It has to be said, if May is where Spring ends and Summer begins, there hasn’t been too much evidence to that effect so far. I can’t remember a single day when the sun shone all day, in fact, I’m trying to recall a day when we didn’t have at least one passing shower. What this has meant of course, is that full inspections, here at Mendip that is, have had to be put on hold. Even on the days when the sun did put in an appearance, it was accompanied by a chill wind. My main concern when the weather is like this is this that the brood might get chilled. For this reason I have kept my inspections to an absolute minimum thus far, really just removing the crown board to get some sort of head count. There are a couple of things I want to satisfy myself to, namely, the supersedure in hive one at Mendip C, and the two colonies at the meadow that received frames of brood, whether they have made good use of them. The forecast for this afternoon and tomorrow is one of sunshine accompanied by gentle breezes, although, looking out of the window, there seems little evidence, that the forecasters have got it right. We are, by the way, just entering the second week of the month and I think we are entitled to expect a couple of good days if nothing else. So, in the hope that the weather man has got it right, I shall be off to the meadow shortly, but will be keeping my fingers firmly crossed!
So far this year, I’ve attended one lecture day and three evening talks, either organised by Somerset Bee-keepers or our own Mendip Bee-keeping Society. Unusually, the three evening talks were devoted exclusively to queen rearing as was one of the talks at the lecture day. These were of particular interest to me because, as you know, queen rearing is a particular passion of mine. However,what never ceases to amaze me, when I attend these talks, and not only on queen rearing, is the differing opinions that are put forward by these “experts” as to the best way, or as some would suggest, the only way, we should be keeping our bees. I have always held the view that there are only two things that we should, as beekeepers, all religiously practice, namely, good hygene and record keeping. Everything else is really down to us as individuals, at the end of the day, it’s what works for us isn’t it! Another thing that I’m constantly surprised by, is the blind faith with which many beekeepers buy in queen bees, seemingly accepting without question, that she failed to over-winter or became a drone layer half way through the first year. I ask myself, would the people who buy these bees accept a puppy dog, or kitten, that just dropped in through the letter box, without any form of pedigree or guarantee. Of course not, they’d want to see the litter and at the very least, one of the parents, otherwise, how can they have any idea what they are buying. The answer and to my mind, the only way you can be 100% sure of the quality of your queens, is to have your own breeding programme. Breed your own queens, selected from your best stocks, exhibiting the qualities that you most value. That way, if they don’t live up to your expectations, you’ll know why won’t you, and if they do, and why shouldn’t they?,you’ll know the answer to that also, I ask you, could there be anything more satisfying. Imagine for a moment, all of your stocks filled with good tempered, industrious bees, all headed by young, virile queens, and not just any queens, but queens produced, not for profit or out of convenience, but destined, from the moment the eggs were laid, to be the best queens, your queens.
I made the mistake in April’s chapter of telling you how, despite last year’s queen rearing bordering on the disasterous, hive two at Mendip C was coming along great guns and that I was already thinking them playing a leading role in my next year’s queen rearing. From memory I said I wouldn’t elaborate on their progress further as I didn’t want to tempt fate. Well, I’d obviously already said too much. Monday of this week, I’d just finished breakfast and was contemplating what to do with the day. It was a bit overcast so I’d more or less decided to do some bailiffing visits first, then if the weather brightened up, to visit the meadow followed by the new site. The voice on the ‘phone minutes later made the decision for me. “Geoff, it’s Bob, I think your bees are swarming, can you come over”. It was the owner of the new site. After mumbling something to the effect of, don’t worry, swarming bees rairly if ever sting, I promised I’d be with him in twenty minutes, and so I was. Driving over I was doing my best to convince myself that they couldn’t possibly be swarming after all, it was barely a fortnight since they’d been at the new site. They’d gone from a five frame nuc.into a 14×12″ hive with frames at 38mm.centres, and with a queen barely six months old. I asked myself, what could possibly induce them to even consider swarming let alone, to go through with the dastardly deed. I’ll never know the answer to that but the sight that confronted me on arriving at the new site, assured me that the ungrateful little beggars had. Fortunately they had clustered in the blackthon hedge bordering the apiary and with a sharp tap,were easily dislodged into the box I’d hastely bundled, along with an old sheet, into the car.
