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.