MAY

Like mine, I hope your bees have been taking full advantage of the beautiful weather that we’ve been enjoying these last three of four weeks. With the exception of the two colonies on double brood at “C”, all the colonies have been expanding at an alarming rate with the best already filling supers. The two last year’s nuc’s which I hived a few weeks ago are doing exceptionally well to the point where I’m allowing myself a brief feeling of optimism that this year really could be the one. The first Sunday of the month and another lovely day, just the day for a full inspection. So, to “C” first, eager to see whether there had been any improvement in 2 and 3 so, working my way along I began with 1, this being the newly hived nuc. The queen was on the first frame, calmly going about her queenly duties, lots of brood and plenty of stores. I closed them up thinking to myself, if the other three colonies look as good as this one, we’re going to have a good day, but it wasn’t to be. Hives 2 and 3 were if anything, in a sorrier state than at my last visit. Not much brood in 2 and what little there was appeared to be mainly drone, 3 was a little better and they had managed to produce a supersedure cell but, all in all, both colonies were very disappointing especially considering what I had paid for the queens. I decided to forget about the Bailey comb change which was now out of the question, deciding instead, that, provided the supersedure in 3 was successful, the best course of action would be to unite what was left of the two colonies. Moving on to 4 which, if the activity at the hive entrance was anything to go by, was without doubt, the strongest of the four colonies at “C”. As I said previously, since my spell in hospital I’ve not felt able to perform full inspections, usually stopping when I’ve seen young brood and eggs but today was different. After the disappointment of 2 and 3, it was with a feeling of eager anticipation that I removed the supers and lifted the roof on 4. The first thing I noticed was the numbers of bees, certainly far more than in the other colonies and that includes The Station hives, the top bars were completely obliterated by bees. With 4 being configured 14×12″ and having castellated runners at 37mm. I hadn’t given a thought that they might be preparing to swarm, but now, I wasn’t so sure. The first two frames were, as you would expect, largely stores and pollen. A good start I thought, and so, on to number three. Filled with sealed brood and right in the centre, a single sealed queen cell. The numbers of bees suggested that they hadn’t swarmed, a fact born out by this single supersedure cell. Imagine my surprise then when turning the frame to examine the other side, revealed a second cell, again, in the centre of the frame. Even more surprising, the next five frames revealed a total of seven cells, all of them sealed and as with the others, more or less central to the frames. I have experienced more than one supersedure cell before, but never this many and all on separate frames. So, what to do with them, these really were nice looking cells, I suppose the result of being created singly and anyway, far too good to destroy. I decided that I would leave the best one in the hive so that they could continue with their supersedure plans and to use the best of the others to make up some nuc’s. My two Apidea nuc’s had been sitting idly by in my bee shed for the last couple of years and I decided it was high time that they were pressed back into service. I had primed them with starter strips of foundation before putting them away so it was just a case of filling the feeder sections with fondant, caging two of the cells and installing them, along with a couple of cups of bees into the nuc’s.

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APIDEAS IN PLACE ON THE ROOF OF HIVE THREE

The next two cells were destined for two of the vacant nucs’s at The Station and I decided, rather than waste the couple that were left, to install one, on it’s brood frame complete with bees and a frame of stores, into hive three. This being the hive that I’d earlier prepared for my Bailey comb change. That left just the one cell which I’d decided to leave in four. So, that was that, a most unusual session, I couldn’t help but muse, on my way to The Station, that once again the little beggars had taken me completely by surprise.

Another surprise awaited me at the Station, approaching the hives I was immediately greeted by one of the Willows that border the site. It had blown down during the night and now completely blocked the path to the hives.

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ONE OF THE WILLOWS HAD BLOWN DOWN DURING THE NIGHT

Fortunately it had missed the hives but not by much. As this was the second time this had happened, the first having damaged the shed roof, I began to doubt the wisdom of siting the apiary so close to the trees but too late to do anything about it now, just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. All this hadn’t escaped the notice of the owners and within moments armed with a very large bow-saw, they were attacking the offending article. It had looked a lot worse than it actually was and before long, the bulk of it had been converted into fuel for the log burner. “There seemed to be an awful lot of bees flying around earlier” the lady of the house informed me as the last of the logs were being removed, “do you think any of yours might have swarmed”, and sure enough, in a bush, not ten feet away, hung one of the largest clusters I’d ever seen. I’d walked past them at least half a dozen times whilst messing about with the blessed tree and hadn’t noticed them at all. Fortunately, for once, they had chosen a most convenient spot and within minutes they had been dislodged safely into one of my nuc’s. and removed. As usually happens, quite a lot of the flying bees return to the spot where they had clustered, probably due to the queen’s pheromones being still in evidence there,

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SEVERAL BEES CLINGING TO THE SITE OF THE CLUSTER

but they are easy to remove and, once the spot has been wiped over with a wet cloth, seem happy to re-join their pals in the nuc.

All this activity and before ten in the morning, I couldn’t help wondering whatever else the day had in store for me as I made my way to the hives. As usual I began my inspections with hive one. In my mind, this was the only one strong enough to consider swarming and I’d been particularly careful during previous inspections to look for any signs that they might be thinking of such, but no. Apart from the occasional play cup, no signs at all. However, the first and quite obvious difference today was that, although they all appeared quite good natured, there were far less bees, the second thing, and again, blatantly obvious, was the open queen cell on the fourth frame. I pride myself on my ability to spot early signs of swarming, especially charged queen cells, but the little beggars had caught me out on this occasion. Knowing my inspection regime, I must have missed this queen cell not once, but at least twice, and now I had paid the price, or at least, I would have, had it not been for the fact that they had chosen a very convenient place in which to cluster and at an equally convenient time. I finished my inspections at The Station without any further dramas except that I couldn’t help noticing that none of the queens in the cells brought from “C” had emerged which was a bit of a worry.

