JUNE

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

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

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HIVE POSITIONS SWAPPED. HIVE ON RIGHT NOW CONTAINS QUEEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NUC’S. 3 & 4 NOW JOIN THE TOTAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EKES AWAITING ASSEMBLY

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FINISHED ITEMS, AWAITING A COAT OF CUPRINOL

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

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GREENHOUSE IS IDEAL FOR DRYING NEWLY STAINED HIVE PARTS

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

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

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

bee and spider 2

bee and spider 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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