OCTOBER

Having decided to unite my nuc. to the weak colony from the meadow, the following day I returned with an empty brood box. I figured that the bees in the nuc, having had a day to have a look at their new surroundings, would unite quite happily.

New hive stands and Dawlish 003

BROOD BOX AND NUC PREPARED FOR UNITING

Surprisingly, for once I had judged their mood right. You can see from the pic. that even having had their roof and crown-board removed, less than a handful of bees broke ranks and came up to see who or what had caused the disturbance. Less than five minutes later and all the nuc. contents had been safely transferred into the brood box and still no more than a handful of bees had taken to the air. I’m constantly amazed at just how unpredictable bees can be. There have been occasions when I’ve opened the most docile of colonies to be covered with angry bees within seconds and others when, as with transferring this nuc, the bees have hardly bothered to give me a second glance. I’m inclined to put it down to the fact that most of them are females, but I’d never dare to put that in writing.

Knowing the meadow bees are now safely at Liz’s has given me a chance to push on with the new stands.

New hive stands and Dawlish 001

FIRST STAND ALMOST FINISHED

I’ve decided to have three stands at the new site because, although I’ve decided to downsize as far as the number of colonies is concerned, it’s always handy to have spare capacity, so, three stands it will be.

New hive stands and Dawlish 002

TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO.

On the subject of hive stands, I’d like to share my thoughts on the subject with you. Firstly, they’re going to be standing in one place for quite a long time, and in all weathers so, it’s worth giving them a bit of thought. Even one or two hives complete with full supers is going to sorely test the construction of your stands, try lifting one if you’re in any doubt. So, my advise for what it’s worth, if you decide on a wooden construction, use the best you can afford, use screws and bolts rather than nails and give the whole stand a couple of coats of Cuprinol or similar wood preservative. Yacht varnish is preferable but it is expensive, even so, I always use it on the parts of the legs which are going to be buried and on the end grain where it is exposed. I find having the bed of the stand about 14″ above the ground about right. I have used hives on single, double and extended brood and find that height works best for me however the hives are configured. I have watched bee-keepers struggle with hives balanced on a couple of house bricks, bending almost double to remove brood frames and I decided a long time ago that that wasn’t for me. Also, if you use icing sugar and mesh floors as part of your Varroa control regime, there’s far less chance of Varroa which has dropped through the mesh floor re-entering the hive if it is sited well above the ground. Above all, try to make your stands future proof, far easier at the time of construction. If there’s a chance of your apiary expanding in the future, now’s the time to build in extra capacity. Even if I’m building a two hive stand, I always allow room for a possible third. Also, having a decent space between the hives has other benefits, it reduces the likelihood of drifting, and you have ready made space for a couple of nuc’s should you eventually acquire any. Examining your hives is not only more comfortable, it’s also much more convenient if you can stand an upturned roof next to the hive you’re working on to use as a receptacle for the hive parts you remove. Last but not least, consider their location. As I remarked earlier, your stands are going to be in the spot you’ve decided on now, for a very long time, so, now’s the time to give it some real thought.

new stands, painted 003

STANDS FINISHED AND ROUGHLY IN THEIR FINAL POSITION

With all three stands finished, roughly in their final position and with the winning post finally in sight, just a small matter of digging a few shallow holes for the feet, making sure the stands were all plumb and cementing them in place.

Half an hour and no more than three inches into the first hole which I had decided would take no more than ten minutes to complete, it suddenly dawned on me why the house on the property is named “Station House”. This was the site of what had once been a branch line of the old North Somerset Railway and I was attempting to dig where there had once been railway tracks. Under no more than a couple of inches of top-soil I was into hard packed stone chippings. When I say into, that was wishful thinking on my part. After a couple of hours of scratching away at the stones I had managed six holes barely two or three inches deep. I don’t know why but I found myself humming the tune about the ram that kept butting that dam, as I made my way home. My final thought, now, who do I know who owns a pick-axe. Once again it was my friend Liz to the rescue. I remembered that her husband had been a builder, “now, would he still have his tools I wondered”. Well, to cut a long story short, a short ’phone call and twenty four hours later, I had my pick-axe, and now I have my holes dug. I would have had them cemented in as well had the heavens not decided to open at a most inoportune moment. The rain has continued for most of today so, that will now be my task for tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow has been and gone and not only are the stands firmly cemented into their final positions, they have all had another coat of Cuprinol and I have to say, I’m really quite pleased with the final result. In between time spent at the new site I have managed to visit the bees at their temporary home and happy to report, they seem to have adapted well to their new surroundings. Hopefully, not for too much longer.

