Posts Tagged ‘pollen’

Autumn arrives and the girls keep flying….


Bee with ivy pollen

Bees bringing bright yellow pollen back from the ivy arrive at the hive entrance – October 2015

As I come towards the end of my beekeeping year in October (as far as apiary tasks are concerned anyway) I am surprised just how active the bees still are.

A few weeks back the bees were arriving at the hive entrance looking like ghosts, painted white by the pollen from the Himalayan Balsam flowers but now they are bright yellow returning from the ivy which will probably be the last source of pollen for use as food for this years late, and next years early, brood.

Bee collecting Ivy pollen

Bee collecting Ivy pollen

Flowering ivy - a great source of late pollen

Flowering ivy – a great source of late pollen

The final hive inspections have allowed me to check that the bees still have sufficient stores of honey and pollen, that the smaller amount of brood is still healthy from disease and that they are going into winter with young strong queens. Additionally now that the colonies are substantially smaller the queens that managed to elude me over the last few weeks have finally been found and marked and this will help me keep tabs on them come the spring.

Marking a queen in a 'crown of thornes'

Marking a queen using a ‘crown of thorns’

The newly marked queens looking ready for colony building next year

The newly marked queens looking healthy and ready for building the colony  early next year

Its been another busy year and whilst I have seriously neglected the upkeep of my beekeeping blog but I have had yet another fantastic year with the bees, trying to keep one step ahead of their unpredictable antics and occasional escape plans….The summer months were busy with several attempted swarms that were rescued with colony splits, only to find that both halves had later swarmed and re-queened. The supers also began to stack up in the apiary as the bees worked relentlessly bringing in nectar from flowering trees and wild flowers in the surrounding woods and meadows.

Supers on August 2015

Supers stacking up in the apiary –  August 2015

We harvested the honey crop from four of the hives during early August and ended up with  approximately 169 lbs of raw honey, which in turn became 225 (12oz) jars of liquid gold.

And supers off - August 2015

And supers off – August 2015

Uncapping honey comb - August 2015

Uncapping honey comb – August 2015

Honey for sale!

Honey for sale!

The news reported that 2015 had a record low number of wasps but it certainly didn’t seem that way around the bee hives as we got towards the end of August, maybe we had attracted them in from the rest of the country! The hive entrances were reduced but the wasps continued to rob the hives and it seemed that every time I lifted a roof wasps flew out alongside the bees despite the colonies being very large and strong. I decided to put up a trap for the first time in seven years and hung a single bottle baited with apple juice, cat meat and wine vinegar from a tree in the centre of the apiary.

Wasp trap - August 2015

The wasps became a real problem in the apiary  in late August 2015

The Trap didn’t  have the instant ‘wasp appeal’ that I had hoped for, I guess it was naive to think that these greedy wasps would give up on the chance of my honey and head off to certain death, however on subsequent inspections I was pleased to not only find out that it had been highly effective but had also pulled in a number of European Hornets which at over an inch long look massive next to the wasps!

Wasps and hornets in the trap

Wasps and hornets in the trap

As the nights have closed in and the temperature has become cooler recently I have put on the mouse guards over the hive entrances to keep any would be visitors out and covered the woodwork with chicken wire. I have spent the last few weeks admiring the beauty of the green woodpeckers in the apiary, and although they have never been a problem here it is a small price to pay for the insurance that they wont turn my hives into kindling and destroy the colonies when the first frosts arrive.

Mouse guards covering the hive entrance

Mouse guards covering the hive entrance

Finally each hive is capped with a small paving slab to keep the roof in place if we get strong winds again this year. I wont be opening the bees up until December again now when I will be trickling an oxalic acid solution between the seams as part of my varroa mite control and giving each hive a lump of home-made bee candy, again I hope that they wont need it but its better to be safe than risk starvation in my opinion…

Now’s the time to get any equipment cleaned and safely stored away then sit back and plan for next year, read about bee improvement and enjoy some of the fruits of ‘your’ labour….

Honey on toast

Honey on toast

I will continue to write about my journey with the bees in 2016, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings and for your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

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

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Winter is over and here come the girls….


