Posts Tagged ‘CCD’

April into May but where are my bees going …..

March was dominated by a high pressure system that bought unseasonably warm and dry weather across much of  the UK, continuing drought conditions were forecast for the year ahead and a hosepipe ban has been put in place across much of the country, meanwhile the bees have enjoyed early flying, foraging and the colonies have been building up their strengh.

As it was still early in the year I only carried out one inspection during the month, on a warm day, where the health of the hives, the amount of stores and the strength of the colonies was assessed. I was very pleased that all three of my colonies had survived the winter again. Two were strong healthy colonies but the other hive, named Snowdon, rang a few alarm bells as things weren’t quite right due to the sporadic and weak laying patterns and although there was no sign of the queen there was some sealed brood so I closed up the hives and decided to review the situation at my next inspection.

Workers bringing in pollen

Workers bringing in pollen between April showers

Then  April arrived and so did the the rain,  the UK met office has issued yellow warnings for heavy rain and local flooding in one or more area of the country virtually every day and the heavy rains have continued to pour out of the heavens. This wet period has not only hampered my ability to get down to the hives to check on the bees progress but it has also kept the bees in the hives, unable to collect the fresh pollen and nectar required for brood rearing and the adult bees and  they are using up the last of their winter stores  rapidly.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) and National Bee Unit (NBU) have  put out a number of warnings to check supplies and feed the colonies either with fondant or thin syrup as there is a real risk of starvation. I have given 1kg of thin sugar syrup to each of the colonies this weekend again in the pouring rain as it didn’t involve actually opening the hives fully.

I am very lucky to have a ‘beekeeping buddy’ who allows me to  keep my bees together with his own bees on his forest garden. He is happy to have an occasional look at my bees  if I have been unable to get there for any reason. He rang a couple of weeks back to say he had looked in my hives and that Snowdon now had no eggs, brood or sign of a queen and the colony was very small. There was no sign of an emergency queen cell as you would expect if it was a supercedure  and it is really too early for a healthy colony to be swarming, certainly not without leaving a new queen behind.  In order to try and save the colony he added a frame of young eggs from Ogwen (my strongest colony) to see if the queen-less bees would use these to draw an emergency queen cell.

Buckfast Queen

Buckfast Queen (marked with white dot)

I carried out an inspection the following week and discovered that the bees had capped the brood without drawing a new queen cell and now to add to my problems there is a second hive, Tryfan,  also without a queen, any brood or eggs…. so where are my bees going!

Once again I added a frame of young eggs into Tryfan to see if this colony are more successful at drawing out a queen cell than the inhabitants of Snowdon had been  but we cannot keep taking eggs from my strongest queen without eventually causing her colony to weaken so this is a last shot at queen raising for both these colonies.

The first colony, Snowdon, is now quite reduced in numbers and will not survive without a queen so it is likely that I will unite this with Tryfan when the rain stops, hopefully this hive will have also created a new queen but if not then it looks like I will be back onto to order another buckfast queen – I have checked with Paynes Bee Farm and they don’t currently have any queens ‘in stock’ as it is too early in the season any but they hope to have queens from mid-May … lets just hope the bees sort themselves out in the interim period and I don’t get laying workers again…..

As ever  I would welcome any thoughts from other beekeepers as too what has happened to my queens this year or to hear from anyone who has experienced similar losses. I place supers and brood bodies over an upturned floor when removed from the hive and frames are inspected over the hive and returned to the supers with great care to avoid damaging the queens, or indeed any of the bees, so I do not think that I have dropped or damaged a queen (I have certainly never done this before!).

Incidentally following up from an entry last year where I re-queened a colony with my first ever ‘purchased’ buckfast queen,  the queen is a strong egg layer and I now have the most docile and calm bee colony that I have ever worked with (she is the queen in the picture above). The eggs that I am using to try and raise a new queen with are from this colony and although I don’t know what their honey producing potential is yet they are a real joy to work with so I would be very happy if I could raise a queen from this hive with similar traits.


The National Bee Unit comes to visit

This blog update is a follow-on from my previous entry…..

