Update on the bees and Honey.

As promised in my last post I wanted to give an update on the current state of my hives and some news about my honey.

The first news is that the Cawthorne Local Village Shop is now stocking my Yorkshirebees softset honey in both 1 lb and 1/2 lb jars!

The shop is run by a very friendly family and as well as essentials they are trying to source and stock as much local produce as possible. I will support them as I really hate that a lot of smaller shops have been closed down due to the massive supermarkets!

Onto the bees. I am pleased to say that the hive that had been blown over in early February was still alive as of last weekend!

In fact when I did my rounds, checking all the hives were upright and that they all had Neopol left, it was a brilliant sunny / blue sky day with almost no wind and above 10 degs. Celsius!

Most of the hives were busy with bees making orientation flights and gathering water and pollen (from crocus and snow-drops).

Fairly busy hive entrance

The not so good news is that when I said ‘most of the hives were busy’ there was one that had no bee traffic going in or coming out. After investigation I found that I had lost my 3rd hive of the winter. Two of the losses were due to starvation probably due to them not storing enough honey / syrup feed in the Autumn, and the third hive appears to have lost ‘critical’ mass. That is to say that for some reason the Queen has not been producing new bees and as the old ones died off they lost the minimum number to survive. Although the loss, over winter, of any colony of bees is sad, with 14 hives going into winter I was not totally surprised to have lost a few.

Winter is by no means over yet with more cold weather and potential for snow ahead so it’s a very important time to try ensure that bees still have enough stores to feed on.

I am currently checking the Neopol (fondant mixed with pollen) every weekend. This involves only the removal of the roof as I use plastic (take-away food) containers with the Neopol inside on top of the crown board above a feeding hole, Then a sheet of insulation (with suitable hole cut from the centre) surrounds the container with the roof over this.

I can remove the roof and check visually if they still have Neopol left and then replace the roof in less than a minute. This reduces any heat lost from the hive and does not disturb the bees in this critical time of the year.

With the great weather conditions last weekend it allowed me to take a few photos of bees that were probably raised from an egg laid in January or early February.

Closeup of a bee resting on the hive roof

You can tell it is a new (2013) bee as it looks so hairy (fluffy).

Below is another closeup, this time a bee had landed on the cuff of my glove and I took the photo with my left hand!

Side profile – featuring the pollen basket

You can really see the shape of the hairs on the rear leg where the pollen ‘basket’ is (collected pollen is stored here for transport).

The other bit of news is that one of my out apiaries is in a field that is planted, this year, with Oil Seed Rape (OSR). So the bees in the hives there will certainly not have far to travel!

Field of OSR viewed from the hives.

Finally for this post another photo, again of a bee on the hive roof, This time it’s wings are raised allowing the intricate detail of the wing to be seen.

Bee wing detail

I just find bees fascinating!

Posted in 2013, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Bees, Equipment, Hives | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Winter 2012-13 summary.

A new year (both in terms of the calendar and beekeeping) and I want to get my blog up to date! I can’t believe the last post was over sixth months ago! Time has flown by!

Anyway after the wettest UK summer I can remember, I ended up with 14 hives going into winter, most took plenty of sugar syrup down in September so that they had plenty of stores to last them at least until early January when I would treat them for Varroa and give them some Neopol fondant.

I treated them for Varroa at the end of January this year. Again I didn’t use Oxalic Acid as a lot of beekeepers do, instead I am continuing with my trial of the Hive clean product. At the same time I added top insulation in the form of 2 inch think insulation boards with a hole cut out in the center for the plastic takeaway food containers containing the Neopol.

During February we had some high winds and on one of my inspection trips I found 1 hive blown over!

One hive blown over by the wind!

Luckily the hive strap kept the hive parts together and I think that it hadn’t been on it’s side too long. I carefully stood it upright and gently re-aligned the hive parts. I did observe some bees still moving inside which I could see through the OMF (Open Mesh Floor) whilst the hive was lying on it’s side. There was not much I could do but place a big rock on the roof and wait to see if the hive survived.

During the last few weeks I have been carrying out weekly checks to ensure the fondant was not empty replacing any empty containers with full ones. As per previous years some hives seem to consume more of the fondant and others have hardly touched it.

In my next post I will have further news about the bees and my Honey!

