A Mild Winter (January 2020)

SO FAR this winter has proved to be a mild one. There have been a few cold nights when there have been clear skies and temperatures have fallen to about -6 deg C  but mostly daytime temperatures have remained above freezing and often around +6 deg C. Yesterday, 22nd January, the temperature rose to 11 deg C, although the actual temperature at my apiary was +8 deg C.  There was a light wind from the SW of about 5 mph and the apiary was bathed in sunlight. It was therefore an opportunity to observe if there was any activity at the entrances to my hives. The video clip below shows the activity at colony #3. It is a colony of black bees that has a 2019 queen and is housed in a brood and a half. I was delighted to observe the activity at the entrance to the hive which was my confirmation that the colony is strong and surviving.

With a mild winter the bees are not going to cluster as often as they might do when temperatures are lower and so they are likely to use up more food stores. I supplement all my colonies with bakers’ fondant as an insurance that they will not run out of stores and die of starvation. Today, all colonies have a good supply of fondant so they can consume it if they need it. And I plan to make another quick check in about 3 or 4 weeks from now.

Colony #2

The above photo is of colony #2. The roof and top insulation has been removed to show some of the bees moving around the top bars in the hive (Black bees with a 2019 queen housed in a double brood box). There is 800g of fondant provided in an upturned tub placed over the central hole of the see-through ‘quilt’. This fondant has hardly been touched since it was first put into position back in October.

My sixth colony is housed in a poly NUC. This is the first time that I have attempted to overwinter a colony of bees in a NUC. So far so good as the video clip below shows good activity at the entrance to the NUC. At the time of taking the video I had just taken a quick look into the feeder, where there is a supply of fondant. The NUC had still to be secured with a ratchet strap.

 

I passed my basic beekeepers practical/oral exam with SBA and was given the certificate in November 2019.

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I haven’t yet turned towards studying for the modular exams but in an attempt to keep thinking about beekeeping I have agreed to give a talk, next month, to the local Rotary Club on the subject of beekeeping. I will not be giving the talk to fellow beekeepers so I won’t feel intimidated 🙂

Best Wishes to All for 2020.

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October 2019

I’m coming into my 3rd winter of beekeeping. As time goes by I am learning from my mistakes, copying what has worked well so far, and preparing for what will come next.

Feeding in Preparation for Winter

Taking all the advice I can from SBA etc. the consensus seems to be that I need to have at least 18kg of food on board each hive before the end of September. You can continue feeding in October if using inverted syrup but stop feeding winter strength (2:1) sugar syrup by the end of September. In reality my colonies were all hungry. With the exception of 1 colony that only needed 17kg the rest all wanted over 20kg and one colony consumed as much as 27kg. Heavy!

I have cedar wood hives and poly hives in the apiary. And I chose to use a ‘Paynes’ poly feeder for the poly hives and an ‘English’ feeder for the wooden hives. Both types of feeder are excellent for providing the bees with syrup but when it comes to removing the feeders after the bees have had their fill the ‘English’ feeder is much easier to remove.

‘Paynes’ Poly Feeder (central weir)

Colony #2

‘English’ Feeder (circular weir)

When the bees have consumed all the sugar syrup in the feeder there are still many bees that remain within the weir.

So how to remove them? The ‘English’ feeder has a circular ‘cup’ that has holes in it’s top. So smoke can be used at first. But that invariably doesn’t work. So, remove the complete feeder away from the single hole in the quilt/crown board that is below it. Then remove the quilt/crown board. A gentle twist of the cup removes the cup from the weir and then the bees can be shaken out of the weir onto the top bars in the brood box. Place the, now empty, feeder to one side and replace the quilt/crown board back onto the brood box. I then put a piece of perspex over the hole in the quilt/crown board to prevent the bees from moving up into the roof space.

But the ‘Paynes’ poly feeder is more problematic in it’s removal because the central plastic cover that goes onto the central weir is not easy to prise open. The bees naturally want to cement the perspex cover into place and it’s a devil of a job attempting to delicately free the bees from the weir. And because the poly feeder fits directly over the brood box the bees in the brood box are fully exposed when the poly feeder is removed.

