JULY

A couple of days on found me back at “C”, among other things, eager to see how my new queens were doing. First to the nuc’s. on the new stand. The nuc. housing the swarm was in excellent shape, the queen obviously approved of her new home as there were eggs and brood in abundance. I didn’t see the queen in the first nuc. but the eggs and brood indicated all was well. So, on to the second nuc. the one that is home to one of my new queens. The cage was empty which was a good sign and there she was, on the second frame in, surrounded by eggs and sporting a nice blue spot. So, on this occasion, no need to go any further. My thoughts have always been, unless a full inspection is called for, when you’ve found what you came looking for, why go on just for the sake of it and risk damaging the queen and upsetting the bees unnecessarily. Pleased to report, it was more of the same at five, cage empty, queen and brood in evidence. This, if you remember, is the queen from three and I was pleased that for once that I’d made the right decision, and moving her to five looked to be going as planned which hopefully my next port of call would prove. And so, on to three. Feeling somewhat trepidatious, I removed the roof and crown board and peered down into the brood chamber. With everything seemingly calm and the travel cage empty, I began gently examining frames and, once again on the second frame, there was that tell-tale blue spot which told me that the score so far was three out of three. Does it get any better than this, I remember thinking as I watched her moving across the comb. I paused to see if there were any signs of eggs, which was just long enough for her to spread her wings and take flight. I watched in disbelief as she disappeared into the distance. At that moment all I could think of was, that’s my forty-five quid disappearing over that horizon. Peering through tear filled eyes, I boxed hive three back up and stood back. I should have known three out of three was too good to be true I remember thinking as I re-lived the events of the previous five minutes. One last glance at the now queenless hive before making my way down to the car and, suddenly, there she was, wandering about on the front of the hive as though nothing had happened. Somehow, unbelievably, she had found her way back to the hive. Within the space of seconds I had gone from feelings of delight in seeing the last of my new queens in her new home, to those of dismay in watching her take off and disappear into the distance followed by feelings of disbelief on her return, but there she was, wandering about on the hive front. The hive bees were going about their business as usual. I watched as about half a dozen or so joined her momentarily before entering the hive. Now, would she join them and go back into the hive, but no, she seemed totally oblivious to their comings and goings. She was still wandering around but not going anywhere near the entrance which I tried to gently edge her towards with a strategically placed finger, but she was having none of that. She didn’t seem bothered at all by my attempts to cajole her towards the entrance, if anything she was just ignoring me and my finger. I decided the best course of action, at least for the moment, would be to carefully remove the entrance block thereby giving her an entrance the whole width of the hive but while I was mulling over my options, she once again spread her wings and disappeared into the sunset. I hung around for about an hour but I knew in my mind that I’d seen the last of her. I was still thinking about her and her strange antics when I went to bed that night, trying to figure out why she had behaved the way she had. I always take particular care when handling new queens, until I’m happy that they’ve become well established in their new surroundings, so I knew I hadn’t shaken or jolted the frame that she was on when I removed it, in fact, it was a couple of minutes later when she took off. Until then she seemed quite at ease with her new surroundings, and then to come back only to take off again. I know it’s not unknown for queens to take off for no apparent reason but it’s certainly not the norm, especially a newly mated queen. The events of the day have left me wondering whether she was well mated but that’s something I shall never know although it’ll be interesting to see how her sister makes out.The events of the day seemed to totally occupy my thoughts for most of that evening and the following morning until lunch time by when I had reached the decision to unite the nuc.with the other new queen to three, the now queenless colony. Lunch hastily consumed, I was now back at “C”. First job, check the nuc, as I thought, removing three frames should suffice in transferring the queen, nurse bees and what little brood there was into hive three, and so to three. The idea being to remove three empty combs and re-arrange the others to leave a three frame gap in the middle of the brood chamber. I planned to fold the newspaper I’d brought with me into a U shape, the size of the three frame gap now in the brood chamber, line the gap with the paper and fill it with the frames from the nuc complete with queen her attendants. Well that was the plan, which, having successfully used that method of uniting a nuc to a full size box a couple of times before, I had every confidence that it would also work in this instance, and I’m sure it would have had it not been for the presence of the queen with the blue spot, on the first frame that I removed.Now, I know this story seems unbelievable but I can assure you that’s exactly what happened. Somehow she had found her way back, and don’t forget, this was the second time.So, this was one story which really did have a happy ending. The next time I checked hive three had eggs and brood and I’ve every hope that they will successfully over winter. An unusual turn of events I’m sure you will agree but isn’t this part of the fascination that comes with our hobby. No matter how much of an expert we’ve become or how well we think we can read our bees, they will always find a way to surprise and confound us!

