in cages, into their new homes. I had wedged each of them between two brood combs in their respective hives, and watched each for a while for signs of aggression of which, thankfully, there were none. The third, now in a Butler cage, I had inserted in similar fashon, into the nuc.following which, I’d left them all to it, planning to have a quick look in a couple of days just to make sure the queens had been successfully released.
Two days later and time to check on my new queens. First to the lone hive at the new site where the bees were busy going about their business, taking absolutely no notice of me, which is always a good sign I think. The new hives have castelated runners at 38mm. centres in their brood chambers which makes frame removal a very simple matter. The extra spacing prevents the bees propolising the frames, unlike Hoffmans, and also allows removal without rolling the bees. No more removing an end frame in order to edge the frames along until the required frame is found, which of course, if you are looking for your queen, gives her plenty of time to do a runner. On this occasion, remove the cage, it was empty, then straight to the centre frame and gently lift it, no disturbance to the bees and there she was, casually wandering about, totally oblivious to me. Frame replaced, lid on, total time, no more than five minutes. Even though I’ve only got three hives with these castelated runners, I’m convinced that they are the answer. So, as I modify the rest of my hives to extended brood I shall be replacing the runners at the same time.
Arriving at the meadow I went straight to the hives that had received the new queens. I didn’t plan a full inspection, I just wanted to satisfy myself that the queens had been freed from the cages and thankfully they had.
BUTLER CAGE SHOWING QUEEN HAD EMERGED SUCCESSFULY
So, at this stage, nothing further to do other than remove the cages and close up. In order to insert the cage in one of the hives with castelated runners it was necessary to remove a frame. I want to show you just how much comb the bees managed to produce in the couple of days that the frame was out of the hive.
BRACE COMB ON UNDERSIDE OF QUEEN EXCLUDER
As you can see, the bees had drawn this out on the underside of the queen excluder, not very exciting I know, but it never ceases to amaze me just how fast these tiny creatures can work. The piece on the right was easily the size of a dinner plate, as I said, quite amazing! Next to the nuc.where I expected to find an empty cage, as in the others, but no. The paper hadn’t been touched, in fact, it looked as though the cage had been totally ignored. I removed the cage for a closer look. I couldn’t see much of the queen as she was obscured by the paper covering the end of the cage. As she didn’t seem to be moving, I decided to carefully remove the paper to take a closer look. A big mistake as it happened, as I pulled the paper back, the queen ran out of the cage, completely taking me by surprise, and fell into the nuc. I had removed one frame to get at the cage so I could see her quite clearly on the floor of the nuc. Within seconds of her landing, several bees pounced upon her, obviously trying to ball her. I’d heard about bees balling a queen but up until now, I’d never witnessed it for myself. They were so intent on what they were doing that when I reached in and lifted her out, they remained clinging to her. I had literally to pick them off in order to free her. The whole little episode had so much taken me by suprise and I was so pleased that I had rescued her that I suppose for a moment I wasn’t thinking straight. Instead of getting her straight into a cage, I just watched her sitting there in the palm of my hand. She looked so sorry for herself, I wondered at first whether the ordeal had been too much for her but within seconds she was to show me that it hadn’t. As I reached into my pocket for a cage she suddenly spread her wings and took off. She didn’t go very far but of course, landed in a patch of very long grass and immediately disappeared. I must have spent a good half hour crawling around in the wet grass but, she was gone. One of my new queens, I still can’t believe how stupid I was and why hadn’t the bees in the nuc.free’d her. The only thing I can think of is that one of the frames of brood that I put in the nuc.must have had the queen on. I didn’t see her at the time and of course, the frames were covered in bees. I hadn’t shaken them off the frames because I wanted as many nurse bees as possible in the nuc. so I suppose I could have missed her. I didn’t see her when I emptied the nuc.back into the hive so, I don’t know. What I do know, is that through my own stupidity, I’m now down to two new queens. Here’s hoping they have better luck than their sister.
