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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Dismal end to the season

I have gone into winter with just three colonies.

Three weak ones were destroyed by wasps.

So I have two WBC hives for sale. Any offers before they go to ebay?

I will cut down the number of types of hive that I operate from three to two: Commercial and Polyhive.

Keeping more than one type of frame format is barmy - it just happened that way. So now I need to rationalise.

Next job: dose the hives with Oxalic acid. I did this last year and the bees survived. Would they survive anyway? Dunno. Do they have a big varroa infestation? I don't think so. But I'll follow the prescribed treatment.

News from the home hive: the weather has just warmed up to about 8C. A few bees are on cleansing flights and there are quite a few bodies on the landing board, so they have had a clean-out.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Honey Harvest

Photos by my son, Tom.

Took 65lbs off three hives. Not brilliant, but better than last year. We spun 47 frames- but some had crystalised a bit, so we didn't get the full yield. That's the problem with waiting until August to take the year's harvest.

Only one of the hives had a good year. It did two and a half supers.

The second was halted in May by going queenless - then got destroyed by wasps (see other posts). But it had done a super and half by then.

The third was the hive that started in May (?) as a swarm from friend's garden (see previous posts) - so taking a full super from that was a really good result.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Two queens installed into queenless hives

I bought two queens from Easybee.

They were in these bee cages, below.
I was confident about one of the hives. It had been queenless for some time (but see next post). So I knew it would accept a new queen.

The other hive I was worried about. Through pressure of time, I was not able to leave a day between killing the old queen (who was not laying) and introducing the new queen.

The result? Both queens laying very happily.

Thanks, Easybee.

Thieving robbing little bastards

One of my hives has been overrun by wasps. It was one that I had recently added a new queen to, and she had started to lay.
But too late. There were not enough bees to defend the hive and the queen has now disappeared, presumed dead.

I have moved the frames with brood and a couple of frames of brood from another hive into a nuc box, together with the remaining bees. The nuc box has two small entrance holes, so is much easier to defend.

Maybe they can make a new queen from eggs on the frames.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

New Poly Nucleus box

Just bought a nucleus box from the excellent Modern Beekeeping in Devon for £29.

Admire the paint job! I like it. I wonder if the bees will. I bought a couple of sampler pots of "Shades" by Cuprinol, that were intended for the wooden bench that you see beneath the box. But looks good on the box, innit?

Unfortunately, it doesn't come with a central divider that enables one to keep two colonies in the same box. But a judicious hack at a sheet of Correx, the materiel du jour, fixed the problem.

See below with three brood frames in one side.

The final part of the job was to fashion a blocking panel for the entrance that will not be used if either the full six frames are being used as a colony or only one side is being used. See also the open mesh floor (essential for travelling any distance with bees on board).

I'm impressed with these hives. I have a colony in the full size polyhive and its doing well.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Colony status at 29 June

Now have got eight colonies on the go - shared with friend E.

1 x topbar
- looking good - new swarm in June.

1 x commercial from swarm last year
- swarmed while I was away in India - but were very confusing
- has unhinged queen cell but no eggs, so suspect a virgin queen awaiting mating.

1 x commercial from swarm while I was away
- they just moved into an broodbox full of empty frames
- awaiting a move to out apiary because they are right outside my back door
- blighters stung me just because I was sawing close by

1 x WBC in garden, last year's queen
- 10 frames of brood
- looks set to do well this year

2 x WBC at out apiary
- one has new queen
- patchy brood
- not sure if the queen is a good 'un
- one was queenless until E put a queen cell in from beesoc (came from a very gentle hive, so I hope it works)

1 x polyhive
- new queen in last month
- doing well

1 x national
- swarm taken on a duvet cover (see previous post)
- now in local town awaiting return to Pickwick Towers.

But a lot of money spent on kit to get this far and not a lot of return.

Top bar hive going well

My two teenage sons, T and J, captured a swarm for the first time (with advice on the 'phone from me in India) and E put it in the topbar, which has now been moved to a more secluded spot in the grounds of the local manor house (photo above).