Varroa Control

As part of my Integrated Pest Control I have been in the habit of using APIVAR strips to reduce the levels of varroa mite in all of my colonies. APIVAR strips are left in each hive between 6 to 10 weeks according to the size of the brood. I am keen to apply these APIVAR strips at the beginning of September because they can then be removed in October. So the sooner I am able to insert them the sooner into October I am able to remove them. And when taking the deterioration of the autumnal/wintry weather conditions into account it is a big factor. I am very conscious of needing to carry out the task as quickly as possible so as not to reduce the temperature of the brood nest unduly. The strips can be difficult to remove because the bees ‘glue’ them into position and a pair of pliers are a necessity to aid removal. And even then it is not a straightforward task, particularly when one or more feisty bee decides to bombard your veil as you attempt to work as briskly and easily as you may. But I’m sure I wouldn’t be happy if I were to be suddenly succumbed to a reduction in temperature and to see a monster metal contraption bearing down upon me! But hey bees, don’t you realise I am doing this for your own good? Do they listen?

So at this time next year I am contemplating  substituting the APIVAR  strips with ‘VarroMed’ which is another product that has recently been made available. It has natural ingredients of Formic acid and Oxalic acid hydrate. But more importantly  it has a 0-days withdrawal period and can be used with and without brood. I have heard good reports of this product’s ability to reduce varroa mite levels to as low as reasonably practicable.

I will return to my apiary within a couple of days to adjust the entrance reducers on each hive. This is to prevent mice entering the hives when temperatures reduce.

Heather Site

I have been offered a site close by to the heather where I can temporarily move 2 or 3 of my hives around the middle of July and then return them to my apiary around the end of August. In this way I can obtain some heather honey. This is a practice followed by many beekeepers in Scotland and I am keen to attempt it for the experience even if I don’t continue to do it on an annual basis. It will be more work and more to learn so over the winter it will be part of my education.

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I attended a very good lecture on “Queen Selection and Introduction” presented by Margaret Thomas for ESBA last week. It was the first of the ‘Winter Lectures’ organised by ESBA. These lectures always promote an  interest in beekeeping, are motivational, and are timed to take place when practical beekeeping is on-hold.

Dundee Flower & Food Festival 2019

I managed to achieve 3rd prize for my soft-set honey at the Dundee Flower & Food Festival this year. The rules didn’t permit me to submit my entries as a novice this year so I was competing with the big boys and girls 🙂

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Mixed Fortunes, But Mostly Positive

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The last two months have flown by. This year I have been concentrating on ‘increase’. There were times when I thought my endeavours would not be fulfilled. However the bees have their own time scale and it just doesn’t do to be impulsive or indeed to be too eager when managing your bees!

At the start of March I had two colonies of black bees (AMM). One of these colonies still had a 2015 queen and the other had a 2018 queen. I bought a 3rd colony (Carniolan bees) at the end of March that had a 2018 queen. Now, at the end of August, I have 6 colonies; two colonies of Carniolan bees and  4 colonies of Black bees. They comprise 5 hives and 1 nucleus – all with mated queens that are laying and all with 2019 queens with the exception of one 2018 queen. It has been a lot of work to get this far.

I had my Basic Beekeepers Exam on 10th July. The week prior to taking the exam I kept wondering why I was putting myself through it. It’s not essential but it does concentrate the mind and it is a good motivation for learning. That’s not to say that at my stage in life I had thought I would have been finished with exams by now and so anxiety reigned for a while 🙂 I passed with a distinction so a state of calm overcame all the anxiety that I had hitherto experienced.

August seems to be a particularly bad month for wasps. Another colony I had, in the making, did not survive. It was weak and eventually queen-less. It had few bees, started laying drones, and had insufficient means to resist intrusion from wasps. So there were lessons a plenty from that experience.

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I had 3 wasp traps. The above trap was a home-made effort that worked well. Sugar syrup is used to attract the wasps and a thimble of vinegar discourages the honey bees from flying into the same trap!

Towards the end of August I am mindful that the honey crop needs to be removed, when possible, so that the bees can be prepared for winter i.e. by feeding them and administering medicine to combat the varroa mite. At the end of August there may still be some Himalayan Balsam around for forage but essentially the honey-flow is all but over.

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The supers came off and then I immediately applied APIVAR strips to each hive for Varroa control. These strips will be in the hive for a minimum of 6 weeks which means they will need to be removed from the hives around the middle of October. Therefore any delay in applying these strips means a delay in their removal and that is not a good prospect given the potential weather conditions in late October.

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Some of the reward for effort put in during the year, apart from the enjoyment of simply watching the activity of the bees, is the farming of honey.