Colonies infected with a bee disease called European Foulbrood (EFB) had been identified within 3km of both of my apiary sites in Kent and therefore the National Bee Unit (NBU) inspector contacted me in order that he could come and inspect the health of bees and the brood in my colonies. It was a nervous few days waiting to find out if my bees would get a clean bill of health or ‘be burn’t at the stake’ or in a pit of fire anyway.

Food and Environment Research Agency

Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

The NBU is part of The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) set up by the government to assist and educate beekeepers to help to protect the health of national bee stocks and also to  monitor and prevent the spread of serious bee disease, often caused through the bees ‘drifting’ between hives or deliberately entering other hives  as ‘robbers’ where there are weaker colonies defending them.

European foulbrood is caused by Melissococcus plutonius,  a bacterium that infests the mid-gut of an infected bee larva. EFB is considered less deadly to a colony than American foulbrood. Melissococcus plutonius does not form spores, though it can overwinter on comb and symptoms include dead and dying larvae which can appear curled upwards, brown or yellow, melted or deflated with tracheal tubes more apparent, and/or dried out and rubbery.

Opening up the hives for inspection

Opening up the hives for inspection

European foulbrood is often considered a “stress” disease – a disease that is dangerous only if the colony is already under stress for other reasons. An otherwise healthy colony can usually survive European foulbrood.

David, the NBU inspector, arrived at the apiary and got kitted up in a very clean bee suit, freshly sterilised boots and proceeded to clean his hive tools in washing soda so there wasn’t much chance of him bringing infection in and I was hoping that he wouldn’t be finding any to take away.

We gently smoked the hives and David inspected the bees and the brood, paying particular attention to anything considered outside the ordinary.  David has a large number of colonies himself used for training and nuc rearing so not wanting to waste an opportunity of having an expert to hand both my friend Paul and I asked as many questions as possible relating to the health of our bees and we got very comprehensive answers.

Checking the brood frames for disease

David checking the frames for any signs of brood disease

The four colonies inspected on the day did not show any sign of EFB, this was a great relief both to myself (and the bees) as I had considered my bees to be relatively healthy, albeit with a touch of varroa mite that I had been treating over the last four weeks, and I hoped that I hadn’t simply missed spotting the symptoms of a serious disease through failing to recognise it or just plain ignorance. The hives were all active on the day with the foraging bees bringing in plenty of bright yellow pollen.

The brood inspections did identify a small amount of baldbrood, possibly caused by the bees removing cappings due to the larvae of the wax moth moving through the comb, and also a small amount of Chalkbrood. The infected larvae were removed from the comb for closer examination.

Chalkbrood or Ascosphaera apis is a fungal disease that infests the gut of the larva. The fungus will compete with the larva for food, ultimately causing it to starve. The fungus will then go on to consume the rest of the larva’s body, causing it to appear white and ‘chalky’ and it is quite sticky when removed from the comb which in itself is a useful field test for this disease. Hives with Chalkbrood can generally be recovered by increasing the ventilation through the hive but this should not pose a problem to my colonies.

Close examination of the larvae for possible disease

Closer examination of the uncapped larvae for signs and symptoms of disease

The experience of having David come to inspect my bees was a very positive one, he was friendly and approachable and able to answer the many questions that we put to him. I would recommend, in fact urge, any beekeepers not currently registered on BeeBase to do so. This may well help to prevent the spread of serious disease from your colonies to others, or from others to you, in the future at a time when there are enough environmental pressures working against the bees survival on a global scale.

The last week in September has had a warm start and it is set to get hotter into the weekend so it looks like the summer has finally arrived and I am hoping that the bees will take full advantage of the fine weather and late flowering plants to bring in further stores of pollen and nectar for the winter.

Further information regarding the Healthy Bee Plan and for registering your UK apiaries on BeeBase can be found at:

Finally the bee doctor (National Bee Unit inspector) comes calling …

My last bee blog entry was about winding down the beehives for the year and getting them ready for winter, checking for a healthy queen, bees and brood, feeding sugar syrup to make up for the honey removed in August and dealing with any diseases and parasites in the hive.

