Posts Tagged ‘spring’

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

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Spring 2014 and the bees are flying again


Well it’s been a while since I have had a chance to write anything here but as ever the beekeeping year has sneaked up on me and I have to be careful not to get to far behind as the bees are not hanging about waiting for me and are well under way with colony building and bringing in the pollen and nectar and making lots of beautiful honey.

Blues skies - April 2014

Blues skies – April 2014

It was an incredibly warm winter in the UK with only a couple of light ground frosts and the bees didn’t really seem to have clustered at any point when I checked on the hives to apply oxalic acid and again to feed candy. It was also the wettest recorded winter for 250 years and the UK was repeatedly battered by strong winds and storms, starting in early October, then again at the end December and continuing into early March.

Every time we had a big storm I had to visit the out apiary just to make sure that the hives were still standing and despite feeling my house shaking several times during the night of one of the storms we only had one warre hive blown over. When I attended the apiary the boxes were split and the bees were wet, I did my best to reassemble the hive and scope bees up in the rain and although I didn’t see the queen amazingly the bees all pulled through and are flying again this year – they really are the most resilient little creatures.

One of the downsides to the bees not clustering is that by being more active in the hives they used their winter stores up far earlier than normal and there was a very real risk of starvation in all the colonies despite feeding heavy syrup in August and September.

Emergency candy was fed from the end of December, when I also applied the oxalic acid as mite control, up until early march when the girls were flying again and bringing in pollen.

Bees bringing in the pollen to feed the brood - Spring 2014

Bees bringing in the pollen to feed the brood – Spring 2014

My first proper hive check this year was at the beginning of April and I wasn’t sure what state I would find the colonies in but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were all very healthy and the queens had been busy and there was brood of all stages on 9 of the 11 frames in all the hives as well as honey and pollen. I don’t recall the colonies being this large so early on in previous years, I added my first honey super and went back 10 days later to check how they were getting on. The bees have drawn the comb in the supers and they are about 70% full on each hive although not capped yet I can see the need for the next super in the next few days.

Last year I wrote about losing a colony to isolation starvation and the sadness that it brings to beekeepers to lose a single hive but it also brings great joy when they pull through the winter and you get to open up the hives with the sun on your back and feel the energy of the bees flying around you with the sounds and smells only known to those who spend time in the company of the bees.

During my first visit I removed the mouse guards and chicken wire used as winter protection, I also used this opportunity to replace the brood boxes for fresh ones and clear the floors although I use mesh on all hives and the bees do a good job of keeping these clear (or all the waste falls through) and I have been very busy with the blow torch sterilising everything since.

Lots of pollen being packed away for use in brood rearing

Lots of pollen being packed away for use in brood rearing

I have also been busy getting my spare equipment ready for swarm control as I am sure that the colonies will start making preparations soon and I have three national hives on standby for this purpose. I have also been making up new frames and re-waxing a few old ones. I decided to renew some of the frames that were donated to me when I first started out – these are quite old now and I think it is time to burn them. I am also phasing out the Manleys that I have been using – I made up twenty of these and have used them for the last three years but find that the bees heavily propolise them making it hard to remove them individually from the super for inspection or when extracting – they all get ‘glued’ together as one block so moving back towards the DNS4 frames.

Incidentally I popped into Thornes at Windsor and spoke to Bob, we were discussing bee space around the queen excluders and whether the zinc or plastic flat excluders were a disadvantage to the bees compared to the wired excluders in frames which have bee space.

He gave me a top hint – when making up brood frames clip the top corner of the wax on each side to take out a small triangular bite, not only does this make it easier to make up the frame  quickly as you are not trying to push the wax along the grooves and into the joint between the side bar and top bar but it leaves a small amount of bee space for the queen to pass between the frames. The bees will reduce it down but leave a ‘little doorway’ if you do this then having top space above the frame is not quite so important!

Can you spot the queen in this shot?

Can you spot the queen in this shot?

Anyway as the year starts I am a happy beekeeper, having seen all my queens, the colonies are healthy and strong and the bees are bringing in pollen and nectar and making honey. I have my spare equipment ready for swarm control and empty honey supers stacked up to collect the harvest…. so what could possibly go wrong? Well they say that every beekeeping season is different and I have certainly found that so far so sure I will be writing about something new and exciting very soon!

Hope you are all having a good start to the beekeeping year! @danieljmarsh

Hope you are all having a good start to the beekeeping year! @danieljmarsh

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings 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.

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

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.