MAY

To those of you who regularly join me as I stumble to achieve my bee-keeping goals, let me apologise. For the first time since I began this Blog, I have missed a month. I can’t imagine why anyone would be desperate enough to hack in to my computer in an effort to steal my scribbling’s but somehow I have managed to lose half of my pic’s along with all of my notes for April. In my ignorance, I probably pressed the wrong button, “OK, I know they’re called keys”, but what ever it was, it wasn’t until last week that I managed to get the site back up and running. So as I said, please accept my apologies.

The second couple of weeks of April saw a marked improvement in the weather and with it, much increased activity around the Apiaries. So much so that during the third week I managed a full, if brief, inspection of all the colonies. The single colony remaining at Mendip C was doing exceptionally well. It is, if you remember, on extended brood and already there were five full frames of brood along with a couple of good frames of stores. I headed to the meadow, at last something to write home about I remember thinking to myself.

Arriving at the meadow and still suited up, it didn’t take long to get to, and open the first hive. This colony, if you recall had begun life in one of my queen rearing nuc’s. at the meadow before being transferred along with two others to the new site at Mendip C. The whole exercise had been a disaster from the beginning with the first colony swarming within a fortnight and both of the others superseding shortly afterwards. The hive at the meadow now houses the swarm which since returning to the meadow have shown no further inclination to swarm and appear to have gone from strength to strength. This colony is also on extended brood and on removing the first frame it was immediately obvious that here we had a queen fully living up to her potential. One puff with the smoker was enough to send the bees down and that was where they stayed throughout my visit. Wall to wall brood on at least five frames and an abundance of stores on the others. Quite a few drones in evidence but not a single queen cup. All of this reinforced my feelings that here we had a very good queen. A good job I didn’t follow my first instincts on transferring her and her swarm to the meadow which was to replace her as soon as possible.

As I may have previously mentioned,we are down to just four colonies at the meadow, they are the colony which came from “C” and what were hives three, five and seven. I haven’t moved them from their original positions and it helps my failing memory to refer to them by their original numbers. So, from “C” on to three and five. From the activity at the hive entrances, obviously the weaker of the four. In three, nowhere the number of bees as in “C” and the brood, such as there was, was patchy. There were eggs and larvae but not anywhere near the amount I was hoping to see, more evidence that the previous year’s queens had been poorly mated. In five, no signs of a queen at all. The bees were perfectly well behaved and they were bringing in pollen and nectar but no signs of brood. A couple of weeks earlier following my first brief inspection I had given five a frame of brood to see if they would draw out a new queen. Today’s visit showed they had made no efforts in that direction suggesting to me that they still had a queen, but if they did, where was she and what was she playing at. I moved on to seven which thankfully was in very good health, much the same as “C”. Pleasing to see but the overall picture is far from satisfactory. Since the same time last year we have lost more that half of our stocks and of those we have left, half now appear now to be failing. Thinking back over previous years, If I had lost a single colony over winter I would have felt really aggrieved and be searching my records to try to find a clue as to where things had gone wrong but, compared with the results of the last couple of seasons, losing one colony would have counted a real success. Anyway, back to the present, what to do with three and five. Last Spring, I made what was to prove to be a big mistake by taking brood from my strongest colonies and giving it to the weakest. In previous years this had provided the boost they’d needed and they had progressed from there to become productive colonies. Last year, for some reason, was different, the poor hives didn’t benefit from the additional brood so they were given more. Looking back, I liken it to investing in an ailing company, if your stocks fail to improve, do you invest more in the hope that things will improve or do you write off your original investment. Well, stupidly, I continued to invest until I reached the inevitable terminal outcome when, not only did the original ailing stocks fail but the hives from which I had taken the brood struggled and in some cases, never fully recovered. I have decided not to risk jeopardising the two remaining good colonies helping three and five, instead they will be united at the first opportunity from when, they can take their chances.

