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.

 

 

 

AUGUST

I decided to begin my day with a visit to The Station. It was two days since I’d found the swarm and I was keen to see how they were doing in their new home. At least as well as the nuc. at “C”, I was hoping as I made my way to the apiary and hive three. All seemed quiet at the nuc. entrance, unusually so I thought as I bent to remove the roof. Removing the roof and crown board immediately revealed the reason for the inactivity, not a bee in sight, the nuc. was completely empty. My first thoughts were that they had most likely had a change of heart and retreated back into the hive so, first task, open hive three. A thorough examination revealed strangely, no queen cells and although there was plenty of sealed brood, there appeared to be none unsealed suggesting that they had been without a laying queen for at least a week. The number of bees suggested that they had in fact swarmed so, why no swarm cells. I spent the next hour going back and forth through the brood box in search of a queen, I even went through the supers just in case she had managed to slip through the queen excluder, to no avail. I hadn’t really expected to find her up there but by now I was running out of ideas. I finished by sieving all the brood frames back into the hive through a queen excluder which only left me with an excluder crawling with drones. The strangest thing was that with all this interference from me, the bees remained extremely placid and good natured. Certainly nothing like a colony which had been queen-less for some time, which past experience has taught me, are usually quick to show their displeasure at being interfered with. I decided the best way to prove whether or not they still had a queen would be to leave them with a frame of eggs and young brood from one of the other hives. We know that a queenless colony will always endeavour to produce new queens if presented with a frame of viable brood, and this was my thinking behind that decision. I decided to leave them with their new frame of brood and return in a couple of days to see what they had decided to do with it.

From The Station I went next to “C”, and more specifically, hive four where I was keen to see the progress of the queen cell I’d left them with. All seemed well as I approached the hives, plenty of activity around the entrances, always a good sign I feel. And, so to four. Remove the roof and crown board, bees seemed happy enough so, no problems so far. Quick puff of smoke to keep them settled and straight to the frame with the queen cell which I’d previously marked. This was to be a brief visit as I didn’t want to risk losing my new queen, just long enough to satisfy myself that she’d emerged successfully. Now, I don’t know why I was surprised to see that the queen cell had been broken down, especially judging by the day I’d had so far, but I was. The bees obviously didn’t agree with my choice of queen cell, the one I’d left them with certainly seemed to be the best of the bunch, but, obviously not in their eyes. One thing this has taught me is that removing all but one swarm cell only gives the colony one option if they disagree with your choice whereas, by leaving them with two, if they take exception to one and break it down, they still are left with the cell of their choice with which to produce a queen. I certainly know what I shall be doing in the future. Later that day I returned with one of the Station nuc’s and united them.

Some ten days now since I last put pen to paper, as it were, and a busy few days they’ve been, at least, when the weather has allowed. The first thing to report is that I now have a laying queen in hive four at “C” which, along with two and three which were also successfully united with nuc’s containing new queens, earlier in the season, for once, fills me with optimism for next year. On then to The Station, and more specifically, hive three, where I fully expected to find sealed queen cells on the brood frame that I’d left them with at my last visit. I had a friend with me on this occasion, which as it happened, was just as well. Whilst I was once again ploughing through the brood box, in search of some signs of queenly activity, I heard a voice excitedly enquiring, ” have you seen this”? My friend was on her knees indicating that as a matter of some urgency, I should have a look underneath the hive. Not being one to disappoint a lady, I did as I was bid and the sight I witnessed, surprised even me.

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THE SIGHT I WITNESSED SURPRISED EVEN ME. A FULLY FLEDGED COLONY ABOUT THE SIZE OF A FOOTBALL.

So, the swarm from three that I’d left entering the nuc. had, as soon as my back was turned, decided to set up home under the hive floor. Returning, as I did, the following day to find the nuc.empty, I’d immediately assumed they had set off for pastures new. Stupidly, it didn’t occur to me to take a look under the hive, had I done so, I would have seen, what was by now, a fully fledged colony of bees about the size of a football. With the bees apparently entering and exiting on the same flight path, it didn’t occur to me that half of them were in fact, not entering the hive but instead, going under it. The fact that the swarm hadn’t left any queen cells behind should have alerted me to the fact that something unusual was occurring and the fact that they hadn’t started any queen cells on the frame of brood that I’d given them, should have re-enforced that fact.

Looking closely at this colony of bees suspended beneath the hive, I was immediately struck by the beauty and symmetry of the structure. Pure white comb and living proof, if proof were needed that bees, if left to there own devices, will always observe a perfect “bee-space” between combs.

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PROOF, IF PROOF WERE NEEDED, OF NATURAL ”BEE-SPACE”.

So, where do I go from here? This was the first question that came into my head. My first thoughts were that I had to somehow get this colony back into the hive, but how best to go about it. I knew there was no way I could achieve this unaided, so I did what I always do when confronted by a bee related problem for the first time, which as usual, begins with a ‘phone call to my friend Liz. Her response was, as always, exactly what I was hoping to hear, ” when would you like me to come over to give you a hand?”. The result of which found us, suited up and approaching hive three around eleven o’clock the following morning. To cut a long story short, we decided that the best course of action would be to somehow get the bees back into the hive from which they’d come, the question was, how. After some head scratching, we decided that the best way to do this, would be to remove this colony from the floor to which they had affixed themselves, get them into an empty brood chamber and then unite this to the hive.

Having decided on a plan of attack, this is how we set about it. It was obvious that the first job was to get the hive away from the floor, at least, this would allow us to see the wood from the trees. Placing a new floor next to the hive, the next step was to get the hive on to it. With two pairs of hands, this was quite a simple task and thankfully, throughout all of this upheaval, the bees remained remarkably placid. Now that we were able to look down through the mesh floor we could see that all but one of the combs were in fact attached to the mesh with only one attached to the stand.

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ALL BUT ONE OF THE COMBS WERE ATTACHED TO THE MESH FLOOR

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ONLY ONE COMB ATTACHED TO THE STAND

Thankfully we had a number of comb cages which I had made sometime earlier.

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COMB CAGES MADE SOMETIME EARLIER

Having used on several previous occasions with a fair degree of success, we decided that to use these again would, was probably the best course of action, hopefully, enabling us to get all of the combs, complete with bees, into an empty brood chamber placed adjacent. It was quite a simple matter, using a sharp knife, to cut the one comb from the stand and get it into the comb cage. Having placed it into the empty

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1ST COMB SAFELY INTO CAGE

brood chamber we proceeded to upend the floor and remove and cage the remaining combs. “There’s the queen”, I heard Liz excitedly remark as she indicated with her finger in the direction of the next comb to be removed. As usual, she had disappeared before I could focus my eyes on the spot where Liz had pointed but it was good news indeed. The large amount of brood at all stages confirmed (a) the length of time they had been under the hive, and (b) that this was a very fertile queen and one well worth saving. From this point we continued to carefully continue removing and caging the remaining combs. We didn’t see the queen again but the mood of the bees, combined with their fanning convinced us that we had safely got her into the brood box. All that remained then was to return the original brood box, on a new floor, to it’s original position and place the box containing the colony from beneath the floor, on top for the bees to reunite. No need for paper obviously, as these were all bees from the same parent colony. A week later I returned and re-arranged the hive to get all of the frames into the bottom box. As this box is configured 14″x12″ it now houses a mixture of frame sizes but I shall leave them to over-winter like this and sort them out in the Spring. I am really pleased with the result. Their mood during a subsequent visit, combined with the amount of fresh brood, confirmed that the whole exercise had been a success.