APRIL

The timing of the arrival of the foundation that I had ordered couldn’t have been better coinciding as it did with the start of this week’s sunny weather. By day two it was warm enough to sit outside in shirtsleeves, something I was pleased to take advantage of and by the time I was ready to leave, I’d finished waxing a large portion of the empty frames, very satisfying. Lovely just to feel the sun on your back while sitting at the Workmate, leisurely getting the frames ready for the coming season, and leisurely is the operative word here. Having spent most of my working life with one eye on the clock, it really is a treat now to be able to work at my own pace. I have to say, it took quite a time to get used my new regime but now that I have it’s great. I’ve still got dozens of frames to finish but, there’s always tomorrow isn’t there, and the day that there isn’t, it won’t really matter will it!

In addition to re-waxing the frames, I’ve managed to get the two nuc’s hived. They’ve each got a feeder of syrup to help them draw out their new frames and by the time I was ready to leave, they all looked to be settling into their new homes quite nicely. I also gave supers to the two strongest colonies and the others don’t look too far behind, so, fingers crossed all is looking quite promising at the moment. By the time I was ready to leave the bees really were in good spirits, taking advantage of the sunshine, they were coming and going in great numbers with phenomenal amounts of pollen being brought in. It’s a lovely sight and one I never tire of, I stood watching them for fully five minutes and decided to take a couple of pictures to share with you before leaving. The pic’s. I take with my ‘phone never seem to do justice to the subject, probably because like me, it’s on it’s last legs, but I’ve posted them anyway, just to try to share the moment with you.

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AS I SAID,THE PIC’S. DON’T REALLY DO THE SCENE JUSTICE.

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STATION HIVES BATHED IN SPRING SUNSHINE

When I first began beekeeping, like most of us, I imagine, I joined my local society and being an absolute novice, my thinking on what was the best way to keep bees, was pretty much governed by what I saw and heard going on around me. I also read whatever I could lay my hands on and very quickly learned that, apart from the need to keep accurate records and practice good hygiene, there was no “right or wrong” way to keep honeybees. I have since formed the opinion that if you put ten beekeepers in a room together, you’ll end up with at least a dozen opinions on the best way to keep bees. And, who’s to say that they’re not all right. The fact is that there is no definitive way to keep honeybees, it’s what works for you and your bees that’s important, after all, if the “experts” can’t agree, what chance do the rest of us have?

So, in keeping with all of the other members in our society at that time, I began with a pair of Modified Nationals which, if you think about it, makes good sense. If you need some advise or a frame of stores or brood, there’s always someone close by that you can turn to for help. This is very important if. like me, you were an absolute novice and knew little or nothing as there will be times when you’ll need all help you can get.

As time went by I began to form my own views, as to how I wanted to keep my bees, and I’m sure you’ll understand, these are my views entirely. I’m in no way trying to suggest that I have found the best way to keep honeybees, simply what works for me here at Mendip Apiary along with the thinking that prompted the decisions I took.

I decided very early on that “The National” brood chamber was too small, holding some fifty thousand bees as it does, a number regularly exceeded in a healthy colony. Surely, by using the National Hive, we were building problems into our apiaries right from the start. Knowing as we do, that overcrowding is a prime cause of swarming, why persist with it. My problem was that by the time I had concluded that it was my hives that were the cause of my bees seemingly always preparing to swarm, it was too late. I had invested too much money in hives and frames to start again. So, what was the answer, I had experimented with double brood and brood and a half but wasn’t overly happy with the results. Far too much messing about, so as I said, what was the answer. Fortunately, the answer presented itself at our very next Apiary meeting when I was able to discuss the subject of brood boxes and their associated problems with our “guest expert”. “Why not convert to “extended brood” was his answer. I had to confess, it was something I’d never even heard of, “but what about all of my standard National kit” I replied. ”Extend your National boxes to 14″x12″, make yourself some three inch eke’s” and, seeing the look of disbelief on my face, “to fit on the hive floor, below your brood boxes you can get your frame extensions from Thornes”, and with that he departed, obviously looking for someone to have a sensible conversation with. A 3″ eke, the solution seemed so obvious, I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner.

