Monday, 25 April 2011

So many queen cells

Well, I am again suffering due to my having been away on holiday. But my bees are fine: they like swarming! It's natural, and all.

I inspected the 2 hives in Maida Vale to find no eggs in either (I did see young unsealed brood in both) nor did I see any queens but I did find a whole host of sealed and unsealed queen cells. I suspect then that both hives have already swarmed. Arghhhhh. Although there seemed to be lots of bees in both hives, the slightly limited progress filling out the supers (given the superb recent weather) confirmed my suspicions. I left 3 queen cells in each hive, but destroyed the rest: 15(!) in Boudicca and 2 in Amidala. I had taken my nuc with me to create a split. However, of the two hives only Boudicca has the necessary normal-depth brood frames, and I have no desire to create a split from those grumpy, swarmy blighters! The nuc remains empty.

My honey harvest this year will again be limited because of this. I'll really need to pay more timely attention in my inspections next spring!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

So early this year

It turns out that I've chosen a very bad time of year to be away from my hives. I came back from 10 days in Spain and stole a few hours before heading off to France to check out the hive (Cleopatra) in Buckinghamshire. Not only were there loads of sealed queen cells, but I found no eggs nor even unsealed brood. The queen cells I destroyed all had nearly-ready queens, and in fact one crawled out ready to go. I cleverly caught her in a match-box, but then like the fool beekeeper I am I managed to let her go again (back into the hive) as I tried to catch some more workers in the same box for later use. I left 3 queen-cells to make the colony queen-right again - maybe on reflection I should have destroyed more (all?). Clearly I missed the colony swarming by . . . well, probably by about 7-10 days! It was the first proper inspection I had done on that hive this year. So what I should have done was inspect a couple of weeks ago and spot the queen cells in construction. And that would have been in the first week in April!

It's so early this year. The weather is very hot and dry and the flora and fauna is well ahead.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Low bee losses

I popped in to Paynes bee farm in mid-Sussex the other day to buy some frame parts. They are honey and equipment sellers who run about 500 hives across the south east of England. I got chatting to the friendly guy who runs the place. He told me that this winter his colony losses were about 2.5%. Amazingly low! I'm sure I've heard it said elsewhere that 30% is common and 20% relatively good. The Paynes guy did say his 2.5% was lower than most years. He attributed the low low loss rate to the dryness of the winter: although it was cold and snowy there was less rain and air moisture than is typical. I'm sure there was a healthy dollop of good beekeeping in there too! Well done Paynes!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Waaaaay too long

Way too long since I either posted or, to be honest inspected my bees. The last time I opened them up was in December to dose them with oxalic acid. The weather's always been too cold when I've been around to make an inspection worthwhile till now. I wish I had my bees at home - I'm sure it would allow me to inspect more.

Anyhow, of the 3 hives I have in Maida Vale, London, the big two (Amidala and Boudicca) made it through, and the nuc (Dido) sadly died over the winter. Looking at the mouldy interior and black, dry bees told me that it must have happened several months ago. I reckon the nuc probably ran out of supplies. Certainly there was nothing left in the hive other than dead bees, and quite a few of them.

Of the two remaining hives at that site, Amidala continues to be the one which impresses. Mouse guard off and super on (damn, must remember to take out the entrance reducer next time). The colony has now filled 8 of the deep brood frames I installed last mid-summer. Lots of eggs and brood on many frames. I saw the old queen still going strong. The bees were not too grumpy despite the cool (11C) and cloudy weather. Hive Boudicca was, as ever a different matter. The first thing I noticed was the huge pile of dead bees outside the front, in marked contrast to the tidy exterior to Amidala. And then as soon as I opened Boudicca up it was the familiar story of dive-bombing. Grumpy, unhygienic bees: that queen's number is up as soon as I get some fresh queen cells from another hive! The colony is quite strong, though. Most frames had some brood or honey, with the former probably occupying parts of 7-8 frames which is the most I have every seen in that hive. I whacked on a super, removed the mouse guard and left quite satisfied, though with regicide firmly in my mind.