Just over a week since my last visit. Since the nuc.incident, I’ve been putting off a full scale inspection, nervous of what I might find in the colonies which had received the other two queens. So, it was with more than a little trepidation that I removed the roof and crown board from the first hive. I was looking for nothing other than proof that my new queens had survived and was as gentle as I could be, not wishing to see another of my queens take to the wing, but, I needn’t have worried. When I got to the third frame of brood, there she was, a tiny blue spot going about her business, obviously happy in her new quarters. It was exactly the same story in the second hive, I think my sigh of relief could have been heard streets away. I can’t describe the feeling I experienced as I re-assembled those two hives. For me, there’s an awful lot riding on the backs of those two queens, this year’s queen rearing and therefore my next years queens is dependent upon their success or failure, so, as I said my sigh of relief could have been heard at the top of the meadow. As for the other hives, I’ve lost another colony which brings the total to three this year. I had decided earlier that the weaker colonies wouldn’t receive any further help so it’s been no suprise really, I just wish that I’d taken that decision following my first inspection back in March. I’ve already modified one of the empty hives to 14″x12″ and the next couple of weeks will hopefully, see the other two done. With all of those finished and hopefully, signs that my new queens have started laying, I really shall start looking forward again.
EMPTY BROOD CHAMBER MODIFIED TO 14″X12″
Ever since I brought the swarm from Mendip C back to the meadow, they have been housed in one of the empty mating nucs., first with the partition in and then, as they increased in numbers, given more frames to the point where they now occupy the whole box. As their numbers have increased, their temperament has improved to the point where they now more or less ignore my intrusions, also, no queen cups or any other signs that swarming might be on the agenda. I know it’s still early days but, I’ve decided to give her another chance and to that end, I’ve transferred them into the newly modified brood chamber. The benefits are two fold in that, they now have the space to expand and it has freed up my mating nuc. which I will now prepare for this year’s queens. (You notice I had my fingers firmly crossed as I wrote that). A couple of days ago, I paid them a visit and modified all of their brood frames with the Thornes frame extensions which I described earlier. The whole operation went very smoothly and the bees were most co-operative, I even managed to catch and mark the queen. I wasn’t particularly looking for her but, on the second frame of brood, there she was, complete with her enterage, totally oblivious to me. It always amazes me how I can search through a colony, often on more than one occasion trying to spot a queen, and see no sign of her, and let’s be honest, it shouldn’t be that difficult, should it. She’s a different shape than the other bees, considerably longer, she moves in a different way and she’s invariably accompanied. Then, as in this instance, when I’m just doing a routine inspection, there she is, bold as brass. I’ll tell you, I think these little creatures must have written Sods Law! Anyway, they’ve obviously taken a shine to their new abode and I’m hoping they show their appreciation by presenting me with a few pounds of honey, but I’m not holding my breath.
A brief visit to Mendip C to check on the old queen, which I had temporarily put into the remaining hive, revealed she had reverted back to her old ways and there were now large patches of drone brood in evidence. She had bought me the time I needed so the drone brood was, I decided, a price worth paying. I’m expecting another Ged Marshall queen to drop through the letter box in a couple of days time which I will use to replace the old queen. This will hopefully, get the colony at Mendip C back up and running in the direction I’d hoped for, and if all goes well, the following week will see the other two hives re-instated. It will be interesting to see how they all progress when back at the new site bearing in mind, the problems with all three only seemed to begin a very short while after they were moved from the meadow. Further more, they all seemed to settle down shortly after they were moved back, and that included the swarm. My friend Liz thinks there might be something being sprayed on the crops locally which is upsetting them. I’m hoping it’s all just a coincidence and that the new site will fulfill it’s promise. The owners are already reporting their best strawberry crop ever, so, it really does have all the makings. On top of that, it really is a lovely site, I shall be so sorry if I have to give it up. Can it be, I wonder, the reason that most, if not all aging beekeepers end up with arthritic hands is because we spend most of our lives walking around with our fingers firmly crossed, I wonder.