Posted in 2013, Apiary 4, Equipment, Hives | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

M is for the Mad Month of May!

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!

Posted in 2012, Apiary 1, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Equipment, Hives, Queen, Sealed brood, Swarm | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A busy weekend for me and the Bees!

I have almost given up looking at the weather forecast, it never seems to be that accurate at the moment!

If I remember correctly the forecast I looked at said it would be a max of 12 degs C on Saturday and max 13 degs C on Sunday but overcast. Well I can tell you that my own weather station recorded highs of 16 degs C and 17 degs C on those days respectively!

I am not complaining, it was both good for me and vey good for the bees, in fact I am starting to realise that bees have survived for millions of years and as beekeepers we worry too much when there is a period of bad weather.

This was in turn proved by my weekend inspections, most of my colonies are doing very well. I guess that the OSR (Oil Seed Rape) crop is finally giving some nectar and the bees are going crazy in collecting it aswell as pollen from the same flowers.

At this time of year, as beekeepers, we have to be ever vigilant in our inspections in looking for any signs of swarm preparation. Swarming is the natural reproduction cycle of bees and we cannot stop the urge the bees have to swarm entirely. We can delay the urge and sometimes fool the bees into believing that they have already swarmed!

As a beekeeper we don’t really want the bees to swarm as this interrupts the brood production and has a knock-on effect on honey production. It can also be a inconvenience to the general public.

I personally currently use the ‘Demaree’ method of swarm control after hearing a talk on it from a very experienced beekeeper at my association.

I will not describe the method in detail as there are many links to be found on the internet with a search.

Getting back to my weekend I took the opportunity of the good weather to do full inspections and swarm control on my hives.

On Saturday I planned to visit one of my out apiaries on the edge of a field, the photo below shows the equipment loaded into my car that I considered I would need for the visit.

This is how the apiary looked when I arrived.

There are currently five hives in this apiary. 4 full size and one Poly Nuc.

In the good weather the hives were very active and I soon found that they were doing very well. Looking across the field with a dark tree in the back ground I could see the bees shooting like bullets to and from the nearest field of OSR. I was truly impressed by their speed, which according to the internet is only an average of 15mph but they looked like bullets to me!

The above hive was on a single National brood box with one super (containing 10 frames of drawn comb) above a framed wired queen excluder.

First up was a quick check in the super.

As you can see from the above photo I was greeted with a really nice surprise that the bees were filling the frames in the super with honey! In total 8 out of the 10 frames had a fair amount of the cells filled already. This meant that they needed a 2nd super for space to work.

Next was to inspect the brood box and find the Queen so I could perform the Demaree method of swarm control.

This done I re-assembled the hive with the new brood box containing the Queen and most of the flying bees on the bottom, then the queen excluder and the existing super then a new super. On top of the super I added a division board (home made from a crown / clearing board) and then the original brood box with all of the rest of the brood and nurse bees in. Finally topping the hive off with the original crownboard and roof. All strapped together for safety against high winds.

I then performed the exact same procedure on the hive next to it and the photo below shows the 2 hives after I had finished.

During the inspection and Demaree manipulation the bees were very calm, possibly due to the warm weather and the OSR giving off a good flow of nectar.

After inspecting two other hives I decided they could also do with more space for the queen to lay so decided to add a 2nd brood box on each (double brood) as I don’t yet have enough division boards to demaree all of my hives at the same time!

The result is that those 4 hives now look like this.

The final colony in that out apiary was very small coming out of winter so I had previously re-housed it into a Poly Nucleus hive to give them less space to heat and hope they could expand. I have only inspected it once since to check on it’s progress and this time I checked it an decided it was time to move back to a full size brood box.

It took a while for the bees to settle into their new hive, probably not helped by the fact that the hive looks so different.

So that was one of the aparies inspected, it took several hours and required 2 trips with the car for the extra equipment. On the 2nd trip I also had my assistant beekeeper along to help!

My nephew Campbell who is almost 9yrs old and very keen to help me!

He always asks some very interesting questions about bees that occasionally make me stop and think about the subject from a different angle!

Sunday brought another glorious day and meant I could perform my inspections of my 2nd out apiary.

Another car load of equipment.

The plan was again to perform a Demaree on 2 hives and check the others. This apiary contains 7 hives, including my two poly hives.