My new cross-mated buckfast queen

My new cross-mated buckfast queen

The last few apiary visits have been fine with healthy bees seen in the hive, good br0od (eggs and pupa) and plenty of stores for the winter (honey for the bees and pollen for early brood rearing) and I even got to finally meet my new queen in Ogwen (my hives are all named after Welsh mountains) introduced into the hive back in August by my friend Paul – she is much lighter in colour than my other queens and seems to be laying very well now and I have no doubt it is a good thing to increase the gene pool in the apiary!

My new queen in action

My new queen in action

There is still some evidence of varroa mite on the bees and I am hoping that my Thymol treatment (Apilife Var) has been effective enough to reduce the mite see the colonies through the winter. In the photos you will see that the queen is marked with a white dot (to help find her easily during the inspections) if you look at the picture below you can see that the bee to her left is carrying a red varroa mite in the middle of its thorax (I didn’t spot this when I took the photo).

New queen, varroa mite on thorax of bee to her left

New queen, varroa mite on thorax of bee to her left

There has also been a small amount of unsealed brood in the hive, known as ‘bald brood’ caused by the bees uncapping the developing pupa prematurely due to the presence of lesser wax moth larvae in the cells (they feed on the cell lining) but on the whole the colonies seem to be strong and healthy and very active in all three hives and on both apiary sites.

My hives are registered with the National Bee Unit (NBU), which is part of FERA, and they keep a database of beekeepers and apiary sites called  BeeBase in order that they can monitor for disease and colony loss in the UK and try to prevent the spread of diseases through either treating or culling infected colonies. This is very important at a time when the global bee population seem to have their very existence threatened with many factors affecting their survival.

I visited the NBU website last week and saw that they had been notified of a diseased colony within 5km of my hives and I was dreading hearing from them … well that call has finally come through today as they have had a case of European Foul Brood reported locally and as part of confining the spread they are now required to check my colonies for disease and then make a decision on their future. I am confident they are all okay and that my inspections and treatments have been effective but I am also aware that I am still very much a novice when it comes down to recognising bee diseases and I guess if they are infected that it’s better to find out now and deal with it rather than finding empty hives in the spring and not really knowing what happened.

Hive getting ready for the winter

Hive getting ready for the winter, will it survive or is it destined to be burn't?

If the hives are infected the bee inspector will decide on the best course of action – either treatment for light infestation in a strong colony or burning the bees, frames and even the hives in the worst case scenario.

After so much work in keeping the bees strong and healthy throughout the last two years I will be very disappointed if I lose all my bees now and have to start again in the spring next year but I guess that is all part of bee keepers life and the outcome of the inspectors  visit will no doubt be the subject of my next blog!

If you have enjoyed this blog feel free to tell me (or rate it)  it’s always nice to hear back from fellow bee-keepers and from those who love and want to support the bees but maybe don’t have the time or the opportunity yet.

Ten things you can do to help bees!

 1.    Plant bee friendly flowers and plants in your garden

Bees are losing habitat all around the world due to intensive monoculture-based farming practices, pristine green (but flower-barren) sprawling suburban lawns and from the destruction of native landscapes. Just planting flowers in your garden, yard, or in a planter will help provide bees with forage. Avoid chemically treating your flowers as chemicals can leach into pollen and negatively affect the bees systems. Plant plenty of the same type of bloom together, bees like volume of forage (a sq. yard is a good estimate).

Lavender in the gardenFeeding bee

Here are a few examples of good plant varieties: Spring – lilacs, penstemon, lavender, sage, verbena, and wisteria. Summer – Mint, cosmos, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, black-eyed Susan, passion flower vine, honeysuckle. Fall – Fuchsia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax. great list

2.   Weeds can be a good thing.

Contrary to popular belief, a lawn full of clover and dandelions is not just a good thing—it’s a great thing! A haven for honeybees (and other native pollinators too). Don’t be so nervous about letting your lawn live a little. Wildflowers, many of which we might classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for native North American bees. If some of these are “weeds” you chose to get rid of (say you want to pull out that blackberry bush that’s taking over), let it bloom first for the bees and then before it goes to seed, pull it out or trim it back!

