Hive Inspection – 01 06 2012

We have actually been into the bees a few times since our last inspection but things have got in the way of me blogging about it – primarily real paid-for work!  There’s a lot to update you on but its far from all being great news.

Swarming has been our main problem caused mainly by us not doing as many inspections and swarm prevention as we would have done if work had not taken me away from home and the hives so much.  My filming work depends on the good weather as much as my beekeeping does, so when the sun shines I’m normally out and about taking advantage of it.  The bees on the other hand seem to get up to all sorts of scheming and planning when its too cold and wet to inspect them – and the moment the weather turns its seems they instantly go into swarm mode.

Whilst this is not exactly great beekeeping, swarming is really only what the bees would be doing naturally to expand.  The queens were all only a year old – so not tired.  They also had plenty of space and stores so its not as if conditions were poor either.  This means either that we have a strain of bees which are prone to swarming – or our bees are so happy and naturally balanced that they want to spread themselves about.  The latter is of course wishful thinking – and whilst we probably have got a “swarmy” set of colonies Tiff and I both think its time we had a swarm prevention refresher course.

Anyway – after all this here’s a report on where we are now.

Hive 1
Yes, there is now a Hive 1!  This is actually housing a swarm that popped out of Hive 2 some three weeks ago (more on which later).  I was around at the time this one came out and it conveniently gathered on the hedge, at head height, next to the apiary. A few snips with the secateurs and it dropped into a waiting cardboard box.  We then took out a couple of framed of eggs, larvae and stores from Hive 2 and put those into the new Hive 1 which was otherwise made up with new foundation 14×12 frames.  The box was then shaken in.

On our last inspection it was doing well, with a mated queen yet to be spotted and marked but seemingly laying well.  She had started laying on at least four frames.  We had originally housed this in full hive with a dummy board in to restrict the space – but with its rapid expansion we have now moved the dummy board to let them spread throughout.  With the way work is at present it looks like I’m going to be away more so I also added a super to give them AMPLE room.

Hive 2
Three weeks back when we opened up Hive 2 to get the frames for the Hive 1 swarm it was evident that this was the source of the swarm.  This was obviously a secondary swarm (or cast) as the colony was extremely small and there were a number of hatched or ripped down queen cells in there. This was despite our efforts on an earlier inspection to remove queen cells.  There was no sign of the old clipped and marked queen – and no sign of a new mated queen and there were no eggs.  Our thoughts were that we had a resident virgin queen and thought it was best to shut up and let nature take its course and for her to get mated.

Going back into this hive on this most recent inspection revealed a queen-less colony, with only a handful of bees.  Our hopes of there being a virgin queen in there were dashed instantly.  The only positive to come from this hive were that there was plenty of stores in there and no visible signs of disease.

Hive 3
Hive 3 was rapidly expanding last time we inspected and we managed to spot and mark the queen.  No such luck this time, plus obvious signs of swarming (hatched queen cells) and a depleted stock of bees.  We took one frame out which had an un-hatched queen cell and though it was worth placing this in Hive 2, along with its eggs and brood after shaking off the bees.  But just as we lowered it in the queen hatched.  It was too late – she was out and into Hive 2 before we could do much else.

We closed up both hives and are presently hoping for the best – but as the weather has turned wet and cold again I’m not convinced there was enough bees in Hive 2 to keep the queen and eggs alive.  We will see.

Hive 4
There’s common thread developing here!  This colony swarmed a couple of weeks back but again the bees settled nicely on the hedge.  Knowing this was probably going to happen I’d prepared our 4-frame nuc box to house it in.  With a snip and shake into waiting cardboard box, the bees were then shaken into the nuc box with the entrance blocked so they didn’t come straight out again.

The main difference here was that the nuc was full of fresh foundation and no pre-drawn frames with eggs and brood from another hive.  This obviously made all the difference, as when I unblocked the entrance that evening by the morning they were all outside hanging off the front of the nuc box!  Not really having the space to put another hive up I called one of our beekeeping friends to see if they wanted a swarm.  They did, and collected it from its hanging that evening – by which time they’d even started drawing out comb on the front of the nuc box!

Closing comment
As I said – its time for a refreshment course on swarm control – and also time we re-queened all the colonies to a strain less prone to swarming.  I don’t hold out too much hope for a good honey crop this year – though I’m hopeful for our rapidly expanding swarm in Hive 1.

