AUGUST

A week on finds me back at the meadow, recent surgery on my shoulder still preventing me from manipulating the hives as I would like, so on this occasion, in the company of Mark and Liz, two of my bee-keeping friends. Both fellow members of our local beekeepers society and proof if proof were needed of the value of joining your local society. As I tell new members, help or advise is never more than a ‘phone call away. So, after meeting up at the top of the meadow and suiting up over the exchange of a few pleasantries, we made our way down to my little apiary. A quick look into eight revealed a very well proportioned young queen walking purposefully about on a frame three parts filled with eggs and new brood. Well satisfied with what I had seen we moved quickly on to four, the main reason for today’s visit. Then, after removing the supers to one side, it was down to business. Plenty of bees because, of course, by now, the bees had emerged from the brood frame they had received, but no signs of queen cells on the brood frame. We decided that the easiest way to find the old queen, if in fact she did exist would be to separate the flying bees from the colony by moving hive four to one side and replacing it with an empty hive, and this we did. The empty hive received a frame of stores and a few empty frames for the bees to play with. The reasoning behind this move is that the flying bees having left their hive would return to the empty hive in the original location leaving just the queen and a handful of bees in the old hive. It was decided to leave them to it and return in a couple of days.

The following day, I decided to return on my own, not to carry out any manipulations but just to satisfy my curiosity as to whether yesterday’s efforts were baring fruit. As expected, there appeared to be far more activity around the entrance of the hive now in four’s location, so that appeared all in order, but in addition, and very noticeable, half the flying bees looked to be missing the entrance and disappearing below the hive. The following pic’s. will show you the sight that met me when I knelt to take a closer look.

bee under floor in hive 4 001

bee under floor in hive 4 002

THE SIGHT THAT CONFRONTED ME WHEN I KNELT TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

So, why were so many bees clustering under the hive? My first thoughts were, unlikely as it might seem, that maybe we had attracted a passing cast, there didn’t appear enough bees for the cluster to have been a full swarm, or if there was in fact a queen in the hive, and she had somehow ended up on the mesh floor. The returning bees had then detected her and were trying to cluster around her. Unable to do anything by myself, I decided my only course of action would be to return to the car and try to enlist some more help.

The ‘phone was answered by a familiar “Hello”. I replied, ”Hi Mark, sorry to be a nuisance, but if you could spare an hour tomorrow, I could use some more help at the meadow. “No problem, and certainly not a nuisance, what time do you want me” came the reply. And so, the following morning found the two of us, once again suiting up in the meadow car-park whilst discussing the best course of action, always assuming of course, that the bees were still where I had left them the day previous.

We needn’t have worried, for once the bees were obliging and if anything, there were now more bees clustered below the hive floor than before. I had two objectives in mind for today’s operation, firstly to get the bees into the hive, and equally importantly, to ascertain whether there was a queen in amongst the cluster. This was the course of action that we decided upon. Placing a new floor on the stand beside the hive, we carefully detached the brood chamber and placed it on the new floor. We had left a full super on the empty brood chamber so that the returning flying bees would find some food to go on with, and this was now removed to one side. To prevent a repeat performance, we had fitted a slide to the new floor. Meanwhile, thankfully, and seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them, the cluster was merrily hanging on to the old floor. The next step, place a queen excluder onto the brood box followed by an empty super to act as an eke, then, gently positioning the floor complete with cluster above the eke, shake the bees down onto the queen excluder. Surprisingly, despite several sharp taps, very few bees took to the air and having disengaged themselves from the heap sitting on the excluder, most proceeded to wriggle through into the brood chamber. A quick puff of smoke persuaded the stragglers to join their sisters below. Removing the eke, and in support of the theory that this cluster was in fact a swarm, I was half expecting to find a queen wandering about on the excluder, no doubt wondering why her subjects had deserted her, but no, just a couple of drones. So, with the swarm theory put to bed, we boxed hive four back up and made our way back to the cars. Today’s episode had been in addition to the meeting the three of us had already planned for later in the week and it was to that event my thoughts were already turning as I made my way home.

