Posts Tagged ‘mouse guard’

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

 
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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

January checks – are the bees still alive?


As I said in my previous post the winter months are pretty quiet for the bee keeper. So long as you have taken the time to ensure that the hives were fed syrup at the end of the summer and each now have enough stores to feed them over winter, have a healthy laying queen and are as disease free as possible then it is a bit of a waiting game to see if they survive the colder months or not.

The bees are now clustering around the queen in the hive, keeping the temperature at 34 degrees. They do not keep the hive at this temperature but the brood area is kept this warm. The queen will have started laying again somewhere around Christmas day so now is far more critical to the colonies survival than earlier in the winter.

On warmer days occasionally bees can be seen leaving the hive and travelling a short distance before returning. With a lack of forage these flights are purely for defecation purposes so it is best to avoid the flight path!

Bees leaving the hive for defecation flights

It is re-assuring for the bee keeper to see his bees are still active and alive. Gently rocking the hive or knocking on its side will respond in a gentle roar from the bees, another sign that they are still alive. If the returned noise is more like a groan or moan it is likely that the colony is without a queen and therefore unlikely to survive the winter.

It is important for the bee keeper to remove the mouse guards and clear the dead bees from the entrance during the winter. The bees are very efficient at cleaning the hive to remove the risk of disease during the summer months but this becomes increasing difficult during the winter with less bees to perform the task and a large perforated strip of metal across the hive entrance (the mouse guard!). A long bladed screw driver is perfect for scrapping out the dead bees from the hive floor – this is perfectly natural!

Winter checks on the colonies

Winter checks onthe hive - a little assistance required

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst there is no brood in the hive the bees are very inactive, they do not need to generate as much heat and they consume very little stores (with no young to feed). As soon as the queen starts to lay again the bees will start to slowly move across the frames and access the honey and pollen that they stored up in the summer months and use as much as 4 to 6 times the amount as they did before. They tend to access only the frames that are immediately adjacent to, or above, the brood so it is not uncommon for a hive to starve whilst they still have adequate honey supplies stored in the hive. It is also possible for a colony to have adequate stores that have hardened and crystallised and therefore the bees are unable to ‘dilute it’ and remove it from the cells.

It is important for the bee keeper to be aware of the amount of supplies within each hive but it is not really acceptable to open the hives for more than a few minutes during the colder weather without the risk of chilling, and therefore killing, the brood.

Traditionally the beekeeper would ‘heft’ the hive on its stand to try and assess the amount of stores left and a hive at this time of year will still require about 25 kg. If the winter has been particularly cold and it is possible that the bees may have consumed a greater amount of the honey stored you can supplement the feed with bee candy or fondant. This is made by boiling 2kg white granulated sugar in  1 pint of water and bringing it up to 117 degrees. The resultant candy will store for several months when wrapped in plastic and can be feed direct to the bees either over a feed hole on the crown board or direct across the frames. It is far more common for the bees to starve in February and into early March as the hives consumption increases with no way of replenishing the stores.

  • Bee candydy over the feed hole on the crown board
  • Feeding the colony at this stage will also help promote egg laying in the queen and therefore get your colony size building up prior to the spring nectar flow arriving and making sure the colony is strong and ready to forage when it does. – this can make all the difference to the size of the honey crop come August.

    Now is also the time to organise your bee keeping equipment before the start of the next season. New equipment can be ordered (many suppliers have sales over the winter months) and old equipment can be repaired and re-treated before being put back into the elements.

    Organising equipment before the summer season

    Finally you can retire back into the warmth, happy that your bees have survived this far into the year and hoping that they make it out again in the spring ahead.

    What happens to the bees over-winter? Putting the bees to bed.


    The beekeepers year is pretty much over once the honey has been extracted, the bees have been fed sugar syrup and treated for varroa mite. Now it is a matter of good housekeeping to give the bees the best chance of surviving into the next year and to encourage early build-up of the colony.

    The hive is checked again on a warm day in October to make sure that there is still a queen and there is no evidence of disease before packing the bees up for the winter months ahead. Once the last flowering plants, such as ivy, no longer have a nectar supply then the bees stop the foraging flights and entrance activity in the hive drastically reduces, with only occasional flights for toileting purposes.

    The colony itself is shrinking in preparation for the winter months ahead with the remaining 20,000 workers living for 5 months or so in order to cluster around the queen and maintain the hive temperature. This number will decline even further, maybe as few as 10,000, before the queen starts laying again in February with the bees emerging as adults in time to coincide with the start of the spring flowers and spring nectar flow.