Its been relatively quiet down at the apiary over the winter months with the bees mostly staying in their hives even if they did not cluster for long periods due to the warm weather we experienced again in the south east.

I did not feed any syrup in August following the honey removal last year as it was such a good year that the bees were still bringing in pollen and nectar late into the season and I had left a good amount of honey on the hives as this has to be better for them than a sugar substitute! I checked back on the bees around new year when I also applied oxalic acid, dribbled between the frames to help control the mite whilst the colony was without sealed brood, and gave each hive some bee candy above the crown board as an insurance policy against starvation. Its always nice to see the girls doing well at this stage but I am quite aware that this is never a guaranteed sign that they will all make it into spring.

The bees were still quite active and a few followed me when I left the apiary which was sad knowing that these would soon chill and fail to find their way back home….

View across the new apiary site in April 2015

View across the new apiary site in April 2015

My bee buddy Paul and I also moved the apiary to a new location around new year, it was only a few hundred meters across the land so that the bees will now get more light earlier in the day as they had become overshadowed by the tress rapidly filling the skyline around their old homestead. Winter is one of the few times you can move the hives like this, at other times you have to stick to the ‘less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles’ rule to prevent the bees returning to the original hive location and clustering on the ground.

We strapped the hives but didn’t block the entrances and wheeled them carefully across the bumpy ground in a wheelbarrow. All the bees behaved and stayed indoors until we got to the final hive with the feisty black British queen (these are my best honey makers) and they came streaming out en-mass and found a hole in Paul’s gloves to let him know about their disapproval, needless to say I ended up moving that one on my own.

Bees landing at the hive

I returned to lift the roofs and check how the bees were getting on in February and a couple of hives had started to nibble the candy, despite still having some honey in the outside frames, just goes to show that they would rather go up than sideways in their search for supplies.

Early April saw a mini heatwave across the UK with above average temperatures and sunshine hours and the bees didn’t waste a minute of it. The bees have been very busy and nearly all the hives had 8 or 9 frames of brood and pollen across the ‘brood and half’ system that I run. With colonies this strong it was definitely time to add the first supers to give the bees more room for stores, prevent hive congestion and maybe delay the inevitable swarming for a couple more weeks whilst I get my backup gear sorted and ready for use.

As a beekeeper with a busy life, young family and full time employment I don’t often get the opportunity to simply stand back and watch the bees but I recently took some time to photograph the bees activity at the apiary and just enjoy watching them in flight bringing in the spring pollen, you can learn so much about the strength and health of a colony through observation at the entrance and its far less intrusive to the bees than opening the hive up. I hope to get the time to do this a bit more often in the future….

landing gear down

landing gear down

Lots of activity at the hive entrance

Lots of activity at the hive entrance

The weather has become more unsettled, with cooler wet and windy weather across the UK this week and the girls are not flying as much but I have no doubt that they are still just as busy indoors and planning the plot to their own ‘game of thrones’ so now I am just waiting for a break in the rain to try and catch up with them….

As ever I will be adding to this blog as and when time allows and I am not actually elsewhere or with the bees in 2015, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings and for your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

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

Guard bee at the hive entrance

A worker bee guarding the hive entrance

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

 

Spring 2011 and the first proper apiary check of the year


Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far, and whilst the thermometer was hitting 18 degrees in the sun, the bees were very busy flying. Unlike my earlier apiary visits this year they are now collecting huge amounts of pollen to feed to the brood – a good sign that the hives are healthy and that the queens have survived the winter and the colonies are building up strength again.

It really lifts your spirits to arrive at the hives and see the amount of activity around them. This to me really signifies more than anything that spring has arrived and the bees are flying in heavily loaded with sulphur-yellow pollen from the nearby Willow trees.

First inspection of the year 2011

I have been down to check on the bees on a few occasions over the long winter months and have hefted the hives to test for the weight of supplies left, my in-experience unfortunately gets the better of me here and I decided to feed candy to the bees despite there being sufficient honey left in the hives. A colony can starve with lots of honey stores untouched simply because they tend to travel up in the hive looking for food rather than going sideways to find the full frames.  A cake of candy placed over the centre of the hive on the clearer board takes care of that and the bees had polished off all that I have fed them in the last few weeks. This early feeding has allowed the queens to start laying earlier and build up the worker numbers prior to the start of the spring nectar flow.

