Sunday, 11 November 2018

Last Tasks of the Year

Now that harvest is over, there have just been a couple of tasks left before winter.  The first was to change the hive configuration and move the super of winter honey under the brood box.  Some beekeepers do this, others don't.  But it's the way I was taught, and I have never lost a colony in winter, so it's a technique that works for me.

I did the switch-over last month.  The brood boxes are heavy at this time of year, so it was a two-person job.  Fortunately, the bees' landlord, Nev, was on hand to assist!

Regular readers will remember the incident last year when I found a false widow spider living under one of the hand-holds on the brood box of hive #2.  I certainly remembered - and made sure to check under the hand-holds this time, before moving the brood boxes.  I'm glad I did, as a peek at the back of brood box #2 revealed this:

Uninvited guest!

Fortunately, this time I was prepared to face my nemesis.  And, naturally, as a committed enemy of spider-kind, there was only one course of action - a swift blow from the blunt end of my hive tool.  This particular spider did not live to see another day.

The last task was undertaken today, when I put the mouse-guards onto the hive.  These are perforated metal strips with holes large enough to let bees in and out, but small enough to prevent any mice from getting into the hive.  They look like this:

Mice not welcome.

Now that the final tasks of the season are complete, I can relax and leave the bees to their own devices until the warmer weather comes in the spring.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Harvest Time

I'm a bit late with this post, as I actually harvested a couple of weekends ago.  The good news - I got some honey.  The bad news - not very much, only 13 jars in total.  That makes for just under 10 lbs of honey, which is pretty poor.  Nevertheless, at least I have two healthy colonies going into winter, and that's the most important thing.

Now for the weird news...  The honey has ivy nectar in it.  this means that it has a somewhat distinctive taste to it.  Ivy honey (and honey that is part-ivy, like mine) has a complex flavour that is less sweet than other honeys, with a distinct, earthy taste.  Descriptions include autumnal, like new leather, or woody.  I quite like the taste.  Mrs Beekeeper is not so keen.  So, it's not to everyone’s taste, but is one for the more discerning palate.

Here is the obligatory shot of the produce, before I delivered it to our exclusive retailer Widcombe Deli:

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Autumn Update

Apologies for not posting for a while - for various reasons, my bees have had to take a bit of a back seat while I've been getting on with a variety of other things through summer and early autumn.  Anyway, here's a bit of a progress update:

In my last post - back at the beginning of July - I found hive #2 empty, and burned the frames.  I left the hive empty for a while, and waited for the new queen in the blue nuc to emerge, mate and start laying.  She hatched out of her wax queen cell during the first week of July, and by the third week she was laying.  At the end of July I moved the colony from the nucleus into hive #2.  They slowly built up numbers (and comb) through August, though they hadn't collected anything in terms of honey.

Back in Hive #1, Laura's bees have filled two supers (of 10 frames each) and left another half-filled.  One of the full supers is theirs - they'll need the honey to get through winter.  The second, I will extract.  The last time I checked, the honey was still a little runny, so I'm leaving it for a bit longer while the bees evaporate off the water and get the honey to the correct constituency (18% water, 82% sugar).

I decided to move the half-filled super to hive #2, to get them started on their winter stores.  I've also been feeding them - at the beginning of September, I bought 24 x 1kg bags of sugar.  They've gone through 14kg already!  But at least the super is feeling a lot fuller.  Also, they are starting to deposit honey (or, to be strictly accurate, sugar syrup) into the brood frames, as you can see from this photo:

The other thing I've noticed is that hive #1 has a really large amount of bees, while hive #2 (having changed queens late in the season) has been struggling to build up numbers.  So I've been donating frames of capped larvae from Laura's hive to #2, to try to even the numbers up.  The number of bees in #2 has certainly increased over the last three weeks, so it seems to be working.

Coming up in the next post - the long-overdue naming of the queen in #2...!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

It's All Over for Hive #2

After seeing hive #2 looking to be in a sorry state at the last inspection, I decided that action was needed to sort things out once and for all.  So, last Tuesday I went to the Apiary after work and decided to remove all the brood comb that had ever been laid in (three frames in total).  I'm glad I did, too - once I had the hive open, I could see early signs of the Sacbrood infection returning.  It was time to kill the brood, to stop the bees being re-infected.

The process was easy enough - I moved the queen onto a new (combless) frame, shook the bees off the old frames and left the frames to one side.  I left in one-and-a-half frames of partially-drawn comb (for the queen to lay in), and the rest of the frames were new with nothing but fresh foundation.

Then I burned the frames.  They burn well:

On Saturday, I returned to do my weekly inspection.  But there was nothing to do in hive #2 - the bees had gone!  Here's proof:

This is known as absconding - for fairly obvious reasons.  Bees will do it if they are under stress, and decide that their current home is not conducive to their survival.  Factors can include:
  • Disease and parasites
  • Attacks from predators
  • Other significant disturbance (such as beekeepers!)
  • Starvation

Given that we know that the bees were sick (Sacbrood), had me interfering by removing the brood, and had no honey stores left (it was all on the frames that I burned) it's really no surprise that they decided that they'd had enough.  With the very warm weather that we've been having, they obviously thought that, if they find a nice undisturbed place to set up home, there's still enough time before winter for them to build some new comb and collect plenty of honey.  Of course, they may well have been collected by a local beekeeper, or they might have set up home somewhere up on Beechen Cliff.

