Posts Tagged ‘prevention’

June and the swarming season has arrived!


It’s been a while since I have written anything on my bee blog – partly as I have been busy with life and partly as there has not been much to report as each colony inspection has gone smoothly (apart from the occassional sting), the bees have been very active, working hard to bring in a huge amount of pollen and nectar and the colonies have grown fast with strong queens and the hives have stayed healthy.

A check on one colony about three weeks ago revealed far more ‘play cups’ than there were present in either of the other two colonies (the early indicator of a queen cell). This colony was also collected as a swam itself last year so would have had an older queen, previoulsy driven from a hive, and it looks like the colony had decided to eject her once again and start over with a new virgin queen.

Play cell - an early indicator of swarming behaviour

The checks carried out every ten days or so by beekeepers between April and August are partly to spot these signs of swarming and queen replacement and allow enough time to try to carry out some form of preventative action to avoid losing half your bees and therefore half your work force (and the honey that they will make) as well as being a responsible beekeeper and not allowing the hive to randomly throw swarms that then become a nusiance to other people.

I checked to make sure that the old queen was still present in the hive then removed some of the play cells – this would not prevent a swarm but at least buy me back a little bit more time before they were ready to go. At the next visit, carried out 9 days later, I took along a spare hive with frames of wax made up. This would be useful for swarm control if I needed it but if the hive wasn’t quite ready to swarm I could leave it set up at the apiary as a ‘bait hive’ and then if a swarm were to happen and I wasn’t around there is still a fair chance that the scout bees, searching for a new home, would simply come across the empty hive, realise it was dry and safe, about the right size and move the colony in without my assistance.

An audience with the queen

As it was, a quick check on the colony revealed 6 new queen cells, one of which was completed and capped – that is to say the larva stage had already been fed royal jelly and then sealed in to start her transformation into a new queen.

I removed the capped queen cell as I did not know how long it has been capped for and therefore have no idea when the new queen would arrive. This left 5 queens almost ready to be capped in the hive, only one of whom would eventually rule.

Queen Cells on a brood frame

Queen cells on a brood frame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some beekeepers would now try and split the colony into more than two hives at this stage if they were wanting to expand their apiary rapidly, but time only really allows for me to deal with three colonies at the moment so I decided to split the ‘ready to swarm’ colony into two.

An ‘artificial swarm’ works on some very simple principles of bee behaviour that 50 million years of evolution has taught them, namely that their ‘homes’ do not move (these would normally be in  a hollow tree or similar in nature) and that if the ‘flying’ or ‘foraging’ bees suddenly find themselves in an new home with no honey, brood or worker bees then they have swarmed – even if they didn’t actually leave the hive themselves.

An artificial swarm involves firstly finding the old queen in the hive, a difficult task on a damp day when nearly all 60,000 bees are at home, but luckily I had found and remarked this queen with a white dot on her back during my previous visit and so it wasn’t long before she was found and safely removed in a ‘queen clip’, a device that looks and works like a hair clip but has slots to allow the worker bees to escape but traps the slightly larger queen.

Introducing the old queen to a new hive

Once the old queen is safely held a new, empty hive is set up in exactly the same location that the old hive had been stood with a queen excluder underneath the brood box – this is a sheet of metal or plastic, again with slots large enough to allow the worker bees free passage but to small for the queen to fit through – this prevents the queen from swarming straight away again. Sheets of wax foundation are added and also a frame of honey to prevent the swarmed colony from starving is included in the new house  deal. Bees from the original colony are added to the hive and then the old queen is re-introduced to her split colony before closing up the hive.

The original hive is set up a few feet away from its original location and now left alone for enough time for the new queens to hatch, the first of which will either kill her unborn sisters or flee the hive with a small number of foraging bees and allow the second born queen to reign. Any ‘flying’ bees left in this hive will leave the hive the morning following the split to forage for food but then return to the newly set-up empty hive as it is now in the original location, so after 24 hours or so you have split the old queen and all the flying bees from all the younger workers, brood, eggs and honey and unborn queens and its time to sit back and wait.