Something which did happen in April which I haven’t yet mentioned was that I was given a new colony of bees. Earlier I had received a ‘phone call from a Society member informing me that he was moving house and as a result would have to, at least for the immediate future, relinquish his apiary site and asking me whether I could take his bees. He told me that he had one colony and that they were on double brood. I accepted his offer gratefully and one mild Tuesday evening towards the end of the month found us in the orchard where he housed his bees. By the time we arrived, most of the flying bees were in the hive, which was of course the plan. They seemed a happy bunch and paid little or no attention to my removal of the roof and empty super which I had to do in order to get them into the car. There was still a little candy under the roof and the empty super was being used as an eke. I fitted a crown board, secured the entrance, strapped up the hive and manoeuvred them into the car. While all this was going on, not a sound from within. Even when I got them out of the car at the meadow, not a murmur. It was by now getting dark so I decided to temporarily leave the hive on one of the tables in the orchard at the top of the meadow. I’ll make the decision tomorrow on what to do with them I decided. I removed the tape covering the entrance, still not a sound. Driving home I did begin to wonder whether I might have collected an empty box. The reason I’m telling you this is to bring into prospective what happened later.

The weather the following day, was to say the least, pretty grim. I made it to the meadow shortly after lunch prompted by what can only be described as an apology of a gap in the clouds through which a watery sun was doing it’s best to shine, unsuccessfully, it has to be said. I messed about in the greenhouse for an hour before deciding that enough was enough. The rain had made way for a fine drizzle by now so I decided to give it another ten minutes before heading home. The right decision as it happened for suddenly, the clouds parted and out came the sun. The threatening clouds all around suggested that this was to be a brief interlude, so I made my way straight to the new hive. It was at the top of the meadow, if you recall, so I didn’t have far to go. I arrived within a couple of minutes and already there were bees issuing from the entrance. As one would expect, they weren’t going very far at this point, but within a very short while, there were bees crawling all over the front of the hive. Even though the rain had only just stopped, all this activity suggested that that this colony was in fact, very strong in numbers. Another thing very apparent, was that they appeared to be taking little or no notice of the fact that I was standing no more than a couple of feet away. There was by now, a steady flow of bees leaving the hive and I had bees circling all around me but not a single one landed on me.

I left the meadow in really high spirits, for the first time in a long while it has to be said. Always the optimist I was already thinking, I now have what appears to be a very strong colony on double brood. Can this be the nursery colony to rear this year’s queens. And, if they turn out to be as placid as they appeared today? As I said, always the optimist !

The following day was by contrast, lovely. A hasty breakfast followed by a twenty minute drive found me at the meadow, which was by now, carpeted with wall to wall sunshine. A week had passed since my last inspection so, out with the smoker and on with my jacket. Inspecting the four colonies which now comprise the meadow apiary took less than an hour. The two weak colonies showed very little change but the other two had each added a frame of brood. I was pleased to have been able to carry out a full inspection and now that the swarming season is upon us, I shall continue with weekly inspections for the foreseeable future.

That evening, the 28th of April, I returned to the meadow and removed the new colony to Mendip “C”. The hive strap was still in place so it was a simple matter to just close off the entrance and put them back in the car, some fifteen minutes saw the job done. Re-opening the entrance saw one or two bees casting an enquiring eye towards me but no more interest than that. The fact that they seemed so good natured was the main reason for me taking them to “C”. You may recall that I had previously returned two colonies to the meadow because of their bad behaviour and I didn’t want to go down that road again. The following morning I paid them a quick visit, the hive stand is some thirty yards from the car park and from where I stopped and got out of the car, the volume of activity around the new hive was immediately apparent. I approached the hives slowly, I didn’t want to disturb the new colony, just to get some idea of their mood now that they were in their new home. They were by now, streaming out from the hive. I stopped some three or four feet, and slightly to one side, of the hive and watched. Now there were bees returning with pollen, all of them seemingly oblivious to me, it was as if they had always lived there. I decided to give them a few days to settle in before opening them up and so it was almost a week later when I returned, suited up and with smoker in hand.

