JUNE, AT LAST THE YEAR REALLY BEGINS

It’s now two weeks since I last looked at four and six. As I said earlier, I saw pollen going into six but there was still nothing going into four. I decided to give them a frame of brood to help them out. The reason for the delay in inspecting four and six is that if they have superseded I wanted the new Queens to have time to get mated and start laying before I disturbed them and if they haven’t, four at least, will have still had the benefit of the new frame of brood so nothing will have been lost by not being too hasty.

So, a quick look in six first, eggs and brood tell me I have a laying Queen in residence. Now whether they have superseded or whether the old Queen has started laying again I don’t know. I didn’t want to subject them to a lengthy examination at this stage, suffice to know, for this moment at least, the colony is once again “Queen right”. Now to number four. No eggs or brood but the bees seem a lot happier than when last I looked at them. Neither had they attempted to draw a new Queen out from the frame of brood I had earlier given them which suggested that they too had a Queen although I have to say, if they have, I couldn’t find her. I decided to give them another couple of days before taking any further action.

Three days on, time to have another look at four, in fact, time to examine all the colonies. I was going to be away for a few days and didn’t want to come back to any unwanted surprises. It was four that I was particularly concerned with so to them first. Still no sign of a Queen, still no eggs or brood. I went through the hive twice, still no Queen to be found but, for a seemingly Queenless colony, they were remarkably placid, strange I thought. I went to eight next, my strongest colony, and strong they were. Upwards of six full frames in each brood chamber. It was eight that was to supply my Queens this year I had decided some time ago, so, a frame of brood to four seemed to be the next logical step. I had decided to try the Miller method of Queen rearing this year having been singularly unsuccessful with the Cloake-board method a couple of years ago. I like the idea of selecting larvae for grafting and the Doolittle method of cup production but unfortunately, the eyes aren’t up to it, so, the Miller method it is to be this year. Now I had an ideal oportunity to start the proceedings, my chosen colony at almost full strength and a gap in the brood nest. I took a spare frame of comb and cut it to a “W” shape and inserted it in the brood nest.

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  This is how the frame looked minutes later, you can see the bees had taken to it straight away. I closed up eight and went through the others. No problems there, in fact, they were so busy taking advantage of the nice weather we had all waited so long for, I may as  well not have been there.

Before leaving, I added supers to one, two and seven. I’m aware the Queen rearing and the addition of supers is weeks late but, in a similar fashion to last year, the weather has if nothing else, been decidedly unseasonal, at least, here in the west Country. So, hopefully, “better late than never”, we shall see.

A week is an awfully long time in beekeeping, or so it sometimes seems. More bad weather and a couple of days away means it has been more than a week since I have been able to have a look at the bees. I should have Demaree’d eight in readiness for the Miller comb but have not been able to for the reasons I mentioned, so I find they have extended the comb the depth of the brood chamber and filled it with a mixture of brood and stores. I decided to leave the comb as it was and inserted another. I also took this oportunity to Demaree the colony.

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This is now hive eight in Demaree mode. From the bottom we have, floor, brood chamber housing Queen, mainly sealed brood and Miller frame. We then have a super filled with foundation frames separated from the brood box by a Queen excluder. On top of that sits a brood box housing mainly unsealed brood. Above all of that is the super they had started on before the Demaree operation began and of course, crown board and roof. The theory behind all this is that brood bees will be drawn to the top brood box by the presence of unsealed brood and will be far enough away from the Queen to think they are Queenless. They will start producing Queen cells within a couple of days. These can be destroyed and the Miller frame, now hopefully filled with eggs and young brood inserted, having first pared the comb back to expose the brood. The bees should then set about drawing out Queen cells from this brood which can then be harvested. The beauty of this method is that no grafting is required, and the exact age of all the cells and therefore the date of emergence is known. That is the theory, let’s see if it works.