As you can see from the above picture, they are starting to get pretty big. They did catch me out as my inspections had been limited due to the bad weather and I believe I may have lost a swarm from one of the 2 hives and the 2nd hive was preparing to swarm.

You may also notice that one of the hives also has 3 supers on! Yes they are filling supers almost as fast as I can make up new frames for them!

This is in complete contrast to my last post where some hives were close to needing emergency feeding, what a turn around!

A few hours of work later and I had performed a demaree on 2 more hives and double brooded one more. Several required another new super!

The above photo shows hives in different states of progress. One on a double brood, one that is still building up on just a single brood box and two hives that are demareed!

The last hive is currently one of my most productive of the wooden hives.

It currently is being demareed and has 3 supers, all being filled!

I shall be using this colony to breed some new queens from as the bees are calm and over wintered very well.

And finally back at home my last hive, which is another of the ‘slow to buildup’ colonies. They seem healthy enough, no obvious signs of disease but seem to be taking their time to buildup.

I was enthusiastically assisted with the inspection this time by another of my assistant beekeepers!

My niece Lucy (almost 7yrs). She showed no fear at all around the hive and was really pleased that we found the Queen during the inspection.

And that is how my weekend went. I am now planning the next weekend and what needs to be done!

Posted in 2012, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Equipment, Hives, Queen | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Super Weather! OR is it??

We are now into the first week of May and with the boost of the hot weather period we had in March most of my colonies are starting to get pretty big. The Spring flowering Oil Seed Rape (OSR) is in full bloom in all the fields in my area and last year at this time both the colony build up and nectar collecting was in full swing.

In fact I extracted the Honey produced from the OSR on the 14th May last year. This year is completely different, despite their being more fields of OSR and having more colonies in better positioned apiaries, the weather has intervened and very little nectar is being produced / collected.

Between long periods of rain and below average temperatures the bees are not getting much chance to collect nectar and pollen and the low temperatures mean that not much nectar is being produced by the OSR itself!

The above photo of one of my ‘Out’ (Field) Apiaries demonstrates the strange effect the weather is having on the bees this year!

From right to left the 1st two hives have supers on but the bees are just managing to collect enough nectar to feed their brood and themselves at the moment. The next three hives appear to have two supers on each!?

Well actually the one of the far left of those three hives did require a second super as the first was full of bees working on collected nectar storage!

However the two hives to the right side of that one actually have just a second super box on top of the first super with a rapid feeder and 1:1 (light) sugar syrup in it!

Yes those colonies were at the point of needing to be fed as they had literally used just about all of their stores up!

In my short time as a beekeeper I have not, or even heard of other beekeepers, that had to feed colonies at this time of year.

It does not bode well for any chance of honey from the OSR crop this year, in fact the long range forecast does not show when the temperature will rise for the foreseeable period!

The weather has also prevented any regular full inspections of my colonies so I am also concerned that I do not know if they are preparing to swarm at all at the moment.

Exciting times! All I can do is wait for the first half decent weather day and be prepared as best I can for what I find in the colonies.

So to sum up, from my 13 colonies:

1 is currently in a Poly Nucleus Hive (having been a very small colony that survived winter).

2 Needed a 2nd Super and are doing well so far

5 Required emergency feeding to ensure they have enough stores to get through the current cold spell

5 Are just about surviving by themselves and maybe storing a little extra nectar.

The good news is that the last time I did manage to carry out a full inspection most of the hives were building up well and had plenty of bees and brood!

Until next time.



Posted in 2012, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The start of a New Beekeeping Season!

After my lack of posts and updates towards the end of last year I have resolved to keep my blog/diary more upto date, so here goes.

The 13 hives that I took into winter seem to have survived ok. There is one that is very weak but more on that later.

At the end of January, when some beekeepers treat their colonies with Oxalic acid (a treatment against the Varroa mite) I chose to treat my hives using Hive Clean. It is a thymol based liquid product that is supposedly more gentle on the bees and can (according to the makers) be used all year round with no side effects!

It was also at this time that I could do a very fast visual check to see if any of the colonies were running short of stores. I then decided on the safest action, as per the previous year, was to feed them a 1kg block of Neopol (A fondant mixed with pollen). Again this is my chosen product for late winter / early spring feeding. Although it is more expensive than normal bakers fondant I believe that providing the bees with an early source of pollen will help in the early spring buildup!

