OCTOBER

I mentioned that thus far we have used a thymol based paste for our Winter varroa treatment and I must say, that we have been well pleased with the results. Until last year that is, and that was as much our fault as that of this product, but it does highlight one of it’s limitations and that is, it’s efficiency during extremes of cold. We always feed before treating, the thinking behind this being, if you don’t feed you will almost certainly lose your bees whereas, if you don’t treat for varroa, there is still a chance that you bees will emerge in the Spring when you will have a second chance to treat. Anyway, for whatever reason, last year we were late extracting which led to our feeding being later than I would have liked. Sods law dictated that Winter came early in our neck of the woods last year which meant that not only were the bees slow in taking their syrup down but that the varroa treatment was too solid to have any lasting effect. The consequence of all of this was that we must have come into the Spring still with a high level of varroa in our Mendip colonies, a fact that I failed to pick up on. My early inspections hadn’t indicated anything out of the ordinary and as we’d never had a varroa problem in the past, I just carried on as usual. I did spend a lot of time getting the new Station site up and running and maybe on reflection, I wasn’t as thorough with my inspections as I should have been. I did notice that the bees weren’t producing as much honey as I would have expected but I put this down to the move. It wasn’t until our season’s last apiary meeting, which was at my Station Apiary that the problem came to light. The meetings are always themed and we always have a guest “expert” to demonstrate. Half way through the first hive and those dreaded words, ” Geoff, you’ve got a brood problem here and I’m pretty sure that varroa’s the culprit, look.” Holding up his hand it was plain to see a varroa on his thumb-nail, and there was worse to come. The next three colonies were the same. At this point, and feeling sick in the pit of my stomach, we left the bees and adjourned for cream teas on the lawn. Had I invited all these people to my apiary to infect them with some horrible brood disease, at the first opportunity I cornered my guest. My first question, “is it foul brood”? He explained that while he didn’t believe it to be one of the foul broods, that there was obviously something amiss that needed to be kept an eye on. His advise was to get my varroa treatment on as soon as possible and check the hives again in a week or so. The following morning all of the hives, and the nuc’s. at both sites received a dose of Apivar. I haven’t used this treatment before but have heard glowing reports of it’s efficacy and so was eager to give it a try and glad to report, the results didn’t disappoint. In the space of a week, the drop went from high to practically nil. This, combined with the fact that all the colonies seemed none the worse for their experience and appeared to be performing well meant that I could once again start sleeping at nights. I had also taken the precaution of reporting the happenings of the previous week to our local bee inspector who suggested the problem was most likely sac brood with varroa as the likely cause and to keep a careful eye open and report any relevant changes. I have done as I was advised and thankfully, all seems to be looking good. The Apivar comes off next week when the hives will receive what will most likely be their, last full inspection for this season. The events of this last month have been a real wake-up call for me and I realise that I’ve probably become a bit complacent with my inspections so, my new year’s resolution, be thorough and don’t ignore anything which appears in any way out of the ordinary.

 

SEPTEMBER

The nights drawing in and the very noticeable drop in temperature tells us in no uncertain terms that Winter will soon be upon us. A fact which has not gone unnoticed by the bees. The absence of drones combined with the reduction in brood confirms that fact. So what should we be doing to assist our bees in their preparations for what might be a very long Winter, and of course, this is always a problem in as much as their is no definitive way of foretelling just how hard or how long Winter is going to be. Experience has shown, and of course it’s something which common sense should already have told us, and it is that one strong colony will stand a far better chance of over-wintering successfully than two weak ones. For that reason any weak colony should by now have been united to a stronger neighbour. So, to help ensure successful over-wintering, the first requirement must surely be, strong colonies. Honeybees, in my experience, will cope quite happily with even the coldest Winters so long as their hives are weather tight and draught proof so, that is the second requirement here at Mendip. If you suddenly notice that any of your hive sections have developed a suspect joint, seal it with a band of Gaffer Tape or similar. We always try to commence feeding as soon as we have finished extracting our honey, as much as anything, to take advantage of what warm weather is left but also, to leave plenty of time to get the thymol based treatment on, which has up until now, been our chosen Varroa treatment. One thing that we are invariably left with, following extraction, is a number of supers containing shallow frames which are either partly filled with honey or have been capped on one side only. They can’t be extracted because they aren’t sealed so what to do with them. The obvious solution is to give them back to the bees to clean out but, how best to do it. These supers can be placed below the brood chamber into which the bees, instead of cleaning out the frames, will continue depositing honey. Great if you intend to over-winter on brood and a half but not if you don’t, or like us, use 14″x!2″ brood boxes. We find a better way, and one which soon has the bees emptying the supers into the brood chamber, where after all, is where we need the honey to be at this time of year, is to place the super to be emptied, above the brood chamber. If you place your super above a queen excluder and either an eke or empty super you will find your bees more than happy to empty it for you. A word of caution when deciding how much stores a colony needs to see it through an average Winter. It’s generally accepted that a colony needs a minimum of 40lbs. of stores going into Winter and that hefting a hive will give a pretty good indication of how much stores they have managed to save, leaving you to make up the difference with thick syrup.( 2 kilos sugar to 1 litre water ). As I said, hefting will give you a pretty good indication of the stores situation but you still need to have a look at the individual frames. A word of warning, and I speak from personal experience, don’t assume that all  capped frames are filled with viable honey. If your bees have been foraging heavily on ivy it is just possible that they will have a brood chamber filled with stores which will have set by the time they need it and which they will be unable to access. I remember some years ago, losing two colonies like this. Take it from me, it’s a heart-breaking sight opening a hive in the Spring to find that every comb has the bottom of a dead bee, looking at you. A bee that spent it’s last moments desperately trying to glean the last vestiges of honey from an empty comb while all the time flanked by combs filled with unusable stores. If you’re in any doubt, score the combs with your hive tool and if you don’t see runny honey, discount them. Having said that, make sure you leave enough empty comb for your bees to store their syrup in.

