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.
AS I SAID,THE PIC’S. DON’T REALLY DO THE SCENE JUSTICE.
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.
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.
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.
LUCKILY THEY HAD CLUSTERED ABOUT 10 YDS IN FRONT OF THE HIVES
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”.
CENTRE HIVE IN PREPARATION FOR BAILEY COMB CHANGE, HIVE THREE