Artificially swarmed bees

As this has all occured during the first half of June there is not much forage for the ‘swarmed’ colony and there is a very real risk that they will simply starve in the hive so I have fed them 4kg of sugar as syrup to help them pull through to the start of the summer nectar flow in July and also to stimulate the bees wax glands so that they draw out the new comb rapidly and the old queen can start laying the next generation of workers straight away.

As a beekeeper there is always the temptation to take a ‘peek’ in the hive and see if everything is going to plan or the bees are slowly starving to death but by following the artificial swarm technique you give the ‘swarmed’ bees the best chance of survival and you really have to leave them alone to do their own thing.

Expansion and a happy apiary

Something of interest as a beekeeper is that you hear of other local swarms, and my wife even found one whilst walking the dog on Tunbridge Wells common this week,  it seems that bees really do all have one unique body clock in an area and seem to know exactly when to swarm at the same time, almost as one body. Well worth noting down for next years swarm control!

Without the preventative measure of the artificial swarm it is almost certain that my bees would have gone at the same time and unless you are there to witness it and catch and re-hive the swarm you stand to lose approximately  20,000 bees each time. Luckily on this occassion it looks like I stopped it in time and subsequent visits to the ‘swarmed’ hive to feed syrup have indicated a very full and lively hive (and another sting on the elbow and swollen arm!) and I am really looking forward to seeing how the colony expands during the sumer before the long autumn amd winter period spent in the hive.

Advertisements

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.

BeeCraft

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. http://www.bee-craft.com/

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 visit and checking for Varroa destructor in my hives


Its amazing how fast seven days go but with a busy weekend ahead it was neccessary to check the bees earlier today just to see how they were getting on since the last visit. The hives are really beginning to build up well with strong colonies in them all and good brood patterns on the comb and they are bringing in good amounts of nectar and making honey now so they should have enough stores for over wintering and maybe even a little for me to take out and enjoy! With this in mind I made a flying visit to Thornes in Windsor to pick up some 40 kg honey tanks to allow the settling, or ripening, of the honey after it has been extracted from the frames and strained as it will need to sit for at least 24 hours to allow any air bubbles to rise t the surface of the honey before it is poured into the jars.

The third hive that had the swarm put in it back in June had an extra shallow brood supper added last week – this was made up of all new undrawn wax foundation and again the bees have amazed me with how fast they can draw out the wax comb when there is a nectar flow on – about half of these frames have been drawn out on both sides in the week and partially filled with honey already – I had a taste of some of the honey filled brace comb today – it’s an amazing experience to taste totally fresh, unfiltered, strained or unheated honey straight fom the hive, the aromas fill your mouth and go to the back of your nose and you realise why honey is refered to as the  ‘food of the gods’.

Now that the colonies are hopefully past swarming, the queens are laying well, the brood has expanded and there are many adult worker bees in the hive bringing in the honey my mind has turned to looking again at the health of the colonies. The weekly visits are always looking for irregularities in the brood as this can indicate a number of viral, fungal or parasitic problems within the hive of which there are very many, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diseases_of_the_honey_bee

I have varroa mesh floors on all the hives and this is meant to reduce the mite count by 40% but as yet I have yet to see any mites in the hive, on the bees or on the floor board during mite checks. I decided to use the uncapping fork to lift some drone brood from the comb today as these are likley to be the host areas for varroa mites and gives you an indication of the amount of mite present in the hive. The only problem with my newly queened hives is that there is a lot of worker brood but not much drone brood at present at the moment. I checked the hive that had the most drone brood but after several ‘excavations’ I had only found one mite – I am hoping that this is a good sign and that the strong colony is dealing with the mites but it does also show that they are present, whereas prior to this I had not seen any evidence of their presence in the hive.