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Some of the honey I extracted this year is shown above. Some is light clear honey. And some is my first attempt at making soft-set honey. I will be submitting both types into the Dundee Flower and Food Festival. https://www.dundeeflowerandfoodfestival.com/

To keep around half a dozen hives can be time consuming for a hobbyist, especially when nearly all of those hives consist of a double brood box. So my plan, for now, is to try and maintain this number. Without making increase next year I hope to maximize the honey crop! Living in hope……….

Last night I went to feed only 1 of the colonies (that I felt needed feeding straight away) and I provided it with 5 litres of inverted syrup. I will start feeding all the other colonies on Monday. I have to be prepared to give each colony between 10 and 13 litres of liquid stores. If each colony has 16-18kg of stores on board by the end of October they have a reasonable chance of surviving the winter. It is best to feed liquid stores in September. If you must feed in October then feed inverted syrup instead of sugar syrup. The bees have less work to do when processing the inverted syrup. And the inverted syrup will not ferment whereas sugar syrup may ferment if it is fed to the bees too late in the year.

There are many ways to learn. And I always receive a lot of useful information from ‘The Apiarist’: https://theapiarist.org/the-flow-must-go-on/

Footnote: After only 2 years of keeping bees I still think of myself as someone that keeps bees – a beginner. Perhaps, by the end of next year, I may come to regard myself as a beekeeper! Perhaps…….

 

Drone Layer etc.

There is so much to say and so little time to say it. (Metaphor for life?)

My learning curve continues to be a steep one. Who knows when it will level out 🙂

Here is a summary:

  • Continued to study over the winter and prepared necessary equipment.
  • Attended an ‘Integrated Pest Management & Adult Bee Diseases’ course.
  • Attended a ‘Swarm Control’ course.
  • Attended a ‘Queen Rearing & Nucleus Creation’ course.
  • I have an SBA Bee Basics Practical Exam in a couple of weeks from now.
  • My Apiary now consists of 5 colonies (3 wooden hives and 2 poly’ hives) and 1 bait hive.
  • I have 1 NUC (6-frame) in my garden that is in the process of superseding its 2015 queen

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  • I had to carry out ‘swarm control’ three times and on each occasion I chose the ‘nucleus method’.
  • During June, two of the colonies became quite low on stores and required supplementary feeding – particularly because the colonies had a lot of foundation to draw out and a lot of wax creation was needed.
  • A poor start to the season, in respect of the weather, meant that initial inspections were late. Then a short spell of good weather kicked everything off and the potential for swarming, when very few drones were around, was not a recipe for quick production of virgin queens that would go on to mate and then start laying successfully.
  • My First colony was queen-less for 5 weeks and became a drone layer.

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  • Thankfully that situation has been resolved. The colony now has a queen and I am hoping she will start laying within the next few days – particular now that there is an expectation of better weather.
  • I have made good use of ‘Test Frames’ and they “really do what they say on the tin”.
  • As part of ‘Varroa control’ I like using 1 shallow frame in a brood box where the bees draw out their own drone comb. (What makes them choose drone brood below a shallow frame?). Timing seems essential. There is an advantage that the bees are kept busy and either the drones can add to the drone pool or the drone brood can be removed (and with it the varroa mite that is attracted to the drone brood that takes longer to mature than the females. (No sexist comments please 🙂 )

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  • I have tried out Poly hives and have concluded that, in addition to the wooden hives, both types of hive offer benefits over each other.

  • I have had 1 unsuccessful attempt at using a mini-mating NUC to produce a queen from 1 queen cell that was removed from a colony that was attempting to swarm.

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  •  I have been called out to assist with capturing swarms

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  • I have given advice to the two members of the public that had bumble bees nesting in empty bird boxes.
  • And I have extracted 1 full super of honey (only) so far.

So all the fun of the fair. Oh what fun to be had. Here’s hoping that July and August will be good months for beekeeping.

Swarm Control Take 2

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A (Swarm) Queen Cell in the making in Colony #2

Eleven days after Colony #1 made preparations to swarm, Colony #2 attempted to do the same. Thankfully, and because inspections are now being carried out every 7 days or less, I was able to prevent them from swarming. The 2018 queen was moved on her frame into another NUC and 4 other frames were added. In this NUC there are 5 frames in total consisting of 2 brood, 2 honey & pollen and 1 laying space.

