Monday, 25 April 2011

So many queen cells

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 April 2011

So early this year

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

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

Friday, 8 April 2011

Low bee losses

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

Monday, 4 April 2011

Waaaaay too long

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

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

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

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

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