As soon as time allows and things settle the plan is to consolidate down to two hives to go into winter with.  Hopefully that will give us more time (and room in the apiary) to deal with potential swarms.


Queen Rearing Study Group

I’ve joined in with the EFBKA’s (Epping Forest Beekeepers Association) ‘Queen Rearing Study Group’ which held its initial meeting last night.

Organised by our divisional Chairman, Ted Gradosielski, and held at his impressive bee shed at Nazeing (an understatement if ever I’ve made one), the purpose of the group is to practice and measure the success of a range of different queen bee rearing methods.

Queen bees will live for up to 5-years and shortly after hatching will mate with a number of male bees (drones) during what is called their mating flight.  The mating process is fatal to the drones who fall to earth dead having had their reproductive parts detached from them during the mate (ouch!).  The queen retains his store of sperm (and that of the other 5 to 10 or so drones she mates with) and releases the them gradually throughout her life to fertilise her female worker bee eggs.  She also lays unfertilised eggs which develop into drones.

Anyway, being the mother of every newborn bee in a colony (and at her peak she’ll be laying up to about 2,000 eggs a day) all the bees will take on her characteristics (as well as the drones she mates with).  Apart from the replacement of old or dead queens, beekeepers breed and select queens to help develop particular “good” characteristics in their bees.  Each beekeeper would place a different value on each characteristic, but the list might include having a good temperament, be prolific foragers, being a consistent and rapid egg layer, having a high disease resistance, be particularly hygienic and a low producer of propolis.  There are probably other characteristics too, and I’ve no doubt that each beekeeper would order them differently according to their beekeeping involvement.

My role in the group is to record some of the activities and processes on video and to take stills.  This will be used to create some literature and other resources to help educate other beekeepers in the division – plus you’ll also be able to see some of the outcomes of our labour here on

Update to Hive Inspection – 22 04 2012

Hive 2
Got up this morning and mixed up a sugar syrup feed for the bees in hive No. 2.  I added 5Kg of granulated refined sugar to about 3 litres of hot water and mixed with the Kenwood Chef whilst I had a cup of tea.  When I got to the apiary I removed the super from the hive and moved the crown board down over the brood box.  I placed one of our jumbo feeders on top of that and poured the entire mix in.  The bees should take that down in a few days.

Hive 4
Took one of our supers from storage and placed on top of the existing super.  The existing super was jam-packed with bees this morning which demonstrated the need to get another super on top.

In theory I should have lifted the existing super and added the new one underneath – but a bit of theory testing doesn’t do too much hard every now and then!

Hive Inspection – 22 04 2012

General Notes & Info

It has been a month since our first inspection of the year – which was, shamefully, our last inspection! At this time of the year we should really be looking at them every week or so.  This was not for want of trying though. The two ‘Ws’ got in the way – ‘Work’ and ‘Weather’.

I’m in the middle of filming two promotional videos at the moment (one for Eiger Safety and another for Supadance) which has taken me away from the apiary.  When I have been about its been either two cold, too wet or too windy to open the hives – none of which are good beekeeping conditions.

On my way back from shooting some Eiger Safety footage down at the Eden Project in Cornwall I was continually reminded of just how important it was that I got back in to see what was happening with the bees as it seemed that every other farmer’s field we passed was packed with Oil Seed Rape in full yellow-some bloom.  Last year we took about 70lb of honey off our bees around this time of the year and it was due to this, growingly abundant, source of nectar.  Rape honey sets extremely quickly – so the moment the bees have reduced the water content down (to a point where if you shake the frames horizontally no nectar flicks out – which happens at just below 20% water content) you really want to get it off the hives, spun and jarred.  Rape honey that sets in the comb is pretty much useless.

I was also reminded of my beekeeping duties down at Eden as they have bee hives on site – as you would expect!  I thought at the time that their honey must be something quite special with the variety of forage they have available to them.  As you can see, they keep the hives way out of the reach of poking kids!

With my hives located just outside my office though I have been able to keep a casual eye on them.  I could tell the colony sizes were expanding quite nicely from the activity on the brief moments when the sun did come out in the past month.  No. 2 hive, whilst looking the weakest on the first inspection, was often looking the busiest in these warmer moments.  Quite often the bees were already flying by the time I’d got to work (about 8am) – and my hope of an early Rape crop was growing.