Having added the Neopol on top of the feeding hole in the crownboard the only inspection required over the following weeks was a quick check that the hive is upright and together and that the Neopol has not all been eaten (easily achieved by removing just the roof of the hive and not disturbing the bees).

As the weeks progressed and the weather started to warm up on some days Bees start to fly out of the hive on cleansing flights and inside the hive, if all is well, the Queen will start laying eggs. It is at this point that the remaining stores / food is very important to the colony as once brood rearing starts any shortage in food can be a serious problem for the bees.

I have also found that the different colonies consume the Neopol at different rates, probably partly dependent on how much winter stores they had remaining and also how early the Queen started to lay eggs! The aim is that the bees have enough stores / pollen to survive until the first Spring flowers (Pollen / Nectar sources) are out in enough numbers that the bees can provide for themselves.

It is always a balancing act as the weather plays a big part in both how fast the winter stores are eaten and when the first flowers will be out!

2012 has yet again provided a strange start, Weather wise, to the beekeeping season!

Not only did we not have a very cold / harsh winter but we have had a very warm (10 degs celcius higher than average) March!

The crocuses were up and flowering in the second week of March and bees were starting to become increasingly more active but it was still far too early to disturb the bees with any kind of inspection!

Visual checks of what is happening at the hive entrance and ‘hefting’ the hive (estimating it’s weight by gently lifting one side of the hive just off the ground) are all that are required to have an idea of what is going on inside.

At this point I will mention advantages / dis-advantages of the Poly hives that I bought last year.

The advantage is that you can gently remove the roof and look through the plastic cover to see what is happening inside the hive.

This is a big bonus at times, the downside is that to feed them the Neopol I had to disturb them very briefly by swapping the plastic cover for a wooden crownboard that had a feeding hole in it!

Having managed to resist the temptation to carry out a proper inspection during the early part of March and being very happy with seeing bees flying from and returning to each hive entrance I was planning on waiting till Easter before opening the hives for the first full inspection.

I said planning as again the exceptionally warm weather has had some other effects!

Whilst walking the dog through the fields 3 weeks ago I noticed that some of the fields had some yellow flowers appearing. I hadn’t realised that these fields were Oil Seed Rape (OSR) crops!

To be honest I didn’t know what young OSR plants looked like until I saw a piece on Country File.

Although the plants flowering were still just a very small percentage it reminded me again what power the weather has to change the order of things!

So after being away on business for a week and seeing that the temperature had shot through the roof (during the daytime) for most of that week I decided that I would have to inspect the hives last week.

The 2 colonies in my Polyhives were both really strong with 7-8 frames of brood in all stages already! They were also storing fresh nectar in frames which was starting to reduce the amount of space available for the queen to lay eggs so I had no choice but to add a queen excluder and super on both hives!

As for my wooden National hives, they too have a strong buildup. Not as far advanced as the colonies in the Polyhives but they ranged from 4-7 frames of brood and more importantly a lot of new fresh nectar stores.

So much so that they had glued the crownboard down to the top of the brood frames by building a filling comb with honey!

Removing the comb from both the crownboard and the tops of the brood chamber frames was a very sticky / messy job and I needed to change my disposable gloves after each hive!

I felt a little guilty considering the amount of effort the bees will have put into making both the wax comb and the honey but it was yet another sign that the colonies needed more space.

So with a forecast for a return to ‘Normal’ temperatures this week I had to decide to either add supers for space, with the chance that I was providing too much space for the bees to keep warm, or wait till the weather turns warmer again and risk the colony running out of space for the Queen to lay eggs!

I chose to add supers as the other deciding factor for me was that with each day more and more of the OSR fields (and there are a lot around my apiaries this year!) are starting to turn from green to yellow!

Only time will tell if I made the correct decision or not!

So back to my ‘weak’ 13th colony. It was the colony that I had to re-queen last year due to their aggression. It seemed to take forever before the new queen mated and started to lay eggs by which time the colony had become quite small and I really was not expecting them to make it through the winter.

However they did and have started to buildup but far behind the other colonies. I decided (probably should have already done it late last year!) to move them from a full hive into a Poly Nucleus hive to help them keep warm and hopefully build up faster.