APRIL

Despite hive 1 receiving two frames of brood over the last couple of weeks, still no sign of brood except for a couple of drone cells so, at the next visit I culled the queen and added another frame of brood. A quick look the following day revealed they had already begun drawing out new queen cups on the new brood frame so, it was the right decision to remove the queen.

It looks as though the swarming season has started early this year, probably down to the couple of hot weeks we’ve just had. I was called to my first one a couple of days ago and my friend Liz told me that she had collected one two days earlier. I helped a friend inspect his hives last weekend and it was obvious from the number of sealed queen cells that at least two of his colonies had swarmed, so as I said, it looks as though this year’s swarming season is well under way. The swarm which I was called to was in a little village, not a million miles away from me so no problems there. The swarm had originally gathered in his chimney. Not wishing to have uninvited guests setting up their home there, but also, not wishing to harm them, the owner had lit a small fire using just a handful of twigs. This resulted in the bees leaving the chimney and clustering in a conifer in the garden. It was at this point that I received the ‘phone call.

I arrived to be greeted by the owner and to find the swarm just as described and not only that, he had a small tower scaffold which he kindly offered me the use of. Within minutes he had erected it for me and I was perched on the top of it, positioning the nuc. which I had brought for the purpose, below the cluster.

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SWARM NOW SAFELY IN THE NUC.

The number of flying bees suggested that they were almost ready to decamp, so just in time I couldn’t help thinking. A sharp tap on the branch from which they were hanging, and they were safely in the nuc. Within seconds there were bees fanning at the entrance, always a welcome sight, I think. We agreed that I could leave the nuc on the scaffold platform until the evening to allow the flying bees to re-join their brothers and sisters.

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THIS WAS THE PICTURE AS I LEFT. THEY ALL SEEMED HAPPY ENOUGH.

Just from walking up the garden when I returned later, I could see that most of the flying bees were no longer in evidence, so safe to proceed. What I was surprised to see was, as I climbed the ladder and got level with the nuc. a dozen or more bees were lined up at the entrance, almost as though they were waiting for me. They didn’t attempt to fly which was what I was half expecting them to do, instead, they turned, almost as one, and disappeared into the safety of the nuc. So, into the car and home. I couldn’t help thinking as I made my way to the Station Apiary, if only they were all this easy!

A week had passed since I’d last inspected the hives, first to “C” where pleased to see, all progressing nicely, no sign of queen cells which in view of what I’d seen at my friends apiary, quite a relief. Then on to The Station site. It was now two days since I’d installed the swarm nuc and although I’d left them with a frame of drawn comb and some stores, I was eager to see how they were doing, so, first stop, the nuc.

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FIRST STOP THE NUC.

Lots of bees, there’s a lot more than you can see from the pic.,and very placid, always a bonus. I made up the nuc. with a full complement of frames and made my way to the hives. In hive one, now several capped queen cells, just what I was hoping to find. I broke down all but the best two and will have another look the day before I’m expecting them to emerge, when I will either break the smaller one down or use it to make up another nuc.

The last Thursday of the month and I’ve just received notification that my new queens would be arriving Saturday morning. What with giving brood to the swarm nuc. and Hive one, I was quite concerned that I might not be able to find enough for the nuc’s. that were going to house my new queens, not without seriously depleting the other hives. Fortunately, one of my fellow society members came to the rescue. I was meeting with him later that day to give him a hand with his colony inspections. When I mentioned my dilemma regarding my new queens and their nuc’s, or lack of as was going to be the case. “No problem” was his welcome reply, “I’m looking to downsize so if you want a couple of frames of brood, just help yourself”. By the end of the day, I had two nuc’s, back at the Station apiary, both with a really healthy looking frame of brood plus additional bees and a frame of stores which my own hives had supplied. I left feeling a lot happier to await delivery of my, new long awaited queens.

Sure enough, as promised, the post lady handed me a small package marked, “LIVE BEES, HANDLE WITH CARE” on Saturday morning. I usually give any new arrivals a couple of drops of water and a couple of hours to recuperate from their journey before moving them on to their nuc’s. which I do by first transferring them from their travelling cage into a Butler cage which I prefer. This is quite a simple matter which I usually perform on the kitchen window cill, not before putting the plug into the sink, I hasten to add. I had a queen flutter down from the cill into the sink on one occasion and the last thing you want to see, at this point, is your precious queen disappearing down the plughole. It’s quite a simple matter to open the small plastic rectangular travelling cages that the queens normally arrive in. The flying bees will then normally leave to pitch on the window leaving the queen to be gently coaxed into the Butler cage. It seems to be the view shared by most “experts” that queens are far more likely to be accepted if they are unaccompanied by their attendants and as it seems to be good advise, I have always installed my bought-in queens in that manner. Today however, this was going to be a problem, as these queens had arrived in travelling cages which I hadn’t encountered before and which I couldn’t figure out how to open, at least, not without risking crushing the bees. So, nothing for it but off to the Station site with my new charges. The bees in the nuc’s. seemed in very good humour, especially considering that they had all been so recently plucked from the comfort of their own homes and tossed around in my nuc’s., and were all over the queen cages before I had finished installing them.