Posts Tagged ‘feeding’

Happy Christmas from the apiary


Well its coming to the end of 2014 and its been another fantastic beekeeping season, the apiary has expanded and its been a bumper year as far as honey production goes. I’ve started experimenting and using more wax for candle making on a hobby scale and am currently cleaning up the propolis that I have collected over the last few years and am hoping to start making some medicinal tinctures with this, possibly blended with echinacea, in 2015.

The first real frost of 2014 but it has warmed up again since...

The first real frost of 2014 but it has warmed up again since…

 

It’s just beginning to to get cold in the south east and hopefully the girls will stop flying soon, we are still waiting to apply our oxalic acid and will be moving the apiary site to a better location in the coming weeks.

The blog articles that have generated the most interest over the year continues to be my writing about using bee venom therapy (BVT) for treating rheumatoid arthritis and it has been a real joy to hear the really positive stories of other people who have felt inspired to try this after reading of our success and have themselves made real progress in overcoming this auto-immune disease. I hope that others looking for advice and information on this subject continue to find the blog and realise the the western drug route for controlling the pain is not the only option open to them.

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Another highlight of my beekeeping year was my wife finally joining me at the hives now the children are slightly older and can entertain themselves whilst we attend the queen and her workers. I think that she was amazed at just how spiritual and humbling the whole experience is of opening up the hives, watching and listening to the bees communicating and absorbing all the associated scents of honey, wax and propolis. I’m looking forward to more joint visits in the sunshine as the 2015 season rolls out.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog this year, there have been over 37, 000 visits at the time of writing this article. Please keep the comments, questions and feedback coming as it is always nice to hear from fellow keepers, wherever you are based in the world.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year, keep an eye on your bees over the winter months and remember to give emergency feed if required and check the hives if we get a repeat of last years storms or any heavy snow.

Snow

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

Down at the apiary....

Down at the apiary…. December 2014

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Autumn’s here and my bees look like ghosts…


October has arrived, the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees and my apiary visits are becoming less frequent now that I have finished treating the bees with Apilife Var for the Varroa Destructor (parasitic mite) and feeding the heavy sugar syrup that will help to sustain my girls through the winter and replaces some of the honey that was removed back in August.

Apart from a  very brief cold spell it has been quite a warm autumn so far in the south and the bees are still busy, the queens in two of my hives are still producing brood, once hatched these will be the workers that remain with her over winter and into the start of the season next year, but all the bees are still flying and bringing in lots of pollen. I am very fortunate that my apiary is located in a semi-rural location and falls adjacent to a heavily forested area with plenty of ivy at this time of year, but my bees do not appear to foraging there, they are returning to hives looking like miniature ghosts dusted in white pollen and not only in the pollen baskets on their rear legs but also all over their thorax as well.

Sloes growing on the blackthorn trees

Sloes growing on the blackthorn bushes

After a brief check on the colonies last weekend I took a wander further down the valley to have a look at the sloes growing on the blackthorn and to see if they were ready to pick and seep in gin, as it was they looked ripe but still feel a little bit hard and its probably best to wait a little longer until they are holding a bit more juice before harvesting.

However as I wandered along the paths through the woodland I was greeted by a familiar buzz and could see my girls working the pink flowers scattered amongst the bramble, ferns and nettles.

A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.

A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.

These flowers are the ‘Himalayan Balsam’ (Impatiens glandulifera) and as the name suggests it is a non-native species that is considered by many to be a weed due to its fast growing and invasive nature. It will tolerate low light conditions and will rapidly displace other plants in the area if not controlled. However my bees seem to absolutely love it with virtually every forager returning to the hive wearing white overalls.

You can see from the two close-up images of the flowers below (apologies these were taken with a phone camera so not that great quality) that the hood-shaped flower invites the bee in to drink nectar held in the central ‘cup’ but there is a small pollen brush above with passes over the top of the thorax as the bees enter and exit, this is a very effective strategy for the plant in order to reproduce.

Himalayan Balsam Flower

Himalayan Balsam Flower open for business

Himalayan Balsam Flower

Himalayan Balsam Flower

I can’t help looking at this and being reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the film ‘Withnail and I’ where Withnails uncle Monty, played by the late Richard Griffiths, is having a rant and says ‘ Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees.’

But what is good for the bees is not considered to be so good for other species and a biodiversity balance has to be struck, these plants local to my hives are self-seeded and appear to be spreading year after year and supply a rich source of late forage. In July 2011 the BBKA released a statement specifically relating to this plant that says:

“It is unacceptable (actually illegal) to actively distribute balsam seeds to encourage its spread, but this does not preclude the option for beekeepers to have some balsam in their gardens to provide the late nectar and pollen whilst carefully managing it so it does not spread to other gardens, agricultural land and especially watercourses.”

