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.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Big city honey yields

I was just talking with a fellow beek at the Ealing Association who told me he'd got an unprecedented (for him) 100lb average from each of his 8 productive hives. Yes, that's 800lb of honey! That's not the sort of task I'd like to be attempting with my cheapie, plastic, 2 frame, tangential extractor.

It puts my 25lb average for 2 productive hives to shame. I'll be calling a meeting with my bees to discuss improvements in working practices and productivity in future years. Or maybe I'll just aspire to becoming a better beekeeper....

Monday, 16 August 2010

More extraction

I completed extraction of another (and final) super yesterday/today. In total this year I've got about 50lbs from 2 supers, one each from Hive Amidala and Hive Cleopatra. Hive Boudicca and Nuc Dido are unharvested. It's not a great result, but I suppose is satisfactory considering that I started with 2 colonies and now have 4.

Extraction with the cheapie plastic, manual, tangential extractor I have is slow and inefficient, and I've blown the comb through one several frames, which is wasteful. On advice, I did quickly look at extractors "for men" on eBay but they seemed either quite rusty or quite pricey - perhaps this is not the time of year to look. I'll keep an eye out. Certainly going to a radial extractor seems to make more sense.

I'm still uncapping with an uncapping fork, though many people have told me that a cheap "hot air gun" from any DIY store will do the job in a fraction of the time. That's something to investigate for next year. At least I got my nephew and eldest daughter to help me with uncapping for this batch, and they were genuinely helpful - well done little people.

The straining takes a while. This batch of honey came out clearer that the previous super a couple of days ago. I think being more careful in the uncapping made a difference, and I also let it settle for longer.

I'm now left with a tub full of washed cappings. I'll need to research what the best thing to do with them is. At present I'm not even sure the best way to melt them down (without trashing various pieces of kitchen equipment). I suppose I should investigate building a basic solar extractor.
I dumped the clearer board out in my garden for a short while (there are no hives in the immediate area) - it didn't take the bees and wasps long to find the tiny patches of honey on it.

Oh, it's definitely also worth mentioning that I applied the Apiguard sachet to Hive Cloepatra, so all my colonies are now Apiguarded-up. There colonies were done a "day early" and one a "day late" according to the locally prescribed correct application day, but I'm sure a day or two either way will make no difference. I will apply a second dose in two weeks time, at which point I will remove varroa boards which have been inserted to keep the hives more vapour-tight.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Honey harvest

I put Apiguard on my London hives today (half load on the nuc). I put in entrance reducers and slid in the varroa boards, jamming them tight up to the bottom of the mesh floor to keep all the thymol goodness in as much as possible. In two weeks time I'll apply the second batch.

The excitement of the day came with the honey harvest. One full super yielded about 25lb of honey. My extractor is rubbish. It came as part of a "budget" package with lots of other kit from Thornes. Extracting even one super in the cheap tangential extractor took quite a while with all the faffing with frames and the dodgy handle, though the length of time may have been something to do with the six kids who were "helping" (I like to get mine and their friends involved in this type of thing for their interest). The honey did not come out very clear. I strained it through two different sieves (course and fine) in the same way I did last year, which had previously yielded beautifully clear honey, but this year was not nearly so good. Perhaps it'll clarify over time as the tiny bubbles rise to the top, and maybe I should have left it to settle more before bottling. Anyhow, it tastes beautiful. I'll be popping out to my other hive tomorrow (when the weather clears) to apply varroa and take a super or two off that hive. Between now and then I'll mostly be de-stickying the kitchen!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Preparing for extraction

I popped up to see some of my hives today to prepare for removing supers over the next couple of days. Hive Amidala has a full super, and another with an awful lot of uncapped honey in it. Oh well - the bees can have that one. I installed my porter bee escape equipped clearer board below the full super. These bee escapes failed dismally last year. Fingers crossed.

Hive Boudicca has no honey to take off. After the troubles with (I think) a swarm earlier in the year and broodlessness right into June I am hardly surprised by the lack of harvestable honey. The concern is whether the colony will be strong enough to make it through the winter, but it's stronger now than at this time last year, so I think I'll proceed with preparing it for winter rather than combining it with another colony.

I aim to take the supers off all my hives in the next couple of days, with varroa treatment (Apiguard) starting on Saturday, which has been mandated as "the" treatment day in north-west London: an attempt at coordination so as not to give the blighters anywhere to hide.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

BBKA Basic Assessment: I passed

I just found out that I passed the BBKA Basic Assessment which I took a few weeks ago.
I didn't find it too challenging, but it's good to hear that I got through the assessment nevertheless.

I'm keen to progress onto other formal education. There are two routes to follow, and I intend to follow both, as time allows. It's all described on the BBKA website education page. One route is on the practical side, with a general and then an advanced husbandry assessment. The other route is a set of 8 written exam modules. All the various components take a fair amount of work, have entry requirements, and also require a great deal more knowledge and experience than I currently have. Completion of all the components confers the title "Master Beekeeper" and it's no mean achievement. There's no way of telling whether my life will take me this way, but it's my intention to start with a couple of the exams and with the general husbandry assessment in the next few years.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Assessment later today

Hives record updated.
I undertook a full inspection of all 4 colonies this morning in last minute prep for my assessment for the Basic Beekeeping Certificate later this afternoon. The assessment is about an hour long, with 3 sections: the first a practical where I go through a hive and try to show the assessor I know what's what; the second a session where I make up a frame and talk about various aspects of beekeeping, focused on the natural history of the honey bee and beekeeping equipment; and the third an oral questioning on diseases and pests. I think it should be fairly straight forward, but I can never tell with such things. Let's see.

The colonies all look well. I'm hoping they can put a little more honey away before I take the supers off and whack on the Apiguard, which will be within the next 1-3 weeks.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Still making queen cells. And ants gone.

Hives record updated.
I went to the nature reserve today and checked the two hives and the nuc there. Both one of the hives and the nuc had unsealed queen cells - in mid July! I destroyed both. I also fiddled with the frames a little, adding 2 frames of eggs and larvae to Hive Boudicca since it is still weak: I want to get all those brood frames drawn and full of honey before the season starts drawing to a close. I also removed the undrawn super box from this hive so the colony will really focus on the brood box (there is still a mostly-full super on).

I had pulled one of those frames of brood from Nuc Dido, where a queen cell and a full population again made me realise that managing a nuc is another skill - I replaced the frame of brood with an undrawn frame which I hope will keep them busy.

The other frame of brood I had removed from Hive Amidala, the hive with the deep brood box. It's good to have got one of those standard depth brood frames out of that hive - there's another to go but I left it in there today since it was so full of brood - instead I moved the frame to the edge of the box hoping that splitting the brood will not matter in the warm weather we're having, and also that the queen will not lay here any more. Fingers crossed on that one. Getting those shorter frames out is urgent since again the bees had built wild comb beneath them which is a complete waste of effort when they could be doing other things. I had the queen from this hive crawling up my arm today after I was juggling her off the frame I moved. I managed to get her back into the hive, though she disappeared down onto the first frame (near the entrance) so I hope she orientates back to the brood area ok - should be fine.

