SEPTEMBER

Today is the third of September and I’m pleased to report the feeding program is going well. So well in fact that I can hardly keep up. All the hives have received around thirty pounds of syrup so far including the two mating nuc’s. and they are taking it down almost as fast as I can supply it. So, one more top-up should see us ready for Winter. They will all, in addition, receive a block of candy as soon as they start to cluster, just a “belt and braces” precaution but it’s surprising how much of it they will have eaten come Spring. I always place it directly above the cluster so maybe it’s just a case of convenience that drives them to eat it or, maybe by Spring it’s a welcome change from syrup. Whatever it is, I’ll be making sure that they all have plenty.

I am pleased the new feeders on the mating nuc’s are working as I’d hoped, or at least,

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                        ONLY THE BEES FROM NUC 2 CAN ACCESS THE TRAY

so far they seem to be. Only the cover pot on the right hand nuc. has slots in so only bees from that side can enter the feeder as it empties. I then remove the pot for an hour or two so the bees can find their way home. You’ll see the bees in the left hand nuc can’t get into the tray so keeping the contents of each nuc.seperate from one another. If you were concerned that one side was getting more than the other, the pots could be swapped over for alternate feeds thus giving each side an equal chance at the syrup.

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            POT REMOVED TO ALLOW THE BEES TO FIND THEIR WAY BACK

Pleased to see a semblance of normallity has returned to the apiary. The frenetic behavour which seems to accompany the return of empty supers for cleaning by the bees combined with the smell of fresh sugar syrup, seems to have subsided. They didn’t seem to even notice me today when I topped them up, a bit different to a few days ago when I was here stacking supers. Another really good sign was the amount of pollen going in, really noticable that almost every other returning bee was laden with pollen, as I’ve remarked before, looking not unlike so many miniature batsmen returning to the pavilion.

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                        LOTS OF POLLEN GOING IN, ALWAYS A GOOD SIGN

It’s easy to overlook the fact that pollen is just as important in ensuring our bees over-winter successfuly as honey is, so as I said, a good sign. One to watch out for and easily overlooked when hefting the hives, checking for stores and everything that’s going on at this time.

Another visit to Bookers this morning for sugar, which with luck will be the last this year and hopefully, the next couple of days will see my kitchen return to some semblance of normallity. Ah well, it’s all good fun innit, I just wish the ungrateful little beggars would show some sign of gratitude and stop stinging me at every oportunity, but maybe that’s asking a little too much.

Saturday saw us again at the Farmer’s market and once again, a very enjoyable morning. Begining to get on first name terms with some of the other stall holders which seems to add a sort of family atmosphere to the proceedings. The sun decided to make an appearance about ten minutes before it was time to pack up but she was a very welcome sight, if a little late. A trip to the meadow later in the day saw all the hives receive their final feed of syrup. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a colony can empty a feeder, some will take down a gallon, which is about fifteen pounds, in the space of twentyfour hours or less while some will move at a more sedate pace. Anyway, at this rate, they should all finish around midweek which will be great as I’m away the following week and it will enable me to get my first application of Apiguard on before I go. It’s always a pleasing sight at this time of year to see the bees busy, and this Autumn they’ve been spectacular. Whether it is this late spell of good weather we seem to be enjoying at the moment or what, I don’t know, but they certainly seem to be making the most of it. One might think that having large quantities of feed so close to hand might encourage the bees to take a more laid back approach, after all, why go working your socks off when you’ve been presented with a such a gift but no, it seems to have the opposite effect and spurs them  on to greater efforts. Is this the sign of a hard Winter in the offing, it’ll be interesting to see.

I mentioned how a very nice couple had approached me at the last Fete’ and asked whether I would be interested in siting a few bees in their meadow. Well, I have to say that at that moment, aquiring more bees was the last thing on my mind, in fact, if anything, I’d been thinking of possibly downsizing a little, especially when I looked at the bills for sugar and Apiguard this year. From very humble beginnings here at Mendip, there are now eleven hives at the bottom of the meadow, something I never once envisaged, not even in my wildest dreams, so as I said, the thought of even more was a definite no no. We exchanged ’phone numbers, I thanked them and promised I’d be in touch. In the few days that followed I got to thinking about their offer. Nothing to lose by making a ‘phone call, wont hurt to take a look I decided and so, the following morning, saw me pulling off the main road, and into the lane that led to their cottage. The lane led only to the cottage so no problems with privacy was my first thought and such a nice couple, you know how sometimes you can meet someone for the first time and feel so at ease with them, almost as though you’ve met before. Well, that’s how it was, and what a lovely site, a small, pretty little orchard flanked by a wild meadow of about an acre. For a few weeks of the year the meadow is grazed by a neighbour’s sheep, otherwise, it is untouched. I know it all seems too good to be true, but that’s just the way it was. Anyway, next Spring, if all goes to plan, will see three new beehives sitting in the corner of the orchard. Yes, I know I said more hives was out of the question and yes, I know I can’t justify the expense, but I just couldn’t resist it. Anyway, it must have been fated to happen as, I have at this moment, or shall have shortly, two empty brood boxes at my disposal which I don’t have homes for, and if more proof were needed, Thornes are just about to have their Autumn sale of seconds. Now I ask you, can all that be just a coincidence, I don’t think so!