The NUC from Colony #1 was kept at the apiary. But I found that too many flying bees returned to it’s parent colony because I still haven’t got the knack of applying the sappy grass to the entrance properly. It’s either too tight or too slack. Therefore, after splitting colony #2 instead of using ‘sappy grass’ I used the rotating entrance guard on the NUC. Leaving nothing to chance I have moved this NUC to our garden (over 3 miles away from the apiary). The flying bees will therefore acclimatize themselves to their new home more easily. I fed the bees in NUC #2 today and it already looks stronger than NUC #1. It will be returned to the apiary in about 1 month from now after the parent colony has been checked to see if it has a new 2019 queen and if it is laying worker brood.

It’s tempting to speculate whether or not colony #2 may have been over stimulated with the food I gave it to get the bees through the winter and then when April provided more unusually extreme and fluctuating weather conditions it contributed to their early desire to swarm. A very large colony was housed in a ‘brood and a half’. It already has 3 supers on it. One of these supers will be ready to remove for extraction this coming week. And it’s better to remove that now because it’s likely to be filled with honey from Oil Seed Rape as it’s source. Honey production from colonies 1 and 2 will now suffer in the month of May when both colonies are temporarily queen-less.

So now it will be all eyes on colony #3 to see how it performs. (It will also be interesting to see how these Carniolan bees compare with the Apis Mellifera Mellifera bees). A second super was added to it yesterday. There were no outward signs of swarming and the queen had sufficient space to lay. Steady as she goes please!

Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if the weather played ball? Having to inspect and knock down queen cells in poor weather goes against the grain:

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The brolly is to protect the bees from the rain as I work – not to sun myself while having a beer or a G&T. But cheers anyway………………

 

Happy Beekeeping on Easter Saturday

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Finally, after what seems to have been a frustratingly long period with temperatures of around 11°C or less, along comes an Easter weekend that provides glorious weather to allow first full inspections of all my colonies (three). Last year I made my first inspection of the season on 8th April and the colony attempted to swarm 1 month later. It’s a later start for me this year but not for my bees as colony #1 is in the early stages of preparing to swarm.

All colonies survived the winter and all looked strong and healthy. On the above photo sealed worker brood, drone brood, open larvae and honey stores can be seen.

I teamed up with another beekeeping friend this weekend and assisted each other at our respective apiaries. The value in having another pair of eyes cannot be underestimated.

Colony #1

At the end of August last year I reunited the 2015 queen with #1 colony because I was convinced that a new queen had not emerged/mated. How wrong can you be? On my first full inspection for 2019 I found a 2015 queen and a 2018 queen happily occupying the same hive and seemingly both laying worker brood etc.  I understand that this situation is not commonplace but may occur more frequently than we realise. The main thing is that both queens survived. I re-marked the 2015 queen (markings had rubbed off) and I also marked the 2018 queen.

The colony overwintered with a double brood box system – each box containing 10 frames instead of the usual 8 for a double or 11 for a single.

But on this first inspection I saw a few adult drones and some sealed drone brood. More importantly there were 3 unsealed queen swarm cells (QC) and one of them contained an egg that was being fed royal jelly. Swarm control was therefore necessary and I chose to use the ‘nucleus’ method. Both queens were moved out of colony #1, rendering it temporarily queen-less. Each queen was placed into a 3-frame NUC with sappy grass at their entrances. (1 frame of stores, 1 frame of brood and 1 frame of drawn comb in each NUC). 2 frames of house bees were also shaken into the NUC. In the parent colony I knocked down two of the QCs and kept the QC that was in the first throws of developing. I marked the frame to indicate the QC position so I know which one it is when I go back in 7 days time to knock down any other QCs that may have been produced. (I didn’t mark the QC frame when undertaking swarm control last year. That was a beginner’s fundamental mistake). Six frames of foundation were added to the parent colony, replacing the frames that were put in the NUCs. Thus the Queen has been separated from the flying bees and more space has been provided.

I removed the insulation from the top of the hive and finally I changed the orientation of the frames from ‘Cold Way’ to ‘Warm Way’ because it is easier for me to inspect the hives when positioned directly behind the hive.

Colony #2

This colony overwintered as a brood and a half with the super below the brood box. It, too, has plenty of stores and brood in all stages. No queen cells were seen and I have added a super to give the bees more space. I found the 2018 queen and marked it Red.