In my opinion it’s nice to see nature fighting back and giving something positive to the bees when there are so many other environmental pressures currently working against them, whether it be agricultural practises that are actively destroying the habitat that they require through removal of hedgerows and wild spaces, monoculture and the excessive use of dangerous pesticides (neonicotinoids) or the spread of parasitic mites and other bee diseases as well as the increasing threat of the arrival of the Asian Hornet in the UK.

I won’t be back to my hives for a  little while now, I hope that the weather holds and as the brood area reduces the bees fill all available space with stores as winter approaches to give them the best chance of surviving again (I lost one weaker colony to isolation starvation last year in the winter). When I return it will be to fit the metal mouse guards to keep out unwanted visitors, the chicken wire to keep the green woodpeckers away is already in place following reports of damage in Hampshire already this year!

Fly agaric

Fly agaric growing in the woodland adjacent to the apiary, October 2013

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

 

More bumblebee observations….


Bombus Hypnorum -

Bombus Hypnorum – feeding on late raspberry flowers

Following on from my recent post about the Bumblebees in my garden I have continued to enjoy watching the bees tumbling all over the raspberry flowers, but now that these seem to be mainly set as fruit and there is slightly less activity going on around the patch.

However the bees haven’t left the garden but seem to have turned their attention to the leaves on my cherry tree. There seems to be a frenzy of bee activity, mainly in the early evening, so I have been having a closer look (and a few photos of course) as this behaviour all seems very strange as there are not actually any flowers here for them to feed on…

Bombus Vestalis -

Bombus Vestalis – entering the ‘rolled’ leaves on the cherry tree

It appears that as we have now effectively reached what beekeepers refer to as the ‘June gap’, this is the time between the end of the spring flowers and the arrival of the summer flowers, when there is less natural forage for bees of any kind to feed on. In an absence of sweet nectar from flowers the bees appear to have taken to ‘milking’ the sugary secretion from the aphids that have ‘attacked’ the underside of the youngest leaves at the end of the branches on my cherry tree.

According to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) this behaviour appears to be becoming increasingly common.

“The secretions offer a substitute for nectar, but do not contain the protein the insects need to stay healthy. Bumblebees can only get their protein from pollen, which they feed to their growing young, so it is essential for a healthy population.”

The bumblebees’ behaviour of feeding on secretions from aphids could be a further sign of the problems facing the insects.

There have been warnings that bumblebee and wild bee populations around the UK are experiencing “catastrophic declines”.

Bombus Vestalis - feeding on aphids in young cherry tree leaves

Bombus Vestalis – Proboscis elongated and feeding on the aphids on the underside of cherry leaves

Possibly of even greater concern  is that many trees are sprayed with pesticides to kill off the aphids and this will have a knock-on effect of killing the bumblebees at a time when they are already considered to be under threat and in decline across the UK.

There were recent reports of mass wipeouts with 25,000 bees killed in the US following the application of a pesticide to control aphids and this could be happening all over the world – a very sad thought indeed….

Bombus Vestalis -

Bombus Vestalis feeding on sugary secretions – you can see a few aphids on the outside of the leave but the inside is completely coated in them

It’s not all doom and gloom though as the UK government have finally appeared to have woken up the problems with our wild pollinators (after recently trying to block a 2-year EU ban on the use of three of the most damaging neonicotinoids) and are launching an ‘urgent’ review and plans to  to introduce a national pollinator strategy. I hope this is not just political point scoring and some very urgent action is taken before we have lost these essential and beautiful insects and experience the knock on effects on both our economy and food production.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Busy busy bees – new queens on their way


Following on from my apiary visits at the beginning of the month where I had found new queen cells I carried out a textbook artificial swarm, once I had found the elusive and newly slimmed down queen. The queen cups were already built and these had eggs in them rather than larva or pupa so it was quite early in the whole swarming process so I returned last week to carry out another quick check just to make sure that the bees had continued their journey to requeening the colony once the original fertile queen had been removed and re-hived with her flying workers.

Queen cells - June 2013

Queen cells – June 2013

I need not have worried as the bees had done what nature has taught them is required when the colony is queenless and they had the advantage of eggs laid in queen cells as opposed to having to draw out an emergency queen using an egg laid in a normal worker cell – never the best solution and these tend to get superseded very quickly.