With the three of us back at the meadow, each with our own theory as to what was going on inside hive four, it has to be said. But then, as we all know, if you put ten beekeepers in a room together you’ll end up with at least a dozen ideas of how to best keep bees. So, first to the new hive in four’s position where it was decided to once again sieve the bees through a queen excluder. Within a couple of minutes of Liz brushing the bees on the excluder with the back of her hand, ”there she is, I knew it was a swarm”, and in answer to, “well where is she, we can’t see her”. Holding her hand aloft Liz replied, ”I’ve got her in my hand”. With her clenched hand over the excluder, she slowly opened her fingers to reveal her empty palm. I don’t know who was the most surprised. “Well she was definitely there, and I definitely caught her”, Liz exclaimed as the three of us stood there looking at each other. “She must have dropped down onto the queen excluder”, and of course Liz was quite right, another five minutes of searching revealed the escapee. Sadly, in her haste to re-join her subjects, she had managed to become trapped half way through the wires of the queen excluder and by the time we had freed her, she had departed to the great bee-hive in the sky. The fact that she managed to get half way through the excluder gives you an idea how small she was and suggested to me that I was probably right in thinking that it was a passing cast that we had attracted as opposed to a full swarm, not that it mattered of course, but we all like to think that we got something right occasionally don’t we.

“I still think we’ve got a queen in the original box”, said Liz ”I just don’t think they’d be behaving so placidly if they were queenless, I would be inclined to re-instate hive four with the original box and have another look in a week or so”. With the weather threatening we all agreed that this was probably the best course of action and so, following Liz’s advice, we made our way back up the meadow. It’s been a funny old day, I remember thinking as I drove home.

Following Liz’s advice, I was back at the meadow about a week later to find, having once again sieved all of the bees in four, through a queen excluder, there was definitely no queen. With no spare queens at my disposal, and not wishing to take a chance with another “bought in” queen, and having once again discussed the matter with my friend Liz, it was decided the best course of action would be to unite what was left of four to either eight or nine which were the weakest of the meadow colonies. No a difficult task but with some twelve feet and a couple of empty hives in between four and eight, and also a gap of about four feet in between stands two and three, not entirely straight forward. Anyway, with no time to waste, I moved four and eight a couple of feet closer to each other and made for home.

JULY

Half way through July now and the current heat wave looks set to continue and, as you would expect, the bees are continuing to take full advantage of the situation. Problems with my shoulder have prevented me from taking more than a cursory glance at the bees so far this month, so, yesterday, in the company of two of my friends from the Society, was the first opportunity I’ve had to carry out a full inspection of the meadow hives. When I say I carried out an inspection, what I mean is, I stood by and watched, feeling more than a little guilty I have to say. Of the three swarms now residing at the meadow, the first one, now in hive three continues to go from strength to strength. Although there are still three frames of foundation, in the brood chamber, still waiting to be drawn out, the bees seem to be focussing their attention on filling the super which, although I wasn’t able to handle it, had all the appearances of being nearly filled. The second, now hive eight and home, if you remember, to the queen I found up in the Adams feeder, has been coming along really well. Very nice brood patterns taking shape skirted by pollen and honey, so imagine my surprise at today’s visit, to find three well shaped queen cells in the middle of the brood nest. They, for some reason known best to themselves, have decided to supersede. The presence of brood along with the demeanour of the bees, at my previous visit, suggested that they were settling in well but, obviously there was something about the queen that the colony didn’t like. I like to re-queen any swarm that I decide to keep as soon as an opportunity presents itself, so the supersedure was welcome rather than being a problem, it just took me by surprise. Leaving them with the best of the three queen cells they had produced, we moved on to hive four. After a good start to the year, by the end of June they were busy working their third super, hive four has appeared to be struggling. It was a similar story last season which led to them receiving one of my bought-in queens. A thorough search through the brood box revealed no signs of brood although the demeanour of the bees did nothing to suggest that they were queenless. The consensus opinion was that hive four should receive another frame of brood in an effort to prove once and for all whether or not they had a queen, and, so it was. Another frame of brood was taken from three and placed into four. the queen in three had only just finished laying this frame up and in addition to brood of all ages, there was a nice patch of eggs plain to see. The three of us have agreed to meet up again next week and it’ll be interesting to see whether four has decided to produce queen cells on this occasion.

A week on from our last visit, and having once again enlisted help it was to “C” that we first directed our attention. I have visited site on a couple of occasions since our last visit, not to open the hives, but just to satisfy myself that all was looking ok., and that was how things appeared from the outside. Similar amounts of activity outside each hive gave the appearance that all was well within. So, imagine my surprise upon opening hive one to see no signs of a queen. There was no brood and very few bees and what bees there were, were wandering aimlessly about, the way they seem to do when they’ve suddenly lost their queen. Boxing one back up we moved on to the others, which glad to say, are all looking good, even the nuc. I shall unite the nuc with what’s left of hive one at my next visit.

