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.