I say Mad because it has been such a busy month that only now have I had time to sit down and write an update to my blog!
As soon as the warm weather started my phone started to ring with reports of honey bee swarms. I have a page about swarms on my website to allow people to contact me if they have a swarm of honey bees in their garden and offer to go out and collect them. This achieves two goals. One being that the majority of people are worried / scared by a swarm landing in their garden (understandable of non beekeepers) and it also allows me to increase my colony numbers.
Here are a few photos of the swarms that I have collected in May.
Starting with a swarm from my own hive, which sat on the side of the hive that it probably came from!
With the weather not being so warm at this point, which maybe why the swarm had not gone far, I placed a 6 frame polynuc on top of the hive and drove them up into it using a few puffs from my smoker.
Here you can see the progress as about 50% of the swarm had already entered the Polynuc which just goes to show how large the swarm was!
Next up was the first swarm that I got a call for. It looks like a nice lavender bush in a rockery!
Closer inspection reveals the swarm under the plant.
Next up was a call to a swarm from a very nice couple. They had a large swarm arrive in their garden which was threatening to disrupt the gentlemans 75th Birthday party the next day!
Another photo of the same swarm taken from a different angle and using flash really shows the extent/size of the swarm!
The couple were very grateful that I came out to collect the swarm and we had a very nice chat over a cup of tea whilst the bees were entering my swarm collection box.
Swarm collection is not a hard task. It really depends a lot on the position of the swarm, ie height above ground and what they are clustered in / on. The main thing is to have a good look at the situation and assess the options. In the majority of cases when a swarm, such as the above one, is hanging in a bush or from a tree branch, then my preferred method of collection is to shake / knock the bees from the branch / bush into a cardboard box. I usually find the right size is a 6 bottle wine box.
The most important part is that you try to get the majority of the bees into the box as gently and as quickly as possible. Generally if you managed to get the queen into the box then the rest of the bees will follow.
An indication that the queen maybe in the box and the bees are signalling the other to enter is when you can see bees near the entrance to the box ‘fanning’.
Fanning is the action where the bees stick their rear in the air, which exposes the Nasanov gland, and fan their wings vigorously to spread a scent / pheromone which attracts the other bees to their location. It is generally used by bees to help other bees find the entrance to the hive or sometimes used to mark flowers rich in nectar / pollen.
When I see enough bees doing this near the entrance to my swarm collection box then I find that the swarm will stay in the box.
Swarm collecting during warm weather means two visits to a swarm as even with the majority of the clustered bees in a box there will still be plenty that are flying about / foraging. Therefore I prefer to leave my swarm collection box in place near to or under the place the swarm had originally landed until the temperature cools down in the evening and I am pretty sure I have almost all of the bees. Although this often means returning to seal up the box and remove it after 21:00 or even 22:00 it allows me to remove 99% of the bees and ensure that I do not get another call from the same person the next day when a smaller cluster of bees left behind is found in the same place.
Lastly a swarm that was not easy at all to capture and in fact I am still amazed that I got it.
I had a call from some friends of my sisters to say that a swarm appeared to have taken up residence in a cavity wall in their neighbors house. They were using an air brick as the entrance. I said I would have a look but also pointed out that when a swarm enters such a cavity it is notoriously hard to convince them to leave. The only sure way of removing a swarm once it has set up home in a cavity wall is to take down part of the wall and physically remove the colony!
Hoping that the swarm had not been there long I arrived and after talking to the house owner to gain permission I attempted to smoke them out by puffing a lot of smoke into the air brick and therefore into the cavity, using my smoker. It was really just an attempt to see what happened. Sure enough nothing happened!
There were plenty of bees buzzing around the air brick but also the roof tiles and I could not be sure if they had more than one entrance to where ever they were trying to set up home.
As a final alternative and in almost desperation to try and help the house owner I set up a polynuc hive with some old brood come containing some honey stores on an outside store roof opposite to the air brick at the same height and about 6-8 feet away. As I had already been to some of my hives earlier I also had a few queen cells that I had removed from some hives and decided to add the wax remains of these into the polynuc as an attractant.
In the above photo you can see, to the right the Polynuc left as a swarm lure and in the wall to the left the air brick that we believed a swarm had used to enter the cavity wall.