Hive Records
Whilst Sunday 22nd April did not hold out much promise according to the weatherman, we awoke to blue sky and sunshine – so as soon as the sun warmed up we were off to the bees.

Hive 2
We have had warnings and horror stories about bees dying through starvation already this year and we were particularly worried about Hive 2.  It had the least stores in our last inspection but, in its favour, the least bees.  Things had changed though.

There was little in the way of stores in the super and not much to talk about on the brood frames either – so the main mission for this hive is to get some sugar syrup made up and put on ASAP.  Most surprising though was the rapidity at which the colony was expanding – with the queen have laid-up on at least 9 of the 12 frames.

There were plenty of eggs, larvae and capped brood at all stages.  More worrying though was the appearance of about 6 queen cells – one of which was capped.  The queen was spotted, and just to demonstrate the difficulty of this (any why beekeepers tend to mark their queens with a blob of paint) this picture shows her on the frame amongst about 1,000 bees (click on picture to enlarge – she is marked with a white dot and clipped).

If you can’t spot here here’s another picture cropped down (please excuse the quality). She’s almost centre frame and the one with the longer abdomen and short wings (only because she has been clipped)

We removed the queen cells but know the swarming process has started.  Its not down to the colony wanting to replace a poor laying queen though as she’s going great guns – so it must be down to them either being a strain of bees that tend to swarm (they did last year too) or that they were predicting that they’ll soon run out of space.  Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the inspections up now and, if necessary, do a shook swarm or other artificial swarm control to prevent this from happening. If this fails and they do still swarm then at least, with a clipped queen, we might not end up losing half the colony.

As mentioned earlier – the most important thing with this colony is to get a feed on them.

Hive 3
A much less dramatic experience awaited us in Hive 3 – where the previously un-spotted queen was found and marked (white – as we don’t follow the colour code system with just three hives).  We did not clip her as we did not want to disturb the brood for too long on this visit as the promise of rain was now starting to look much more likely.

She had laid up on 6 frames and looked like a good queen – being hatched towards the end of last season.  There were eggs and brood at all stages – and plenty of stores.  There was even about five frames of stores in the super too – so there was no need to feed this one up.

There was no sign of queen cells and these bees are remarkably calm – even though I’m sure their stores were made up predominantly of rape nectar which can often make them a bit grumpy.

Hive 4
Again – a busy hive and the one I was looking forward to opening the least. I got a sting from this one last time and there were two or three bees that continued to follow and buzz us well after we had finished our inspection. They were a lot less aggressive this time but were not without their problems.

There was plenty of stores in the main brood chamber and the super was about three quarter’s full – but not yet capped.  We did spot the queen (marked white with a single clipped wing) – and there were eggs and brood at all stages.  However – there was also about 10 queen cells that we had to remove, including a number that were capped off (one of which looked like the queen had ripped it down).

The queen cells are the peanut shaped extensions to the bottom of the comb – two cup-sized ones on the left, one in the centre and two more extended ones on the right (one of which was capped). For those interested I opened up a queen cell to see how far she had developed.  She was probably a week or so off hatching and had plenty of brood food (the white gooey stuff to the right) to keep her nourished through her development.

We also had a couple of standard national frames in this hive to help us in the fight against Varroa.  The colony will tend to extend these frames and draw out drone comb for the queen to lay un-fertilised eggs in which develop into the male drone bees (fertilised eggs develop into female worker bees).  The cells are larger accommodate the development of the larger drones – which is a much more attractive host for the Varroa mite.  On each inspection we cut this excess comb out – therefore reducing the number of mites at the same time.

With the rain now looking imminent we closed hive 4 and tidied up our bits and pieces.  Hopefully the weather will be kinder to us in the coming weeks and we can prevent the swarms better this year.

Until next time!




Bee Movies – Bees & Wasps

I’ve put together another short bee movie today, this time trying to address the common case of mistaken identity between the honey bee and the wasp.  The opportunity only came about because of the untimely death of a wasp in the studio today – but at least it got put to good use.  It also gave me the opportunity to work with my macro lens adapter.

A great good-guy bad-guy story if ever you’ve heard one!

Bee Movies – Bees & Wasps from Kevin Cook on Vimeo.