    The October checks are also to assess that there are adequate stores of honey in the hive to feed the remaining bees over the next few months, as well as a good supply of pollen for feeding to the young and encourage early brood rearing in February.

    Hives are undamaged and soundHives preparing for winterThe crown board is propped upFeed holes in the crown board are coveredMouse guard fitted over the hive entrance

    The hives themselves need to be sound and undamaged. Back in the summer any holes in the hive would have been heavily guarded and just used as an additional entrance or exit, but now the bees are beginning to cluster this will be left unguarded and leave the hive open to robbing, particularly by wasps. It will also let in the cold and wet. Bees are far more likely to be killed by the damp then by the cold. The hives should be sloped slightly forward to allow the bottom board to drain (obviously not a problem if you are using a mesh floor!) and the entrance should be faced away, or at least protected from, the prevailing wind. The crown board is propped on two corners with matchsticks or similar size twigs and the feed holes (or porter escape holes) are covered, this is to prevent too much condensation building up in the hive. The warm moist air rises to the crown board and is pushed out of the top of the hive, rather than condensing on the crown board which can then lead to the outside frames becoming mouldy or even to the death of the colony.

    The roof is then replaced and the hive can either be strapped (but the straps will weather and perish and will definitely not be suitable for moving the hives later on – they are bound to fail at the most inconvenient moment) or use the traditional method by placing a brick on top to avoid the roof being blown off in strong winds – if the apiary is in a very windy location then use two bricks!

    The hives attract attention from several unwanted visitors over the winter months when other food sources are scarce. The hives are very inviting to mice, they offer a warm, dry shelter with honey on tap and the mouse is unlikely to be evicted by the bees until the spring by which time the damage to the comb has been dome. A thin strip of metal with 9mm holes is pinned over the entrance as a mouse guard (check there are no mice in there before attaching it). I have tried to align the bottom set of holes with the hive floor to make it easier for the bees to carry out their hive duties and eject any debris and dead bees before it is removed in spring.

    Woodpecker protectionLittle entrance activity in NovemberHives now ready for winter

    If green woodpeckers are known to nest locally the hive is wrapped in chicken wire with a 13mm mesh or alternatively strips of plastic sheeting are placed over the hive (this prevents the woodpeckers from getting a grip on the hive). Apparently beekeepers who have had no history of problems at an apiary site for many many years with the woodpeckers being present then find one learns a trick and they break and enter the hives, damaging the brood boxes and destroying the frames, comb and colony very quickly.

    Occasional visits to monitor the entrance activity and check the hives have not been ‘nudged’ by deer or badgers are useful. The bees are then left to their own devices until spring. Some beekeepers feed a fondant candy to supplement the honey at the end of December (a form of Christmas offering) and others treat the hive using a weak solution of oxalic acid in sugar syrup. This does not affect the bees but helps to attack the varroa mite and removes their ability to ‘cling on’ to the bees. This should only be administered to the hive when there is no brood present (as it will not affect mite sealed into the brood) and there is no honey in the hive that will later be extracted for human consumption.

    In the event of a heavy snow fall the hive entrance should be cleared to allow a free flow of air and the light shielded away from the entrance or else there is a risk of the bees flying and becoming chilled and unable to return to the hives.

    Finally the hives components not being used over winter should be cleaned and stored. Supers and brood boxes should be scorched internally to kill any parasites and eggs buried in the woodwork. This is also a good time to repair and treat the boxes. The comb should be stored, either wet or dry, so that it is not accessible to wax moths. Sheets of newspaper placed between each super helps. The wax moth lay their eggs of the wax and when hatched feed on the cocoons of the bees so they are most likely to occur in the stored brood comb. A healthy colony of bees will not tolerate wax moth in the hive but the pose a threat to your stored comb.

    Finally time to relax and wait for that warm day in early spring where you get to see if all those preparations for the winter have paid off and your colonies have survived the British winter – good luck!

    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.

    The beekeepers timetable


    This is a really useful beekeeping chart, giving the weeks of the year across the top and bottom and an indication of the brood and adult bee population increasing then declining as the season progresses, the main forage plants (based on Devon, UK) and the jobs that the beekeeper should be carrying out at that particular time, including hive treatments.

    I have seen this attempted in many beekeeping books but none seem to have captured it quite as well on a single sheet as G.R. Davies – so many thanks!

    A Beekeeping  Timetable

    It is also available from the following link as a pdf file that can be saved or printed – have a look and let me know what you think.

    A Beekeeping Timetable