Going into June, not much change at The Station, the swarm I collected, now in a nuc. next to hive 1 from which they issued, looks to be doing well with the queen having already started to lay, so just a case of keeping my eyes on them all. Mendip “C”, by comparison, is now, really doing well to the point where we have decided to build an additional stand,

new cameley stand and emerging cells 004


This to accommodate the two new queens that I have decided to acquire and a swarm which presented itself in a small shrub close to the hives. This was the third swarm to have chosen this shrub in which to cluster, so there must obviously be something about the location that they like. The previous two swarms were from my hives so it made sense that they had chosen this shrub in which to pitch as it’s not only the closest to the hives but also directly in the flight path.

camely swarm and Mariya letter 007


This latest swarm however, I’m pretty certain, wasn’t from one of my hives.

camely swarm and Mariya letter 014


None of the colonies had exhibited any signs that they were preparing to swarm, in as much as there were no queen cells in evidence, in fact four, which is the colony that produced all of the queen cells a couple of weeks ago, and now queenless, is still only half way through the process of drawing out queen cells from the frame of brood I gave them. There is a very large colony of bees under the roof of the local church which is only about a half a mile, if that, from my Mendip “C” apiary and which I was asked by the vicar to take a look at last year. I have a feeling the swarm may have emanated from there as they seem to be the only other honeybees in the area. As the church is a grade 1 listed building and dates from the 12th. century, I wasn’t able to help and I know for a fact that no-one else has. From the numbers of bees which fall onto the alter and the vast numbers coming and going, which are plain to see from the ground, this is obviously a very large colony which has been in residence for a very long time. Anyway, be that as it may, the swarm is now residing quite happily in one of my new nuc’s. on the new stand alongside the two nucs. I’m preparing, should I need them, for the new queens that I shall be collecting next week.

With the day planned for my trip to Exmoor getting ever closer I was having second thoughts as to how best to use my new queens. Hive five was still queenless, the cells I’d earlier given the having come to nothing, but the queen in three, which had, if you remember, started life as the only decent queen cell that five had earlier produced, had already begun to lay and was looking really promising. Unsure as to how five would accept a new queen, and not wanting to risk one of my “bought in” queens, I decided to catch and cage the queen in three and transfer her to five. Before placing the cage into the hive I laid it on top of the brood frames for a couple of minutes, this to observe the behaviour of the bees in the presence of their new queen. Occasionally the bees will adopt a very aggressive posture around the cage suggesting that they are not going to accept her without a fight, but, not in this case. They were all over the cage in seconds but not exhibiting any signs of aggression. Feeling happy with the situation, I installed the cage between two of the brood frames, boxed them up and left them to it. A couple of days later I was back with my two new queens. After checking both hive three and the nuc for queen cells, of which there were none, I installed the cages housing my new queens. Before leaving I had a quick look into five where, pleased to report, the queen from three was wandering about quite happily whilst being lovingly attended by her new entourage.








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.

Apidea's at Cameley 001


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.

14x12 nuc mod and Station fallen tree 011


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,

14x12 nuc mod and Station fallen tree 009


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

extending nuc brood frame to 14x12 002


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.

14x12 nuc mod and Station fallen tree 003


Cameley new stands and nuc 013


14x12 nuc mod and Station fallen tree 004


14x12 nuc mod and Station fallen tree 002


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



The timing of the arrival of the foundation that I had ordered couldn’t have been better coinciding as it did with the start of this week’s sunny weather. By day two it was warm enough to sit outside in shirtsleeves, something I was pleased to take advantage of and by the time I was ready to leave, I’d finished waxing a large portion of the empty frames, very satisfying. Lovely just to feel the sun on your back while sitting at the Workmate, leisurely getting the frames ready for the coming season, and leisurely is the operative word here. Having spent most of my working life with one eye on the clock, it really is a treat now to be able to work at my own pace. I have to say, it took quite a time to get used my new regime but now that I have it’s great. I’ve still got dozens of frames to finish but, there’s always tomorrow isn’t there, and the day that there isn’t, it won’t really matter will it!