Queen cells - June 2013

Queen cells – June 2013

The uncapped queen cell  in the image above has been abandoned and did not contain a larva, however this hive had produced four new queens from the cells that I had spotted in my earlier visit and these are all capped, surprisingly they had also produced some slightly smaller cells which I assume were also queens on an outside frame in the brood box – these were all on new comb so lighter in colour than those above – I have not seen this before and hope that these were not emergency queens due to their being a problem with the other earlier queens in the hive? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this, please comment if you have any ideas?

Queen cells on new comb on an outside frame

Queen cells on new comb on an outside frame

The original queen that I moved onto new foundation in a single brood box had also been busy and after a week or so in her new home she had completely filled the single brood box on the hive almost to the outside frames with eggs so these bees desperately needed new space for colony expansion and storing food so I gave them an extension in the form of a new super on the brood – I am beginning to think that I may need to go with a double brood system next year if my queens keep working so hard – I have not had any problems with the colony expansions this year. I put this down to re-queening last year (naturally), early feed during the spring and the great location of the apiary on the Kent/Sussex borders surrounded by established woodland, agricultural land and urban areas within reach of the foraging bees.

I spent part of the weekend cutting out old comb, cleansing frames before adding new foundation, sterilising supers and brood boxes and generally getting myself ready for the summer flow which is just beginning – I have greater hope for my bees than last year and the weather is supposedly going to return to near average temperatures again by the end of the week, or so we are told. I hope that your girls are doing as well and you are having as much fun!

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

April arrives and the first apiary check of 2013


Strong colony

Strong colonies emerge after a very long winter

After a very long drawn out winter with bitter easterly winds and one of the coldest March’s since records began we have returned to an Atlantic airflow and finally begun to see  the thermometers rising with the milder weather bringing in some sunshine along with the normal April showers but this has at least also bought on the start of spring.  With flowers appearing and trees in blossom the bees have started flying again and so at last we can go into the apiary and have a quick look inside the hives.

I was particularly keen to see how the bees were doing as I had lost one colony to starvation back in February, despite there being home-made fondant on all the hives. I had been feeding the bees since late December and had also started feeding a light syrup (1kg sugar per liter water) during the last week of March.

Healthy bees

Healthy bees fill the hives

The National Bee Unit (NBU – part of FERA/DEFRA) are still recommending the use of fondant at the beginning of April but it has been slightly warmer in Kent than elsewhere in the UK and my bees had already broken from their winter cluster, during the day at least, and syrup given in a contact feeder is much easier for the bees to use. Fondant stores well, does not freeze or ferment, so can sit on the hive until the bees need it but it requires chewing and diluting with water before the bees can use it so a thin syrup is preferable in my opinion once the bees are active.

I had not opened any of the hives, other than removing the roof to give fondant or syrup, since the last week in December when the oxalic acid was applied to try and reduce the numbers of the parasitic mite, varroa destructor, and even then the crown board is only raised for a few moments and no frames are lifted so it is always with great excitement that you carry out the first inspection of the season.

On a warm and sunny but breezy afternoon (15-16 degrees) I attended the apiary unsure of whether I would actually get the chance to look into the hives, but I wanted to remove the contact feeders, mouse guards and wood pecker protection anyway so it wouldn’t be a wasted visit. You can also tell a lot about the health of a colony just by observing the bees at the hive entrance and intrusive measures are not always required (click on the link to access a pdf copy of H. Storch’s book of the same title). I wanted to see if the bees were flying and if they were returning loaded with pollen as they had been on previous days.

At the hive entrance

At the hive entrance with an entrance reducer in place to prevent early robbing

A break in the wind and we were in, I used a little smoke as the bees had been quite ‘friendly’ when I had put feeders on a few days earlier so I decided to let them know I was here this time. I prised the crown boards away from the top brood boxes where the bees had firmly fixed them with ample amounts of propolis over the winter months and was greeted with hives full of bees, really good size healthy looking colonies. The crown boards were checked to make sure the queen wasn’t on them as there are currently no queen excluders used in the hives and then, as I didn’t want to chill the brood or disturb the bees to much, I only removed a few frames from the top brood box for inspection and again was very happy to see that there were sealed brood, larva, eggs and freshly stored yellow pollen (looks like willow) in the classic brood pattern spread over several frames.

I didn’t need to see the queen to know that she had been there recently, that could wait for a warmer day, but the bees were active, looking healthy and building up numbers well with plenty of stored food so it was time to carefully close up the hives until my next visit when hopefully better conditions will allow for me to dig deeper into the hives.