The comb is lovely - as you might expect because it's brand new (photo above).

Only in one case have the bees not followed the waxed groove in the underside of the bar. They have produced a convoluted shape that spans two bars (photo below).

The V-shape of the hive is supposed to prevent them from bridging the comb to the side of the hive, but on most bars there is a small amount to bridging comb (photo below).

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Apologies for the break in transmission

I am working in India for three weeks.

Back with the bees and back online in about a week.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Major trauma / excitement

I am off to India on business for a few weeks, so I needed to hand over my hives to friend E to look after while I am away.

We inspected the hive at D's and found it to be queenless and full of ferocious bees (because of their queenlessness).

I drove there in my open top car and had to drive away after the inspection in full protective gear. Stopping a few hundred yards away to take off our headgear. We didn't want to frighten the natives.

Returning later that day, we did an "artificial swarm" because there was one swarm cell and numerous supersession cells. We put the swarm cell and one supersession cell into the new hive (along with nurse bees), and left the rest in the original hive (with their own supersession cells).

Heaven knows what will be the outcome. I will know when I return. I think we should leave them alone for a few weeks to sort themselves out.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Nuc Box made out of correx, duct tape and timber

Note the handsome and functional feet to keep it dry and the three entrance/exit holes at the front.

The Correx is magical, lightweight stuff. Can be cut with a Stanley knife and bent at 90 degrees without breaking. It glues to wood using a contact adhesive.

Note the lid hinged with duct tape and the retractable ventilation panel - which can be retracted to put a packet of fondant on top.

The lid, shown here open, is a sandwich of correx and polycarbonate sheet from Wickes. One frame shown (holds four).

Note staples in side - not its best feature, but correx seems of with it. I though it might split.

Cost all up - about £10 (€11 and rising!). Tools required: craft knife, saw, drill, steel measure.

Benefits: light, cheap, dark inside, dry.

New residents at Pickwick Towers

The urge to make some chicken, egg, yolk, etc, puns is almost overwhelming. Must resist. Must resist. Oh, all right. I give in. We live a many-layered eggsistence. There. Two puns in one. One subtle, one not. Happy now?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

First swarm of the season

Took a swarm yesterday out of a beech hedge - 12 ft (4m) up.  Luckily, I had a stepladder and I was able to poke the lid of the nucleus box (in video) into the hedge and shake the swarm down into it.

It was in my friend Julie's garden, and she had gone out for the day, after phoning me.

I forgot to bring my old sheet with me, but as luck would have it, Julie had left a duvet cover on the line. See also in photo.

Mrs S was horrified - as was Julie, I think, but she was far too polite to say so. Well, I have washed it. What's more important, bagging a swarm of respecting a duvet cover?  One has to get one's priorities correct. :-)

Julie is a beekeeper too, by the way, but she didn't want this swarm. I'll look after it in the nuc box for a month, in case she changes her mind.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Woodpecker damage

Just noticed this on my commercial hive that is in a field in the middle of nowhere.

What a nuisance!  Will have to invest in some chicken wire before it gets any worse.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Disaster! A dead colony

My best colony has starved to death. I am bereft and very cross with myself.

It was fine a couple of weeks ago, and the hive next to it is fine.  I guess it just didn't have the same amount of stores.

And the hive that survived had fewer bees going into the winter.

I will be much more careful in future and feed syrup even when it doesn't look as though they need it.

Cleaning off the brace comb

If your queen excluder is not touching the top bars and is not a complete bee-space away from the top bars, the bees will make brace comb between the QX and the top bars.

And I have scraped it off.

Had an interesting talk at the BeeSoc recently on beespace, and this was one of the messages. Pay attention to correct bee space and your hive will be much less clogged with propolis and brace comb.

Nasty looking insect

Dunno what this is - but it doesn't look good. It had pupated between the lifts of the WBC hive.