As fate would have it, it was just as well that I’d managed to finish the stands as, last Friday morning I received an e’mail from the new owners of the meadow advising me that the builders would begin excavating on the site of his new house first thing Monday morning and that my shed had to be removed by then. To say that this came as a bit of a shock would be an understatement especially as I had previously been told that the shed would be unaffected and so had made no effort to empty it. Anyway, as luck would have it, the owners of the new site kindly offered me the use of the redundant garage which borders the apiary and by close of play on Sunday evening, it was “mission accomplished”. Not exactly the way I had planned my weekend but, I knew that it was a job that I had to face at some time, and it’s now out of the way. All I have to figure out now, is how to re-assemble the shed. It’s 10×6 and comprises what seems to be hundreds of metal bits and of course, I no longer have the assembly instructions. Ah well.

The meadow is now cleared, the empty hives are now at the new site and the old stands have been dismantled and have been added to the bonfire.

Station Apiary, flying bees 004

SOMEONE ELSE CAN HAVE THE PLEASURE OF LIGHTING IT

I’ll let someone else have the pleasure of lighting it after I’ve bid my final farewells. I began my beekeeping at the meadow over a decade ago and the place holds nothing but happy memories for me, so as you can imagine, it was with more than a tinge of sadness that I drove out through the gates for what is probably, the last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER

This has been an odd month for us here at Mendip. I seem to have been “on the go” more or less non stop with very little to show for my efforts. The first job was to extract the honey that my tiny buzzing friends had kindly provided, not enough for me to resurrect the market stall but certainly worth the effort. The last couple of years have been very poor so, it was a real treat to see the fifty or so pounds that we did end up with, jarred and labelled. It will be nice to be able to answer in the affirmative to my regulars, when I’m asked whether or not we have any honey this year.

We had the last apiary meeting of the year this month and it was to be held at my Mendip “C” apiary, something I always look forward to. The meetings are always themed and as usual a guest “expert” had been arranged. The theme was to be “Preparation for Winter, feeding and feeders” and as I said, I was really looking forward to hearing what he had to say. Imagine then my surprise at a ‘phone call, only a few days before the event from our Secretary, telling me that we no longer had a guest speaker as he had been unexpectedly taken ill. ” It’s too late for me to organise anyone else at this short notice” Mark told me, “I wondered how you’d feel about taking the meeting”. Taken somewhat aback, and before I had really had a chance to consider my reply, I found myself saying, “ Shouldn’t be a problem Mark, I’ve got a selection of feeders and should be able to cobble something together”. “Well, if you’re sure that you don’t mind, I’ll get an e’mail out” Mark replied, “see you on Saturday”. So, that was why Saturday morning found me at Mendip “C” assembling a variety of feeders and other paraphernalia which I thought might be of interest. The more I thought about what I was taking on, the more daunting the thought became. More than half the members have been keeping bees for a lot longer than me and I didn’t want anyone thinking that I was “trying to teach Granny how to suck eggs”. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, soon the car park was filled with white suited, friendly bee-keepers and before I knew it, I had done my bit and everybody was tucking into apple pies and cream teas. Everyone seemed in good spirits and the comments I received suggested the day had gone well. I normally consider that if we get a dozen members at one of our apiary meetings it has been a success and as I counted a few more than that, it was with a huge sigh of relief that I bid farewell to our last guests.