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the new apiary site since my visit and now I can’t wait to get started. I’ve decided to have all the hives on extended brood from the start and have ordered one new 14×12″  box from Thornes and will modify my two empty standard brood boxes as I have described earlier. Incidently, the 3 1/2″ eke fitted below the standard box works very well if you’re thinking of having a go at one and if you use a pair of hive fasteners to clip the two parts together, you can move the whole thing with impunity.

As usual, I’ve continued to visit the meadow more or less daily and was pleased to see today that most of the syrup has been taken down. That’s the beauty of using bulk feeders in that it takes only seconds to lift the hive roof to check the contents and top them up if required and the bees aren’t even aware that they’ve been disturbed. I’ve removed the cups on a couple of the feeders to allow the bees into the trays to clean up and with the weather set fair for the rest of the week, I’m sure that the rest will have followed suit within a day or so and I’ll be able to start my Varroa treatment on Thursday. The activity at the hive entrances suggests all is well within, with all the bees behaving in a similar manner. Pleasing to see that four, which, if you remember, was the colony that received a new queen from Liz last month, and nine which was united with the nuc. have now caught up with the rest. The mating nuc’s. too are looking good, so everything in the garden, is for the moment at least, looking rosey. Best say no more.

Thursday today and it’s going to be a busy one. Yesterday saw half the feeders had been emptied and with the exception of mating nuc’s.three and four, the rest were amost there so, today, it’s feeders off and Apiguard on. As I said before, with the Adams feeders the Varroa treatment isn’t a major task as it’s simply a case of placing the tray of Apiguard on top of the frames and inverting the feeder over them. It’s a simple matter to cover the access posts with a piece of kitchen foil or similar held in place with an elastic band. If the trays are still a little damp it’s not a problem as the bees can still go on cleaning them even if it does mean them walking upside down.

I mentioned earlier that it my intention here at Mendip to eventually have all my colonies on extended brood as I firmly believe that this is the way forward. I have however encountered one small problem with this system and that is the weight of the frames, especially when containing a lot of stores.

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                                14×12″ AND STANDARD BROOD FRAME

When you hold a full frame horizontally in front of you to examine the contents, you can sometimes see the middle physically sag especially, on a very hot day. On one occasion one side of the foundation actually left the frame which is a bit of a worry, imagine if the frame, filled with stores and brood had disintegrated. I’m not saying that this would happen but I want to try to minimise the possibility if I can. The problem, it would seem to me, is the lack of support in the middle of the frame and so I’ve set about modifying a couple of frames to try to address this. To do this, I’ve drilled a small hole in each side bar and inserted a gimp pin, about half way up the bar, the object being to run a fine wire horizontally across either side of the frame. I’ve just taken the wire across one face of the foundation, through the hole, a couple of twists around the pin and then back through the hole across the other face to the other pin to which I’ve anchored both wires.  I’ve used the very fine wire that, in a previous life, I used to repair damaged printed circuit boards with, about 35 swg, and that seems to do the trick. If this works it will have the added benefit of supporting the side bars as well as the foundation.

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                   SIDE BARS DRILLED AND PINNED PRIOR TO ASSEMBLY

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                           INSERTING THE WIRE THROUGH THE FRAME

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                                             THE FINISHED ARTICLE

The wire has been pulled taught and anchored to the pins which have been tapped home, I’ve put a dab of solder on the pin just as a “belt and braces measure”.

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                    A SMALL DAB OF SOLDER COMPLETES THE JOB

Of course, the wire isn’t embedded into the foundation but I’m hoping the bees will accept it anyway. I’ve given the frames to a couple of the colonies already on extended brood to see how it goes. If they do draw them out in the normal way I’ll modify all my extended brood frames. It’ll keep me busy if nothing else.

Just back from the meadow where pleased to say, all the feeding has been completed and the Apiguard is in place. I’m happy to report, the sectioned ekes fitted the queen mating nuc’s perfectly so they have received half a tray of Apiguard each. A quick look at three showed the bees have just started drawing out the modified frame so for the moment, that’s about it. The efforts of the last couple of weeks appears to have paid off, I’m glad to say, so, I’m off on my break tomorrow with peace of mind. Speak with you in about a week, cheers.