The total honey crop for the 2 hives here is very disappointing. I'll need to make sure I don't react to this by not leaving enough honey on for the winter. I am again targeting 40lbs per hive.

Oh, it might be worth mentioning too that after having cleared out that ant nest from above the crown board of Hive Boudicca for the past 4 inspections, the nest has not made a reappearance this time! Yeah.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Drone brood inspection - low varroa count

Having recently removed lots of drone brood from Hive Amidala and put it in the freezer to kill any nasties, today I took it out to investigate the varroa situation. Having had a very low mite drop count a few weeks ago I was quite optimistic.

I spread newspaper across the kitchen table and rummaged inside the plastic bag. I discovered that freezers are not cold enough to freeze honey. Sticky, sticky. At first I used an uncapping fork, but soon resorted to simply snapping the comb apart to let the frozen larvae and pupae tumble out. More and more came, and at times I found the job a little grizzly. In all I probably glanced over a few hundred little white semi-bees. Soon the newspaper was covered in broken comb and dead bees. I had gathered my 4 young kids round to join in the process and I talked them through what was going on: I do hope they got something out of the experience.

The good news: I only spotted one varroa mite in the whole inspection. This is in marked contrast to last year when I had tried uncapping a few drone brood cells in the hive and found an average of 3 varroa per cell!  So, the very low count seen on the varroa floor a few weeks ago is confirmed. However, I still plan to treat with Apiguard immediately after I remove the supers in early August, and follow this up with Oxalic acid in December. I am impressed that last year's treatments seem to have been effective. I did not perform any shook swarms this year, and don't feel I have to next year for varroa control reasons. However, some frame replacement will, I think, be desirable anyway just as a policy of regular replacement.

Friday, 9 July 2010

That's more like it

Hives record updated.

I had a totally different perspective today when I popped out to see Hive Cleopatra. Rather than the struggling, tetchy bees at my other site in the 3 hives there, Hive Cleo was bursting at the seams with calm bees and lots of honey - so much so I put on another 2 supers. It's not been a good season, but perhaps the next month can help pick things up. I'm hoping the bees can lay down a fair amount of honey before the Apiguard treatment in early August, before which the supers will all be coming off.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

They confound me

Hives record updated.

It's clear that it will take many more seasons before I can consider myself a vaguely competent beekeeper, but with everything I learn I can feel slightly closer to that goal.

Today's long overdue inspection was in the presence of the next door neighbour of the nature reserve where I keep 3 hives, which rather drained my concentration as I gave a running commentary over the ever increasing buzz.

I had thought Hive Boudicca queenless at the last inspection, so had introduced a brood frame with a queen cell from Hive Dido. The bees had ripped down the queen cell. Fair enough - it's their home not mine. But today's observation of eggs and uncapped brood makes a mockery of my previous assessment that the colony was queenless: there's clearly a laying queen. But why then did I spot a newly created queen cell: uncapped with royal jelly and a little larvae floating on it when there's loads of space in the hive? Laying worker? Not likely with the regular egg laying pattern, single eggs per cell and the neat position of eggs at the bottom of the cells. Swarm? Surely not at this time of year when there's still so much room in that hive. Supersedure? Well, maybe that's it. I left the queen cell alone. I did not spot the queen today, not in Boudicca or the others for that matter. This colony still does not look strong, and that makes me wonder. In my defence for not having properly analysed this hive on the last inspection, the comb is very dark, and the shade on the site makes things hard to see. But that's no excuse: I need to re-site, and I need to change the comb.

The little nuc, Hive Dido, seemed well, even vigorous. There were no queen cells in the hive, so I don't know why they had produced one last time. How should I keep the nuc suppressed a little to stop the colony feeling cramped and deciding a move is in order? Do I just keep nicking brood frames and putting them into weaker hives? That does not sound ideal. However, I want to keep this colony running since the nuc has an observation roof addon with which I intend to use to demonstrate bees to others. I will need to find the queen and mark her at the next inspection.

In Hive Amidala, which has a deep brood box,  I removed a lot of wild drone brood which has formed on the bottom of the 2 regular depth frames I have in there. Only one quarter was drone brood, and the rest nectar/honey so I got in a right mess tearing it off. I eventually managed to get the comb bee-free and put the lot in a bag. It's now in my freezer to kill everything, and I'll inspect the brood and conduct a varroa count. Given the very low number on a recent varroa floor test, I am quite optimistic. However, the inspection itself left more questions since I did not see any eggs or any young unsealed larvae. The youngest I could see were intermediate sized unsealed larvae (maybe 5 days since being laid). Hopefully I just missed the eggs whilst being preoccupied with the drone brood and having had to monologue to my audience.

It's not simple, but I'm still learning.

Friday, 2 July 2010

How plants get by when pollinators vanish

Interesting article in New Scientist. Maybe we're not all going to die after all then. Not from this and not yet, anyway.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Swarminess record? Queen cell in new colony within a month.

Hives record updated.

Well, this season's cavalcade of beekeeping comedy continues. Boudicca is definitely queenless, and even broodless. Dido (the little nuc I set up a matter of weeks ago) already has a queen cell. I removed this frame and put it in Boudicca. Workers from any resultant queen (if she lays) will not be foraging till late August (that bee maths stuff in soooooo useful). Honey season is therefore over for that hive, so I may just remove the honey super on the next inspection and feed them so they can build some stores up in the brood chamber and get some energy on board to draw some of the still naked foundation following a recent colony split I performed. Was it OK to remove the queen cell from Dido? Well, I had not seen the queen there (she was not marked yet, but even so I think I would have spotted her in a nuc) so perhaps she swarmed after that queen cell was sealed? I'm slightly doubtful of that since the colony population seemed high, but even if by removing the queen cell I have made the colony queenless, they can always raise another queen cell from the ample eggs in that hive. I hope. I am left wondering how to control the population of a nuc. The bees raised a queen cell in 3 and a half weeks after this nuc was set up, and I'm unsure how to prevent this. They clearly do this since the space is so limited, but that's just a fundamental property of a nuc. I'll need to give this some thought and read up on it. At least now they have a new frame of undrawn foundation to worry about.

Hive Amidala doing a little better, though still suffering from the splits (and possible swarms) of earlier in the season and therefore a little limited in population and honey production for this time of year. The in-progress brood population is huge, however, so hopefully they can stash away some honey through the latter half of July to somewhat save this tragic season. I am, however, still learning a lot, and my enthusiasm and enjoyment is still high despite the challenges!

Oh, another thing is that I checked and removed the varroa floors from both Amidala and Boudicca. Although I had not vaselined/greased the boards, I was still delighted to see a tiny varroa count. Yippeeeee! The count in Amidala this time last year was in the thousands! My Apiguard treatment last August and my oxalic acid treatment last December must have worked wonders! I've also been removing sealed drone brood every now and then, so I guess that helped too. Speaking of which, Amidala has a deep brood box, but from a recent transfer I still have 2 standard depth brood frames in there. Both of these have very substantial wild drone comb beneath them with brood, some of which has just been sealed. Much more will be sealed before the next inspection, at which time I will again remove and destroy this comb. Ha! I'm much happier with the varroa population this year than last. Also worth saying that I shifted the frames around slightly to rotate these shallower frames nearer to the hive edge so I can remove them in a month or so and at last get my colonies more stable before winter.

