Friday, 27 May 2016

On Other Types of Bees

In my back garden, I'm lucky to have a Cotoneaster, which the bees love.  It's just starting to flower now, so last Sunday afternoon I took some photographs.  Here's one of my honey bees foraging:

I actually get a decent variety of other bees, too.  Around our estate we are lucky to have a number of people who keep solitary-bee houses in their gardens.  These are made from wood blocks with holes drilled in them, or from bamboo cane - or a mixture of both.  Here's the one in Ruth's garden:

Back to the Cotoneaster, and here's a solitary bee - I think It's a mason bee, but am happy to be corrected if anyone wants to leave a comment:

Unfortunately my plum tree didn't flower this year, which is a shame as I'll often see two or three different species of solitary bee on the blossom, all foraging together.  Actually, that's not even the half of it as far as solitary bees are concerned - there are more than 200 species of solitary bee in Britain.  And if you fancy keeping bees the low-maintenance way (guaranteed never to get stung!) then I would definitely recommend getting a solitary-bee house - you'll see a variety of different species over the course of the year, and of course you will be helping your local ecosystem too.

Bumble bees also seem to like the Cotoneaster - not the large buff-tails, but mostly the smaller varieties.  There are actually 24 species of bumble bee in the UK, of which 8 are fairly common.  This is, I think, a Bombus lucorum (white-tailed bumblebee):

And this could very well be a Bombus pratorum (early bumblebee):

This one is interesting - it's a Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum):

The tree bumblebee is a recent migrant to the UK - first spotted here in 2001.  Unlike most bumblebee species, which prefer to nest near the ground, these mostly nest in trees (hence the name).  They will quite often nest in bird boxes, if they can find one vacant.

There are a couple of nice identification guides here and here, if you want to try identifying any bumble bees that you see in your own garden.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Not About Bees...

... but this happened:

Yep - that's a deer, just around the corner from my hives, on Beechen Cliff!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Frame Change Continues...

Yesterday's inspection was just to see how the bees are getting on with the new frames, and to see whether I could swap out any more old frames.  The picture was pretty much the same in both hives - comb drawn out on two new frames, but only on one side (the side facing the brood).  There were more bees though - not as many as I'd like, but at least the colonies are building up a little.

Importantly, there was a lot more capped brood, so hopefully that will mean a significant increase in workers soon.  Also, I noticed that Florence's bees had started to make "queen cups".  These are the precursor to queen cells - really, the base of the cell into which the queen will lay an egg that will then grow into a new queen.  If I find an egg in a queen cup, it means the colony are thinking about swarming.  Fortunately, both the cups I found were empty.  Neither colony is big enough to be able to swarm just yet, but I'll need to keep an eye on them for the next few weeks.

Florence's hive seems to have more bees than Miriam's, and just appears to be generally "busier".  So, I decide to swap out an old brood frame for a new one.  The problem - this frame has a lot of capped brood on it.  In a normal year, I would burn the frame with the brood - this seems harsh, but it ensures that any brood diseases are killed, and also kills a fair few varroa, too.  Unfortunately, the cold April has prevented the colonies building up as fast as they normally would.  So, I decided to move the old frame, full of brood, into Miriam's hive.  I must stress I wouldn't normally do this - I am generally fastidious about avoiding cross-contamination between the hives.  But at the moment, with the colony sizes as they are, I've decided to accept the risk, and not waste the brood.

As it was a sunny afternoon, there was a nice amount of activity around the hive entrances:

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Frame Change - In Progress

I didn't actually include any pictures in my last post, so here's a look inside Miriam's hive from when I (briefly) opened up last Thursday:

You can see that the frame at the top of the picture (which I added on Thursday) and the five at the bottom (added last Sunday) are new.  The other five are a darker colour, mostly from propolis (this is sticky stuff that bees use to fill small gaps, such as the cracks between boxes in the hive).

You can also see that the bees have shown no interest in the new frames, yet.  I hope, now that the weather is warmer, and with plenty of blossom around, that they will soon start to draw out comb on the new frames.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Actual Stuff About My Bees!