To my utter amazement I had a call a few days later to say that the lure hive was covered with bees! I went to see and on arriving I found a lot of bees in and around the polynuc hive.
The only problem was that it appeared that the majority of the bees had actually set up home under the hive and not inside of it!
A bit of thinking and I decided that I would try to encourage the swarm into another polynuc that I had with me by removing the lid and gently resting the hive that had the majority of bees underneath on top of the other.
It took some time but eventually I had the majority of bees now in two polynuc hives!
I sealed them both up and took them to one of my field apiaries, there I stacked them one on top of the other and opened the entrances. Leaving them for a couple of days I was pretty sure that whichever contained the queen would soon contain all of the bees. Sure enough on my next inspection they had all migrated to one hive.
As you can see I was quite busy with swarm catching and besides the calls I received for swarms close enough to where I live to goto, I also received quite a few calls for swarms a bit further a field. Not having time or the spare hives to cope with all of the calls I referred most of these other calls to more local beekeepers so that they could try and capture them.
I also find that I have had a lot of calls this year for bumble bee nests, especially bumble bee nests in bird nest boxes!
I really do not mind to give my advice for free on the telephone when I can and freely do. Most of the time people just want reassuring that the bumble bee nest will not cause them a problem.
The warm weather also caused the OSR (Oil Seed Rape) crop to peak in it’s flowering and nectar giving before it finally ‘went over’ or stopped flowering.
The thing about OSR honey is that you can get a great crop from it but have to get the timing right as the particular mix of sugars in OSR honey means that it will crystallize very quickly and if it does this whilst still in the frames it sets solid like a rock and cannot be extracted.
Normally a beekeeper would wait until the bees seal over the honey stores with wax, before extracting. This is a sign that the bees have reduced the water content of the honey to below the point where any yeast in the honey is able to ferment.
In the above photo you can see the area already capped (covered over with white wax) honey.
As I said before normally a beekeeper would wait until all of the frame is capped to be sure that all of the honey was at a low enough water content to extract, however with OSR honey the bees do not always have time to cap the honey as they are very busy processing the incoming nectar and you cannot afford to leave it too long.
There are two other methods of determining if the honey is ready for extraction:-
1. The scientific method – using a refractometer you are able to accurately measure the water content of a sample of honey.
2. The rough guide – otherwise known as the shake test. Holding a frame with the face horizontally and vigorously shaking it up and down a couple of times. If much liquid can bee seen flying out of the frame then it contains too much water to extract.
I personally use the ‘shake’ test in the field to determine if a super is ready to be cleared of bees for extraction and then use a refractometer just before extraction to be sure.
Having completed two extraction runs on 27th May and 6th June I have extracted approx 105kg (233lbs) of OSR honey from 15 filled or partially filled supers!
Below you can see a frame containing some already crystallized OSR honey before extraction, you can already see the cells that appear to contain white paste, where the honey had crystallized!
And after extraction, all the liquid honey has been removed leaving behind the crystallized honey that will be given back to the bees.
I think choosing the correct time for extraction of OSR honey comes with experience and hopefully each year I learn the signs and can improve my timing. The best part is that at least it is not wasted honey when it becomes crystallized as I will feed it back to my bees who will be able to cope with it.
More recently I combined two of the swarms that I caught earlier. Both had been drawing out foundation and filling it with OSR honey stores like crazy. Unfortunately the smaller swarm appeared to be queenless as despite there being space for a queen to lay eggs there was no sign of a queen. I had left it as long as I could but decided to combine them with another of the swarms that had a laying queen.
To achieve this I placed one colony in a brood box on top of the other colony in their brood box with a sheet of newspaper between them. The theory is that by the time they have chewed through the newspaper the colonies will have gotten used to each other and so long as only one of them has a queen, they will become one colony!
Having checked back on this hive a few days later there was no newspaper left inside the hive separating the two boxes and also the marked queen was still there so I believe it was a success.
My apologies that this post turned out to be so long as I had so much to say and didn’t manage to post earlier.
I will finish with a couple more photos.
The first is of a brood frame that I thought was a great example of how a good queen will lay a complete frame up.
The only cells empty appear to be along the supporting wire that is in the foundation where I guess the bees and or queen decided it interfered with the cell enough not to lay an egg in it!
And finally, who says bees are not intelligent!?
Here is evidence to the contrary, crossword puzzle bee taking time out during the combining of hives!