That brings me up to date with my beekeeping. My next inspection is planned for Easter weekend (Weather dependent) when I hope to see how the colonies are managing with filling their supers!

Posted in 2012, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Hives | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

End of ‘active’ season report

First of all apologies to any regular readers, I have been very lazy and not updated my blog for such a long time!

So to summarize the rest of last year, since my last post! I have extracted a bit more honey, not nearly as much as my Spring crop, after leaving it as late as possible for the bees to collect store and cap it. In some cases honey supers that were nearly full ended up being nearly empty which just emphasizes my feeling that the strange weather pattern of the summer (not nearly enough rain) meant that the bees in fact needed some of their stores early to survive.

As soon as the honey supers were off I started my autumn feed, feeding they ‘heavy’ sugar syrup, mixed in the ratio of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. I also treated all my hives with Api Life Var to help reduce any levels of Varroa present. Once all of this was done I have added some top insulation in the form of either a top quilt or a piece of polystyrene (50mm thick) insulation board on top of the crown board and strapped each hive together with a cargo style strap to protect it from the strong winds.

As I mentioned in the title it is the end of the ‘active’ season for beekeepers however there is plenty of work to be done over the late autumn and winter months. Planning and buying / building any equipment for next year, preparing and bottling the honey that is still in buckets and reading more and more books to increase my knowledge.

Having finished the year with 13 active hives, of which all but one are now in my out apiaries, I have formed a rough plan of my intentions for next year. I say rough as from my experience you can never set concrete plans down as the bees will invariably mess them up! My main plans for next year will be to consolidate my current hives, hopefully with as few as possible winter losses and to concentrate on honey production / keeping the colonies as healthy as possible. As a second target I plan to select my best colony, which I believe  I already know, and to produce some nucleus, ‘starter’ colonies from them. If that goes to plan I should have some nucleus colonies available for sale locally in late May / early June next year.

In the meantime I finally got round to building myself a honey warming cabinet.

It is made from an old upright freezer (half height) and I fitted a thermostatically controlled warming cable (sourced from a poultry supplies company) in the bottom. Using a spare temperature / humidity sensor that I have from my weather station I am able to monitor and then adjust the temperature inside the cabinet quite accurately.

After initial tests I was happy to place my first honey buckets inside and warm them over several days until the honey was liquefied enough to pour into my jarring bucket (a large honey bucket that has a honey valve near the bottom). This was left to settle and then I could start to decant the honey into jars.

I have so far produced 40 x 1lb jars and am waiting to check that it sets ok (this crop of honey being mainly from OSR) before jarring the rest.

Liquid Gold

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Mid Year report

It is more than halfway through the beekeeping year now and in preparation for my being away 2 weeks working I spent a couple of days checking and preparing my hives for my absence. On one day I had help from my 8 year old nephew and we spent nearly 5 hours at my out apiaries checking 9 of my hives!

Of the hives we checked most are in a very good state although in different stages ranging from a hive that is hatching out a new Queen (only a visual check from outside as I did not want to disturb them) to my best hive that now has 4 supers on!

In this hive the bees have filled and capped the best part of 3 supers already.

I haven’t removed any of the fuller supers as I am waiting for the bees to finish capping off the ripened honey to ensure that the extracted honey is off the correct water content.

In the above photo you can see bees busy capping off honey stored in the comb or repairing any damage I caused removing any un-wanted brace comb.

As I said to prepare my hives for my longer than normal absence I have been checking if any needed another super for space and also I have been putting hive straps (like cargo straps) around each hive to secure them against wind or any other disturbance that may move the hive parts out of alignment.

It is slowly getting to the time of year when wasps start to become a problem to bees and their honey stores, especially if a colony is weak. With this in mind I made the decision to place the entrance reducers into my hives already so that the bees have a smaller entrance that they can guard more easily and I have also placed a wasp trap near to one of my apiaries.

This particular trap was a cheap plastic one that I purchased on the internet and all that was required as an attractant was a few over ripe strawberries and some water. I have heard that almost any sweet fruit will do. After only a few days the trap had quite a few dead wasps in it, so it seems to work.

Finally to be able to add my extra supers I have been using my evenings and weekends making up new super frames!