So, yesterday's post was probably not particularly exciting if you wanted to hear about what the bees are doing.  But it does provide an insight into one thing I've discovered about beekeeping - quite a lot of it is done without going anywhere near the bees.  In my first year, I had to build the two hives - I actually spent far more time doing carpentry than looking at bees.  Unfortunately, I am a lousy carpenter, and lost could of the number of times I whacked a finger instead of a nail.  It did teach me one useful lesson, however - being stung by a bee is actually less painful than bashing your finger with a hammer.  Useful beekeeping fact...

OK - on with the hives - this was on Sunday, after rain (and rugby) stopped play on Saturday.  I checked Florence's hive first.  They were busy, and there seemed to be plenty of brood, but still on only 4 frames.  At this time of year, I should be doing their annual comb change - which means taking out all the frames of old comb, and replacing them with 11 new frames.  These each come with a flat sheet of wax, imprinted with the familiar hexagonal pattern of honeycomb, which the bees will then build out until it is comb across the whole frame.

Unfortunately, a full comb change means losing all the brood, and I don't think either hive has enough bees to cope with the loss.  So, I'm going to do it incrementally.  With Florence's hive, I locate 4 frames with no brood and the least amount of honey stored in them.  I take these out, and replace them with 4 fresh frames.  Hopefully the bees will spend the next week or so building fresh comb on the new frames, and Florence will then begin laying in them.  Once she's started laying in the new comb, I can safely swap out the rest of the frames.

Florence's bees started getting a bit feisty towards the end, so I closed up her hive and opened Miriam's.  There are only 4 frames of brood in Miriam's hive, but the colony seems a bit larger.  I think I can get away with swapping 5 frames in her hive, so I take out 5 old broodless frames, and put the new replacements in.  Miriam's colony is more friendly than Florence's - no sign of bad behaviour at all.  It's a nice end to the session as I pop the roof back on.

It's a really warm sunny day, and there is plenty of blossom about - also, the Horse Chestnut trees have started flowering.  There's lots of nectar and pollen to be had, so I hope my bees keep busy and make the most of it!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Plans, and how they change

Delightfully, we had a heatwave this weekend.  Which meant good weather for the two tasks I had set myself this Saturday:
  1. Do some groundwork at the apiary, to make it a bit safer, and also put down a new slab for my stack of spare boxes.
  2. Look inside the hives!
First task - the groundwork.  The site is on quite a steep slope, and this can make moving around a bit tricky sometimes - especially if carrying supers (the boxes that contain the honey frames) back and forth.  So, I wanted to dig some "steps" behind the hives, to give myself some level ground to walk on.  Also, I wanted to move the stack of spare boxes, which were located just behind and to the left of Miriam's hive.  The problem was that, being so close to the hives, the bees had a tendency to fly into the spare boxes whenever I had taken the roof off (e.g. if I was grabbing a super to put onto one of the hives).  Playing "hunt the bee" could get tedious, and I didn't want to leave the poor thing trapped inside after I put the roof back on.

So, I picked a sheltered spot over on the right-hand-side of the apiary, away from the hives, which needed some additional soil so I could level it off for the slab.  Easy - I can dig out the soil from behind the hives to give myself some level ground, and move the soil I've dug out over to the right, for the slab.  But there's no room for a wheelbarrow, so I'm going to have to do it one spadeful at a time...

Some time later: all the soil moved, a bed of sharp sand for the slab, slab down, check with a spirit level - all good.  Then move the stack of spares to their new location:

Yes, I'm happy with that.  So, I now have a spare slab over on the left, which I can use for something - but not anything that will contain frames of comb.  No problem - I have these things, which I move over to the spare slab:

These are for a project that I have planned later in the year - I will explain more next week!

So, back home for a shower (bees don't like the smell of sweat), and then back to the hives to take a look inside.  Well, that was the plan, but it didn't work out like that - the skies darkened, and heavy raindrops began to fall.  I can't open up the hives while it's raining, so I decide on plan B, and go home to listen to the rugby.  In fairness, the rain stopped before the second half, so I could have gone back to see the bees.  But then Bath started winning!

I can open up the hives tomorrow...

Now with email subscriptions!

I had a chat with Ruth from Ruth's Garden the other day, and she pointed out that I hadn't added email subscriptions to my blog.  So I had a fiddle, and there's now a box over on the right-hand side of the page, where you can enter your email address.  Then, you'll get an email whenever I post some bee news!