In addition to re-waxing the frames, I’ve managed to get the two nuc’s hived. They’ve each got a feeder of syrup to help them draw out their new frames and by the time I was ready to leave, they all looked to be settling into their new homes quite nicely. I also gave supers to the two strongest colonies and the others don’t look too far behind, so, fingers crossed all is looking quite promising at the moment. By the time I was ready to leave the bees really were in good spirits, taking advantage of the sunshine, they were coming and going in great numbers with phenomenal amounts of pollen being brought in. It’s a lovely sight and one I never tire of, I stood watching them for fully five minutes and decided to take a couple of pictures to share with you before leaving. The pic’s. I take with my ‘phone never seem to do justice to the subject, probably because like me, it’s on it’s last legs, but I’ve posted them anyway, just to try to share the moment with you.

Active bees 14th April 001

Active bees 14th April 002


Active bees 14th April 004


When I first began beekeeping, like most of us, I imagine, I joined my local society and being an absolute novice, my thinking on what was the best way to keep bees, was pretty much governed by what I saw and heard going on around me. I also read whatever I could lay my hands on and very quickly learned that, apart from the need to keep accurate records and practice good hygiene, there was no “right or wrong” way to keep honeybees. I have since formed the opinion that if you put ten beekeepers in a room together, you’ll end up with at least a dozen opinions on the best way to keep bees. And, who’s to say that they’re not all right. The fact is that there is no definitive way to keep honeybees, it’s what works for you and your bees that’s important, after all, if the “experts” can’t agree, what chance do the rest of us have?

So, in keeping with all of the other members in our society at that time, I began with a pair of Modified Nationals which, if you think about it, makes good sense. If you need some advise or a frame of stores or brood, there’s always someone close by that you can turn to for help. This is very important if. like me, you were an absolute novice and knew little or nothing as there will be times when you’ll need all help you can get.

As time went by I began to form my own views, as to how I wanted to keep my bees, and I’m sure you’ll understand, these are my views entirely. I’m in no way trying to suggest that I have found the best way to keep honeybees, simply what works for me here at Mendip Apiary along with the thinking that prompted the decisions I took.

I decided very early on that “The National” brood chamber was too small, holding some fifty thousand bees as it does, a number regularly exceeded in a healthy colony. Surely, by using the National Hive, we were building problems into our apiaries right from the start. Knowing as we do, that overcrowding is a prime cause of swarming, why persist with it. My problem was that by the time I had concluded that it was my hives that were the cause of my bees seemingly always preparing to swarm, it was too late. I had invested too much money in hives and frames to start again. So, what was the answer, I had experimented with double brood and brood and a half but wasn’t overly happy with the results. Far too much messing about, so as I said, what was the answer. Fortunately, the answer presented itself at our very next Apiary meeting when I was able to discuss the subject of brood boxes and their associated problems with our “guest expert”. “Why not convert to “extended brood” was his answer. I had to confess, it was something I’d never even heard of, “but what about all of my standard National kit” I replied. ”Extend your National boxes to 14″x12″, make yourself some three inch eke’s” and, seeing the look of disbelief on my face, “to fit on the hive floor, below your brood boxes you can get your frame extensions from Thornes”, and with that he departed, obviously looking for someone to have a sensible conversation with. A 3″ eke, the solution seemed so obvious, I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner.

eke 003

eke 001


A week later I had finished my first three eke’s and now apart from two double brood set-ups which I keep at Mendip “C” for queen rearing, all the colonies are on extended brood. The two Standard National hives on the first Station hive stand are in fact, double queen mating nuc’s.



All of my colonies are now in 14×12″ brood hives with the exception of two at “C” which are still on double brood. These were to be my queen rearing colonies although as you will see, this hasn’t gone completely to plan. Last Spring I decided to kick start my queen rearing with some new blood and decided to purchase two new queens from a very well known, and let me say, highly recommended supplier. I hadn’t personally dealt with them before but had heard good things about them, so it was with eager anticipation that I opened the envelope marked, “LIVE BEES, HANDLE WITH CARE” that arrived on my doormat. The new queens, each in plastic transporter cages along with half a dozen attendees, and each sporting bright green spots, looked in very good nick and after a quick drink, were installed in the nuc’s. that I had earlier prepared for them. The nuc’s. were identical in their set-up, each having a contact feeder of syrup, so I was more than a little surprised to find when I examined them a couple of days later, that one of the queens, which I shall refer to as No.1, was out of the cage and had already begun to lay, whilst the other, No 2. was still ensconced in her travel-cage and showing no signs that she wished to escape from it. I removed the cage to have a closer look at it’s contents and apart from the queen looking a little lethargic, they seemed ok.,so I gave them a fine spray of water and put them back in the nuc.