I find it easiest to make them in batches and I use a small DIY electric nail gun, which, used with care saves a lot of time!

It is not something that needs doing every year I hope but as I have increased my hives / colonies considerably this year I needed a lot more frames than I had!

I am looking forward to getting home next week and discovering what state my bees and hives are in.

Posted in Apiary 1, Apiary 2, Apiary 3, Bees, Equipment, Hives, Queen | Leave a comment

Brace yourself for the move

Brace comb is the honey comb that bees often build in places that you do not want any honeycomb built! I find that the most common places that bees will build brace comb are either along the bottom edge of brood frames, when there is enough room, to expand their capacity for both storage and brood purposes or above the brood frames on either side of the queen excluder sometimes reaching up into the supers.

I found myself staring at a classic example when I opened one of my hives the other week.

In the above picture you can see that the bees built brace comb through the queen excluder and into the super. Dealing with it is not a big problem, I just remove the comb as carefully as I can and save it in a sealed plastic container for wax recycling later. Generally if bees are constantly building brace comb in the same place it indicates that you may have something wrong with the spacing in your hive. For example I have replaced most of my flat sheet punched hole queen excluders this year with wire framed excluders. These new excluders have a ‘bee space’ (the space / height regarded as enough room one one bee to move and work) on either side and therefore the bees have taken advantage of this and sometimes build brace comb, which I remove during each inspection.

If brace comb is allowed to be built too much it can cause big problems during inspections / manipulations.

The other subject / news is the expansion of one of my field ‘out’ apiaries. The reason being that I want to move most the colonies I keep at home away from people as the sheer amount of bee traffic and sometimes aggressiveness of the bees this year made me think twice about keeping a large number of hives at home.

So the first part of the move was to clear the area I was going to place the hives into.

Armed with a strimmer I managed to change the area from looking like this

to looking like this

It was a very hot day and hard work but now I have space to place several hives and work around them.

The second part of the move was to choose and prepare the hives I would move.

At this point I would say that the beekeepers rule of moving ‘active’ bees either less tan 3 feet or more than 3 miles was out of the question in my case. The reason for the rule is to make sure that the bees can find their hive and to prevent them all flying back to the position the hive was in before the move. I didn’t really have a choice as I wanted to move the hives asap and my new site was less than 3 miles away. I decided I would risk moving the first 2 hives and try as an experiment a way to try and force the bees to re-orientate themselves with their new location.

After having selected the 2 hives I would move, one large hive consisting of a brood box with queen excluder and both a super and a deep (brood) box above and a small hive (consisting of just a brood box) that I have just given a frames of eggs to as their previous attempt to raise a queen went wrong for some reason.

I prepared the large hive by removing the crown board and fitting a travel screen, The screen is a fine gauze mesh fitted into a wooden frame, it allows more ventilation to prevent the bees over heating in the hive whilst preventing them escaping during the move. I also used cargo straps to secure the boxes together. After waiting till the bees stopped flying for the day, approx 21:45, I inserted blocks into the hive entrances and loaded (with some help) the two hives into the back of my car.

It was a short and slow drive round to the field and then the hives were very carefully lifted out of the car and placed in position in the field. Removing the entrance blocks again I was happy that not many bees came out to explore as it was late and almost dark.

Going back to the subject of moving hives less than 3 miles, to try and prevent the bees flying back to the old hive position I had read a trick of placing an object in front of the hive entrance so that the bees have to negotiate it when they come out of the hive and this, in theory, makes them re-learn where the hive is. So my final part of the move was to place an old crown board lent against the entrance of the hives and secured in place with tape.

The following day I checked the old site of the hive and only a few bees returned to the original site so it appears that my little trick worked. I then returned to the hives and removed both the travelling screen and after a couple of days removed the old crown boards from the entrances.

So the hives were moved a week ago and if they appear to be ok when I inspect them in the next few days I will move tw0 more hives the same way. This will reduce my home apiary from five hives to just one.

On another note, the two poly hives are doing very well as I previously posted and have gone from looking like this

to this

after adding a super to one and a 2nd super to the other which I also tok the decision to demaree to give the bees a lot more space to expand into. Only time will tell if this was a correct decision.