Either way, I hope they found a comfortable new home and they're collecting lots of nectar and pollen in this lovely sunny weather!

Monday, 25 June 2018

Midsummer Musings

It’s been sunny in Bath this week, which should be good news for bees.  However, that hasn’t stopped them indulging in a bit of silly behaviour...

It was very warm on Saturday morning, so I decided to do the weekly inspection after breakfast.  In the blue nuc, things were quiet.  Too quiet, in fact - surely there should be more bees?  And where was the queen?  After spotting a couple of queen cells - with larvae - it became clear what had happened - the bees had taken advantage of the nice weather, and swarmed.  Oh well, I shall have to wait for the new queen to emerge in a week or so.

Laura’s hive is doing well, with lots of bees and brood.  They have finally started bringing in honey, though I don’t think the crop will be anywhere near last year’s.

On to hive number 2.  The good news is the brood looks healthy, and there’s no sign of the Sacbrood infection that they suffered from last season.  However, there were a few spots of bee poo on the frames, and one poor bee with poo on her wings.  It looks like the colony might have a case of diarrhoea.  There are a few different diseases that can cause this.  I’m going to read up on them this week, so that next week I can make a proper diagnosis and take the appropriate course of action.

At least I spotted the queen, and I took the opportunity to mark her with a dot of red paint.  She is laying, though there is only so much she can do as the bees are barely drawing any wax.  I wonder if I need to feed them next week, to get them building?

One odd thing - despite the colony looking quite sorry for itself, they’d still gone to the effort of making a queen cell.  I took the side off so that I could get to the larva inside, and took a photo before I scooped it out:

A queen larva

The colony is taking a long time to build up worker numbers.  There is about a frame and a half of capped brood - hopefully when these workers emerge, the additional workforce might mean more foraging and more comb building.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye - Part Two

In Part One we left the bees in the blue nuc leaderless, with the new queen having unexpectedly flown off into the undergrowth.  With the as-yet unnamed queen MIA, what was I to do?

The answer, quite simply, was nothing at all.  There was no chance of me finding her outside the hive, so I had to sit it out and hope that she came back.

I waited until just after six o'clock, and then headed back to look inside the nucleus.  I checked one frame, then another, and another...  and....

Imagine my relief on spotting the queen wandering nonchalantly around on frame number 4.  I wonder if she enjoyed her unexpected day out?!  This time I decided to mark her using the queen marking cage, just to make sure that nothing could go wrong.  Here's a picture of the newly marked queen:

Having finally finished the job that I'd made a mess of earlier in the day, I removed the queen cell that I'd found earlier, and put the roof back on the blue nuc.

Later, at dusk, it was time to wave goodbye to queen Dorothy.  Jessica came over to collect the other (brown) nucleus and take it to the other end of St Mark's road.  Jessica decided to hive the bees straight away, which is unusual as I have always hived bees in the middle of the day.  I think it's fair to say, from the number of stings Jessica received, that the bees were unimpressed.  It's always good to try new things in beekeeping, but I think this will be the first and last time that I try to hive bees after sunset!  Nevertheless, I hope Dorothy and her bees settle in to their new home.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye - Part One

Dorothy is leaving!  Though she won't be going far - fellow Widcombe beekeeper Jessica is going to look after Dorothy and her bees, at Jessica's apiary on Lyncombe Hill.  So yesterday, I'd arranged with Jessica for her to collect the brown nuc (Dorothy's colony) at dusk.  Bees will fly until sunset, so if you're ever moving a hive or nuc, it needs to be done at dusk, so that all the foragers have returned safety to the hive.

I popped over to the apiary at lunchtime, just to check that everything in the brown nuc was OK.  Yes - Dorothy was seen, and there are plenty of eggs and brood.

I then checked hive #1, just to make sure they weren't working on any secret queen-cell production programme.  Nope - everything in #1 was also as it should be.

Then, even though there was no need or reason to, I decided to take a look in the blue nuc.  This is the one with the unmarked queen who started laying a little over a week ago.  Everything looked OK, until I got to the middle frame, which had a six-day-old queen cell on it.  This was very odd - the queen has been laying for less than a fortnight, and the workers have no reason at all to making queen cells.  And yet, there it was:

I decided to leave it until I'd found the queen.  I spotted her on the next frame.  Since she was now laying, and there are sealed brood, I decided it's time to mark her.  I got hold of the marking pen (red, for 2018 queens) and got ready.  Normally I use a marking cage (click this link for photos), but last week I'd marked one of Ian's queens by holding her legs between my thumb and forefinger.  Having done it once, I decided to get some more practice and have another go.

Basically,  it's a four-step manoeuvre:
  • pick the queen up by her wings
  • transfer to other hand, and hold her by legs
  • dot the paint onto her thorax
  • put her back into the nuc (or hive)

The thing about picking up a queen bee is that they wriggle.  So you can't hold by the wings for too long, you need to transfer her to your other hand and hold her by the legs.  The important thing to note is her wing muscles are stronger than her leg muscles, so holding her by the legs is easier.  Well, I made the rookie mistake of holding her by the wings for too long, so of course she wriggled free and started wandering around on my right hand.

To rescue the situation, I tried to encourage her to walk onto my left hand, so that I could try to pick her up again.  She was having none of it - and promptly whirred her wings and took off!  I saw her disappear into the buttercups at the front of the hive and, despite frantic searching both inside and outside the hive, there was no sign of her.

In part 2, to be published later this week, I'll let you know how the story ends...