On then to “C” which is once again, a bit like the Curates egg, good in parts. Hive 1 is now the only colony that can be said to be performing satisfactorily, 2 and 4 which was 3, the two with the bought-in queens have now been united in a last ditch effort to save at least one of them. 3, the Bailey comb change hive is looking quite promising, the queen having emerged but of the queen cells taken from 5, this was the only one to do so. None of the other cells came to anything, even the cell that I left in 5 which the bees decided to break down. I know that normally when this happens it’s because they already have a queen but I’m certain this wasn’t the case in this instance because when I gave them a frame of brood from 1 they immediately started drawing out queen cells. I think for some reason, all of the cells left in 5 were for some reason, faulty and I think the bees in 5 detected this and that’s why they broke the cell down and why other than the one which I put into three, none of the others emerged. Thankfully, the swarm looks to doing well. It’ll be interesting what 5 do with the frame of brood they were given, a quick look showed that they’ve started queen cells so, we’ll see. At my next visit I shall unite what’s left of 2 and 4 with 3.

I’ve all but converted all of my standard brood set-ups to 14×12″ and when I’ve finished uniting 2 and 4 with 3, I shall set about converting their brood boxes, both colonies have been configured double brood. The problem this leaves me with is that all of my nuc’s are standard brood size. The bees seem quite happy with this arrangement but it’s a real pain when the time comes to hive them, all of the frame needing to be extended. It’s not a massive task, fitting frame extensions, provided you have a Rampin, but having the correct size frames from

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IT’S NOT A MASIVE TASK FITTING FRAME EXTENSIONS

the start has to be better. So I decided my next task was to extend the nuc’s to 14×12″ and after much thought I decided the best way would be to carefully remove the existing floor, make a 3 1/2″ eke and fit it between the floor and the nuc body.

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1ST.EKE FINISHED

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AND THEN THERE WERE THREE, ONLY TWO MORE TO GO.

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FLOOR REMOVED WITH DIFFICULTY

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JOB COMPLETED, JUST REQUIRING A COAT OF YACHT VARNISH

Removing the floor was a lot easier said than done as I’d forgotten that when making the nuc’s. I had glued, pinned and screwed all of the joints and the only way I could think of to remove the floor without damaging it, was, having first removed the screws, to gently prise the floor away from the nuc. body and the only thing I had which would do the job with the minimum of damage was my best carving knife. This it achieved, though sadly, the same can’t be said of the knife

 

MARCH

Well, Spring is officially upon us, or so rumour has it, and I’m sure the experts are right, after all, we have seen the sun on at least two occasions this week. Enough to bring the bees out in some numbers and to turn my thoughts to the season ahead. Gone are the feelings of doom and gloom that had beset me since my hospital excursion. I have ordered two new queens to bring the colony numbers back up to strength and have started giving the empty hives their annual coat of Cuprinol, so as I said, things are looking up.

Coming to the end of the month now and pleased to say, things are really beginning to shape up. All the empty hives have had their Spring-clean, brace comb and propolis removed prior to a quick scorching with the blowlamp. Cuprinolling finished,

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CUPRINOLLING HIVES FINISHED

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AND MOST OF THE EMPTY SUPERS

all the old wax removed and most of the frames boiled up to await their new foundation, in fact, I started re-waxing yesterday. It was a lovely day and it seemed a shame to waste it. What with the weather we’ve endured of late and now this blasted virus hanging over us it was a simple decision to make. Sitting in the sun, outside the shed in front of my workmate with a cup of coffee and a packet of crisps, I’d finished re-waxing thirty frames in no time, and enjoyed every minute of it. I’d have done more but for stupidly allowing myself to run out of foundation, something which I set about remedying the moment I got home. With luck, the postman should have ten new packs in his sack for me the beginning of next week.

FEBUARY

Still reliant on my beekeeping friends to keep an eye on my bees for me, and I shall be eternally grateful for all the help I’ve received. However, in between storms, I have managed to visit my sites but have had to view from the car parks, I’ve not been able to see many bees but have been able to satisfy myself that none of the roofs have become dislodged nor any other disaster befallen them. Last Saturday all off that changed. I woke, not to the sounds of tiles and guttering rattling, but to bright sunshine pushing through the curtains. Well aware of how changeable the weather has been of late, I wasted no time in heading for my nearest apiary site. Most of the fruit trees in the orchard are beginning to blossom and I couldn’t help noticing, as I left the car that, almost every blossom had a bee in attendance. With the help of my walking stick, for the first time since leaving hospital, I made my way up to the hives, and what an uplifting sight beheld me. Hundreds of bees coming and going in all directions, all totally oblivious to me approaching. I stood watching them, totally absorbed by their actions for about ten minutes before making my way back to the car and on to The Station Apiary where, thankfully, the sight with which I was greeted was much the same. Bees issuing in numbers from all of the hives and the nuc’s. Driving home I found myself thinking of the season ahead and even planning what increases I was going to make, gone were the were the feelings of doom and gloom which had plagued me for the last couple of months. Amazing the difference a little sunshine makes.