** I should just add that one of the reasons that I may have gotten away with moving the hives a shorter distance than 3 miles is that there is good forage nearer the new site that prevented the bees returning to any area they foraged from the old site and therefore finding their way back to the old site.**

Posted in Apiary 1, Bees, Brood, Drones, Eggs, Equipment, Hives, Workers | Leave a comment

A swarm to help my failing Nucleus hive

Last Saturday afternoon as I was getting ready to go out for the evening I had a call about a swarm that had been perched high up in a tree for a couple of days. It seems that the swarm had been dislodged, maybe by the wind, and had fallen down into a garden below. I asked if they had reformed into a cluster anywhere or were going back up into the tree. At the time they were flying round in the persons back garden. Not having time to check that evening I ask the person to call me back in the morning and tell me if they had settled either back in the tree or lower down somewhere.
That evening I was talking to Liz and Brian, a couple that had one of my hives in their garden and explaining that unfortunately the hive seemed to be failing. It had been one of my first nucleus hives I had produced this year but I believe I left 2 queencells in the nucleus and it seems that a cast swarm had left and the 2nd queencell had been unsuccessful or the queen had been lost as the last two inspections had revealed the hive to be queenless and the number of bees was decreasing. The only thing I could do was take the hive away to one of my out apiaries and try to rescue it either by giving them a frame of eggs from another hive (to allow them to make a new queencell) or combine them with another hive. Both Liz and Brian were disappointed as they had both been keen on having bees in their garden.

On Sunday morning as promised I received a call to say that the swarm had re-settled this time behind a next door neighbors garage. I collected my equipment and drove over to have a look. I found them sheltering behind a garage on the underneath of two large pieces of wood that were lent against the back of the garage.

At first I gently moved the wood so it was lent against the fence behind the garage and tried to balance my collection box on top of the wood and the bees seemed to get the idea and started to walk up the wood into the box. Unfortunately the box would not stay in place so after I had collected some of the bees I placed the box gently on the ground at the bottom of the wood and waited whilst the ones already in the box fanned to attract the bees still on the wood.

The weather wasn’t helping as it was cool and some of the bees were quite lethargic having spent 2-3 days in a tree! Eventually I had most in the box but there were still quite a few flying about. I decided, as it was quite a drive from my home that I didn’t want to leave the box and come back later, to close the box up and see if my one way (porterbee) entrance would work in collecting the rest. It was them just a waiting game whilst the bees found the box and entered.

Whilst they were doing this I had a walk round the garage and was surprised to see just how many bees had perished, either with the fall or in the cold, there were a lot of dead bees about and some that were still alive but barely moving. I did light my smoker and try to encourage as many bees into the air and towards the collection box as possible but there were still a lot of dead bees left!

As the last few bees entered the box I collected all my stuff and sealed the box and placed it into my car.

On the drive back home I started thinking about where to put the new hive for this swarm and that at the moment I did not really want to add a new hive in my apiaries and do decided that I could try o combine this swarm with the failing hive at Liz and Brian’s as this potentially solved two problems at once.

I had read and heard from beekeepers that used smaller swarms to boost bee numbers in existing colonies but had never tried it before.

I knew that to stop them fighting initially people used either a spray of light sugar syrup or perfumed water. So I arrived at Liz and Brian’s house and checked once more their hive to be sure that there was no change and that by no miracle a Queen was present. After confirming this I added a couple of drops of Lemon Grass Oil (the only scent I had with me) to my water spray and sprayed all the bees in the hive. I opened the swarm collection box and sprayed the swarm gently and then, having removed a couple of frames to make space, gently tipped the swarm into the hive. I replaced th frames and closed the hive up and then watched the entrance. There were a couple of scuffles as the obviously confused guard bees tried to eject a few bees but no major fights. Happy that it seemed to have worked I have left them alone and will now check in a week or so to see if it worked!

Late on Monday afternoon I visited one of my out apiaries to check a hive that had been awaiting the queen to start laying eggs. Driving up the field I was pleased to see the amount of bee traffic from the five hives that are there and in the sunlight it looked beautiful!

I was also very pleased when I opened the hive in question to find the Queen, who I believe must have been a virgin when I caught the swarm due to the number of weeks before she started laying! I marked her and checked quickly through the hive to find she has now produced 3 frames of eggs since the last inspection!

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