Bee candy

There is always the temptation to peek inside the hive whilst checking the state of the candy in late February and early March but the queen will have started laying eggs in late December or early January and there is a very real risk of chilling the brood and killing the new workers that are being prepared so that they can replace the bees that have over- wintered with the queen and are ready to fly in time with the start of the spring nectar flow in order to bring in much needed supplies after the winter.

The last full hive check was back in late September and the bees have been hiding away over the winter months, clustered around the queen and using minimal energy to survive. The hive temperature was bought back up to around 34 degrees in the brood area when the queen started laying eggs and the stores would have started to diminish as the young were fed. The last few weeks leading up to spring are the highest risk period for the death of a colony through starvation.

A great piece of advice that I was given was that every apiary visit should have a set purpose. You can tell a lot about the condition and health of the colony through observation without opening a hive, but if you are going to intrude into the colony you need to have a good reason.

The first visit of the year is to check the overall health of the colony, to see if the queen is present either through spotting her or through the presence of eggs, pupa and sealed brood, to establish how much brood is present (how many frames does it cover), is there any evidence of brood disease, are there sufficient supplies to sustain the colony (both honey and pollen) and is there still enough space in the hive (a colony can build up size surprisingly early in the year and a crowded colony will have a tendency to swarm early).

Changing the hive floors

The visit also involves a little bit of house work, replacing the hive floor with a clean one or cleaning the floors that are there is you don’t have a spare. This is done by moving the hive boxes and removing the solid floor, scrapping off the mite, pollen, wax and bits off dead insect and then running a blowtorch (or heat-gun) over the floor just enough to gently scorch the wood. This makes sure that any parasites (or eggs) that are in the hive wood are destroyed.

Spring inspection of hive

Opening the hives one at a time is a great joy, the familiar smells of wax and honey and the sounds of the hives changing as the bees communicate never fails to  impress. I used a little smoke to pacify the bees, although this may not be that necessary at this time of year whilst the colonies are still small it gives you a feeling of confidence knowing your smoker is lit and to hand if the bees decide to get a little too amorous! The bees have been busy sealing up the boxes with propolis over the winter months and the hive tool (a large flat bladed chisel) is given a little extra leverage to part them for the first time in the year. The bees are all going about their set tasks and take little notice of the beekeeper as he carries out his quick inspection of each frame.

I have been lucky this year, although I fed the bees syrup and treated for varroa mite back in early September you never know if the colonies will pull through, and this year all three have. The queens have been busy, and although I didn’t have the hives open long enough to spot them, there were about 5 frames covered in eggs, pupa and sealed brood present in each hive and still plenty of last year’s honey and this year’s pollen stored. There was no visible evidence of brood disease so I got on with the task of changing floors. I currently use solid floors with varroa mesh inserts above on two of my hives, the other has the more expensive purpose built varroa floor from Thornes, and so I only had to change two floors. It amazes me how much pollen seems to be lost through the mesh, with large streaks of bright yellow pollen formed in line with the arrangement of frames above, radiating out from the hive entrance.

Willow pollen on hive floor Pollen on hive floor Hive floors cleaned with a blow torch

With the checks and house work complete the hives are sealed back up. With the colonies still low in numbers I have left the entrance reducer blocks in as this makes the hive easier to defend but soon these will be removed to allow more movement of bees in and out of the hive and better ventilation as the worker numbers increase. I also left the woodpecker protection in place, this doesn’t seem to bother the bees at all but would still discourage a hungry green woodpecker from turning my hives into matchsticks (which they do with great efficiency!).

Entrance blocks left in Woodpecker protection

The next hive checks will be mid-April as there is little risk of the colony being large enough to consider swarming before then, and following that the checks will be carried out on a 7-10 day frequency to try and prevent, or more probably deal with, potential swarming as it arises until late July.