Boxing up the Mendio C hive, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the queen. It had only been a brief visit on the way home from the meadow, but, with a large green spot on her back, she normally sticks out like a sore thumb, so, how had I missed her. The following day I returned, this time expressly to find her. Twice I went through the hive but, still no signs of her. Also, the mood of the hive seemed to be changing, there was a definite air of irritability about the place. The pitch of their buzzing seemed to have risen about an octave since the previous day and one or two of the occupants were paying my visor a little more attention than I would have liked. So, what is going on, was Liz right in thinking that there is some outside influence which is effecting the site. Thinking about the drone brood which I had attributed to this latest queen, it couldn’t have been down to her as she hadn’t been in the hive long enough. Knowing that she wasn’t enjoying the first flush of youth, and had been laying eratically at the meadow, I had jumped to conclusions without thinking it through. If this queen has disappeared, and all the signs are that she has, it means that in the space of a month, this colony has superseded, the new queen has become a drone layer before herself disappearing and her replacement has within the space of a week, joined her. Added to all of this is the fact that the colonies which returned to the meadow seem now to be going from strength to strength and appear to have lost their iritability. Also, I had forgotten about the two supersedure cells which I had removed and given to two and five in the meadow. They, unlike the cells in the hive from which they came, have both hatched and their occupants have commenced their queenly duties. I’m loath to admit it but it’s looking more and more as though Liz might be right and there is something amiss at the new site. If there is I’ve got some pretty quick decisions to make as my new queen arrives in a couple of days time.
Just about to leave and head on when the mobile rang. It was Liz, “any chance you can spare a couple of hours tomorrow, I could do with a hand with a couple of my hives.” No need to guess my answer; “Just tell me what time and I’ll meet you there”. We spent the next five minutes chatting about bees and things, but mainly bees, and I told her about the Mendip C hive and my concerns over risking my new queen there. “I might have something in my pocket which could help you with that when I see you tomorrow, bye for now.” I wish she had told me which pocket I thought as I drove home, that way I’ll know which one to pick if she forgets.
Eleven o’clock yesterday saw us both pulling up outside Liz’s out apiary site. “Before we go in, I’ve brought along a young lady just dying to meet you” said Liz, and there she was. From her pocket, good as her word, Liz produced a Butler cage complete with a very active queen bee. Passing me the package, Liz explained that she had just united one of her nuc’s. which had produced this spare queen and that I was practically doing the both of us a favour in offering it a home. Talk about the answer to a prayer, now I could re-queen my problem hive without risking the queen that I was expecting in today’s post. So, once again it was Liz to the rescue as has happened on so many occasions. Not just to me, but to all who know her. She’s a sort of Grace Darling figure, whenever one of us is clinging to the rocks or about to go down for the third time, we look up and there’s Liz rowing towards us. A very special lady, I hope she knows how we all feel about her. Anyway, I finished helping Liz and headed for home. On the way, I called in on my problem colony and inserted the queen which I was carrying and boy, weren’t they in a bad mood, even one or two following me back to the car when I had finished. An almost certain sign that they are queenless I always think but to be on the safe side, I left a plug of foam in the end of the cage and a paper wrapping half way up the outside. This way they won’t be able to release her and she’ll have somewhere to hide if they do take exception to her. I’ll get back either today or tomorrow and remove the foam plug, then they can chew through the paper and release her in the usual way.
One thing I couldn’t help noticing when at Liz’s was that although all of the supers, and there were four on each of the two hives, were almost full to overflowing, only two or three frames had been capped. Exactly the same as at mine and most of the other beekeepers I spoke to at the last apiary meeting. I can only imagine the weather is the prime cause but, whatever it is, I hope it sorts itself soon because it’s not that long before we shall be thinking about our first Apiguard application and we can’t extract after that.
My new queen arrived on Friday as promised, the weather was pretty awful as it has been for most of the last week so, nothing for it other than, following a quick look to make sure they were all none the worse for their journey, to give her a little drop of water and place the cage back in the envelope. With Saturday the only decent day for the next week, as the weather forcasters had predicted, I decided to make the most of it starting with a visit to Mendip C and Liz’s queen. Opening the hive, it was easy to see and remove the cage, there were bees attached to it but they weren’t showing any signs of aggression. I removed the foam bung, replaced the paper and re-instated the cage.