Again, I removed the insulation and changed the frame orientation from the ‘Cold’ to ‘Warm’ way.

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Colony #3

This is a new colony of bees that I bought from an experienced commercial beekeeper. He is downsizing his operation due to teaching commitments. This is a colony of Carniolan bees that has a 2018 queen. The queen was marked red before I bought it. And the colony was housed in an old R. Steel & Brodie National hive. I have transferred the colony into a new ‘Payne’s Polystyrene National hive. (When I have cleaned up the old hive I may use it as a bait hive). Again I changed the frame orientation from the ‘Cold’ to ‘Warm’ way. I also needed to add a super to this colony to give the bees more space. Some of the nearby OSR fields have been slowly coming into flower so a honey flow should be imminent. There was ‘brood in all stages’, a good amount of stores, and no QCs were seen.

 

 

Oxalic Acid (Trickle Treatment)

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My bees (both colonies) are now ‘clustering’ between the frames. Hopefully they have sufficient stores to see them through the winter but in addition they also have fondant, placed directly on top of the frames, for them to access as and when required.

Today is the 23rd December which is two days after the Winter Solstice. This is the time of year when you would expect a colony of honey bees to be close to, if not, brood-less. It is therefore an ideal time to treat for Varroa Mite by applying oxalic acid. Why? Because the varroa mites will be carried around on adult bees only (i.e. phoretic) and not be in brood cells. It is easier to kill mites when they have not moved into brood cells – where they reproduce. There are two application methods for consideration: ‘trickle’ or ‘sublimation’ although there are pros and cons for both methods. Trickle treatment requires mixing powdered oxalic acid with a 1:1 ratio of sugar syrup and then trickling this mixture onto the seams of bees that are clustered between the frames using a syringe. The guideline recommendations for the mixture must be followed to the letter and similarly the amount of mixture that is applied to each seam of bees. The trickle method requires less kit than the sublimation method and can be applied very quickly. The sublimation method requires a ‘vaporiser’ and a 12v (car) battery and more PPE but it has the advantage that the hive can be treated without opening it up. However, because I have an ‘Out Apiary’ that cannot be accessed by car during the winter I chose to use the trickle method because carrying a flask of oxalic mixture and syringe is easier than taking a heavy car battery with me. The oxalic trickle treatment was carried out today.

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I continue to ‘heft’ my hives every 2 weeks in an effort to try to assess the level of stores remaining for each colony. It is an ‘art’ that, as yet, I have not developed the necessary level of experience for which I can satisfactorily interpret the results (of hefting). But at least I have polycarbonate cover boards in place through which I can quickly see into the top of the hive without disturbing the bees too much.

We are now in the ‘holiday season’ and Christmas is fast approaching. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that provide me with encouragement and instruction. They include: East of Scotland Beekeeping Association (ESBA), Scottish Beekeepers Association (SBA), Stan Franklin & Gavin Ramsey, Pete Watt’s Facebook group, Ron Bain, Stewart Spinks and The Norfolk Honey Company, Mike’s Beekeeping, Beekeeping365, The Scottish Beekeeper Magazine, and the BeeCraft Magazine and not least Neil and Morag for allowing me the space to indulge this rewarding pastime.

A Merry Christmas to all.

 

 

Winter Feeding

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A view of my strongest colony (2018 Queen) seen through a National Polycarbonate Quilt on 18th November 2018.

I have supplied both my colonies with the recommended amount of inverted syrup during October this year. And a look at my records for 2017 showed me that I did not feed my bees with sugar fondant until the last week of December. But this year has been different and I have stronger colonies than I had last year. (The above colony is a ‘brood and a half’ and my other colony comprises 2 brood chambers with a reduced number of frames in each). So I was tempted to provide them with some sugar fondant a month earlier than I had done last year.

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My overall plan is to apply a trickle treatment (oxalic acid/sugar syrup mix) during the last week of December as part of a treatment plan to reduce varroa mite. And immediately after applying the trickle treatment I will place a slab of fondant directly over the top of the brood frames – this should hopefully last them through to March/April. But in the meantime I have given each colony approximately 870 grams of fondant. This was placed in an upturned plastic container on 18th November and placed directly over the escape hole in the polycarbonate quilt. The above photo, taken on 25th November, shows that the bees in this colony have already consumed about 1/3 of the fondant in a week! I asked the question, last year, “if fondant is supplied – will the bees feed off their honey stores before going for the fondant?” The answer I received was non-committal and only that “feeding the bees with fondant is similar to an insurance policy”. Well, from my limited experience of last year, and now this, it appears to me that the bees go for the fondant as soon as it is given to them irrespective of whether they have honey stores of their own or not. (Which makes me second guess if it is prudent to supply the fondant as early as I have or not!). At this rate I will need to give them more fondant soon and certainly before the end of December.