Pollen wallah

There were a number of bees, but not many, who were noticeably covered in pollen (rather than just have it attached to their legs). Centre of photo.  They were so yellow that I thought for a second or so that they were wasps.

Maybe they are the pollen-putter-away-ers.

What to do with this sugary mess?

The photo below shows a mess of unused stores from the winter. It's a mixture of ivy honey and fondant.

It looks like they have cleared out the cells ready for the queen to lay in them.

So I don't want to junk the frame.  But they will never clear all that grot, which reduces the capacity of the brood box.

Dunno what to do. I don't have the experience.  Sigh. Another few decades should do it.

Polyhive? It leaks!

The polyhive (see previous post) that I assembled leaks!

I left it in the garden and returned to move it a few weeks later and the feeder was full of water.

The fault lies in the design. The lip that is present in the other boxes (brood, super, floor) is missing from one edge, where the feeder lid is.  See below. You can see bottom right where the lip finishes.

The solution is relatively easy. The run-off cut-out on the roof (see below) needs a chute adding to channel the water off the roof and prevent it from running down, past the missing lip, and into the feeder.

It's not that easy to see in the photo, given my brilliant (!) camouflage painting, but you can just discern the cut-out in the centre of the photo.
I shall be on to the vendor and report what they say.

Feedbee? Bah!

About a month ago I put some Feedbee into all four hives. Two had it as a syrup and two as a slush on the top bars.  In neither case would the bees touch it.

Photo below shows the dried up remains of the slushy version.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Photos by Chris Jackson

Friend and bee guru Chris Jackson took these photos between 27th Feb and 1st March and send them to me for publication in the next BeeSoc newsletter.

I have his permission to share them, and accompanying words, with you.

Note pollen basket - a.m.m foraging on Sarcococca, aka Sweet Box or Christmas Box.

The bees will go mad for Christmas Box. The fragrance is delicious and sometimes can be overpowering at times. Available from most garden centres and should be in every beekeepers garden.

It is evergreen, compact, pest-free, with shiny black berries holding on for 9 months of the year and then between January and March the delicate white flowers are wonderfully fragrant.

Tough as old boots and will take any amount of wind, rain, snow and frost.

The pollen basket or corbicula is part of the tibia on the hind legs

Honey bee hovers approaching Snowdrops while she transfers some more pollen.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Gave them a feed today

I was worried about the late spring.  The willow is not flowering yet and the only pollen around is crocuses.

So I have given them some Feedbee.

I've not used it before - so I'll have to wait and see.  If the manufacturer's claims are correct, the bees will soon be walking on water and flying faster than a speeding bullet.

It's a very fine powder - as you might expect, if a bee has to ingest it - that you mix with 50/50 sugar syrup.

I have only two rapid feeders, so I made a batch that was runny enough to put in a feeder.  The other two hives I made a slurry of it and put it onto greaseproof paper on the top bars.  Sorry I have no photos.

I'll report back on how the bees are getting on with it.

Lovely warm 10-12 degrees Celsius  and bees were out and about - so they need something to keep them going in the absence of any flowers. 

Friday, 5 March 2010

Four out of four STILL alive

A lovely sunny day today, so I biked the seven mile round trip to my out apiaries.

Flying bees at all three hives. Some had bright yellow pollen from (probably) crocus.

I checked their food when I did the (late) Varroa oxalic acid treatment a few weeks ago. There seemed to be a lot of fondant and ivy honey stored, so I didn't feed.

I'm really relieved. There is still a chance that their numbers will dwindle before they can get on will raising this year's brood.

The catkins are getting ready to flower - so pollen should be along very soon.

I've never used a substitute for pollen - I need to learn more about it.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Polyhive 6: Analysis

I bought the hive mail order from Modern Beekeeping for just over £100.