As I approached, and from fully five yards away, I could tell there had been a mood change since my last visit. I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt that way, whether the pitch of the buzzing had changed or the way they were entering and leaving the hive I don’t know. I think that over time you seem to develop a sixth sense about certain things but whatever it was, I was right. By the time I had removed the roof there were bees pitching on me and before I had finished lifting off the top box I had already received several stings. No amount of smoke would pacify them, intent as they were on letting me know my attentions were unwelcome. The main reason for today’s inspection was check for queen cells and to verify how the queen was performing. Lots of brood in both boxes and no queen cells so that was ok. but why the change in mood. I boxed them up quickly and made my way back to the car with all the way, bees pinging off of my veil and jacket. If that wasn’t bad enough, “good morning Geoff”, it was the owner    coming up the path from the cottage. I quickly explained the situation vowing to move the hive back to the meadow later that evening but, unfortunately, not before a number of bees had transferred their attentions from me to him. I spent the rest of the day mulling over what had happened before returning as promised and collecting the hive.

It has been more than a year now since I set up Mendip “C”. It is undeniably a beautiful spot. As I have said before, there is a meadow of about an acre situated behind the apiary site, it isn’t grazed and enjoys an abundance of wild flowers. It is bordered by hedges of Blackthorn and Hawthorn and there is an orchard of about a quarter of an acre next to the apiary. There is no passing traffic as the whole site is well away from the nearest road, and that is little more than a single track width for much of it’s length. Just the farmer next door and the occasional rambler or cyclist use the lane which leads to the cottage. So, why is it that this site seems to have been dogged by bad luck from the start, or, is it bad luck.

If you recall, I began with three brand new colonies, each with queens that I had bred the previous year. Some time before taking them to the new site they had been transferred from their nuc’s into brand new 14×12″ hives which they had immediately set about filling with brood and stores.

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NEW COLONIES READY TO GO FROM MEADOW TO MENDIP “C”

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NEW 14×12″ HIVES, NOW AT MENDIP “C”

Within a month one of the colonies has swarmed and shortly after, the other two had superseded. The colony which had swarmed became extremely irritable and was taken back to the meadow where it rapidly lost all signs of it’s former irritability and has continued to prosper. The swarm and the two colonies which superseded eventually failed as did two of the queens which I bought in from a very reputable source. I had never bought in queens before but had managed to convince myself that the failures must have been down to my queens either being, in some way inferior, or having been poorly mated. But now, with the demise of my bought in queens, I was having my doubts.  The one remaining queen was a present from my friend Liz and she still heads the one remaining colony, very ably it has to be said. So, as I asked earlier, can all this be put down to bad luck or co-incidence.

The last week in May now and things have really started to move. Strangely, the two strongest colonies at the meadow have both decided to supersede. They are each on extended brood and are busy working supers so I’m not concerned that they are short of space, also the fact that they have only produced one queen cell each tells me that they are not preparing to swarm but it does seem a little odd that they should each be behaving in the same way. Having said all that, the next time I look, I’ll probably find that they have all swarmed, you just never know do you ! Hive three is looking the best it has all season, they still lag behind the others by some distance but they appear to be doing their best to catch up. I haven’t united them with five yet who still seem as happy as Larry despite there having been no sign of a queen all season. I’m very please to be able to report that the new colony that I had to move back to the meadow from “C” has now calmed down to the point that they allowed me to examine them last week without stinging me once. In fact, they had produced three nice queen cells on two frames with which I gratefully started two new nuc’s.

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AT LAST A JOB FOR ONE OF MY NEW NUC’S. HOPE THE BEES APPROVE

I will be very interesting to see whether they progress. As well as two frames of brood and stores they both have a frame feeder filled with syrup and I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on them over the next couple of weeks.

The fact that the behaviour of the new hive appeared to change almost overnight really does suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong at Mendip “C”. To further re-enforce that is the fact that the mood of the one remaining colony had deteriorated at my last visit with bees following me back to the car, something they have never done before.

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned before, but there are two rows of solar panels in fairly close proximity to the apiary.

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SOLAR PANELS. THE SHADDOW ON THE LEFT IS OF THE NEAREST HIVE

I can’t imagine how they would be affecting the bees, but, something certainly is. I mentioned this to our guest “expert” at this month’s apiary meeting and neither he or anyone else there had encountered anything similar. I have now contacted BBKA NEWS to see if they can shed any light on the situation. I’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say. If any of you have any thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear from you. The e’mail address is on the ABOUT MENDIP APIARY header.

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