On next to the meadow and hives eight and nine. Nine appears to be coming along nicely and the queen cell that we left in eight has hatched. Seeing the empty cell told me what I wanted to know and the hive was quickly boxed up. Knowing that young queens are well capable of flying off if disturbed I didn’t want to take any chances with this one which was why the frame along with the empty cell was quickly re-instated. Our final visit was to hive four where I was hoping to see queen cells on the brood frame we’d given them at our last visit, but no, there had been no attempt at rearing a new queen which meant that somewhere in the hive, the old queen was still in residence. Running out of time, I had no option but to box up four and leave it at that. My intention, at our next visit will be first to establish that the new queen in eight has mated and is laying and if that is the case, to find and cull the queen in four. That done, the queen from eight will be given to four and eight and nine will be united. That is plan “A”, and I’ll let you know whether it comes to pass. Of course, by the next time of writing, we could well be on plans “B” or “C”.

JUNE

Glad to report, almost without exception, the colonies have continued to work on filling their supers. I, on the other hand, have been kept busy chasing swarms around the surrounding villages, most of which were either in the upper branches of trees, too high for me to get to or had de-camped by the time I had arrived on the scene. Such was the swarm I was called to attend yesterday. When asked, the caller told me that the swarm had set up temporary home in a shrub just outside the back door, less than six feet from the ground I was assured. With nothing else planned for the morning, I jumped into the car and headed for the location of the swarm. I shouldn’t imagine more than half an hour had passed from me taking the ‘phone call to arriving on the scene. I was met in the driveway by the lady who had called, “I’m sorry but they’ve moved” was the message she greeted me with. “Don’t worry” I replied “they often do, where are they now”. She led me into the back garden. “Look, there they are”. In the centre of the lawn was just about the tallest tree in the garden and suspended below, on one of it’s thinnest branches, was the swarm. It was, at a guess, at least twenty feet above the ground. There was no way that branch was going to support a ladder, even if I could have reached it so sadly, another one for the failure box. Sad really because it really was a fine looking swarm. The lady was really apologetic and thanked me for responding so quickly. “No need to apologise, it happens all the time” I replied, “and don’t worry, the scout bees that the swarm will have sent out will report back shortly, and they’ll be off to their new home”. I’ve been called to four swarms already this week, one of which had absconded by the time I’d arrived on the scene and another, like yesterday’s, which would have required a cherry picker to reach. I did collect a very nice swarm on Monday. I had been called out Sunday afternoon and after retrieving them from a rather dense conifer hedge,

Norton Swarm and Farringdon farm day 004

BEES VISIBLE AFTER NUMEROUS NUMBERS OF BRANCHES REMOVED

had left them overnight in my upturned skep, this to allow time for the flying bees to join their sisters. The numbers of bees fanning at the entrance of the skep, as I left, showed me that this was happening.

Norton Swarm and Farringdon farm day 001

BEES FANNING OUTSIDE UPTURNED SKEP

I returned early the next morning and with only one or two bees flying, removed the skep, wrapped in the blue sheet, and took them to the meadow. There I gently eased them into a hive that I’d prepared earlier. Along with a frame feeder and some frames of foundation there were three frames of drawn comb which the bees were already busy exploring before I’d replaced the hive roof. I always like to give newly hived swarms a feeder of syrup, not as a welcoming gift, but to take away the pressure of having to immediately go searching for forage. Expecting to return in the evening to collect this swarm, I hadn’t brought any syrup with me. So, about an hour later I was back at the meadow, standing beside the hive, this time with a gallon of syrup. I had placed the feeder against one of the hive walls so it was just a case of remove the roof, slide the cover board to one side, thereby keeping any disturbance to a minimum, and fill the feeder. However, I needn’t have worried, to my amazement, the hive was now empty, the ungrateful little beggars had gone. All that effort for nothing, I must have spent well over an hour hacking away at the shrub in order to be able to get my skep close enough to be able to dislodge them into it. I just stood there in disbelief muttering expletives that I can’t put into print. I’m well aware the one thing that all of us beekeepers have eventually to come to term with is that our bees will always find ways to confound us, and we’ve to always expect the unexpected. Sitting here now, it’s easy to say, but when it happens,………..

Pleased to report, the swarm that I collected at the beginning of May, now hived at the meadow look to be going from strength to strength. A brief examination last week revealed three very nice looking frames of brood and lots of bees. They appear very placid so, a good find.