I’m not sure whether I have mentioned earlier, but I have decided, after much deliberation, to leave the meadow. Since my friend Charles sadly left us and quite understandably, under the new owners, things have begun to change. The allotment holders have all departed and the gardens once kept in pristine conditions are now overgrown and uncared for. The seating under the apple trees, where Charles and spent so many happy hours, putting the “world to rights” whilst sharing a cup of tea, has now gone. Added to this the fact that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate the meadow slope, which I swear is getting steeper by the day, I feel the time is right to make a move. I’m very fortunate to have been offered another site, not a million miles from the meadow and to that effect, I have been busy acquiring and sawing up timber for the new hive stands. Because of the close proximity of the new site to the meadow, I have temporarily moved the meadow bees to one of Liz’s apiaries while I complete the new stands. As soon as I told Liz of my pending move, she immediately offered to have the bees and as if that wasn’t kind enough, one evening last week, she and her husband came to the meadow, collected them and transported them to her place, priceless!

Two of the meadow hives housed swarms which I’d collected, earlier and both appeared to be doing well. I had been feeding them ever since I’d hived them and although they had received similar amounts of syrup, one seemed suddenly, to be lacking behind the other. For that reason and, with the pending move in mind, I decided to unite them with hive four, which had suddenly all the appearances of having lost their queen. The uniting had gone to plan so now there were only four hives to move to the Liz’s. Imagine my surprise then, to find, on my first visit to the hives at their temporary site, the day following the move, that the other swarm colony seemed to have suddenly lost weight. I expected them to feel lighter than the one that had been united, but certainly not this noticeably. I decided the solution, rather than risk losing them, would be to unite them with the nuc. from “C” and so later that evening I collected the nuc and placed it beside the problem colony at the temporary site.

New hive stands and Dawlish 004

NUC. AT NEW SITE

 

AUGUST

A week on finds me back at the meadow, recent surgery on my shoulder still preventing me from manipulating the hives as I would like, so on this occasion, in the company of Mark and Liz, two of my bee-keeping friends. Both fellow members of our local beekeepers society and proof if proof were needed of the value of joining your local society. As I tell new members, help or advise is never more than a ‘phone call away. So, after meeting up at the top of the meadow and suiting up over the exchange of a few pleasantries, we made our way down to my little apiary. A quick look into eight revealed a very well proportioned young queen walking purposefully about on a frame three parts filled with eggs and new brood. Well satisfied with what I had seen we moved quickly on to four, the main reason for today’s visit. Then, after removing the supers to one side, it was down to business. Plenty of bees because, of course, by now, the bees had emerged from the brood frame they had received, but no signs of queen cells on the brood frame. We decided that the easiest way to find the old queen, if in fact she did exist would be to separate the flying bees from the colony by moving hive four to one side and replacing it with an empty hive, and this we did. The empty hive received a frame of stores and a few empty frames for the bees to play with. The reasoning behind this move is that the flying bees having left their hive would return to the empty hive in the original location leaving just the queen and a handful of bees in the old hive. It was decided to leave them to it and return in a couple of days.

The following day, I decided to return on my own, not to carry out any manipulations but just to satisfy my curiosity as to whether yesterday’s efforts were baring fruit. As expected, there appeared to be far more activity around the entrance of the hive now in four’s location, so that appeared all in order, but in addition, and very noticeable, half the flying bees looked to be missing the entrance and disappearing below the hive. The following pic’s. will show you the sight that met me when I knelt to take a closer look.

bee under floor in hive 4 001

bee under floor in hive 4 002

THE SIGHT THAT CONFRONTED ME WHEN I KNELT TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

So, why were so many bees clustering under the hive? My first thoughts were, unlikely as it might seem, that maybe we had attracted a passing cast, there didn’t appear enough bees for the cluster to have been a full swarm, or if there was in fact a queen in the hive, and she had somehow ended up on the mesh floor. The returning bees had then detected her and were trying to cluster around her. Unable to do anything by myself, I decided my only course of action would be to return to the car and try to enlist some more help.