Lastly, that improvised contact feeder (pictured in post below) seemed to work well on the nuc. Having said that, given that colony's vigour I'm wondering whether I should have fed them at all, even with that small amount!

Check that hives record!

I'm off to do an inspection in a few minutes (it's been 11 days since last one because I've been working out of town), and I actually remembered to check my hives record before going. It's good to have the nice, simple record, and also good to check it before I set out to set my expectations and to remember to take stuff.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

More ants! And an improvised feeder.

I went back on site for a quick visit today to put an improvised contact feeder into Dido (the nuc) since my gallon-sized contact feeders are too wide. It's an old peanut butter jar with a plastic lid, though which I used a needle to melt some small holes. I hope it does the trick. I will report back. Oh, one other thing worth mentioning was related to my slight uncertainty whether there was a (laying) queen in Dido yet. Today, although I did not open up the hive to look, I saw workers bringing pollen in, so the signs are good.

Am I worried about robbing, having put a feeder on a weak colony right next to two stronger ones? I'm less concerned than I otherwise might be since the nuc entrance is just a single hole, and so should be easily defended.

I took the opportunity to open up Boudicca to check on the ant situation. After only having cleared them out a few days ago their small nest above the crownboard was back, though the ants were perhaps not in quite the numbers of before. I banged them out and rubbed down every area where I could see evidence of them having been. I wonder if this will be much of a problem for the bees and their stores? Reading around, I see this is not such a common problem, and that I might prevent ants from entering the hive by siting each of the stand legs in a tray with an oil pool in. I'll monitor the situation and act accordingly.

It set me thinking about ants. A quick glance at Wikipedia show that they (often) have a single queen too. If I see them in the hive again perhaps I'll be a bit more thoughtful and search for and squish the queen rather than just banging out the ants.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ant nest above the crownboard! And setting my car on fire.

Hives record updated.

Great news! The queen in Amidala has hatched and she is in action: eggs and larvae. I marked her (white spot so I can see more easily) and as I removed the cage she clung onto it and then wandered around my hand. Get off! You'll only hurt yourself there! I gingerly got her back onto a frame and closed up quickly, happy that this colony is back in action. After stashing away a whole super worth of honey before the end of April, this colony has probably gone a little backwards since then in terms of stores. Well, I did split it and it was queenless for a while. I'm happy now, though. Also, I put in a varroa board - it's the first time this year and is really overdue.

I opened the little nuc too, and saw a queen (I think!). She was a little small, and I lost sight of her as I reached up to grab my queen marking cage. Argh! There were no eggs, and from her size and the timing of the queen cell I figured that she was probably a virgin so I decided to close up quickly. Very exciting. When this colony is up and running I can use it as an observation hive with the vertical glass roof attachment and carry system it has. The colony is hungry, though. The stores are very low and I should probably feed it. My contact feeders are too wide to fit above the crownboard - I'll need to look up how to make one myself from a jam jar (pierced lid? muslin?).

Boudicca was as grumpy as every. The first thing I saw was an ant's nest above the crownboard: loads of ant running over it and inside the roof and lots of ant eggs! I let them know what I though of their plans to share this hive with the bees. I'll need to be vigilant that they don't return. I wonder if this is unusual. I'm pretty sure these bees are queenless. 2 queen cells are still in place and I'm guessing these will hatch very soon. I certainly hope so.

I was in a real rush to get away since I was playing in a tennis match (doubles with my wife - we got murdered). In my rush I put my smoldering smoker (corked up) in the footwell of the passenger's side of the car, sitting on a stone slab. All went well till I got close to home and breaked too hard as the car in front did what only London drivers can make cars do: hot ash poured onto the footwell carpet mat. I got home a minute later and ripped the mat out to find 4 nice scorch marks. I had recently bought the car from my mother-in-law. It's a lovely old Merc: 20 years of loving care from her (and others) and then I decide to start trashing it. I'll need to come up with a better way of transporting that smoker, since I often have issues with it still being hot when I leave the apiary.

No pictures on my blog for a while, eh? I'll work to correct this.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Cleo up and running

Hives record updated.

Cleo's looking good. The bees were super-calm, as expected and as the blood line had been in Amidala before. Worker population was relatively low (though nothing worrying) though the huge number of sealed worker brood cells gives bright hope for the future. I saw the queen I had marked last time. The bright white mark certainly helps to make the inspections simpler - I like knowing where she is so I can get on with worrying about other things, such as brood pattern. I put the varroa floor in today, and am keen to see the results next time.

I didn't go "commando" but did use the blue nitrile gloves for the first time today which is my first time without those wretched thick leather ones I used to wear. I did feel somewhat naked, but the touch I had was so much better. I'll definitely persevere. I can expect some stings now, but this should be infrequent I hope and I'll crush less bees. The gloves I own (about 40 pairs - disposable) don't reach very far up my arm which is far from ideal as they pull down to reveal my wrists. I'll get used to it and buy some longer ones next time.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Course for the BBKA Basic Certificate

Ealing Beekeepers Association, of which I am a member, started a 4 session course last night to prepare people for the first step on the ladder of BBKA exams: the Basic Assessment. I'm very keen to take the assessment. A requirement is to have kept bees for at least a year, so I'm just OK on that one. Andy and John (the usual suspects) took the course, and I'm so very grateful that they continue to give up their time on a voluntary basis to do this type of thing. They do a great job and must spend so much of their time on helping others in beekeeping. I suppose there are hundreds (thousands?) of selfless people who do the same across the UK (and across the world). Thank you! Anyhow, the course information seems to be a recap of things I mostly know, though it's good to have it all again and from a trusted source. I was also interested to know that part of the assessment will be to pick up 30 bees and put them into a matchbox. I'll need to practice this one (I have never done it before) and am wondering whether the bees in the box will be so good as to stay put as I put subsequent ones in . . .

Bee article in The Times

Some interesting and diverse bee facts on this link.

The first one I find of particular interest "Honey bees on the rise. When people talk about the decline of the bee they are not talking about the honey bee population. The honey bee population has actually doubled in the past 45 years. It is wild bees that we need to worry about."
It does not mean that honey bees don't face increasing challenges, but it is food for thought.

Friday, 4 June 2010

More missing queens and another split

Hives record updated.

Well, the tough second season of beekeeping continues. Amidala's queen cell which I introduced at the last inspection has still not hatched yet. I'm hoping / expecting it will in the next couple of days. What was the chewed look at the end of the queen cell? And why when I looked through the tiny hole could I see something dark in there but no movement? Is there another queen loose in the hive from another queen cell which I had thought was always empty? I resolved to wait till the next inspection. Amidala is certainly not putting away any more honey stores - it's been a real missed opportunity, especially with the weather having turned and now being beautifully sunny.