3.   Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden.

Yes, they make your lawn look pristine and pretty, but they’re actually doing the opposite to the life in your biosphere. The chemicals and pest treatments you put on your lawn and garden can cause damage to the honeybees systems. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom as they will get into the pollen and nectar and be taken back to the bee hive where they also get into the honey—which in turn means they can get into us. Pesticides, specifically neo-nicotinoid varieties have been one of the major culprits in Colony Collapse Disorder.

4.   Buy local, raw honey.

The honey you buy directly sends a message to beekeepers about how they should keep their bees. For this reason, and for your own personal health, strive to buy local, raw honey that is from hives that are not treated by chemicals. It can be hard to find out what is truly “local” and truly “raw”–and even harder yet to find out what is untreated. Here’s a few guidelines: If you find it in the grocery store and it’s imported from China, don’t buy it. There have been a number of cases recently of chemically contaminated honey coming from China. If it’s coming from the grocery store, but it doesn’t say the words “pure” or “raw” and you can’t read in the description that it’s untreated by chemicals, don’t buy it. If it’s untreated, the label will say, as this is an important selling point. We recommend a simple solution for most people. Go to your farmer’s market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. There are beekeepers at nearly every farmer’s market selling their honey and other products. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they are keeping their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, then make a new friend and support them!

Honey for saleLocal 'raw' or 'pure' honey for sale

5.   Bees are thirsty. Put a small basin of fresh water outside your home.

You may not have known this one—but it’s easy and it’s true! If you have a lot of bees starting to come to your new garden of native plants, wildflowers and flowering herbs, put a little water basin out (a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on does a nice trick). They will appreciate it!

6.   Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.

What’s true for honey generally holds true for the rest of our food. Buying local means eating seasonally as well, and buying local from a farmer that you know means you know if that food is coming from a monoculture or not. This is much easier in the summer when you can get your fresh produce from a local farmer’s market. Another option is to get your food from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Keep in mind, USDA Organic Certification can be expensive and you may find many great farmers and beekeepers with excellent food and honey that isn’t USDA certified simply because they don’t produce a high quantity or opt for the expense of certification. Don’t let this get in the way of supporting them and if you’re worried about their products—have a conversation with them. (Ed. Note – A huge challenge for beekeepers is to keep their bees in an area where there is no chemical spray within 3 miles, as this is really what is required to guarantee truly organic honey. All the more reason for us all to avoid the use of harsh chemicals.)

Why not try Forest Garden Foods on the Kent and Sussex borders

Forest Garden Foods logo

7.   Learn how to be a beekeeper with sustainable practices.

Look up a local bee association that offers classes with natural approaches in your community and link up.

Checking the bee colonyChecking on the bee colonies build-up

8.   Understand that honeybees aren’t out to get you.

Honeybees are vegetarians. They want to forage pollen and nectar from flowers up to three miles from their hive and bring that food back to provide food for themselves and the beehive. Contrary to what the media might have us believe, they are not out to sting us. Here are a few tips to avoid getting stung. 1. Stay still and calm if a bee is around you or lands on you. Many bees will land on you and sniff you out. They can smell the pheromones that come with fear and anger it can be a trigger for them to sting you. 2. Don’t stand in front of a hive opening, or a pathway to a concentration of flowers. Bees are busy running back and forth from the hive, and if you don’t get in their way, they won’t be in yours. 3. Learn to differentiate between honeybees and wasps. Honeybees die after they sting humans (but not after they sting other bees!), wasps do not. Wasps are carnivores, so they like your lunch-meats and soda. Honeybees are vegetarians.

9.   Share solutions with others in your community.

There are so many fun ways to help and be a voice for the bees. Share about the importance of bees at local community meetings, at conferences, in schools and universities, and on on-line message boards and forums.

Kent Beepers Association

10.                        Let your local politicians know what you think.

Change has to happen from the top-down as well as from the bottom-up.

Information taken from the ‘Queen of the Sun’ webpages – go and watch the film when it is showing near you and keep supporting the bees!

