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.