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NEW EKE AFFIXED TO BROOD BOX

A week later I had finished my first three eke’s and now apart from two double brood set-ups which I keep at Mendip “C” for queen rearing, all the colonies are on extended brood. The two Standard National hives on the first Station hive stand are in fact, double queen mating nuc’s.

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DOUBLE QUEEN MATING NUC.

All of my colonies are now in 14×12″ brood hives with the exception of two at “C” which are still on double brood. These were to be my queen rearing colonies although as you will see, this hasn’t gone completely to plan. Last Spring I decided to kick start my queen rearing with some new blood and decided to purchase two new queens from a very well known, and let me say, highly recommended supplier. I hadn’t personally dealt with them before but had heard good things about them, so it was with eager anticipation that I opened the envelope marked, “LIVE BEES, HANDLE WITH CARE” that arrived on my doormat. The new queens, each in plastic transporter cages along with half a dozen attendees, and each sporting bright green spots, looked in very good nick and after a quick drink, were installed in the nuc’s. that I had earlier prepared for them. The nuc’s. were identical in their set-up, each having a contact feeder of syrup, so I was more than a little surprised to find when I examined them a couple of days later, that one of the queens, which I shall refer to as No.1, was out of the cage and had already begun to lay, whilst the other, No 2. was still ensconced in her travel-cage and showing no signs that she wished to escape from it. I removed the cage to have a closer look at it’s contents and apart from the queen looking a little lethargic, they seemed ok.,so I gave them a fine spray of water and put them back in the nuc.

It was about five or six days later when I returned to have a look at the nuc’s and to top-up their feeders. The difference between them was marked. No 1. had emptied their feeder and had a frame pretty much filled with eggs and brood whereas, No 2, although out of the cage, had only managed a patch of eggs about the size of a 10 pence piece. She also seemed to be moving over the comb in a laboured manner compared with No 1. With little else to be done, I boxed them up and left them to it. Thankfully, as the season progressed, No 2. appeared to catch up and by the time I was ready to hive them, both nuc’s. were looking good. It had bothered me why No 2 had seemingly struggled to keep up with 1 ever since they had taken up residence with me so, it was doubly pleasing to see that she had finally made it. So, time to get them into their new hives. I had great plans for these new queens, as I said, they were to head my queen rearing for next year, so the plan, to hive them in time for them build up some numbers before the Winter set in.

It was while hiving the nuc’s I stumbled on, what I believe to be, the reason why No.2 had performed so poorly. Transferring the frames from No.1 was a straight forward affair, pleasing to see that every frame was either filled with brood or stores and, there on the second frame, sporting her bright green spot, their queen. So, on with a feeder of syrup and box the hive up. On next to No. 2., again, frames filled with brood and stores. she really did look to have caught up well, the bees, as with those in 1. were in good humour so it took only moments to get the nuc. emptied but this time, no green spot queen. Thinking I must somehow have missed her, I went back through the frames, and with a huge sigh of relief, on the fourth frame, there she was. But, no green spot, instead, what appeared to be the remnants of a red spot which, if was the case, would have meant that No 2′s  red spot had been over-painted green and that she was, in fact, a year older than No.1. This, if it were the case, would certainly help account for why she  had under-performed so markedly. Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the UK company who supplied the bees to me, in any way behaved improperly, but the person who I dealt with did tell me that a number of their queens were imported and we know from our own travels abroad, not all our neighbours have the same standards of honesty as we do.

Thankfully, both colonies over-wintered successfully but, as expected, No.1 has continued to out-perform 2 so it is to No.1 that I shall be looking to get this season’s queen rearing up and running.