As I said earlier, my original intention, and the reason for buying my latest queen was to re-queen this colony. Since ordering the queen, and following my conversations with Liz, I’ve had serious misgivings about that decision. My feeling now, and the queen from Liz has simplified the decision, is, assuming they accept Liz’s queen, to leave them with her for at least three or four weeks. When I’m certain in my own mind that the new site is sound, then I shall consider bringing the two hives back from the meadow and with them, the nuc. housing the new queen which is currently sitting on the window cill in my kitchen.
NEW QUEEN CURRENTLY SITTING ON MY KITCHEN WINDOW CILL
Changing the subject for a moment, last September I told how I had modified the 14×12″ frames with an additional horizontal bracing wire. I said then that my main concern was whether the bees would accept it and encase it in comb. In order to insert a queen cage earlier this week it was necessary to remove a frame and as luck would have it, it was one that I had modified earlier. I thought I’d show it to you to illustrate how the bees have totally ignored the wire and encased it in comb, just in case you too are considering a similar mod.
HORIZONTAL BRACING WIRE ENCASED IN COMB
Pulling back the curtains yesterday revealed the first patch of blue sky I’d seen for the last couple of days. The poor weather had meant that this was the fourth day, including a day travelling, that my new queen had been in her cage and I was getting a bit concerned. As I said before, I had never bought in new queens before so this is all new teritory for me, and having already lost one of my new queens through my own stupidity, I had no wish to lose another. I had suplemented the candy that came with the bees with an occasional drop of diluted honey and they seemed happy enough, but I knew, I’d feel a lot happier once my new queen was out of the cage and in her new home. So, as I said, that blue sky was a welcome sight.
It is a fact that the colony about to be re-queened will be far less hostile, and therefore more welcoming, towards their new queen if she is introduced alone. That is to say, without the attendant bees which accompany her in the travel cage. Achieving this was just a simple matter of laying a clean white tea towel on the draining board in front of the kitchen window and gently coaxing her from the travel cage onto the cloth and from there into a Butler cage. The problem in having seperated the queen from her travel companions, is that you are now working to a time scale because of course, she now has no-one to attend her until she is in her new home. Pleased to say, despite a couple of quite heavy rain showers on the way to the meadow, a couple of hours later, that is where she now is.
BUTLER CAGE CONTAINING NEW QUEEN INSERTED IN NUC.
Checking the two frames of brood before inserting the cage I found eleven queen cells had been started which I removed. I’m reading this as a measure of how desperate they were to become “queen right” and have high hopes that this time my queen introduction will be successful.
Pleased to report, successful it was, as my visit to the meadow a couple of days later was to prove. Quietly removing the first frame revealed her wandering around quite purposefully on the second. I didn’t need to remove it as I could see her quite clearly, the bright blue spot on her back saw to that. So, thankfully I now have all three of my new queens homed. I haven’t decided what to do with the queen in the nuc.yet, I want to wait until I’m sure the queen that Liz gave me has been accepted by the occupants of the hive at Mendip C, then I’ll decide. I’ve no wish to lose another of my precious, not to say expensive, queens.
I called in on the new site on the way home from the meadow, it being now four days since I removed the foam bung from the Butler cage. It was by now, quite late in the day but I wanted to satisfy myself that things were at last progressing in a satisfactory manner. I felt sure I would find the paper had been chewed away and the queen released and it had, the paper had all but disappeared but the cage was full of bees. It wasn’t until I removed the cage and gave it a gentle shake to dislodge the bees that realised the queen hadn’t been released but was still inside the cage with all of the other bees. That was of course, until my gentle shake whereupon, all of the bees including Liz’s queen landed on top of the brood chamber frames and promptly disappeared into the depths of the hive. So, why was the queen still in the cage, were the other bees purposely trying to prevent her from leaving, and if so, why. I know the colony was queenless as I had culled the old queen the day I had installed the cage. I had previously thought the colony queenless but spotted her on the comb that I removed to make room for the cage and despatched her there and then. I can’t remember a single incident when I’ve found any bees in a cage from which a queen has been released, in fact, to the contrary, as soon as the paper has been removed, the queen is freed and the bees pay no further attention to the cage. As I said, it was, by now, quite late in the day so I decided, for the moment at least, to leave them to it, so, after boxing them up, I headed for home.