Paul inspecting his hives

Paul inspecting his national hives with a big smile on his face

My bee buddy Paul was also on hand checking his hives and was pleased to report no winter losses, including his two Warre hives which have not had any intervention or feeding over the winter months, the bees are flying but we do not know how large or strong those colonies are yet. The smaller colony that had over-wintered in a poly-nuc is  doing well and I may well invest in some of these one day.

Once the hives were closed up it was time to turn thoughts towards the rapid approach of spring and inevitable swarming that will start as hives fill up and become congested. We sorted through our equipment and took stock of how many ‘spare’ hives were already set and ready to go when needed and which needed repair or new wax installed. Hopefully the warmer weather will stay long enough for the colonies to build strength in time for the main spring flowers as they arrive.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Pollen under hive

Pollen dropped through the mesh floor building up under the hives

Death of a colony – a beekeepers loss


The cold spell that has dominated the last couple of weeks has finally broken this weekend and I was keen to get down to my apiary to see how the bees were faring. The hives were last opened and checked at the end of December, about 3 1/2 weeks ago, when I applied the oxalic acid and fed large blocks of home-made bee candy to each.

My new apiary assistant to help with the bees

My new apiary assistant ready to help with the bees

We had five national hives and a poly nuc to check on this visit as the Warre hives are being left to their own devices over winter and we were only checking to see how the bees were doing with the candy feed and replenishing if needed. The first hive that we checked had a late swarm, collected in August and headed by a buckfast cross breed queen. At the end of last year they seemed to be doing quite well, the queen was a good layer, and although the colony was smaller than the others it seemed to be building at a steady rate and the bees were very chilled, beautiful to handle and I assumed they would be one of my success stories of 2013.

A dead colony clusters on the frames

A dead bee colony clusters on the frames

Dead bees clustering on the frame and covering the floor

Dead clustering on the frame and covering the floor

When we opened the hive I realised pretty quickly that there wasn’t the normal activity I would expect to see at this time of year, especially as the ambient temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius when bees would normally have broken from their winter cluster around the queen and resumed normal hive activities during the day. On closer inspection we found that the colony was completely dead with the bees clustering on the frames as they would have done in life.

It was a sad moment for me as this is the first colony I have lost to starvation in five years of keeping bees.

This hive had a reasonable level of stores when checked in December and a 400g block of bee candy was placed over the feed hole in the centre of the crown board but frustratingly this had not been touched despite the bee cluster being directly below it.

The starving bees had filled the cells in the frames head first, I assume looking for food, and many had died in this position.

Dead bees in the frames

Dead bees searching for food fill the frames

The other hives were checked and all appeared normal, three had finished their candy feeds but the fourth hive, with a similar size colony but different type of queen, had only just started to use it.

I have now doubled up the feed on each of the hives to take them up to the warmer weather when I can give a thin sugar syrup as a spring feed to help the colonies build strength again.

Candy feed on crown board just being started

Candy feed on crown board just being started

Doubled up blocks of candy on a hive

Doubled up blocks of candy on a hive

I am left wondering if I had used a small eke (spacer) to raise the crown board and put the candy direct on the frames would they have taken it, but then again they had full access to the candy and were right below it and hadn’t touched it so maybe not. Should I have moved them into a nuc for over-wintering or culled the new queen and consolidated them with a stronger colony? There is no point dwelling on the loss to much but their demise seems harsher than a colony losing a queen or having laying workers as you end up feeling responsible for their fate to some extent.

As a beekeeper it is lovely to have the opportunity to visit your bees during the long winter months, to see them flying again with the promise of another spring arriving and as the new plants are just beginning to appear through the receding snowline.

Bee in a poly nuc

Bee in a poly nuc

The bees in the poly nuc appear to be doing quite well. This a bit of an experiment this year as Paul only obtained the nuc in 2012 and populated it with a swarm he collected. The greater insulation should be keeping the bees warm and require less use of their precious stores but the downfall with this type of ‘housing’ is when it comes to feeding as the ‘crown board’ is a flexible sheet of clear plastic, with no feed hole, and no room under the roof for candy. Does anyone know if you can get a poly nuc eke to raise the roof, or if syrup feed is used in the built-in feeder (bottom of the picture) does it freeze or will the bees even take it during the winter months? Be good to hear of your experiences of using these new hives.

Dead frames, the comb will be removed for candles and the boxes sterilised with a blowtorch

Dead frames, the comb will be removed for candles and the boxes sterilised with a blowtorch

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

The apiary - January 2013

The apiary – January 2013

Acid and candy – a winter days treat!