Good points:
  • very, very simple to put together
  • very, very light
  • very helpful vendor when I had a query
  • very cheap
  • a large brood frame (Nationals brood frames are often not big enough to accommodate a prolific queen)
  • they will never, ever, rot (but cedar frames will last 50 years if treated right)
Bad points:
  • doesn't come with a feeder in the pack, you need to buy that extra. I missed that point and have now ordered one (c. £16)
  • not very green - wood is so much more carbon-right
  • the frames are Langstroth size (common in Northern Europe, where this hive comes from) so that means a new stock of foundation and frames
  • the frames need wiring, which was not emphasised on the website. So I now need to buy more tools and components (About £20) to put wire into the frames.
Moot points:
  • will mice and rats gnaw them?
  • will woodpeckers peck them?
  • will cleaning with Caustic Soda satisfy the Bee Inspector if he/she finds EFB or AFB? Or will you have to burn them? No-one seems to know.
Who would use these? Good for:
  • high-volume beefarmer
  • people with back problems.
Not so good for:
  • a traditional-looking hive
  • being "natural".
Will they be good for the bees?

They are used all over northern europe and the reasons are obvious: they are warm and dry. The makers claim that the Queen will lay right across the frame because the edges are not cold.

Polyhive 5: Frames and QX

The plastic queen excluder sits neatly in the recess.

The purpose of the shaped plastic edges is clear when you put a frame into the box.

Polyhive 4: materials

The material is polystyrene. Like the packing in a TV set, but much harder.

The floor (below) is in one piece. The addition of the open mesh floor is trivial - four screws attach it.

A small sheet of correx (left sticking out, below, for purposes of photograph) makes the varroa floor.

It is recyclable (Number 6) - but that's not a huge concern because I expect it to last 10 years.

Polyhive 3: Construction

Two tools were needed: a small paintbrush to apply the glue and a screwdriver to put in four screws to retain the varroa floor.

It couldn't have been easier. I think (but not sure) that it would be possible to put in the sides upside down - but you would have to be pretty careless. I can easily be that dumb, but not on this occasion.

The sides fix together with interlocking mortice and tenon joints.

The top and bottom edges of the short sides are re-inforced with hard plastic edges. Easy to slide on.

Verdict: this is so easy, even a klutz like me can do it.

Polyhive 2: Finished but unpainted.

Here is the finished hive, before painting.

Not that pretty.

There is a strap (like a car roof strap) that goes around the whole thing to keep it all together. Essential, given how light it is.

Polyhive 1: Finished article

I'm posting these in reverse order so that you, dear reader, can read them sequentially (hope that makes sense).

I finished the hive with one coat of masonry paint and then an artistic rendering of camouflage.

The masonry paint in breathable and flexible - so less likely to crack and flake off than, say, gloss or emulsion.

These are "tester" pots. I still have some left in the pots - so it goes a long way, on top of the white masonry paint anyway.
So here is the finished article. Not too pretty - but I think it will blend into the landscape better than arctic white! I'll post some pics when it's in situ.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Four out of four ALIVE

I've just been on a cycle tour of my hives - about a 6 mile round trip - on the first mild sunny day for quite some time. We've had freezing temperatures for about a month.

And I'm glad to report that all four hives have live bees. See photos below for proof. I was sure that the weakest of the four would perish in the cold.

I hadn't given them the oxalic acid varroa treatment that I had bought, mainly on the grounds that I am so hamfisted that I would make a mistake and do more harm than good. Second, opening them up in December would surely chill them. Third, who wants acid poured over them in winter? Seems draconian and highly interventionist. Fourth, they are all on new comb this year, so there might not be a big varroa problem.

BUT (and this is a big BUT) the life of the overwintering bees is significantly reduced by varroa. They might be here now in early January, but will they still be here in early March, when (I hope) the queen will recommence laying new brood? We will see. The die is cast now. I don't think putting on oxalic acid now will help matters. Any views?

And Harriet (see previous posts, and top right in photo) now has a couple of friends to lift her out of depression. And the buzzard that lives in the trees behind Harriet's field was there today as well. Always a pleasure to see.

Rather a grotty mess on the landing board. So I swept in off with my gloved hand, only to be rewarded with a sting on the back of my neck.