A beekeeping library

Whilst it is quiet on the actual bee keeping front over winter it is the perfect time to catch up on some background reading, take onboard new knowledge that can applied to your bee keeping practise throughout the following year and increase your enjoyment and understanding of the actual bees themselves and not just the practice of trying to maximise a honey crop.

Bee library

Bee library

Since I started with the bee keeping about three years ago I seem to have gathered quite a few books on the subject, some bought by me and others given as presents. My first book on the subjest was ‘Bees at the bottom of the garden’ which seemed to be a popular choice for including in the bee keeping starter packs that the equipment suppliers provide. This was great introductory book but soon led onto more slightly  indepth books on the subject.

With the risk of being called ‘nerdy’ I thought I would briefly add a few web reviews the books I have here:

Bees at the bottom of my garden

Beekeeping is a hobby any interested amateur could explore - that is the message of this work which aims to take the mystique out of keeping bees. Alan Campion uses his own experiences to describe in plain terms how to go about setting up a hive, and what to expect from your bees.

Keeping bees and making honey

This is a comprehensive and attractive lifestyle guide to beekeeping - from finding your bees to getting them home, housing them, collecting honey and using their produce.It includes a detailed look at the history of bees and beekeeping, and an extensive introduction to help you to fully understand your bees and keep them happy.Whether you have a tiny balcony or acres of land; live in the middle of a city or in the countryside surrounded by flowers, this book caters for every situation, discussing the different types of hive available for every eventuality.It features a detailed section on gardening for bees, as well as comprehensive advice on how to safely collect your honey and wax, with recipes and ideas on how to use them."Bees" fuses contemporary lifestyle design and an authoritative text, to appeal not only to those who already have bees, but to those who are thinking of having them or even just like the idea of having them - it will 'sell the dream'.


Guide To Bees And Honey

Intended for both new and experienced beekeepers, this invaluable and highly illustrated volume provides answers to virtually every beekeeping question - from avoiding swarms to setting a hive up for winter."Guide to Bees and Honey" also presents expert advice for readers who plan to maintain a few hives for personal, recreational use, as well as those who want to expand an existing colony into a commercial venture.Also included in this volume is a section on the Varroa mite - a particularly nasty parasite that has proved fatal to many British hives. It explains what it does, how it spreads, and effective ways to treat and prevent infestation.

Hive Management

Offers concise, up-to-date information on beekeeping tasks, including how to prevent, capture, and control swarms, when and how to harvest honey, and dealing successfully with queens.

Honey Farming

This is one of the great beekeeping books of all time. Manley draws on his commercial esperience to explain all aspects of beekeeping. This is a book which is a joy to read, you read it, then reread it. As your experience improves you will understand more & more of the value of Manleys words. STRONLY RECOMMENDED

Bees And Honey - From Flower To Jar

Bees make honey; we all know that. But what happens between the bee buzzing around our garden, and the sticky knife in the jar, is a mystery to most of us. Based on careful observation and years of experience, Michael Weiler here reveals the secret life of bees. He looks at all aspects of a bee's life and work and vividly describes their remarkable world. Did you know that it takes approximately 12,000 bee-hours to make one jar of honey? (At GBP5.30 per hour, that would mean one jar should cost around GBP63,600.) This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in the intricacies of nature and our world.

Honey - natures golden healer

There is growing evidence to show that honey is hugely beneficial to our health, from its antibacterial properties to helping relieve hay fever to even inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Drawing on her background in the biological sciences, Gloria Havenhand reveals how we can harvest the beehive for anything from reviving tonics to beauty treats. Not only does she demonstrate how honey is essential for healthy living, but tackles other under-appreciated and lesser-known bee products such as propolis, a sticky resin, which can help skin conditions such as psoriasis; pollen used to relieve hay fever and boost the immune system and royal jelly and beeswax uesd in cosmetics to rejuvenate the skin. With increasing numbers of people interested in ditching drugs for natural alternatives to combat health problems from allergies to acne, this book is a timely look at how the beehive can help us look and feel better.