Boudicca's nasty inhabitants seem determined to keep me confounded, too. The queen eluded me (has she swarmed?) and I ripped down many queen cells, some of which were capped (how is this possible as I inspected only 8 days ago!?) I left 2 queen cells in there - if the old queen is gone then good riddance, and perhaps her offspring may yield more pleasant bees (though better to requeen from another source when I have one available). I also split away 3 brood frames (one with another sealed queen cell) and put them into a nuc (now called Hive Dido). The nuc I used is the observation nuc I recently bought. It's a standard nuc, but has an attachment I can use instead of the roof which allows the mounting of a frame within glass.

Despite my recent successes with Cleopatra, the colony I split from Amidala, I now have reservations about all 3 colonies I have at my London site (Amidala, Boudicca and Dido), and even if they get through the season well, I've definitely not managed them in a honey-maximising fashion! I'm still learning though. On thing which is becoming abundantly clear is that I have a strong reticence to artificial swarm properly on my London site. After all the fuss last year with my being allowed to use the site and then being threatened with eviction, I'm reticent to created more boxes, even temporarily. A new sight would certainly be better, though I suppose compromising on the site is a feature of most urban beekeeping.

Friday, 28 May 2010

New queen in Cleo

Hives record updated.

I inspected Hive Cleopatra and found eggs, young larvae and a NEW QUEEN! I am very excited about this. I trapped her and gave her a nice white dot (I know it's wrong colour but I just want the brightest I can to help me spot her.) I installed the queen excluder and put the undrawn super on top. This is wonderful news - the first time I've had a new laying queen bred in one of my own hives.

I also nipped a peek at Hive Boudicca at my other site (London) and put in 2 brood frames of foundation to replace the 2 I stole the other day to put in Hive Amidala. I didn't stop to look around.

Lastly, I also popped into Thornes Windsor today to buy some new kit (frames, foundation and the like). I saw that they have a whole  bunch of full nucs ready to go (I think they're all pre-sold). Each had 6 frames in and were stacked with bees. The price? £200 each! I've never bought bees, and am hoping I never have to. Apparently the ones in Thornes are flying off the shelves, so to speak.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Fiddly stuff

Hives record updated.

Certainly beekeeping was easier in the first year, when a caught swarm and a newly created colony seemed happy to draw comb and make babies and honey.

I approached Hive Amidala knowing something was not right: very few bees were coming and going. I opened up to a louder than normal buzz - these girls are usually pussies - and saw there seemed to be plenty of bees. Stores in the supers were no greater than at the time of the last inspection despite the very hot weather. In the brood box, the 4 queen cells were still capped. Curious. I ripped open 2 to find they were empty! Empty!? It did not look to me as if they had been used and the hinge cap resealed. Were these sealed play cells? It looked to me that this colony was seriously queenless, with no natural hope of salvation.

I opened Hive Boudicca and was greeted with a very different story. The bees had nearly filled the super which had only been one third full a week or so ago. In the brood box I saw the queen (looking a little skinnier than I expected), lots of brood and eggs, and 5 queen cells: one sealed (huge one), one unsealed with a larvae and 3 with lots of royal jelly (and I guess either small larvae or eggs). Inspiration struck (or at least I hope that's what it was) and I worked quickly. I destroyed the 4 uncapped queen cells and took out the frame with the capped queen cell. I also took out a frame with brood and eggs. I then opened Hive Amidala and made space for 2 frames in the brood box, then brushed the bees off the 2 frames from Boudicca (buzz buzz buzz not happy) and put them in Amidala. I also took a redundant, undrawn super off of Amidala and put in on Boudicca for the extra space they needed and quickly closed both hives up. This swap of frames was not ideal since Boudicca has standard depth brood frames, and Amidala has deep brood frames, but whatever. I'm also worried the brood chamber in Boudicca may now be a little small with 2 frames missing.

So, I think I now have Amidala with no queen, a healthy looking queen cell and some young eggs for good measure in case the bees decide to bring some of them on. And I have Boudicca with the old queen and no queen cells. So, happy days? Well, like I say it's certainly not as easy as first season beekeeping, but I am enjoying the challenge, and am hoping that I can manage the bees sufficiently through this season to do them proud. I won't be shokced to see disaster next time I open the hives, but I have my fingers crossed.

I'll need to get out to Hive Cleopatra in the next few days. It's a 30 minute drive away, and I'm going to the Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow - I'll have to be disciplined and schedule a proper trip in.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

At a loss

My confusion with what's going on in Hive Cleopatra deepens.

My mother-in-law rang to say that she'd seen a swarm in her garden yesterday, presumably from the hive. I hurried out there and opened the hive. No sign of eggs (no surprises since it is a little early for a newly mated queen to be laying) and I could not find a queen. The bees seemed somewhat numerous (it's the first time I've opened this hive since I created it from a split of Hive Amidala, so it's tricky to judge anything from the quantity of bees) and they were very gentle. I searched for the empty queen cells, and only found one. One!? So who was that queen I saw on the roof at the weekend (the one I'm questioning why I put back on the hive entrance)? And why would the queen swarm yesterday? Surely not to leave no queens in the hive. I can only assume that the colony does have a queen (and therefore there is another vacated queen cell I just cannot find) and that the queen is either in the hive or was on a mating flight. It remains to be seen what's happened, but I think things may become clearer in time.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Hives record updated.

8 days since my last inspection, when I split Amidala and created Cleopatra, I went back to look at my first 2 hives. Amidala now seems queenless: no eggs and 4 sealed queen cells. Sealed! They must have started these the second I closed the hive last time. What happened to the wonderful old queen I cannot say. I did see eggs there last time (though not many) despite not having seen the queen for a while. 3 of the queen cells are on the bottom of the drawn bit of comb towards the bottom of a deep frame. These cells looked good (in the way that queen cells can). The other was on a different frame near the top of a face - more of an "emergency queen cell" type affair. I'm at a loss to know what might have happened. This colony has accumulated no more honey since last time, but then I did steal a large number of their population last time to make a new hive. And when did the queen go? Swarmed? Killed? I'm struggling to see the learning point for my beekeeping here, except that I need to build up more experience, speak with more beekeepers, and keep vigilant with regular inspections. I left all 4 queen cells. Should I have bumped a few off? I don't know, but I felt better to let nature takes its course in this case. I'm looking forward to a new queen coming on stream, which might be 20 days from now (6th June) give or take a few days. I'm not sure when I should inspect next - I don't want to be dabbling whilst a mated queen is returning.

Hive Boudicca seemed quite perky, bad tempered blighters though they are. I saw no queen cells in there (I saw eggs but did not spot the queen). There were lots of sealed drone brood cells at the bottom of the frames and I ripped a lot of these off and discarded them to keep the varroa down. Having said that, I did not see many mites in there. They've definitely got more focused on stashing honey away - the super is now 2 thirds full.

That's it for now. It all seemed so much easier last year when I caught a few swarms and knocked up a few flat-packed hives. Real beekeeping seems a little more fraught with uncertainty and the vagaries of nature.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Cleo - new site and teething problems

I popped up to see my mother-in-law today and nipped around for a quick look at the hive with no plan to open it since I was hoping the queen was hatching/mating/starting to lay and I wanted to stay away.
Here are some pictures of what I still think is one of the prettiest gardens I've ever seen.
Beautiful, eh?
The hive is on a flat roof, hidden by the house, and easily accessible from a high area of garden to the rear. South facing and totally sheltered. Perfect.
Not so perfect was what I found when I got there. A small band of bees (~50) were on the house roof above the hive. Puzzled, I peered up and saw a queen. I had only set this hive up very recently with no queen and a few queen cells. This was one from there. I noticed she had a slightly damaged wing on one side, but she looked big and beautiful apart from this. I picked here up, put her on the landing board, and she crawled into the hive.