Just passed the longest day and it’s more of the same, swarms, swarms and yet more swarms. Yesterday, having spent the best part at the meadow waxing up empty frames, I had just walked in the front door when the ‘phone rang, “Hello, is that Geoff”. I knew what the next line was going to be, “I’ve just got your name off the internet, we’ve got a swarm of bees in our garden”. My reply is always the same, “what do they look like, where exactly are they and how long have they been there”. From the answers to these questions I can form a pretty good idea as to whether they are in fact honey bees and whether or not I’m going to be able to get at them. “They arrived about half an hour ago and are in a shrub in the front garden, about four or five feet above the ground”. I pulled up outside the house about thirty minutes later and, there they were. Just as the caller had said, in a shrub forming part of the boundary between the front gardens.

The Mead swarm 003

IN A SHRUB BETWEEN THE FRONT GARDENS

I have to say, this was one of the easiest swarms I have been called to collect, very good natured, Just as well really as being in the front garden, they had attracted a fair degree of interest from the neighbours, which the sight of what must have looked like a redundant Morris Dancer in attendance, did nothing to dispel. Also, the spot where they had decided to cluster meant there was no woodwork to hack through. The presence of several bees performing their waggle dance on the cluster surface suggested they weren’t going to be there for much longer so, with no time to lose it was on with the jacket and out with the skep and sheet. One good tap on the branch above the cluster and they were in the skep. The moment they were upturned and placed on the sheet, bees appeared at the entrance and began fanning. There were still a number of bees clustered in the shrub and these were easily dislodged into a plastic container which the lady kindly provided. As soon as I offered it to the entrance of the skep the bees obligingly marched in. It was almost as though they couldn’t wait to join their sisters. Once at the meadow I released them into hive 9, which I had earlier prepared in case of another swarm presenting itself. Not wishing for a repeat performance of the previous swarm’s hasty departure, this time I placed a queen excluder between the floor and the brood box before introducing the bees. Planning to return early the next morning with some syrup, I also blocked off the hive entrance. Upon my return I first removed the block from the entrance expecting to see bees queuing to get out. Imagine then my surprise when, rather than a mass exodus, not a single bee and when I removed the crown board, another surprise. Instead of masses of bees milling around, there was just a carpet of bees, almost motionless, over the top bars. I brushed them gently with my finger, still very little response. We know bees always fill up with honey before swarming, and knowing that I would be returning the following morning with food,I hadn’t worried too much about leaving them to their own resources, or, locked in, for that matter. Nearly a fatal mistake as it happened. I’m sure that had I not returned when I did, I would have lost them. I began by drizzling some syrup over the backs of the bees and then stood back to see whether it had the desired effect. Slowly, the bees seemed to awaken to the fact that there was food to be had and began to slowly move about. I fitted the crown board with the feeder above one of the escape holes. The feeder I used was one of the circular plastic, rapid type with a central pillar access. Before fitting the cup and lid, I drizzled some syrup down through the access hole in the pillar. Job done, I stood back and waited. Thankfully, after about five minutes, bees started to appear in the feeder,

Feeder and queen in meadow 8 004

BEES IN FEEDER

so, nothing more to do for the moment other than box them up and leave them to it. Bees from the adjoining hives, being ever opportunistic and quick to detect the smell of syrup, were by now, queuing outside the hive entrance, obviously waiting for my departure so they could get in and help themselves. Knowing that at this stage, this new colony wouldn’t be strong enough to defend themselves, before leaving, I closed up the entrance. The following day once again found me at the meadow, eager to see how the new acquisition was looking. With no robbers in evidence, I removed the entrance block, and what a difference. It was as though the bees had heard me coming and were waiting for me to let them out. Streaming out they began to circle in front of the hive, obviously getting their bearings, before returning to their new home. Below the crown board, again a very different story, this time, if you’ll forgive the pun, a hive of activity. Feeling a lot happier, I boxed them up and made for home.

