Hive Inspection – 15 07 2012

Despite our hopes for better weather things have continued in a similar vein… rain, more rain and yet, more rain!  I don’t think I’ve met anyone who can remember such a wet and miserable summer as this – and there doesn’t seem to be much change in the near future.  But despite this, the moment the clouds take a moment off releasing their soggy wares the bees are out on the wing and gathering their stores.  As bad and boring as all this rain is for us humans, the plant-life seems to be flourishing – and when they are doing well so too will the bees… if they get a chance to fly that is!

Work and weather kept us a away from the bees for a couple of weeks but an unusually dry Sunday on 15th July enabled us to get into the bees and see how things were progressing.  It wasn’t all good news!

Hive 1
From the moment we took the roof and crown board off we knew this was a thriving colony.  It was absolutely rammed with bees at all stages of development.  We didn’t spot the queen but there were plenty of eggs present.  When we’d hived this swarm in June they were on a couple of standard National Frames – which I’ve been gradually moving to the outside of the main cluster in the colony.  On this inspection I moved them right to the edge to encourage the queen to lay on the main 14×12 frames.  I’m tempted to leave one standard National frame in as they draw out the wax below as drone comb which helps control Varroa levels as the mite tends to prefer drone cells.  This comb extension, and the developing larva it contains, is removed from the hive on each inspection and therefore reduced the number of Varroa mites in the colony.

The super we’d added a few weeks back was almost full and they’d started capping it off.

Honey being capped off

Castellated super about 3/4 full and getting capped off

This is a castellated super (ten frames per super) so it’s going to take a while for them to fully draw the comb out and fill with honey, but when they are full the frames are very impressive (and heavy).  Once full and capped each super will contain about 30lb of honey.  A pre-drawn super was added to this hive but I suspect, with the number of eggs and bees about to hatch, we’ll be adding more supers to this one over the next couple of weeks.  Fingers crossed!

Hive 2
Gone – well almost! Less than a handful of bees left in this one so the plan is to bring home to swarm that’s sitting in the nuc box at home.  However – what we found in Hive 3 might change this.

Hive 3
I gave a hint of my worst fears for Hive 3 last month, in that whilst we was really happy in finding eggs our mood stood a chance of being dampened if it turned out to be a drone laying worker. Well… that’s what it turned out to be.  From the number of capped drone cells I suspect we’ve actually got a whole load of drone laying workers doing their thing.

Drone laying worker cells

Drone cells laid across about 5 frames!

In the absence of a queen and her pheromone nurser bees can develop ovaries and start laying unfertilised eggs.  Unfertilised eggs will only ever develop into drones – which spells disaster for the colony.  This is such a bad situation that the late Ted Hooper, one of the leading lights in modern day beekeeping and author of one of the finest book on the subject (Guide to Bees & Honey) believed that this was pretty much the end of the colony.  Adding a new queen rarely works as the bees will tend to ball her (kill her in other words).  Adding a frame of eggs doesn’t usually work as you’ll still have the laying workers present.

The only action that seems to have any level of success is to take the hive about 50-100 meters from its original position and shake all the bees out on to the ground.  You then take the hive (making sure there is not one bee left on them) and place it back in its original position.  The flying bees will then return to the hive, leaving the laying workers where you left them.  The reason they do not fly back to the hive is that as nurser bees they have never left the hive and therefore have no navigational experience.  You can then re-queen the colony and hopefully they will accept her. Alternatively you can omit the part of replacing the hive in its original position and the bees should just go into one of the adjacent hives.

This is what we’ll be doing as soon as the weather allows – and maybe we’ll be using the swarm from home to re-queen.

Hive 4
This was doing well, and the queen was spotted.  Super was about 3/4 full so added another.  Again – this was packed with capped brood and looks like its about to explode!  I think we’ll be adding more supers on this in the next couple of weeks.

Until next time!  Hope to film the Hive 3 experiment too!

The arrival of a swarm of bees

We had a small swarm of bees arrive at home on Sunday.  You can watch the short movie about it if you like, or read the blog…. it’s up to you!

One of our neighbours pointed this out to us on Monday evening.  In his words…  “A massive and deafening swarm of bees darkened the skies over Loughton and settled on our shed.” This was strange as we’d not noticed it ourselves but, true enough, a swarm had found its way into a stack of hive parts we had brought back home at the end of last season for cleaning and storage.  I had forgotten about this and had stupidly left a handful of old brood frames in there too that needed new foundation.  The swarm found this space totally irresistible.