What have I done? Why did I do it? I am at a loss to know what was going on. The group of bees around here had been fanning. Sign of a cast swarm? Had she tried to make a mating flight and been hampered by a damaged wing? Why was it damaged - misformed in the cell? Had she been on a mating flight and tried to return and just not quite made it? I decided not to open the hive to see whether there was another queen in there. Perhaps I should have just left here where she was. Or perhaps popped her in a box and kicked off an new colony with her. I think more may become clear when I open the hive in a short while.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

More bee maths

One of the obvious learning points from the fuss I recently generated after spotting queen cells is that I was just not up to speed enough with the details of some basic bee brood dynamics. There's a decent bee maths page which I've previously posted. A similar, though not quite identical, set of numbers can be found in Hooper's book (page 31 if you have the 4th edition). Alternatively, a decent aide-memoir suggested by some experienced beek friends of mine is "3-5-8-5-3" which when mapped as a cumulative series becomes 3-8-16-21-24 which indicates the number of days after laying on which certain things happen: 3=eggs hatch, 8=brood cells sealed, 16=queens hatch, 21=workers match, 24=drones hatch. Simple to remember, and although not strictly as the books would say the maths works (workers and drone actually cap slightly later on average) it's good enough for me at the moment to help me remember when things happen and hence make me a better reader of my hives.

What does this mean for my hives right now? Well, I recently set up Hive Cleopatra with no queen and a few queen cells. I'm not sure when the eggs in those queen cells were laid, nor when the cells were capped, but I estimate the latter happened on maybe the 4th May. This would indicate hatching on 12th May with the hopefully mated queen laying around the 24th May (give or take a few days). Well, that's given me some form of expectations, vague though they are. Knowing this will make my future hive inspections much more informative.

Using an apidea

After my recently comically bad (or was it tragically bad?) attempt at using an apidea, I have seen the error of my ways and read up a little on them. For example, this is a decent link on how to use them. The next time I have queen cells to spare I'm going to try one out, but I'll need to prepare the box first.

Blog width

I just fiddled with the HTML of this blog template to make the blog a little wider and, in my view, easier to read.
I think I managed it without spoiling anything, but if anyone has problems seeing anything on the page please do comment.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


I appreciate it's all a bit involved for readers about Hive Amidala and how I was worried the colony had swarmed.....anyhow during the recent hive splitting exercise I removed some wild (drone) comb from the bottom of the frame where the queen cells were, and I popped this in my bag. I only checked it this morning (to show the kids some comb) and was DELIGHTED to spot eggs at the bottom of every cell. This gives me good confidence the queen is still in residence. I'm also pretty sure I removed all the queen cells to form that new colony (Cleopatra) so all is hunky-dory. Will the Amidala bees still think of swarming and make more queen cells, or will the removal of all those bees mean there's enough queen pheromone to go round the rest and they will want to stay? I don't know, but I now feel more in control and am looking forward to my next inspections. I will certainly have my nice bright white marking pen at the ready in case I do spot the queen this time.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Hives record

Until now this blog has doubled as my Hives Record. This has been disfunctional for two reasons:

  • It means I write too much and bore my readers
  • The hive record format is not consistent between inspections and so is not comparable or interrogatable through time
Following a talk on hive records at the excellent Ealing Beekeepers Association yesterday, I intend to try to remedy this by removing the blow-by-blow inspection reports from the blog, and instead using Google docs (spreadsheet) to record my records of my hives. Here's a link to the Hives Record which I will keep up to date after each inspection. The format follows the BBKA guidance, though I have tweaked it slightly. The challenge, of course, is to make it succinct enough to be painless, verbose enough to be useful, and readable enough to be transparent. Comments are welcome. (I'll be updating it for a few more days yet.)

I'm thinking that what I need to accompany this is a laminated sheet with the same data fields and a wipeable marker so I can make summary notes whilst I am at the hives for subsequent entry into the spreadsheet. I have heard that some people take audio recordings of hive records whilst they inspect, though I have it on good authority from the person who wrote an article about this in Beecraft that he does not do this himself!

And the naked link:

And text for me to copy (including link - will this work?) in every blog post regarding an inspection:
Hives Record updated.

Hive split and fingers crossed

Having consulted with the nice people at Ealing Beekeepers Association yesterday (cheers Andy!), I decided to go through with splitting the hive and creating another colony as I had originally planned. The view, given the recent weather, the spotting of eggs on Thursday and so on, was that the old queen was likely still in the hive and the removal of the remaining queen cell (actually I think there may be more than one left on that frame) and a bunch of bees might do the trick. If the old queen was NOT there then the workers will be able to create an emergency queen cell, and in any event I have time to requeen if they do not or if a resultant queen is not a good one. As I looked through the hive I DID spot some more eggs, indicating that the old queen probably is/was in the hive. Interestingly, though, these eggs were not in a neatly laid pattern but instead laid sporadically across the cells of the frame on which I spotted them. Hhhmmmm.....

The operation was fairly simple. Since I had an old national brood box (half full of honey) on the hive above the queen excluder I just moved the frame with the queen cells and brood into this box and put in an additional frame of brood in from my other hive. I made this up as a stack (bottom to top): crown board, super, brood box, crown board. I then wrapped it with a cross of strong straps. The crown boards kept the stack sandwiched without a heavy roof to contend with, and both have their feeder holes covered with plastic mesh which I pin down (I do this to all my crown boards). I used the super in the stack since the queen cell was protruding below its frame in the brood box and I wanted to make sure it did not get bashed. I threw the lot in the back of my car, sprayed it with water to keep it cool and drove to my mother-in-law's stunning garden just outside London in Gerrards Cross (about 15 miles from the original site). The site is perfect: hidden on a low flat roof with easy exterior access, discrete, south facing, sheltered from behind with a huge hedge and in a very garden-rich area. Together with a stand, varroa mesh floor, roof and entrance reducer it looks beautiful in place. Pictures coming soon. I've named the new hive Cleopatra. The colony has a decent store of honey, two frames of brood, at least one queen cell (hard to see on that wild comb below the frame in question and there may be three), and really quite a lot of bees too. Moving the bees seemed to have been quite simple. I hope they weren't too traumatised by the experience.

The little apidea mating hive I have in my own garden seems a failure. I opened it this afternoon to find only a few (50?) bees remaining, all rather stuporous with none of the natural comb I had hoped to see being built from the frame tops, despite my having melted starter wax strips in there beforehand. The queen cell I had wired in had been abandoned, and so wasted. Shame. Why the failure? Not enough bees? Inclement weather for the past few days? I don't know. It does seem to me to be quite a big ask to dump a small number of bees in the box and hope the will just get on with even a little comb building whilst in those new surroundings. This tiny group of bees seems to lack any critical mass. I think what I'll do is put the apidea, with the bottom entrance open, above the feeder hole of a crown board in a happy hive and get those bees to build the comb in situ, so that when I put the box into action it's all ready to go. Then I'll try again if and when I feel more confident and I have more queen cells to spare.