The ‘phone was answered by a familiar “Hello”. I replied, ”Hi Mark, sorry to be a nuisance, but if you could spare an hour tomorrow, I could use some more help at the meadow. “No problem, and certainly not a nuisance, what time do you want me” came the reply. And so, the following morning found the two of us, once again suiting up in the meadow car-park whilst discussing the best course of action, always assuming of course, that the bees were still where I had left them the day previous.

We needn’t have worried, for once the bees were obliging and if anything, there were now more bees clustered below the hive floor than before. I had two objectives in mind for today’s operation, firstly to get the bees into the hive, and equally importantly, to ascertain whether there was a queen in amongst the cluster. This was the course of action that we decided upon. Placing a new floor on the stand beside the hive, we carefully detached the brood chamber and placed it on the new floor. We had left a full super on the empty brood chamber so that the returning flying bees would find some food to go on with, and this was now removed to one side. To prevent a repeat performance, we had fitted a slide to the new floor. Meanwhile, thankfully, and seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them, the cluster was merrily hanging on to the old floor. The next step, place a queen excluder onto the brood box followed by an empty super to act as an eke, then, gently positioning the floor complete with cluster above the eke, shake the bees down onto the queen excluder. Surprisingly, despite several sharp taps, very few bees took to the air and having disengaged themselves from the heap sitting on the excluder, most proceeded to wriggle through into the brood chamber. A quick puff of smoke persuaded the stragglers to join their sisters below. Removing the eke, and in support of the theory that this cluster was in fact a swarm, I was half expecting to find a queen wandering about on the excluder, no doubt wondering why her subjects had deserted her, but no, just a couple of drones. So, with the swarm theory put to bed, we boxed hive four back up and made our way back to the cars. Today’s episode had been in addition to the meeting the three of us had already planned for later in the week and it was to that event my thoughts were already turning as I made my way home.

With the three of us back at the meadow, each with our own theory as to what was going on inside hive four, it has to be said. But then, as we all know, if you put ten beekeepers in a room together you’ll end up with at least a dozen ideas of how to best keep bees. So, first to the new hive in four’s position where it was decided to once again sieve the bees through a queen excluder. Within a couple of minutes of Liz brushing the bees on the excluder with the back of her hand, ”there she is, I knew it was a swarm”, and in answer to, “well where is she, we can’t see her”. Holding her hand aloft Liz replied, ”I’ve got her in my hand”. With her clenched hand over the excluder, she slowly opened her fingers to reveal her empty palm. I don’t know who was the most surprised. “Well she was definitely there, and I definitely caught her”, Liz exclaimed as the three of us stood there looking at each other. “She must have dropped down onto the queen excluder”, and of course Liz was quite right, another five minutes of searching revealed the escapee. Sadly, in her haste to re-join her subjects, she had managed to become trapped half way through the wires of the queen excluder and by the time we had freed her, she had departed to the great bee-hive in the sky. The fact that she managed to get half way through the excluder gives you an idea how small she was and suggested to me that I was probably right in thinking that it was a passing cast that we had attracted as opposed to a full swarm, not that it mattered of course, but we all like to think that we got something right occasionally don’t we.

“I still think we’ve got a queen in the original box”, said Liz ”I just don’t think they’d be behaving so placidly if they were queenless, I would be inclined to re-instate hive four with the original box and have another look in a week or so”. With the weather threatening we all agreed that this was probably the best course of action and so, following Liz’s advice, we made our way back up the meadow. It’s been a funny old day, I remember thinking as I drove home.

Following Liz’s advice, I was back at the meadow about a week later to find, having once again sieved all of the bees in four, through a queen excluder, there was definitely no queen. With no spare queens at my disposal, and not wishing to take a chance with another “bought in” queen, and having once again discussed the matter with my friend Liz, it was decided the best course of action would be to unite what was left of four to either eight or nine which were the weakest of the meadow colonies. No a difficult task but with some twelve feet and a couple of empty hives in between four and eight, and also a gap of about four feet in between stands two and three, not entirely straight forward. Anyway, with no time to waste, I moved four and eight a couple of feet closer to each other and made for home.