Since my spell in hospital, I have found it difficult to manipulate the hives as I would have liked and have had to limit my inspections, both in frequency and content. In fact, I haven’t performed a detailed inspection this year and on the occasions that I have opened the hives, I’ve closed them up the moment I’ve seen eggs and young brood on a frame. This, combined with the mood of the bees has satisfied me that I have laying queens which has been all that I have been concerned about so far. It wasn’t until the end of the second week of April that I felt the time was right for a full and detailed inspection and it was to Mendip “C” that I first turned.. I had hived their nuc. the week previous and I was eager to see how they were settling into their new home. The sun was beating down from a cloudless sky by the time I arrived, and when my smoker burst into life at my first attempt to light it, I knew I had chosen the right day. To avoid confusion, I have numbered the hives 1 to 4 from left to right with 1 being the newly hived nuc., 2 and 3, the hives on double brood housing the bought-in queens and 4, a colony which had swarmed early last year.

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LUCKILY THEY HAD CLUSTERED ABOUT 10 YDS IN FRONT  OF THE HIVES

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A CLOSER PIC.

The swarm had chosen a most convenient place to cluster, as It was, on a shrub about ten yards in front of the hives. It was a simple matter get them into a nuc. and take them to The Station to await a decision on what to do with them. A decision which was shortly to be taken out of my hands as the bees left in the hive had, I imagine, developed a cast and left with the new queen. Whatever the cause, the colony was queenless the next time I looked so, the remaining bees were re-united with the nuc. and, touch wood, have gone from strength to strength since then.

With the exception of hive two, one of the hives on double brood and the one housing the bought-in queen number two, I was very pleased with what I found. The bees from the nuc. appeared to have settled into their new home and hives three and four were looking really strong. Hive two, had if anything, gone downhill since my last visit so I took the decision there and then to unite two and three at my next visit and then do a Bailey Comb Change on three. This would get three onto 14×12″ and dispense with the last of my standard brood set-ups. I had already prepared one of the empty Station hives and following my visit to The Station later that day, which incidentally passed without incident, I brought the hive back to “C”.

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CENTRE HIVE IN PREPARATION FOR BAILEY COMB CHANGE, HIVE THREE

 

NOVEMBER

Half way through November and it has to be said, the weather so far has been what can only be described as changeable. We’ve had days of torrential rain followed by days of intermittent sunshine, some more akin to early Summer than late Autumn. We’ve had our first flurry of snow and there’s a thin layer of frost adorning the parked cars most mornings. Today, by comparison, is beautiful. There’s hardly a cloud to be seen and the sun is very much in evidence and I shall be off to see my bees shortly. Even though there was quite a brisk frost this morning, I’m fully expecting to see plenty of flying bees in evidence. There’s not very much to be done around the apiary at this time of year other than making sure everything is secure. Like me, you should have finished feeding some time ago and your mouse guards should by now, be on. If you over-winter your hives with floor slides in and some form of woodpecker protection, then this should also have been sorted by now. Even though I’m happy in my own mind that all of the colonies are going into Winter with sufficient stores, I have still left them each with a block of candy just to be on the safe side. My local Baker kindly supplies me with fondant for ten pounds a box which is not only good value, in my opinion, it saves me an awful lot of messing about making my own and one box is enough tor each colony to get a generous portion. When I first started using candy as a winter supplement, I used to put it on a disused plastic margarine lid or similar placed above the brood frames. This works well enough but apart from the plastic lid limiting access to the candy, there have been occasions when, probably due to the heat rising from the brood, the candy has begun melting and dripping down onto the cluster. Following on from this I began experimenting with alternatives to plastic lids and hit upon the idea of what I now call My Candy Cage. This is a wire mesh box, for want of a better word, approximately 8″ x 4″ x1″. I have used the rigid mesh as used in my comb cages. ( See August’s post ).

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MY CANDY CAGE

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CAGE IN USE ON NUC.

This picture shows the cage on one of my nuc’s. It has been in place about a week and you can see how well the bees have been able to attack the fondant, apart from anything else, the cage allows the bees to access the fondant from all angles. This is the second or third year that I’ve been using these cages and I must say, they work for me! The one drawback with using the cage on a nuc., as in the pic. is that the eke needed, does make the nuc. appear somewhat top heavy. For that reason I always anchor any nuc. with an eke on board, to the hive stand. I prefer to use a hive strap for this purpose,

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NUC ANCHORED TO STAND USING HIVE STRAP

for if nothing else, it enabled me to walk away with peace of mind in the knowledge that I’m not going to return to find a nuc. full of bees laying on the ground beside the stand where a strong gust of wind or some deer that has decided to use it as a scratching post, has deposited it.