The Honey Bee - Inside Out

This book is designed to present detailed information about the anatomy and physiology of the honey bee in a clear and concise format. Each of the eight chapters covers an aspect of bee biology and all are copiously illustrated. The author has drawn most of the diagrams from her own dissections, giving a realistic, rather than idealistic impression of the parts involved. Also included, are an appendix giving the background to scientific terminology, a wide-ranging glossary including phonetic spellings and suggestions for further reading. This is a book that will inform anybody who is interested in this fascinating insect. It is based on the examination modules set by the British Beekeepers' Association, but this text will prove interesting for anyone wanting to know more about our honey bees.


On top of the books membership to the British Beekeepers Association also includes a monthly magazine called BeeCraft. The local branch of the BBKA also have a book library with some of the rarer books as well as newer titles.

Preparing for winter – Treating Varroa mite and feeding the bees

After the excitement of taking the honey off the hives, straining, settling and jarring it all up, it almost seems like the beekeeping year is over but in reality there is still alot of work to do before October if you are going to keep your colony strong, mite free and with half a chance of surviving the winter.

The British bee colonies have been under attack from Varroa Destructor for the last few years, this Asiatic mite attacks the very young bees and is considered widely to be responsible in many colonies failing to survive the winter so it must be treated, to remove or at least drastically reduce numbers in the hive, before the bee population number also reduces and the few remaining bees prepare to slow down for the winter. My weapon of choice this year was a Thymol based product called Apilife Var, it is supplied in strips and is cut into squares and placed directly above the brood body within the hive directly across the frames, this then releases a vapour that kills the mites but does not affect the health of the bees, although they may object to the smell a bit! The treatment is repeated four times in each hive on a weekly basis and must be done whilst the ambient temperature is still above 20 degrees. Two of the hives did not seem to object to the treatment, but the other responded differently with the bees ‘hanging ‘ on the outside of the hive around the entrance when the treatment was first administered and on my return a week later I found that the Thymol squares had been chewed into small pieces and ejected from the hive, this however did not seem to prevent the treatment being very effective with a large number of dead mites being collected on the hives bottom board!

Hive treatmentApilife Var - hive treatment for varroa

Apilife Var Varroa Destructer, dead on count board

As well as treating for mite the bees must also be fed sugar syrup in order to replenish the honey that was removed in August. The feeding must commence as soon as the honey is removed and whilst the ambient temperatures are still warm and the bee population is still large enough to deal with the  massive task of taking the syrup from the feeder, moving it down into empty comb and reducing the water content enough in order to stop it fermenting, and to save as a food for the bees that will over winter in the hive.

I only removed honey from one hive this year but have fed all three hives as this will give them a good chance of each having enough reserves to survive the winter, additionally by feeding all three colonies it cuts down the robbing instinct bought on by a sudden abundance of food when the real nectar flow has effectively stopped for the year. As the queen slows down her rate of egg laying, space within the brood chamber is freed up and the bees will now use this to move their winter stores closer to where they will need them once the cold weather sets in. Each hive took about 12kg of sugar mixed into syrup (36 kg in total). The best way to make this up was to use boiling water to dissolve the sugar at home, approximately 600ml water to every kg sugar, and then transport the syrup to the out apiary in a jerry can – this speeded up the feeding process, caused less disturbance and excitement amongst the bees and made sure that the sugar was properly dissolved before pouring into the contact feeders as any loose sugar in the solution rapidly settles and blocks the holes in the feeder gauze leaving the bees hungry and more likely to try and rob the neighbouring hives.

30kg sugar to make into syrupSugar syrup in a contact feeder

Contact feeder on the hiveBees in a rapid feeder

Once the bees have been fed and treated for mite the years work is almost over, the colony must now be checked for overall health and to make sure that the colony is still queen right and will actually survive the winter and into next year. Then the condition of the hive must also be checked and any holes blocked up. These were fine earlier in the year as the bee population was great enough that they were able to guard against robbing at any number of entrances but now the numbers are dropping rapidly and soon the bees only task will be to protect the queen and maintain the temperature within the hive. The hive entrance is reduced and now is also a good time to treat the outside of the hive with any protective paint, a task normally carried out with the bees still inside.