BEES OBLIGINGLY ENTERING UPTURNED BOX
I placed the box along with the bees, upside down on the sheet and propped one side open to allow the bees access. You can see from the bees fanning in front of the box that they were quite happy with their temporary accommodation and were all in by the time I collected them later that evening.
During the afternoon I had removed the centre partition from one of the mating nuc’s. and set it up at the bottom of the meadow in readiness to take the swarm. It was the only empty hive I had available at this time as I didn’t have any plans to increase the number of colonies. Anyway, when I got the swarm back to the meadow, it was too late to run them in so I just tipped them as gently as I could into the brood chamber along with three frames of stores, a couple of frames of drawn comb, two of foundation and a dummy board. I reasoned, that should keep them ocupied for a bit, at least until I decide what to do with them long term.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING SAW THEM HAPPY ENOUGH
I visited the meadow the following morning and went straight to the nuc.hive. The activity at the entrance suggested all was well. The pic.doesn’t really do it justice, there were a lot more flying bees than the pic.shows, I guess they must have been a bit camera shy!
One bonus that the swarming colony at Mendip C did provide, was a number of sealed queen cells. I told earlier of the poor state that some of the colonies at the meadow had somehow got themselves into, and of the disappearing queens, or lack of visible queen activity. I have seeded each of the poor colonies with a queen cell from the swarmed colony. These have been placed, in cell protectors, in the centre of the brood nests. Normally, at the first sign of queenlessness, I would have taken a couple of frames of brood from the stronger colonies and given them to the poor ones. Of course, Sods law being what it is, my best colonies are the ones on extended brood and so I can’t use the frames as they won’t fit. The frames that I did move around last month, between the hives on standard brood, weren’t really sufficiently strong in numbers to do the trick, in fact, as concerned me at the time, I just succeeded in weakening them all. The first chance I get to inspect the meadow hives this week, I shall be looking to see whether the cells have hatched. If not, my friend Liz has offered me a couple of frames of brood which I’ll be gratefully accepting.
I wish I could figure out where it all went wrong this season, it wasn’t a particularly bad Winter and in any case, all the hives had plenty of stores. They had the same varroa treatment as they have had in previous years and all had candy as a “belt and braces” measure. In my mind, I’ve convinced myself that the dismal queen rearing must be down to poor mating and as such, was beyond my control, but, why are so many of the other colonies suffering. Answers on a postcard to :-
The weather this week so far has carried on where last week’s left off. A few sunny spells interspersed with cold winds and cloudy overcast skies bringing with them, really vicious downpours of hail and rain. Yesterday we even had a thunder storm with huge flashes of lightning lighting the sky. What all of this has meant is that it has been almost impossible to plan my apiary visits although I did manage a quick look in on the new site yesterday. To number one first as I wanted to see whether the supersedure cell had hatched which it appeared to have. I didn’t spend too long with them, just long enough to see that they were still behaving irritably which sugested to me that if the queen had emerged successfully, she still hadn’t taken up her duties. As as an insurance measure, I gave them a frame of brood from number three which now looks to be building up nicely. I didn’t open two as I want to be sure that their new queen, which hopefully they have by now, has settled and started laying. The activity at the entrance suggested all was moving along in the right direction so I’ll give them another week before I look in on them. The whole visit took barely twenty minutes which was just as well as the rain started again as I was opening the car door, still, it keeps the ducks happy.
Another week on and sorry to say, it’s more of the same. The queen cell that I left in hive two at Mendip C has failed to hatch as have all but one of the cells I transplanted into the hives at the meadow.
ONLY ONE CELL OUT OF FIVE HAD HATCHED.
As you can see I made the cell protectors out of Gaffer Tape as I had nothing else to hand at the time, unorthodox I know, but it seemed to do the trick.