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A section of Celotex insulation board – cut out to accommodate the tub of fondant.

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And another layer of insulation (20mm thick recycled chip foam) placed on top.

With all the insulation required in the winter for a wooden hive it makes me wonder whether it may be a good idea or not to add some poly hives, in addition to the wooden hives, to the apiary when I increase the number of colonies.

End of Summer & Into Autumn

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Now that I am a few months into my 2nd year of beekeeping I can reflect that I have had varied success with my efforts. Having started off with a 6-frame NUC of bees, I now have 2 large colonies. The month of May was particularly frantic when I experienced, for the first time, a colony intent on swarming. Thankfully the colony did not swarm but it had to be split twice to prevent it from swarming. Initially I used the ‘Artificial swarm’ method but this was soon followed up by the ‘Nucleus method’. The ‘artificial swarm’ did not  result in a newly mated queen and I eventually had to reunite it. But from the ‘Nucleus method’ I was able to increase, gain a newly mated queen and a second colony. And as the season continued my original colony, with a 3-year old queen, tried to supersede – but failed.

I also had to add supers (and then eventually remove them). Timing is all important. It was explained to me that adding room for the bees to expand can be equated with pot plants – plants can become root-bound if not ‘potted-up’ but if you put them in a bigger pot too early they are overwhelmed and do not flourish properly. Notwithstanding the time taken up with swarm control, my bees provided me with nearly 4 full supers of honey.  The task of extracting and jarring the honey became easier each time it was done. The first time I extracted the honey it would only go through the course and the fine sieve but not the very fine cloth. This is OK if the honey is for friends/ personal use. But if selling honey, or if you wish to exhibit honey then you also need to use a straining cloth.

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‘Scottish Beekeepers’ and ‘East of Scotland Beekeepers’ exhibit their honey at the annual Dundee Flower and Food Festival. I had decided to exhibit some honey simply to gain the experience of doing it. I submitted three entries; two for clear honey and one for granulated honey. To my surprise the granulated honey received first prize and one of the clear honey entries received third prize. I was also awarded a trophy (Honey Novice). It’s a funny old world.

It is essential to have a good plan in place prior to making any inspection of your bees. And there were one or two occasions during the year when I agonized over what to do in order for the best. My most recent dilemma came when  the colony with the 2018 queen refused to dwindle in size despite the weather conditions and lack of forage. I was wanting to remove the last super so that I could start varroa control and also start feeding the bees up for the winter. I am using APIVAR strips and wanted to apply them in the brood box at the beginning of September so that I can remove them in the middle of October. (Delaying is not a good idea due to potential weather conditions in late October). But the brood box was full of bees and the super likewise. After discussing this issue with several beekeepers (some ideas they offered even I didn’t like) I eventually elected to go to a brood and a half. Many beekeepers will do everything they can to avoid this but for me this seemed to be the best option for my particular situation.

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APIVAR strips applied in the brood box

The wasp traps have been removed from the apiary now and I am starting to feed the bees to prepare them for the winter. Winter-strength sugar syrup should be given to the bees but inverted syrup is also an option. Using inverted syrup is beneficial because the bees have less work to do as they consume the syrup but the main reason is that inverted syrup does not ferment.  You should stop feeding sugar syrup to the bees during early October but you can continue feeding them with inverted syrup for longer if there is the need. I didn’t use inverted syrup last year and my bees stopped consuming the syrup, of their own accord, by the end of September.

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Filling the rapid feeder with sugar syrup

During the winter of 2017/2018 my one and only colony managed to survive in a single brood box consisting of eleven frames. This coming winter I am going to try a brood and a half (a super below a brood box) for one colony and for the other colony a double brood box with a reduced number of frames in each (eight frames in each). The double brood box approach is one that was always recommended by the late Ian Craig – a successful and respected beekeeper in Scotland.