Wear and damage on hive boxes Hive entrance block in place

The bees will soon remain huddled in a cluster around the queen; they enter in almost inactive state where little food is required to sustain them over the winter months until the queen starts to lay eggs again in February. In October there are approximately 50,000 bees in the hive but this number will dip as low as 10,000 by February before the queen starts laying to build the colony up again for next year’s work.

Winter is also the time of year that ‘visitors’ such as mice also find the hive very attractive, afterall it is heated to 36 degrees and has an abundant supply of honey and the bees are too busy huddling to evict any intruders so the answer is too attach a metal mouse guard over the entrance at the beginning of October (after removing the entrance reducing block!). This will help keep the mice out but also allow good air circulation in the hive which in turn will help to reduce condensation and prevent the combs on the outside from going mouldy during the winter months. It is also a good time of year to wrap chicken wire loosely around the hive in areas where green woodpeckers reside as these are known to turn a whole beehive into matchsticks in a very short amount of time, chilling the bees and their brood so killing the colony and destroying your hive!

Finally it is time to put your feet up with a hot cup of tea and some honey on toast in front of the woodburner. The bees will not require much attention now until early April next year, other than the occassional check to make sure that they are not starving and that the entrance is clear in the event of heavy snowfall.

Apiary inspection and adding more honey supers

We have now reached that time of year where the swarming risk is hopefully over and the adult bee population is reaching its peak for the year, with about 80,000 bees per hive, so there is a lot of activity going on both in and around the hive. The beekeeper can hopefully relax a little and now also get some idea if there will be any ‘honey surplus’ to take as a crop this year.

Many reports have said that this year has been the best for honey production in about the last 5 years, with the long cold winter helping to reduce parasite numbers in the hive and the warm spring and hot dry summer allowing plenty of time for the bees to get out and forage and bring back the nectar and pollen. On an average year a normal hive will produce around 50lbs of honey but some beekeepers are reporting crops three times this size for 2010.

As this is the first year with my own bees they have all been given new wax foundation, sheets of bees wax that has been ‘stamped’ with the hexagonal comb pattern to encourage the bees to draw the wax out more rapidly. The bees use up around 4lb of honey for every sheet of wax that they draw out and there are eleven frames in the brood area (where the queen is allowed to lay eggs) in both the deep and shallow boxes, and then a further ten frames in each of the honey supers above. A quick calculation indicates that my bees have drawn out over 90 frames of new foundation this year of which 22 were deep brood frames so this means that they have probably used up over 360lbs of honey in energy just to produce the comb already. Following the honey extraction the ‘wet’ comb is then returned to the hives and the bees are allowed to clean it up of any remaining honey and then it is carefully stored away for the winter to prevent damage. Next year my bees will have a massive headstart at the beginning of the year as they will not need to start from scratch with drawing out the comb but will have this years returned to them. The comb then needs renewing every few year to prevent disease and spread of parasites.

At my last visit to my hives on July 20th I checked the honey supplies that the bees have stored, both in the brood boxes and in the honey supers. The honey in the brood boxes will be left to help sustain the colony over winter but some of the honey from the supers above will be extracted for my use, gifts to friends  or for sale. The three hives, all standing shoulder to shoulder, have varying amounts of honey in them but my ‘daughter colony’ from the splilt swarm has already drawn the comb and filled and capped two full supers above the ‘brood and a half’ and the third super was added during the visit, the hive is now beginning to resemble a high-rise block next to its neighbours.

Since my last inspection visit I have managed to get down to the apiary on a couple of occassions without hive duties to carry out – a rare oppurtunity for me  as normally I get a short ‘time window’ to travel to the hives, smoke and inspect the bees, make any changes and then get home again. It really is a pleasure just to have some time to sit back and watch the bees arriving and leaving the hive,  laden with different colour pollen, and others simply there guarding the hive so its amazing to see the level of activity around the hive entrance at this time of year and knowing that every returning traveller is helping secure the future of the colony as well as adding to the honey crop!