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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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THE CELL WAS LONGER THAN ANY I’D PREVIOUSLY SEEN

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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.