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.

 

 

MARCH

And so into March, traditionally synonymous with strong winds, and for any fans of gale force winds, they certainly won’t have been disappointed thus far. Storm Gareth has been with us, more or less, since the beginning of the month and to give you some idea of the wind strength, for the first time since I began keeping bees, I’ve had roofs actually blown off two of the hives. Fortunately, only one of the hives had bees in and even more so, probably due to propolis, the crown board had stayed in place. Even so, it was with some trepidation that I entered the apiary the following morning, going straight to the hive in question. Imagine my relief to find bees coming and going in numbers, totally unaware how close they had come to honeybee Armageddon. None of the other beekeepers that I’ve spoken with have ever had a roof dislodged by wind and I’m really hopeful that this was a one off.

With Storm Gareth now little more than a distant memory, the second half of the month has seen a distinct improvement in the weather. With high pressure now in control, we have enjoyed several days of continuous sunshine. The cold wind has persisted so I’ve resisted the temptation to open the hives, other than to lift the roofs to check on the syrup and fondant situation which the bees have continued to attack with some gusto. Until yesterday, that is. I arrived quite early at the Station  Apiary and immediately began Yacht varnishing the empty nuc’s., the main reason for my visit. There were already good numbers of bees issuing from the hives which, considering how fresh the breeze felt along with the number of parked cars I’d earlier passed that had frost on, was quite surprising and in stark contrast to the situation a week or so earlier.

Pleased to report, the Month, despite a shaky start, has finished pretty well for us here at Mendip. Not only have I finished refurbishing my nuc’s., I’ve completed my first colony inspections and found laying queens with plenty of brood and stores in all but one. The queen in the colony without brood is a plump little thing, only just into her second season and appears in perfect health. There is an abundance of flying bees all returning fully laden with pollen, usually a sign that a laying queen is in residence but seemingly, not in this case. So, I don’t know what’s wrong with her but I’ve decided to leave her for another week and if there’s no change by then, I’ll have to remove her and give the colony a frame of brood from one of the other hives.

Our Society finished it’s annual beginner’s course the end of last month and, as we had done last year, we decided to include a practical session and again, it was decided to hold it at my Mendip “C” apiary. In preparation I had ordered two new mated queens from Becky’s Bees but unfortunately, due to bad weather on the continent, they hadn’t arrived. That, coupled with the extremely poor weather the week leading up to the meeting, led us to considering cancelling and it was decided to wait until a couple of days before the day of the meeting before making that decision. As it happened, the weather suddenly took a turn for the better, that is to say, although the sun still hadn’t appeared, it looked as though it might. We needn’t have worried, Saturday dawned and by mid morning, the clouds had all but disappeared, and the sun shone. The first car arrived about one o’clock and by two-thirty the place was heaving.

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BY 2.30 THE PLACE WAS HEAVING

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ON OUR WAY TO MEET THE BEES

It was difficult speaking to so many people and passing frames of brood for everyone to have a look at. Although the sun was shining, there was still a chill breeze and I didn’t want to risk chilling the brood. I think we just about managed although, it would have been a lot easier if I’d had my new queens in their nuc’s.

 

 

 

JANUARY, CONT’D

In case you’re wondering why I’ve included an article on swarming. A few evenings ago, whilst on a rare visit to my local hostelry, I struck up a conversation with one of the locals and when I mentioned that I kept bees for a hobby he replied that amongst other things, he’d always wondered why bees swarm. As we got deeper into the conversation it occurred to me just how little the average public knows about the workings of the honeybee and I remembered an article that I’d written for a local publication some time ago on the subject of swarming. I decided to publish it on the blog in the hope that someone might find it of interest.

At last, and after a great deal of time and effort, the shed base at Station House is finally cemented in place. Luckily, there was enough cement left over to install the mating nuc.stand also so, it was with a real sense of relief that I stood back  and surveyed the finished article.

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THE FINISHED ARTICLE