Friday, 7 May 2010


Oh, such a muppet. It's all been a good learning experience, fair enough, but having read further (I have read all this stuff before but apparently I have a leaky head) it seems that swarms leave the hive "around the time the queen cell is capped." So the chance is that my queen left shortly before I inspected yesterday. Probably. Since there were still eggs there. Gee, there were still a load of bees left in the hive, though. Anyhow, this dawning realisation makes my actions today (see prior post) even more idiotic. I'm upset with myself, and upset for my bees. It's quite possible that last queen cell will make it through and no harm will be done (save having lost my original queen a fair few bees), but I should have spotted those queen cells in my inspection last week (they will have been there then, I think, (or perhaps I have been a tiny bit unlucky with the timing and they were just being built up). It's all good learning, and I shall try to use these experiences to make me a better beekeeper.

Bad beekeeping

I am so upset. I'm sitting here in a really black mood. It was stupid of me really.

I cooked up a plan on what to do with my queen cells. Re-checking of "Guide to Bees and Honey (Hooper), "Bees at the Bottom of the Garden" (Campion), BBKA's "advice to beekeepers, and a number of web resources I decided on a slight twist on the typical - see the bottom of that Dave Cushman link where it says "my particular favourite method". I even lined up my mother-in-law (who lives 15 miles away) to agree to take a hive in here garden. All ready, I headed on site with new floor, a couple of supers, roof, etc - I won't bore you with the details. Anyway, the procedure, much like any artificial swarm, relies on finding the queen. For 40 minutes I checked and checked. I deeply regretted not re-marking her during an earlier inspection earlier in the year when she was easier to find - I could find her nowhere. Had she already swarmed? I could still see tiny larvae in the hive (bah - I should have searched more carefully for eggs, which I know I had seen yesterday). The 3 queen cells were still in place. I then made the sensible decision to abort and shut up the hive and de-kitted.

Then it struck me - the idea of an idiot. I had the little polystyrene mating hive with me - why not go back in and take one of the queen cells out, a few bees and get cracking trying to set up a new colony that way? After all, that's why I had bought it. So, knife in hand I began: opening up the hive and cutting. I ruined the first queen cell. I still could have stopped at this point, but went for the next. This was cleaner, and I got it into the little mating hive with some bees I quickly brushed off the comb (ha - would it not be ironic if I had got the old queen in this process - this does not bear thinking about) and I shut it up. I got the hive home and it's now sitting in my garden, having had the little feeder filled up with thick sugar solution. The bees are out (and in I hope) and perhaps it will work, perhaps it would not.

So, why so stupid? Well, what if the old queen HAS swarmed? This was not obvious from the number of bees in the hive, but it's a big, vigorous colony so it's possible. I've just removed 2 out of 3 queen cells, arguably leaving the smallest, and if there's no incumbent queen this is just not an acceptable risk for my favourite colony. Again, this process was really only sensible if either I had knowledge the old queen was still in residence or if I had removed the first queen cell cleanly.

Of course if the old queen has NOT swarmed, then I'm not well set up either, since there's still a queen cell in the hive. It's just not ideal - and all because I could not find the queen - and all because I had not adequately marked her or rather not remarked her since her spot had worn off.

I'm dreading my next inspection in a week's time. Fingers crossed that by then I'll find something to smile about.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Queen cells !

Queen cells - 3 of 'em - in Hive Amidala. Today's inspection went well apart from that. I spotted eggs in that hive, though the queen eluded me. I'm guessing she's still in there......

What to do?

It's all somewhat complicated by where the queen cells are. I've recently moved onto a deep brood box in which there are lots of deep frames and one normal depth frame which I had moved into that box when I introduced it a few weeks ago. THAT'S where the queen cells are: beneath the shallower frame. This greatly confuses the typical "artificial swarm" techniques I read in the books. These are the first queen cells I've had to deal with, and I am looking for answers. A made-up variation on the books' version of the artificial swarm springs to mind - I will think this through further. I'm also tempted to employ one of my 3 new apidea mating hives. I'll get my thinking cap on and report back. Tomorrow's weather forecast is good. I'll need to spring into action then.

As a footnote - I had planned to put another super on Hive Amidala, but the old standard depth brood (acting as a large super above the queen excluder) is still only one third / one half full of honey. These bees are not swarming due to lack of space. And they're still cracking on with drawing comb in the the new deep brood box area, so that's not why either. I guess they just want to swarm. Anyway, thinking cap on....

Bee pictures from Spain

My recent volcano-extended trip to Spain gave me the opportunity to take some pictures I thought I'd share.
I don't have a proper macro lens on my camera (they're expensive) and this is about the limit of what I can do for close-up photos.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

We have lift off

I headed to the apiary today. 22celcius. Sunny intervals. The site looking lovely in its spring finery.

I'm trying to go for more of a defined format for today's inspection report so I can compare these reports better through time to show me how things are going.

Amidala Hive

Config: stand, mesh floor, deep brood box, queen excluder, brood box, super, glass crown board (see picture), roof.

Inspection: 2 frames of brood in the new deep brood box, eggs even laid on barely drawn comb, queen seen with her green dot nearly warn off. Old brood box (above queen excluder) one third full of honey, couple of drone brood cells. Super packed with honey - only 1-2 frames not full. No queen cells seen.

Comments: This queen's prolific laying continues. I just wish her entourage would drawn the comb fast enough for her to lay in, rather than forage and stuff the super with honey though this is nice to see. The old brood box which lies above the queen excluder is now empty of brood save a few small groups of nearly ready drone brood. Honey in this box was all around the edges of frames where it had been when the brood was present, the central cells being empty. In the new deep box things are looking good, except to see the eggs laid in barely ready cells. Steady on queenie! A single standard depth frame is still in the box which will make things messy over time so I'm moving it to this frame to the edge of the box: at each inspection I intend to move a frame from the front of the box to the back and shift the others up. I will do this rather than doing a brood-splitting type exercise since it seems gentler and I've shunted this colony around quite enough this year, thank you. Do I put a new super on? Yes I will do this at the next inspection. Why not do it now? Although the current upper super is full, I reason that the bees have lots of space to store honey in the old brood box and also lots of work to do drawing comb in the new brood box.

To do: respot queen - white this time so I can actually see it with my dodgy colour vision! Put on a new super during the next inspection.

Boudicca Hive

Config: stand, mesh floor, brood box, queen excluder, super, crown board, roof.

Inspection: Good amount of brood, honey and pollen in the brood box, though not much on outer few frames. Eggs, larva and queen all seen. A few patches of honey in the centre frames in the super, tended by a smallish group of bees. No queen cells seen.

Comments: Continues to be much weaker than Amidala Hive, but stronger than I had expected, and good to see the super starting to be put into use. I had considered introducing a few frames of brood from Amidala into Boudicca, but have decided against this for the time being to see how the latter does on its own. As ever, the bees in Boudicca were far more aggressive than their goodie-two-shoes neighbours, but I can't honestly say that even these bees presented much of a problem. Certainly a few were buzzing around me in an "oi what's going on here" fashion, but there were few flying into me and none followed me after the inspection.