I'm disappointed to have lost a colony, but since it was a nuc it's not the greatest surprise. I should have left some fondant for them, I think, rather than relying on the 2-3 frames of honey I thought would be enough to pull this small colony through. It was rather sad to have found the blackened, dessicated queen corpse. I will flame the interior of this nuc before putting I into production again. Given the cold winter, I have reasoned that the mould was a post-wipeout feature of this hive rather than a contributory factor, and so I am willing not to destroy the box so long as I treat it carefully.

So, no shook swarm or Bailey frame exchange this year? Well this may be part down to either an intrinsic lazyness or more likely a feeling that I cannot bear to waste brood. However, realistically a lot of the frames in those hives are around 1 year old and therefore likely young enough to not have fostered disease. I know that next Spring I will need to make a different decision.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Oxalic acid and wax moth

Rather belatedly, I headed round the corner to my London apiary to apply oxalic acid. It had been a while since I'd opened the hives, and the first time since the unusually cold and snowy spell last month.

I was happy with what I found. Amidala had 5 (not full) seams of bees, Boudicca 7 (interesting since this hive is usually the weaker) and Dido, the nuc, 3. I dribbled 5ml of oxalic acid liquid along each seam. The bees were not impressed and greeted me in the way only grumpy bees can. I think wearing protective gear is probably more important in mid-winter than it is in the height of early summer! I need to nip out to Buckinghamshire to treat my hive there too.

I headed back home to tidy up some old frames which had been hanging around in a box inside my house. Bad news. Many of the frames showed the tell-tail signs of wax-moth (pictured). I destroyed the lot. Interestingly I had some made up but undrawn frames (foundation only) in the same place and these were unaffected. It seems that what I've read is correct: the moth larvae need more than just pure wax to feed on, and foundation is less likely to be affected.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Feed take-up sporadic

I went to the London site today with the aim of putting back on each of 2 hives the Apiguard tainted honey supers which I'd removed last week. The plan was to remove the contact feeders I'd installed last week and leave each hive with a crown board with a restricted feeder hole above which there were 2 empty, frameless supers with the super of honied frames above that. In theory the bees should take the honey down into the brood box from there. However, I was surprised that whilst this worked for one hive, on the other I found the contact feeder still mostly full. I checked it for function: it seemed fine, with syrup dripping out the bottom when I shook it. Weird - I guess these bees (Hive Amidala) were just preferring the ivy nectar flow instead. Good for them. I left the contact feeder in place and stored the honied super hidden from the bees above that, which I will give access for on my next inspection.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Apiguard and feeding

It's been way too long since the last post, so I'll quickly summarise . . .

I treated all my colonies with Apiguard in early August to coordinate with similar London-wide anti-varroa treatments: 1 sachet in early August and another a fortnight later. I found varroa drop low across all my colonies, so fingers crossed for the winter. I had intended to feed the bees in early September, but somehow other things in life got in the way and I only ended up feeding them yesterday.

Hive Cleopatra (the one on my mother-in-law's roof in Gerrards Cross) was so jammed with honey (and bees) in the brood box that I decided not to put on the gallon contact feeder I had prepared since the bees simply would have had nowhere to put it. All colonies had a limited amount of brood. The 2 proper-sized London colonies looked good, though I gave them each a gallon of feed and I feel confident that with that they should have sufficient stores, especially with the ivy still in bloom for a while yet. The nuc looked a little weaker, and of course it's harder to feed, so I again whacked on my improvised peanut-butter jar feeder and I'll look to do this again a few times before mid-November (a bit late, but there you go).

One problem I am battling with is what to do with supers which I did not extract the honey from since it was unripe or uncapped. Last year I had left these on the hives, though swapped them to be below the brood box. The bees then do the business of moving the honey up into the brood box, and then the super can be removed. I did this with Hive Cleopatra again this year and it worked well. However, I decided against it for the other hives, and in fact have decided against it in general for the future, since it's just too intrusive to move the boxes around: it's really quite cumbersome and disruptive for the bees. So I have 2 supers half-full of capped/semi-capped honey all of which is Thymol (Aipiguard) tainted so not fit for human consumption. I want to give it back to the bees after I get those contact feeders off. I read this week that one way to do it is to put these supers back on the hive at the top, but put 1 or 2 frameless supers in above the brood box first, and put a crown board with reduced hole below the lowest super. That way the bees take the honey down, seeing the honied super simply as a external source. I like this idea and will try it - I very much doubt the bees will try to fill the void with comb at this time of year.