 On to the other hives. Thankfully, with the exception of six, they were looking pretty good, supers filling up nicely and no Queen cells. Four had however, begun to draw out Queen cells on the frame of brood I had given them from eight. There were two really nice looking cells which I left them with and four much smaller ones which I removed. Still remarkably placid though. Six, by contrast, for some reason was particularly irritable, a state which increased considerably as I examined them. They were on brood and a half and had not only filled the half with honey but also eight of the combs in the brood chamber. Strange, it seemed their irritability was somehow proportionate to their industry. I decided to box them up and retire to decide what next to do with them. They were by now very cross, no amount of smoking would calm them and I had already been stung several times. What was worse was that a number of them followed me up the meadow and hung around for ages. I have encountered angry bees before but never on this scale. Something had to be done and quickly. At this point, I still hadn’t established whether they had superseded or if the old Queen was still in residence. My gut feeling was that they had and the irritability was in the old Queen’s offspring. If I was right, the colony would, shortly sort itself out as the new Queen’s offspring gradually replaced the old. The one thing that was immediately apparent was that they needed more room, as I said earlier, every available comb had been filled with stores with little more than two frames of brood in evidence. It was as if as soon as an available area of comb appeared, there had been a race between the Queen and the workers to fill it which the workers had won, and quite remarkably, all this had happened in the last ten days. Was this shortage of space a contributing factor to six’s problems. If it was, it was something I could soon rectify.

The following morning, I was back at the meadow, early. I had hoped to get to six before they had become too active, finish my manipulations before they were really aware of what was going on and then leave them to it for a couple of days. I figured, I should, in a couple of days have some indication as to whether their mood had improved. I had decided on a variation of the “shook swarm” and had with me a spare floor, brood box and super. Get them on to fresh comb and foundation in the hope that having plenty to do, their mood would improve. I pulled into the driveway just in time to see a tractor with grass cutter affixed, disappearing into the distance. The local farmer who takes a couple of cuts of hay from the meadow every year had decided that today was the day, sods law or what ? Whether it is the noise of the tractor or the close proximity of the cutters I don’t know, but the bees always seem edgy for two or three hours following his visit. I think also, the change in appearance of the meadow has an effect on them. Whatever it is, today was to be no exception, I could sense a change of mood as I approached, I just knew number six would be spoiling for a fight and I was right. The sensible thing would have been to leave them for a day or two but the weather forecast didn’t seem too promising and I knew the farmer would be shortly back to collect his hay. So, with my smoker in my hand and my heart in my mouth I tackled the task in hand.

The super that comprised the brood and a half was full of honey, there was no brood in it at all. I removed this to one side, covering it to prevent any robbing. Next the hive was placed on the transporter and in it’s place went the new floor and brood box. All the bees were shaken in to the new box and with them went the two frames of brood and two of stores. I made the rest of the space up with comb and foundation. Next went on a Queen excluder followed by a super and finally the super full of honey. Seeing it written like this, it all seems perfectly straight forward but in fact, the nearest thing I can liken it to is probably the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour with me, an American aircraft carrier, I’m sure I heard one of them scream “Tora Tora Tora” as it prepaired to attack. In my heart I new the most sensible thing to do would have been to have destroyed the colony but I just wanted to give them one more chance. After all, a colony that can lay down that much honey in such a short time has to be given a second chance, doesn’t it ? The old hive, I wheeled a short distance away and left for the remaining bees to make their way home. It had been a most unpleasant experience and I left the meadow, still not sure that I’d made the right decision

I pulled up at the meadow the following morning and was immediately approached by a neighbour who enquired whether there was a problem with the bees as for the first time she had had bees following her up the garden and they were frightening the children. Fortunately, no one had been stung as at then but ?. I explained there had been a problem and that I was sure that I could get it sorted out. We parted on good terms her saying that she and the children would avoid the bottom of the garden until I gave her the “all-clear”. I had bought myself a little more time but clearly, six was running out of friends and was on borrowed time.