To do: nothing.

Oh, and below is a random picture of my kids which I took on my recent volcano-extended trip to Spain. They're looking so happy since their cousin had just crept up behind me and was making faces.

Oh, and lastly some other news is that this morning I did my honey bee presentation to the 200 pupils at the school where my kids go. The children were ages 4-12. The talk went really well. I entered from the back of the audience with lit smoker amply applied as I moved through the crowd, all to Rimshy Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" blaring from the stereo (OK, OK, so it's not the right insect, but it's a fine piece of music and I don't know any honey bee tunes). I gave the same talk as I had previously at another school in January. This involved several videos, a presentation with lots of pictures, a hive (without bees) and a dead varroa ("monster mite") stuck to the middle of a sheet of paper and held up by one of the children. I was also asked loads of questions, and even managed to answer most of them! I'm looking forward to doing more talks to other schools, though have none currently lined up.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Marooned by an Icelandic volcano

I just got back to the UK from Spain 7 days late since European flights were severely disrupted by ash clouds from an Icelandic volcano. Just bizarre. Anyway, it's put back the hive inspections I was hoping for. I'll be hurrying on site at the first sign of decent weather to see how they are doing.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Deep national brood box installed

I took advantage of the unusually warm 16celcius out today and headed to the apiary to swap the deep national brood box onto Hive Amidala. I was nervous about how it would work out. Here was the plan: to add the deep brood box to the bottom of the hive with the old brood box above the queen excluder (and a super above that - rather big for this stage in the season, but I already had the super on). To execute the plan I could have tried to shake all the bees into the deep brood box, but I decided this was too disruptive, so instead here's what I did. I set a crown board on the ground next to the hive and put the empty deep brood box on top, removing one of the freshly made up frames. Then I opened the hive (it was looking great in there - the super was half full of working bees which I immediately spied though my new swanky glass crown board) until the old brood box was exposed. I then inspected the frames (middle ones only) looking for the queen. I saw lots of honey, lots of pollen, and eggs and larvae in all stages of development. It looks as if this colony is as vigorous this year as last. However, I failed to spot the queen on the first pass. On the 4th frame of the second pass I spotted her and quickly put that frame into the deep super and covered it with a queen excluder. Got her! Of course the bees will make a mess below this shorter-than-box frame, but I can deal with that in subsequent weeks and migrate this frame to the sides and out. I then quickly lifted the old brood box off the stand, whacked the deep brood box (queen and all) onto the stand and quickly followed with queen excluder, old brood box, super, glass crown board and roof. Done. And there's the photo to prove it. I'm pretty happy with how that all went and with the general health of the colony. I'm looking forward to inspecting progress in a week or so, by which time I hope the bees will have drawn a decent amount of comb in the new brood box, and perhaps the queen will have started laying. Fingers crossed. Will this also reduce any swarming instinct? I do not know.

I also took some time to open Hive Boudicca. This colony is at the other end of the vigour scale from its neighbour. The super was empty, and the brood box (standard depth) had a fair few bees but only on the middle 5/6 frames. I saw the queen, larvae both capped and uncapped and a fair supply of honey and pollen. Am I concerned? I just don't know. Hive Boudicca is way behind Hive Amidala, but it's still early in the season. Worth keeping an eye on, and I should probably do a varroa count in the near future. I almost would not mind so much if Hive Boudicca's inhabitants were half as nice as their neighbours, but they are grumpy too. A more experienced beek would probably replace the queen at this stage. I'm going to keep this thought in mind......

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Beekeeping Forums

Well, I've only just stumbled on and am shocked by how active it is. Great! It seems even more so than the BBKA one

Quite why there should be two for British beekeepers? It seems silly, but someone at my association (Ealing) told me the former was set up as an "anti-BBKA" reaction following the high-profile BBKA-sponsoring-pesticide-companies issues which still rumbles on. (For ref, I think the BBKA have got it right on a tricky issue here since it's best to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.)

Anyhow, both forums are impressively busy and a good source of current beekeeping opinion, though of course most of it is just that: opinion. I'd recommend to all British beekeepers to take a look at both forums, and I'm interested whether you rate them.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

New kit

The new kit I had ordered arrived today, so I spent my time adding an eke to a brood box to make a deep National brood box, making up a super and making some deep frames. Why do they only sell these frame parts in lots of 10! It's so annoying. I run with 11 frames in the brood box so had ordered 2x10 and now have lots of spare parts. I know the foundation will not be at its freshest by next year went I may change some frames. Anyhow, I'm anxious to get the new kit into action but the weather has been cold and wet, and this looks set to continue. Fingers crossed I can employ the deep brood box as a substitute on Amidala Hive in the next week.

The observation hive / nuc I ordered looks great. Not sure when I'm going to use it, though.

Anyway, observation hive / nuc aside I've now got a fair amount of empty kit sitting in the corner of my little garden as the picture shows. Inside are 3 apidea mating nucs, my smoker and a fair few freshly made up frames of varying heights. There's a solid and a mesh floor in that stack too somewhere. You can see the eke-extended brood (deep) box in the middle.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen

14 celcius today and sunny (if breezy) so I filled 2 contact feeders with sugar syrup, grabbed my kit and headed to the little central London nature reserve where I have my 2 hives. This was to be the spring feeding day, and the first inspection (partial) of the year.

Before going on, I should state my intentions for the year. I'm on British National hives, and plan to do away with the brood-and-a-half I tried last year. Hive Amidala I will move to a deep National and Hive Boudica just does not need that much space so I plan to move her down to a single brood box. Brood-and-a-half is just too fiddly and inspections take too long for my non-interventionist-but-thorough tendencies. I over-wintered both hives with brood-and-a-half with the supers below the brood boxes (is this odd? I think I did this so as not to waste the honey which the bees had stored in the brood-supers).

Lovely day: bees out flying from both hives. I started by whipping off the mouse guards. Next I opened Amidala, quickly swapping the boxes so the larger brood box went below. The bees looked very well. I saw capped and uncapped brood, so did not root around looking for eggs. I was happy to see ample remaining honey and pollen stores, so made the radical decision not to feed the colony after all, even though I had the feed ready and with me. I even said hello to the queen I had green-spotted myself last year. Satisfied with only having looked through half the brood frames, I closed up. I then put the super back on top but this time with a queen excluder below it. This is in preparation for swapping the brood box out for another, deeper one with deep national frames. Oh, and I also swapped out the crown board for a new glass crown board I bought: it's not glass all the way across but has a central wooden bar with a hole to fit a porter bee escape and it will let me open up the hive a little more often to peek at how much room the colony has left in the upper super.

I then moved onto Boudica, and was again pleasantly surprised to see how healthy the bees looked and how they still had something in the way of stores. Again, I saw not only capped and uncapped brood but also the white-spotted queen (I've never seen both queens on the same day before!) and closed up after only inspecting half the frames. Again, I put a queen excluder on top of the single brood box and the super on top of that. I decided not to feed this hive either: partly because the stores were OK, partly because I did not want to feed one hive and not the other (I read it can lead to inter-hive robbing), and partly because I'd rather treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen and keep them working hard - and therefore, hopefully, less likely to swarm in early season.