One thing I am learning is that there are many ways to keep bees and many beekeepers will do what works for them. So long as I do not make any fundamental mistakes I will be happy. But if I do make some mistakes along the way then I hope to learn from them. There are some milestones to pass, particularly in April when I hope to be in a position to mark the 2018 queen. There is equipment to clean up now and lots of reading to do.  Queen rearing will be high on the agenda. The APIVAR strips will be removed mid-October and around that time mouse guards may be fitted to the hives. The hives will need to be strapped down and fondant may be applied in December. But I am getting ahead of myself 🙂

 

 

Supersedure Cell?

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I split one of my colonies today (1st August 2018).

The colony housing a 2015 Queen and comprising 2 brood boxes   and 1 super has now been split (with the queen free to lay in both boxes). Why did I make the split? Because I found 1 queen cell, not quite capped and containing a pearly white larvae inside it. There was only 1 queen cell but it was at the bottom bar of 1 frame. All the books indicate that swarm cells are generally found at or near the bottom bar of the frame and there can be several of them; an emergency cell can be found almost anywhere; and supersedure cells will normally be less than 5 in number and all in the middle/centre of the same frame. But all experienced beekeepers keep telling me that often the bees just don’t read the books! And in this case, given the time of year and the ample space available to the bees, and the space available for the queen to lay, and the good amount of stores available for the colony it seems unlikely that they would want to swarm. It’s more likely that the queen may have past her prime and may not be communicating pheromones that are acceptable to the worker bees. It is therefore more likely that the bees have decided to replace the queen themselves i.e. supersede.

To split the colony I needed to find the queen. I had tried to find her 4 days ago and couldn’t. But I did today. Most of her ‘blue’ mark has rubbed away from her thorax. I removed the super and put it to one side, then I removed the top brood box and placed it onto an upturned roof  and placed a cloth over it to keep those bees in the dark. I was then free to check the bottom brood box, frame by frame. I did that by separating the frames into pairs thus creating areas of light and dark in an effort to try and control the movement of the queen (queens try to move away from the light). The queen was not found in the bottom brood box. I put a queen excluder on top of the bottom brood box and put the top brood box back on it. (This meant that if the queen was in the top brood box i.e. if I had not overlooked her in the bottom brood box) she would not be able to move back into the bottom brood box while I was checking the top).

I found the queen in the top brood box and when I found her I moved the frame she occupied into a nuc box for safe keeping until I was organised. My plan was to separate the brood boxes and, on completion, have the old queen at a new location (with no queen cells) and keep the other brood box containing the ‘supercedure’ queen cell in the original location. I also kept the super at the original location above the brood box containing the ‘supercedure’ queen cell. Why? Because the bees in the super can fly. And all the ‘flying bees’ will want to fly back to the original location. Therefore the hive at the original location needs sufficient space to accommodate all the bees. (Whereas the hive at the new location will only consist of the old queen, brood, honey stores and pollen – flying bees return to the hive at the original location – and only the bees that have yet to hatch from the brood at the new location will consider the new location to be their place of residence).

Because the bees at the new location are not yet able to fly and bring forage back to the hive I needed to supply them with extra ‘food’ – to make sure all their honey stores are not consumed and then the bees are not left to starve. I placed a quilt over the brood box then a super to house a contact feeder containing sugar syrup. In an effort to prevent ‘robbers’ (there are temporarily no ‘guard’ bees at the new location) I temporarily reduced the entrance to 1 or 2 bee spaces by placing some loose grass at the entrance. I have also placed a hornet trap and a couple of wasp traps close by to attract and trap potential robbers.

Why did I make the split? I could have left the bees to supersede naturally i.e. just let the bees get on with it – without any intervention from me. But the new ‘supercedure’ cell first has to hatch. Then the emerging virgin queen has to mate. And then I need to observe her laying. At every stage there is a potential for something to go wrong .e.g. she may not mate etc. So, at least by removing the queen from the original colony I am making sure that if the new queen fails I will not have lost a queenright colony.

I calculate that the virgin queen should emerge on the 4th or 5th August. I will then need to wait for at least 2 weeks before I check again to see if I have a new queen that is laying. If I have a positive result I will unite the bees from the hive that is now housing the 2015 queen (after removing the 2015 queen). Time is marching on. Ideally I would like this process to take place in sufficient time to be able to treat for varroa by the beginning of September. (adding 2 APIVAR strips to each colony).

I extracted 23lbs of honey on 9th June. I will be removing another super from colony #2 tomorrow. Hopefully this will produce a similar amount of the golden stuff.