Happy to say, my next visit saw a distinct improvement in six’s demeanour. and this despite the farmer having returned with his tractor several times. By yesterday all was pretty well normal. I didn’t dwell longer than necessary when I visited the meadow but apart from one or two bees giving me a cursory glance, all seemed well. A brief word with the neighbour further allayed my fears as she was now happy, so, fingers crossed !

I said earlier that I try to visit the meadow most days, not to examine the bees necessarily but to satisfy myself that all is well. The activity at the hive entrance will usually provide all the evidence one needs. This past week was no exception, and, happy to say with the exception of a couple of bees from six who still seemed to resent my intrusion, all appeared well. Wednesday found me suited up walking down to my little apiary. It was now five days since I had Demaree’d eight, time enough for them to have embarked upon my 2013 Queen rearing program, so eight was my first port of call.

In the bottom box, they seemed to be doing their best to ignore the Miller frame that I had given them except for a little pollen, strange I thought especially in view of the speed with which they had accepted the previous one, I’ll have another look in a couple of days. They had however, drawn out three Queen cells in the top box one of which was sealed. I remove that and the frame it was on to one of my Queen mating nuc’s along with some more brood and stores. A couple of frames of bees from number two were shaken in and the nuc was closed up. I didn’t have any syrup to hand so I gave them a little candy to go on with. The following day they received a surface feeder of syrup. I was surprise at how much of the candy they had taken. They had also managed to dislodge enough of the grass I had blocked the entrance with to enable a few to come and go. They certainly seemed happy enough so I decided to leave them to it. Other than to maybe top up the feeder, I won’t bother them for a couple of weeks by which time the Queen should have mated and be laying. I shall be watching for pollen going in.

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One thing we do regularly around this time is to dust the colonies with icing sugar at regular intervals, this as part of our Varroa control. It always amuses me to see them coming and going for a short time afterwards wearing their little white jackets looking for all the world like so many miniature abominable snowmen .

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                                                                                                                                             With June drawing to a close, time for reflection. It has been a mixed bag weather wise so no change there. So, what of the bees, they’ve been going about the business of collecting stores as they usually do but with a distinct lack of urgency, or so it seems. As another local beekeeper put it, they seem to be “on hold”. Others I have spoken with report that they too have had colonies turn angry with no apparent cause, and very often as with my hive six, almost over night, but even stranger, to revert back to quiet mode almost as quickly. Probably the most unusual thing for me has been the apparent reluctance to produce Queen cells. In the past, it has not been unusual to find Queen cells being started on most visits but this year so far, I have found only one primed cell, plenty of play cups but only one primed. That is with the exception of eight which I had earlier Demaree’d and they had only started three cells. One I removed to a Nuc but the other two, surprisingly, they broke down themselves. The Queen has also, for some reason, chosen to totally ignore the Miller frame that I had inserted earlier, the bees preferring instead, despite it being in the centre of the brood chamber, to fill it with pollen. It will be interesting to see what surprises July has in store.

June did however,have one last surprise up her sleeve for me. I told earlier of hive three which I had modified to take extended brood frames but as yet,I hadn’t had an opportunity to populate it. Well, on Saturday I received a ‘phone call to collect a swarm from someone in a neighbouring Village. From the size of it I take it to be a caste. I would have liked to run them into the hive thus allowing me to see the Queen but by the time I got them back to the meadow it was too late so they had to put up with being unceremoniously tipped into the hive. To make room for them I first removed a few of the frames. When I replaced the frames on Sunday morning, glad to say, they seemed in pretty good shape and I left them to get on with it, though not before, giving them a feeder of syrup. The following day they seemed to be coming and going quite happily and I observed some pollen going in. So, there we are, hive three now has a family in residence so the month didn’t finish too badly after all. I will give them a week or so before I have good look at them just in case they were headed by a virgin and will need time to get her mated. I don’t want to risk losing her at this stage.

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This was hive three on the Monday, as you can see, the occupants have begun to get to grips with there new home. You will also see that a passing blackbird has chosen to christen it for me, I hope that is a lucky omen.

 

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