It was about five or six days later when I returned to have a look at the nuc’s and to top-up their feeders. The difference between them was marked. No 1. had emptied their feeder and had a frame pretty much filled with eggs and brood whereas, No 2, although out of the cage, had only managed a patch of eggs about the size of a 10 pence piece. She also seemed to be moving over the comb in a laboured manner compared with No 1. With little else to be done, I boxed them up and left them to it. Thankfully, as the season progressed, No 2. appeared to catch up and by the time I was ready to hive them, both nuc’s. were looking good. It had bothered me why No 2 had seemingly struggled to keep up with 1 ever since they had taken up residence with me so, it was doubly pleasing to see that she had finally made it. So, time to get them into their new hives. I had great plans for these new queens, as I said, they were to head my queen rearing for next year, so the plan, to hive them in time for them build up some numbers before the Winter set in.

It was while hiving the nuc’s I stumbled on, what I believe to be, the reason why No.2 had performed so poorly. Transferring the frames from No.1 was a straight forward affair, pleasing to see that every frame was either filled with brood or stores and, there on the second frame, sporting her bright green spot, their queen. So, on with a feeder of syrup and box the hive up. On next to No. 2., again, frames filled with brood and stores. she really did look to have caught up well, the bees, as with those in 1. were in good humour so it took only moments to get the nuc. emptied but this time, no green spot queen. Thinking I must somehow have missed her, I went back through the frames, and with a huge sigh of relief, on the fourth frame, there she was. But, no green spot, instead, what appeared to be the remnants of a red spot which, if was the case, would have meant that No 2′s  red spot had been over-painted green and that she was, in fact, a year older than No.1. This, if it were the case, would certainly help account for why she  had under-performed so markedly. Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the UK company who supplied the bees to me, in any way behaved improperly, but the person who I dealt with did tell me that a number of their queens were imported and we know from our own travels abroad, not all our neighbours have the same standards of honesty as we do.

Thankfully, both colonies over-wintered successfully but, as expected, No.1 has continued to out-perform 2 so it is to No.1 that I shall be looking to get this season’s queen rearing up and running.

Since my spell in hospital, I have found it difficult to manipulate the hives as I would have liked and have had to limit my inspections, both in frequency and content. In fact, I haven’t performed a detailed inspection this year and on the occasions that I have opened the hives, I’ve closed them up the moment I’ve seen eggs and young brood on a frame. This, combined with the mood of the bees has satisfied me that I have laying queens which has been all that I have been concerned about so far. It wasn’t until the end of the second week of April that I felt the time was right for a full and detailed inspection and it was to Mendip “C” that I first turned.. I had hived their nuc. the week previous and I was eager to see how they were settling into their new home. The sun was beating down from a cloudless sky by the time I arrived, and when my smoker burst into life at my first attempt to light it, I knew I had chosen the right day. To avoid confusion, I have numbered the hives 1 to 4 from left to right with 1 being the newly hived nuc., 2 and 3, the hives on double brood housing the bought-in queens and 4, a colony which had swarmed early last year.

camely swarm and Mariya letter 012


camely swarm and Mariya letter 008


The swarm had chosen a most convenient place to cluster, as It was, on a shrub about ten yards in front of the hives. It was a simple matter get them into a nuc. and take them to The Station to await a decision on what to do with them. A decision which was shortly to be taken out of my hands as the bees left in the hive had, I imagine, developed a cast and left with the new queen. Whatever the cause, the colony was queenless the next time I looked so, the remaining bees were re-united with the nuc. and, touch wood, have gone from strength to strength since then.

With the exception of hive two, one of the hives on double brood and the one housing the bought-in queen number two, I was very pleased with what I found. The bees from the nuc. appeared to have settled into their new home and hives three and four were looking really strong. Hive two, had if anything, gone downhill since my last visit so I took the decision there and then to unite two and three at my next visit and then do a Bailey Comb Change on three. This would get three onto 14×12″ and dispense with the last of my standard brood set-ups. I had already prepared one of the empty Station hives and following my visit to The Station later that day, which incidentally passed without incident, I brought the hive back to “C”.

Cameley hives 001