I mentioned earlier how a previous swarm had de-camped before I had returned the same morning with syrup, well, before leaving the meadow later in the day, I decided to have a quick look in hive 8, the hive the bees had earlier decided was not quite to their liking and the first thing I noticed was that now there were a few bees around the entrance. I opened the hive and now, instead of being completely devoid of life, there were a handful of bees clustered on one of the frames. As I said, there looked to be no more than handful, so imagining that these were just a few bees that had been left behind when the swarm left, or a few flying bees that had been away from the hive at that time and had returned later, I left them to it. As there was little or no stores in the hive, I fully expected to find hive 8 once again completely empty when I returned a couple of days later. It was my intention to make ready the hive should I be called to another swarm, but I couldn’t help but notice, as I approached the hive, what appeared to be still more bees coming and going, and if anything, in greater numbers than at my previous visit. My first thoughts were that maybe a small swarm or caste had taken up residence, but no. A quick look below the crown board convinced me that it was neither of these. Yes, there were more bees in evidence but nowhere near the numbers you would expect to see if a swarm had moved in. I removed the frame that most of the bees seemed to be on for a closer look, no signs that they had been working the comb, just wandering about, totally oblivious to me. They gave the appearance of bees that had decided to take up permanent residence, and happy to do so. I decided to give them a chance and left them with a brood frame from a neighbouring hive. The frame had both stores and brood of all ages so, every opportunity to produce for themselves a queen if they really had decided to stay. Two days later and no signs that 8 were intending to produce a queen, I decided to give the hive a quick inspection. The swarm in 9 had by now been in residence the best part of a week so, I decided to have a quick look at them at the same time. Guessing that by now they both would have made serious inroads into the syrup that I’d left them with, I had made up some more earlier that morning. Opening 9, I removed the crown board complete with the feeder which was completely empty, so, just as well I’d brought more with me. Lots of bees moving around quite content for me to go through the frames. No brood yet but on frame three, a nice little queen scurrying around. Not wishing to tempt fate, and knowing that at this stage, she was still well capable of flying, I returned her and the frame she was on and re-fitted the crown board and feeder. After refilling the feeder, time to have a look at 8. Because we have quite a number of bulk feeders and ekes and because it’s easier than carting them back up the meadow when we’ve finished feeding, I quite often store them on my empty hives, in fact, an empty Adams feeder makes a very suitable crown board with the access hole blocked to prevent the bees entering the feeder. Hive 8 was one such hive. So, with no idea of what to expect, I removed the roof and the Adams feeder to one side. As expected , the frame feeder I’d left them with was empty but, unexpectedly, the numbers of bees appeared to have doubled since my last visit. and, like those in 9, seamed perfectly happy with my intrusions. First to the frame of brood I’d given them. No queen cells but lots of bees and still plenty of sealed brood. The bees had been busy working the next two frames with signs that they had been laying down stores and as I said, all of the time,totally oblivious to me. I wasn’t sure exactly what they were up to or why, they had made no attempt to draw out a queen but decided to refill their feeder and leave them to it. All of the time I’d been examining the hive, the empty Adams feeder had been sitting in the upturned roof on the stand beside the hive. With the feeder now replenished I went to reinstate the roof etc. and in doing so, couldn’t help but notice a couple of bees on the floor of the Adams feeder. Nothing unusual there and they normally fly off when disturbed, but, not these two. I lifted the feeder, intending to shake the bees off into the hive before replacing it and it was then I noticed that they were locked together, mouth to mouth. They weren’t fighting so, was one feeding the other, and if so, why?

Feeder and queen in meadow 8 001

SO, WAS ONE FEEDING THE OTHER, AND IF SO, WHY.

Well, the picture provides the answer as to why one bee was feeding the other and to the question of why they had made no attempt to draw out a new queen, and that is of course, they already had one, and here she was| Where she had come from and how she had suddenly appeared in the upturned feeder I have absolutely no idea. When I’m examining frames I always hold them over the hive body, as I’m sure we all do, and in the same way, when removing a crown board or queen excluder, I always dislodge any bees that are attached, back into the hive, just in case the queen is amongst them. Because of this and because the feeders are painted white, I am certain there were no bees on the feeder when I removed it. So, after recording the event in my imaginary folder marked “Another of life’s little mysteries”, I placed the bees on the brood frames where they quickly disappeared. Before leaving the meadow I took another quick look at 8, as much as anything to reassure myself that I hadn’t imagined the whole episode, but, I needn’t have worried, there she was on the first frame I removed, scurrying around as if nothing had happened. Have you ever wondered why most beekeepers eventually develop a bald patch, well I can tell you, it’s because the little beggars leave us so often scratching our heads.

Just time for one more visit to the meadow before the end of the month so, straight to eight and nine. I decided to begin with nine and work my way back up the row. The first thing I noticed upon opening nine was how docile they seemed to be and the second was a lovely plump queen sedately walking around on the second frame. I had come prepared with marking pen and cage and two minutes later, there she was, now sporting a bright red spot on her thorax and back amongst her subjects. Pleasingly, a large patch of brood had appeared since my earlier visit. It was a similar story with eight, no signs of brood yet but the size of the queen’s abdomen suggested it wouldn’t be long coming. On next to three, the home of the first of this year’s swarms. This hive is performing exceptionally well with brood filling five frames and all of the others pulled out with more than half of them filled with stores. The size of the queen made her easy to find and she now also sports a red spot. Four looks to be in the process of superseding so I’ll be keeping a close eye on them and apart from that, all’s looking good.