Back from my travels and raring to go, well, maybe that’s a bit of an exageration, but I am back. The first thing I noticed as I pulled into the meadow was the height of the weeds in the allotment so no need to ask in which direction my efforts will be channelled over the next few days. My first port of call was as usual, my little apiary and pleased to say, all seems to be going to plan. With the sun out in force Sunday afternoon, flying bees were very much in evidence, most of them returning with copious amounts of pollen so that was good to see. The fact that the bees don’t care much for Apiguard was plain to see with crawling bees, still in some numbers, adorning most of the hive fronts and this some ten days after the first application.

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                 BEES IN SOME NUMBERS STILL ADORNING THE HIVE FRONTS

To give you some idea of just how much they object to this stuff, this was how one or two of the hives looked the day following the first application of Apiguard.

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                   ONE HIVE THE DAY FOLLOWING THE FIRST APPLICATION

Don’t be too alarmed if you see your bees behaving like this following treatment, although I have to say, the first time I witnessed such behaviour, the thought of all my bees deciding to swarm at the same time, for that’s what I convinced myself they were doing, frightened me to death. But no, come evening and a drop in temperature, they all made their way back into the hive. When I thought about it, the reason for this mass exodus is quite obvious. The combination of a very hot day combined with restricted entrances and the floors being re-inserted for the first time this year must, as a consequence, result in a rapid build up of fumes from the Apiguard which completely dissorientates the bees. When we consider here that the bees whole life is controlled by smells of one sort or another, it’s little wonder that they behave in this way. Anyway, as I said, don’t be too worried, they will all go back home eventually. It’s a good job they don’t know that there’s a second dose headed their way this weekend though, otherwise they just might decide to clear off altogether. 

I decided to spend yesterday sorting through my supers. The bees have finished their clean-up operations so, time to go through them before stowing them away until next year. I have somehow ended up with a mixture of frames although it was always my intention to have only Manley frames in my supers. By sorting through them at this stage, and by this I mean, discarding any that are poor or damaged and making sure that each super is filled with the same frames, you know (a), how many frames you have to replace and (b),come next Spring, all of  your supers will be ready for use. The next thing we do here at Mendip before storing them away is to make sure that they are really clean. We already know that they are empty, what I now need to know is that they are not harbouring any unseen nasties to take with them into next year. To ensure this, they, and this includes spare crown boards, queen excluders and bulk feeders, all receive a dousing of Acetic acid fumes. I’ve already described the procedures we use here at mendip in the Paragraph on October 2013 so I won’t bore you with it again other than to impress upon you the need for care. Acetic acid is quite horrible stuff to work with. I find the fumes particularly objectionable, especially in a confined space. Last year I had the stacks of supers in my bee shed and even with the double doors wide open throughout the whole operation, I still ended up with a splitting headache for the best part of two days and, to make matters worse, I couldn’t go near the shed until after the treatment had finished. So, learning from all that, this year, all the treatment is taking place at the bottom of the meadow, close to the apiary. The fumes were still as objectionable and I still ended up with a sore head but at least I can get into my shed, and we all know how important it is not to part a man from his shed, don’t we.

So, there we are, another season nearly over. In a week or so the acid treatment will be removed and the supers, etc. will be stored away until they are needed again. This weekend will see the second Apiguard go on. Following this, I shall remove the floors and sometime later, when I’m satisfied the wasp menace has disappeared, the entrance blocks will be removed and the mouse guards fitted. Anyway, that’s the plan. We’ve had a pretty good year so far here at Mendip and although it’s tempting fate to say, I’m quietly confident thinking ahead to the next. As I write, the mating nuc’s.are busting at the seams both with bees and stores as are all the other colonies. There is an amazing energy about the place, just standing there at the foot of the meadow with them, I can feel it. I haven’t been stung for over a week so that must tell you something. Plenty to be done when everything has finally been put to bed for the winter. Each cluster will receive a drenching of Oxalic acid and a block of candy sometime before Christmas and of course, there’s the kit for the new Apiary site to be got ready. I’m really looking forward to getting this new site up and running, apart from anything else, it’ll give me a chance to try any new ideas that I’ve got and as a result, to compare them with the Home site. As I said earlier, I’ve already decided to have all the hives on extended brood and they will each be fitted with castellated runners which will space the frames at 38mm centres. I don’t much like the hoffman spacing of 35mm which I think stresses the bees unnecessarily. I didn’t know that castellated runners were available with different frame spacings or I’d have tried them sooner. I’ve achieved the wider spacings in my other hives on extended brood by using standard narrow spacers on the frame lugs but have found this a messy business. They always seem to be in the wrong place or so heavily propolised that you can’t move them. So, castellated runners for me in future. I know the thinking behind the narrower spacing was to deter drone production somewhat but my thinking is, if the bees are happier with lots of drones around them, then that’s ok with me. Anyway, having them all on extended brood should easily accommodate a few more drones. I also feel that bees in a stress free invironment, that is to say, one where they have plenty of room and are free to do things their way, should be less inclined to swarm and more productive. I suppose I try to equate their lives with our own. When we first start out on our own most of us are happy where ever we are as long as we have somewhere to lay our head. Then, as one becomes two and then three or four as is usually the case, the need for more space becomes paramount, and it doesn’t end there. As three and four develop minds and opinions of their own that need for more space is once again high on the agenda. That is, if we are to avoid  the stress that comes with no-one having their “own space”. Similarly, we all know what a stressful business moving house is, something most of only contemplate if our existing home, for what ever reason, no longer suits, otherwise we avoid it like the plague. Well, I’m wondering whether it just might be the same for our bees and one of my aims at my new apiary site will be to try to create as stress free an invironment as is possible and I intend to start by making sure all the occupants have their “own space”. 