The shed and hive boxes where the swarm of bees settled

A swarm of bees will rarely be as easy as this to collect and hive

I normally seal the bottoms and tops of these stacks of hive parts with unused crown boards and sheets of cardboard so as to avoid this very thing from happening – and to also avoid the dreaded wax moth from making home in there too.  However, at some point this stack had been moved and there as a little gap at the bottom that the bees obviously found to be the perfect entrance to what they thought was a perfectly good new home.  They were only beaten there by the wax month who had demolished most of the brood frames – but obviously not quite enough to determine the swarm!

We waited for the sun to go down so that most of the bees would be inside their temporary squat.  We then got our nuc box ready with a couple of frames of foundation and another of drawn out comb with some stores – which is the poorly constructed white thing on top of the cedar hive parts in the above picture.  This was originally a standard national nuc box but we have since moved over to 14×12 frames so I crudely extended the depth of it earlier in the season when I had to catch a swarm at the apiary. I never did get round to doing a proper job on it – so its yet another thing on my list of things to do.

Anyway, we started lifting out the old frames from the stack and, “bingo”, Tiff spotted the queen almost instantly.  Light in colour, but a good size, and the bees attending her were as calm as you get.  We took this frame (which was not badly wax month damaged as the others) and popped it straight in the nuc box.  We then proceeded to shake the bees off the other frames and spacer boards stored in the stack.

We then waited, and whilst the queen didn’t pop straight out again the remaining bees (now up in the air and crawling all over the remaining stack) seemed reluctant to go into the nuc.  So, up for a bit of experimentation, we laid out some sheets of white paper around the sides and leading up to the entrance of the nuc.  This seemed to work very well – and in no time there was a team of workers merrily fanning their queen’s pheromone at the entrance and beckoning in the remaining bees.

Bees arriving at the nuc entrance

Bees fanning the queen’s pheromone to the stragglers

You can see my lack of carpentry skills and poor materials have resulted in a gap on the right side of the nuc box which is obviously confusing some of the bees as they can detect the queen but can’t work out  how to get to her.  Who says bees are intelligent?

We’ll let them settle in for a day or so and then put a sugar syrup feed on as they will need some instant stores to draw out the new foundation.  I suspect this is a virgin queen by the size of the swarm (really only a ‘cast’) and the speed at which she was dashing about, so its going to take at least a couple of weeks to get her mated and settled in. Once that’s done we’ll install this colony into the vacant Hive 2 position.

It’s all go this beekeeping malarkey!

Hive Inspection – 24 06 2012

Another windy, and not very warm, Sunday morning but we felt the need to have a look at what’s going on in the hives.  The weather this week has been all over the place again and I suspect the bees are consuming far more honey than they are collecting.  I’m not sure we are going to have much at all to harvest and we’ve got a growing list of people wanting to buy from us – mainly repeat customers wanting to double their orders!

Extracting honey from the supers

Honey – as natural as you can get.

I often get asked how we make honey.  The short answer is “we” don’t – the bees do!  That’s a detailed subject that I want to cover in one of the BeeMovie films that I will get round to producing at the end of the season, but explaining how we harvest and process the honey is quite simple.

First we take off the frames (stored in ‘supers‘) of capped honey from the beehives and de-cap them with a fork-like tool (see above left).  These frames are then placed in a centrifugal spinner which empties all the cells of honey.  The honey is then run through a triple filter system to remove wax and other debris.  The final stage is to pour into jars for resale/storage.  We don’t apply any other treatments to the honey – not even heat – so its about as natural as you can get.

I do hope there’s a late honey flow and we can provide all the honey we have on order – and get some for us too!!!  For those interested we sell off the doorstep at £5 for a 1lb jar – or £20 for 5 1lb jars.

Now on to what we found on this inspection…

Hive 1
Just a quick look to make sure the queen was still laying – and she was, with great gusto.  We didn’t spot the queen herself but there were plenty of eggs across about 6 frames.  If you spot eggs the queen was there three days ago and I’ve no reason to believe she wasn’t there on this inspection too.  Nothing much in the way of honey in the super but there was stores in the brood box and all seemed well.  It was windy and not too warm so they were a bit on the grumpy side – so we closed it down pretty sharp.

Hive 2
The end is nigh!  In the past 7-years of keeping bees we’ve only ever lost a couple of colonies.  This is going to be the third.  Whilst its not a nice thing to happen I don’t think we are doing too bad when you consider all the nasty things happening to bees at present.  Unless there’s a miracle about to happen I don’t think you’ll see any reports about this Hive 2 in future blogs. RIP

Hive 3
Where there’s dark there’s light!  I was keen to see what happened to the frame with the solitary capped queen cell on it.  However, on taking out the frame the cell was still there – capped as before.  This was too long for a live queen to be in there still so she had to be a goner!  However, I moved on through the hive and there we eggs on two of the frames.  We have a queen!  We didn’t actually spot her but there was definitely eggs and unless there’s a egg laying worker we now have three queen-right colonies again.  There were still plenty of bees and the three supers seemed to have about the same amount of stores in them.