In a couple of weeks I intend to swap Amidala's single brood box for a deep national brood box. I have a spare single brood box and I intend to buy an extension eke and bolt the two together, and shove some new, deep frames and foundation inside. This will also work as a complete frame exchange (shook swarm) which is healthy for the bees, not to mention (I think and hope) potentially reducing the swarming urge (I think I read this somewhere, though if a queen is old and weak then swarming is likely anyway as the workers give up on the old one). But what will I do with the old frames which will have brood in them? Burn them as in a proper shook swarm? My idea is to give them to Boudica which seems to be a weaker colony in the hope that it will bolster that hive this year. This means shaking off Amidala's bees (and queen) into the new deep brood box (with new foundation) and putting the old brood box with frames and stores on top of the queen excluder of Boudica. This is quite radical and I've not read of this being done, but seems to be in the flavour of the types of things I've read about. A potential downside is that I'll have a lot of old frames in Boudica with no plans of replacing them, but I can then plan to remedy this next spring.

In the case of each hive, the super which had been the lower box during the winter had been totally cleaned of honey and no brood was in these boxes. This is exactly what I had hoped the bees would do during the winter - taking the honey up into the brood boxes.

So I've already got a super on both hives! And I brought the feeding syrup back home and will probably pour it down the sink. What a waste. Anyway, the current, single brood boxes are not full but the populations of both hives are quite strong (particularly Amidala). I saw bees returning with pollen (some yellowy-orange and some greyish-green). All in all it was a very encouraging inspection, and it's so good to have the season swinging again.

I'd better crack on with ordering that extension eke, and some other bits and pieces I've set my heart on. I think I'm going to splash out on that observation nuc which although very expensive will hopefully satisfy my desire to show bees and spread the good word. I may also buy some more apidea queen rearing hives - I've got one and I intend to try out a few queen cells in it this year. For a while I was thinking of trying out proper queen rearing with wax cups and breeding/rearing hives and all that malarkey but I just don't have the experience or the space - I'd rather learn to walk a little more before I try to run.

Anyway, FAR too much writing and no pictures today. I'll justify this by saying this wittering is as much for my benefit as for anyone elses! If you're reading this as a beek, good luck with your earlier spring experiences (if you're in my hemisphere, that is). Signing off now. More pictures next time when warmer weather may justify me having the roofs open for longer!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Season's up!

I was walking briskly along the road not two days ago (a dismal, cold day it was as have been so many recently) when a little honey bee flew past and nearly smacked me in the face, making me start. I smiled as she buzzed off, hopefully to her warm hive. "The season's coming," I thought.

Today, however the sun was out for the first time in as long as I can remember: a beautiful day with temperatures of 10+ celcius. At noon I headed up to my apiary to see how the hives are doing. I'd only been on site once since the start of December, and that just to take some photos of the snow-laden hives. And the results.....?

STUPENDOUS ! "Season's up!"

Both hives, especially Amidala, had a cloud of bees buzzing around. They've done it! They're through the winter and into March! I am, needless to say, delighted. However, I have read many times that March is a very common time for Northern Hemisphere colonies to starve, so I know to be careful still. I opening each hive up and quickly half-prized out one frame. The bees were not impressed and began bombing me immediately - perhaps I should remember my smoker next time even for small inspections? Anyway, from what I could see both hives had some degree of stores still in place, and the frames looked reasonably covered in bees. This is all terrific news. The question in my mind is quite when to give them a spring feed. Time to hit my bookshelves and spam a few local beeks for a check, though I am tempted to feed them this week anyway. Spring comes a little early in the London compared to much of the rest of the UK, and although I know it's important not to pump the colony with feed too early, I feel that in a couple of weeks there will be sufficient forage to sustain the growing mass.

Anyway, now I'm faced with the fact that the planning I meant to do during the winter never did get done sufficiently. Am I still going to run brood-and-a-half this year (it's not good, really), or perhaps I should cut back to single brood on Boudica and get a deep (14x12) on Amidala where the queen seems prolific (bit late now perhaps!), and what strategy am I planning for swarm management when I see those first capped queen cells? Hhmmmm, despite the fact that I find myself quite busy right now, I think it's time to get my bee-thinking cap back on to make this first full season one to remember.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Bee talk to kids - a HIT

Today I did a talk on bees to kids in a school in Knightsbridge. The audience was about 50 kids, all between the  ages of 8 and 10. I'd spent some decent time preparing, and turned up wearing a bee suit (for the theatrical effect), have a brood body with "training" frames in (covered with pictures of bees and comb), and a presentation in powerpoint with all manner of pictures, graphics and video. I'd post the presentation here, but am afraid it was over 3Mb, so have decided not to. Anyhow, the presentation went down a storm, and I got lots of audience participation at all the right points and the boys and the teachers all pitched in with attentive faces and decent questions. The kids particularly seemed to appreciate when, after showing them a picture of "monsterous blood-sucking varroa," I pulled one of them out of the crowd to get a real varroa out of my bag and show it to the group: there was quite a laugh when the boy turned round to reveal a tiny red dot sticky-taped in the middle of a sheet of paper. I feel pretty gratified to have pulled it off since I was not sure what to expect, and I'm now planing to approach a few more schools in London to see if they are interested in me doing similar presentations. In fact, I'm wondering whether to purchase an observation hive nuc which although expensive will give me some good mileage at these types of things. I've already been asked by the London Wildlife Trust to host a stall on bees for a weekend festival they are holding in April, so perhaps the capital outlay on the observation hive might turn out to be well justified. And, to be honest, I'd just love to have one!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Girls going good !

Well, just after leaving a message on someone else's blog about how it's a shame you can't really tell how the girls are doing in the hive during the winter, I discovered I could "look" inside the hive.

I went for a wander in the snow. It's a rare event in London and the thaw's started even before it's stopped snowing (it's been snowing lightly non-stop for past 6 hours here) and I wanted to get out and enjoy it. And I thought it was a great chance to go to my apiary and take some snaps of the hives.

I hope you enjoy the pictures (those of you in countries where it snows properly might laugh as London's poor attempt, but seriously this is not usual here). Here's Amidala hive with a small covering of the white stuff on the roof and landing board. More interesting is to examine the snow on the roof. Look! There's a clear "melting patch" in the middle. The ambient air temperature is probably 0 or -1 celcius, so the snow is prone to melting, and clearly the heat from the bee cluster in the centre of the hive is doing just that. Both Amidala and Boudica hives showed this melt pattern on top, so I left the site with a warm fuzzy feeling that the girls are alive and well.

The WBC hive you can see is not mine, but has been on the site for many years. It's just a stack of WBC "lifts" (no boxes inside) and in fact is full of tools. It looks pretty anyhow, especially in the snow.

I though I'd post some other snow pictures I took. The first is of a corylus contorta (twisted hazel) in my garden and the other just a bush full of berries in the street outside my house. All lovely looking in the snow.