Looking back, as September draws to it’s enevitable close, I’m pleased to say, for us here at Mendip, in many ways, it’s exceded my expectations. All the syrup has been taken down added to which, the bees have been out foraging from morning to night on all but a couple of days. It has been a quite exceptional month weather-wise and of course, this has been the most contributing factor. It’s no exageration to say that most of the hives are so heavy that they are almost impossible to shift in fact, another of the stands has started to sink on one corner and will need re-inforcing some time this week. The second dose of Apiguard is well under way and as usual, before applying I always check and scrape the floor slides. Very pleasing to see, little or no Varroa. I’m always on the lookout for signs of Varroa, as I’m sure we all are, deformed wings etc. and do the regular drone culling and icing sugar dustings throughout the year but I’m never be entirely sure that I’ve got it under control until I’ve counted the drop following the Apiguard treatment. As before, the bees were quick to show their disaproval by de-camping to the outside of the hives but it does at least show that the treatment is vapourising and hopefully doing it’s job. 

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            ONE HALF OF ONE OF THE MATING NUC’S. FOLLOWING TREATMENT

Giving the supers etc. the acetic acid treatment last week produced an ammount of comb which for one reason or another I decided to remove from the system. With a couple of candle-making demonstrations planned for the winter this seemed an ideal oportunity to bolster my beeswax larder. If you’ve never rendered beeswax down before, it’s quite a simple matter to do but there are a couple of things to avoid. Don’t use tap water as the chemicals within can adversly effect the wax as will the use of aluminium pans. So, use bottled water or rainwater from your water-but and a stainless steel pan. You can take a chance that the wife doesn’t find out, (only joking), or pick one up cheaply at a car-boot or charity shop as I have. The next step is to find somewhere convenient to conduct your wax melting operation and a suitable heat source. I use a vacant shelf in my greenhouse for the former as it’s both light and airy and out of the way and a small camping stove for the latter. The way I go about it is as follows. Firstly I pour an inch or two of rainwater into the pan and follow this with as much wax as the pan will comfortably take. After applying the heat I watch for the water to start to move and the wax to begin to melt. You don’t want the water to boil as this will spoil the wax, bearing in mind, bees wax melts at around sixty-three degrees centigrade so there is no need to boil it. As the wax melts the level will drop so you can add more if you wish. When I’m happy that all the wax has melted it’s just a simple case of removing the pan from the heat and letting it cool. As the wax cools it naturally contracts and will leave the sides of the pan enabling you to tip it out as a solid block. The very light waste, i.e. body husks etc.

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                             THE LIGHT WASTE WILL COME TO THE TOP

will have come to the top and can be picked off while the heavy waste will have sunk to the bottom where it will have formed a crust which can be scraped off.

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                      THE HEAVY WASTE WILL SINK TO THE BOTTOM

If there is a lot of waste material, I repeat the operation a second time before finally straining the contents into empty margerine tubs or similar.

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                                                   THE FINISHED ARTICLE

One important thing to remember is that beeswax is both volatile and when hot, highly flamable and as such should never come into contact with a naked flame. Containers containing wax for rendering should always include at least an inch or two of water. This provides a cushion between the heat and the wax as the wax will always float on the water. Wax for modelling, candle making etc. should always be heated in a baine marie or some other receptacle containing water. It goes without saying that which ever method you use, the whole operation should never be left unattended.

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