Added to all that, as if the antics in one and two weren’t enough, hive three was now preparing to swarm. So, it was more or less a repeat performance of the previous week except now, it was hive two’s turn to received a frame of brood from three with the surplus cells once again, going to the meadow. One good thing this weeks inspection of the meadow hives has thrown up is how quickly the best colonies are building up, fortunately including two of the hives still on standard brood. This enabled me to give a frame of brood each to two of the ailing colonies which hopefully thay will take full advantage of, which means, I’ve now only got two which are relying on the queen cells from Mendip C. I’m hoping to speak with my friend Liz later today and, provided that the offer of a couple of frames of brood still stands, which knowing Liz, I’m sure it will, the end of the week should see the resumption of some sort of normality here at Mendip.
The events of this year so far have really had me scratching my head, I’ve gone back over my notes of previous years to see whether there has been something I’ve overlooked or done differently, but there seems to be nothing obvious. On the contrary, the measures that we have taken, the establishment of permanent queen rearing nuc’s., extended brood chambers, a second apiary site and the like, I had hoped would increase the efficiency of our operation but as I have told you, this has certainly not been the case so far. I’m certain in my mind that this is no more than a blip and that a Month from now will see everything back to normal and the events of the last few weeks just a distant memory. I do hope so if for no other reason than, with all this head scratching, I’m going noticably bald down one side.
Yesterday saw the second open apiary visit of this season. Pleased to say, it was very well attended which is always pleasing to see especially as the guest “expert” obviously knew her subject and spoke with a well informed, casual manner that put everyone at their ease. More importantly, to my mind, her easy manner encouraged questions. It is important that new members especially, feel able to ask questions on subjects that might have been touched upon, and that they are unsure of, without being made to feel silly. Some people seem to have a way of answering questions in such a way that the person posing the question is left feeling quite embarrassed, but not this lady. Judging by the volume of questions, she had obviously made everyone feel at ease. An informative afternoon was rounded off with a very pleasant tea so a good time was had by all. What rounded it off for me was our guest spending the last half an hour talking about mini-nuc’s. I’d heard of them but until yesterday, had thought of them of being a bit gimmicky, but, not anymore. Seeing them ”in the flesh” as it were, and talking to someone who actually successfuly uses them has certainly changed my views and I shall certainly be giving them a try.
It’s now the first of June but before I start another chapter I’ll bring you up to date with last week’s happenings, and I have to report it’s been basically more of the same. Hive three at Mendip C seem to have given up on swarming which is good news but the other two are if anything, are even more irritable. A quick inspection of one and two revealed no attempt to draw out queen cells on the frames of brood that I’d given them earlier. This says to me that they can’t be queenless, but if this is the case, why have they both stopped laying, and both at exactly the same time. I didn’t spend any longer with them than I needed as they really were getting quite agitated. By comparison, three had taken almost no notice of me as I gave them a brief going over. If the number of bees pinging off my veil was anything to go by, I knew that I was going to be followed back to the car so in an effort to deter my followers I cloaked myself in a halo of smoke and stood still for a minute or two. All to no avail it has to be said, these bees were intent on retribution and no amount of smoke was about to change their minds. Thinking to myself, beekeeping really doesn’t get any worse than this, and still profusely issuing smoke in all directions, I started to make my way slowly back to the car, but I was wrong! A voice caused me to look up, it was the lady of the house coming to ask me to move my car as I had inadvertantly blocked her in, and of course, half of the bees following me immediately transfered their attentions to her. I won’t bore you with the sordid details, suffice to say, amid clouds of smoke, we did get back to the cars without being stung, although, not before I had removed six angry bees from her hair. The following evening I transfered hives one and two back to the meadow although, not before spending an hour that same afternoon helping my friend Liz with one of her colonies which had suddenly gone into attack mode. No need to ask which of us got stung. Someone once told me that I had the sort of face that people wanted to slap, perhaps the bees are trying to tell me the same thing.