Seems like it has been a while since I have added anything to this blog, and I guess that’s because this is generally a quiet time of year for beekeepers in the UK on the whole.

The honey (what honey this year?) has been extracted from the comb many months ago, the bees have been fed a thick sugar syrup which they in turn have further reduced and stored to help sustain them over the long cold winter months and the first set of treatment has been applied to try and knock back the parasitic mite, Varroa Destructor, that inhabit virtually every hive in the UK.

Winter checks

Paul doing the winter checks

During late August and into early September, after the honey crop has been removed,  I used Apilife Var, an organic thymol based treatment with Eucalyptus Oil, Menthol and Camphor as additional active ingredients. This has to be applied whilst the ambient temperature is still warm, and there is brood in the hive so the bees keep the internal temperature around 36 degrees Celsius and therefore it is warm enough to release the vapours and allow their circulation. The mites reproduction cycle mainly takes place within the wax-capped brood cells with the bees own young so it is not possible to remove a large proportion of the sexually mature mites at this stage.

A second part of my ‘integrated pest management’ strategy is to apply Oxalic acid to the hives during the winter months. The Apilife Var would no longer be effective with cooler ambient temperatures and a drastically reduced hive temperature there would be no vapourisation of the oils. The hive temperature drops to around 20 degrees during the short period at the end of December and early January when the queen is not laying and there are no eggs  or brood present. The higher temperature normally maintained in the hive is required for brood rearing so by dropping the heat the bees are able to conserve energy and therefore use slightly less of their valuable stores, 50 million years of evolution has taught them how to survive and not starve! The queen will start to build the colony up again soon in order that she has a new healthy adult workforce ready to take advantage of the spring flowers and early pollen and nectar flows that they bring.

It really helps if you have a ‘bee buddy’ to speed up the acid application process and reduce the stress of cold exposure to the bees.

Oxalic acid

Oxalic acid

Trickling acid between the seams

Trickling acid between the seams

Many of the older beekeepers talk of great summers when their hives were taller than themselves, stacked full of supers of sweet golden honey, but sadly these days seem to have been lost with a change in agricultural techniques, removal of hedgerows, over-use of toxic chemical pesticides, mass-urbanisation, a shift in climate and weather patterns and a number of other factors leading to less areas of natural forage and increasing the struggle for colony survival.

I do not really like the thought of using the acid on my beautiful bees but feel it gives them some additional chances of pulling through to the spring. The weak acid is applied diluted in a sugar syrup solution and is carefully trickled into the hive along the seams, or gaps, between the frames.

In order not to overdose the bees it should be applied evenly across the hive at 5ml per seam (10 seams = 50ml), the acid should be harmless to the bees but burns the feet and mouth parts of the mites meaning they can no longer hold onto their hosts and feed on them so is very effective. The hives are only opened for a minute or so and the frames are not removed or disturbed.

IT IS HOWEVER HIGHLY TOXIC TO HUMANS, INSTRUCTIONS SHOULD BE READ AND PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WORN!

One nice thing about applying the acid is that you have a chance to check the bees are still alive, having only occasionally seen any movement around the hives since late October. All my colonies are now clustered at the top of the hives under the crown board, they were surprising active on December 28th when we dosed them with acid but then it was quite warm outside, around 8 degrees centigrade, and a few of the more inquisitive ladies tried to get up my sleeves.

Bee candy

Bee candy placed over feed hole in crown board

Before closing up the hives again a block of home-made bee candy is placed over the central feed hole  in the crown board. Even if you have heaved your hives and feel there is plenty of stores available the bees may not travel sideways in search of food and can starve in a well supplied hive, they will however travel up so it is another insurance process, if they don’t need it they won’t touch it – don’t worry the bees will not get obese – but I would rather it was wasted than they starved. There is of course the argument that a sudden increase in food leads to the queen laying early, increasing colony size when there is no pollen to feed the young and increased activity uses up the food source far too quickly – you make your own mind up. From my experience over the last few years hives standing in the apiary shoulder to shoulder with similar size colonies and amount of stores have used the sugar at very different rates but ultimately all have survived.

Finally the hive entrances are checked to make sure that they are clear of dead bees. I use mesh floors so don’t suffer from flooding but if you have solid floors on it is worth checking that the hive is slightly tilted forward and there is no standing water inside which would make it too damp for the bees to be comfortable and may well lead to their decline. With these visual checks carried out its back on with the woodpecker guards until my next visit which will be in three to four weeks time to see how they are gettig on with the candy.

Woodpecker protection

Woodpecker protection is replaced

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Applying oxalic acid

Applying oxalic acid