Hive 4
Just a quick dip inside on this one as by now we had a few buzzers hitting our veils – just to make sure we knew they were not happy with our intrusion on a windy and not so warm day.  Eggs spotted and plenty of capped brood.  This one is going to get big pretty quickly and we’ll need to keep an eye on their levels of stores.  If the weather doesn’t improve and they have nothing to forage for we might have to put a feed on.

As a positive final comment – the weather forecast for the coming week looks promising!

Hive Inspection – 18 06 2012

The weather was mild on Sunday and the wind had fallen somewhat so it was a good day to have a look in at the bees.  Not much change from last week really.

Smoking up the hives keeps them calm

We was hoping to take our young nephew Josh with us as we were looking after him that day but he didn’t think it was a good idea.  This is strange really as he’d always seems fascinated by them in the past and would want to “get up close and personal” with them. Maybe in a few years – he is only 8!

Hive 1
Good tempered and queen still laying well with eggs and brood now on five frames.  There was ample stores and signs of them starting to fill the super too.  Not much more to do in this one so we shut it down.

Hive 2
Nothing happening in this hive at all and no sign of the small queen that dropped in there a couple of weeks back.  There are now too few bees to worry about uniting with one of the other hives so its all over for this hive I think.  There was plenty of stores on the brood frames so I took one out and placed in Hive 1 and another two out and placed in Hive 4.  Obviously left some stores in just in case the queen was there and not yet laying – but very doubtful.

Hive 3
Still no sign of a queen or eggs but the frame we dropped in from Hive 4 last week now only had one capped queen cell left on it.  Not quite sure why the hatched queen wouldn’t have ripped down the remaining cell… maybe she was about to when we poked our noses in!  We didn’t want to rip it down ourselves just in case the hatched queen wasn’t any good or had already met her end. The bees were still a bit grumpy so the could still be queenless. Anyway, clearly marked the frame with the un-hatched queen cell and closed up the hive.  There was plenty of store on this one and they had started working on the super we added last week.  If the new queen does not take we will probably unite this hive with hive 4.

Hive 3 – still no sign of a mated queen

Hive 4
All looked well in this hive and the queen had laid up on about 4 frames.  Spotted her and she was looking fine.  There wasn’t a great deal of stores in this hive hence taking two frames out of the dwindling hive 2.

Hive Inspection – 09 06 2012

Thanks to a freak warm June day (well at least for 2012!) we was able to get back into the bees on Saturday.  Things have improved somewhat in just a week.  My only regret is that we’ve not had enough time to shoot stills and video during these inspections.  Hopefully this will improve as time goes on.

Nice calm bees

Hive 1
This swarm is doing well – and we managed to spot our queen and marked her (white).  We didn’t clip her as we want to see how she develops but the bees were calm, she had a good laying pattern across four frames and there was plenty of stores and pollen.  Her mother was a cracking layer so hopefully this colony will rapidly expand and bring in some honey for us – but nothing as yet in the super we added last week.

Hive 2
Still very few bees and no sign of eggs or the newly born queen that we dropped in there last week so I think she met an untimely end.  She could of course have been out on a mating flight but I have my doubts.  The frame of eggs we dropped in last week were looking OK with most capped – so we quickly shut this one down and hope the queen was hiding or out putting Drones to the sword!  Plenty of stores in the brood chamber – which will hopefully prove useful even if the hive fails.

Hive 3
No eggs, no queen – but plenty of stores.  Bees were a bit grumpy too – only highlighting their queen-less state.  They had almost filled and partly capped two supers now so I added another.  See the Hive 4 report though as its not all doom and gloom.

Hive 4
Eggs and new queen spotted and marked.  She had a lovely colour to her with very defined stripes.  She had laid up on about 2 frames.  There was also a couple of capped queen cells in there – which was a little odd as you’d expect the queen to have ripped those down or have swarmed herself once they’d been capped.  However – the weather was very poor up until our inspection so maybe (just maybe) we had caught them at the right moment.  Anyway, took that frame out and put it into hive 3 in the hope that one hatches and makes that colony queen-right.  Took down all the old queen cells.

There is still no sign of a break in the weather but it can’t go on like this much longer…. can it?!!