Posts Tagged ‘swarm’

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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Busy busy bees – new queens on their way


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

Queen cells - June 2013

Queen cells – June 2013

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draw out an emergency queen using an egg laid in a normal worker cell – never the best solution and these tend to get superseded very quickly.

Queen cells - June 2013

Queen cells – June 2013

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

Queen cells on new comb on an outside frame

Queen cells on new comb on an outside frame

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

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

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

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

Dan

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

June arrives bringing warmer weather but also swarms galore


Apiary - June 2013

At the apiary – June 2013

It’s been a cold and slow start to the beekeeping year, allegedly the coldest in 46 years and one of the 4 coldest since records began in 1910 and all this is on top of the appalling wet year that we had in 2012. Beekeepers all over the UK recorded above normal losses of bees during the extended winter months and although the coverage about pesticide use and bee loss has continued to dominate the  media many of these bees were simply lost to starvation and the cold weather. I sadly also lost a colony as I reported earlier in the year despite there being fresh bee candy in the hive literally millimeters above the bees…

Healthy bees in may as the colony starts to enlarge

Healthy bees at the hive entrance in may as the colony starts to enlarge

So the flowers were late, I fed my bees a light syrup as spring arrived and the colonies expanded really fast this year – it was great to see and as the belated wild blooms broke through the workers were ready to take advantage and I have had great joy watching the air around the apiary alive with pollen laden bees making their return flights back to the hives during the warmer and sunny days.

During my recent inspections I have seen large and healthy colonies, with the ‘brood and a half’ hive formation full of eggs, brood and stores with no room to spare. My first honey supers went on back in May and these are also now full to overflowing, although the honey is not yet capped. This weekend I added a second super to one hive with a smile as this was done a lot later last year so I feel very optimistic  that  the bees are having a better year already… I certainly hope so!

Chalk brood ejected from the hive

Chalk brood ejected from the hive

Hive checks back in May did reveal a higher level of chalk brood than I had previously seen, I wasn’t worried but interested to know why – then whilst reading another great beekeeping blog – ‘Adventuresinbeeland’s Blog by Emily Heath about her beekeeping in Ealing, West London, she happened to mention chalkbrood in her question/answer section of her informative revision notes for the BBKA exams:

Chalkbrood is an extremely common brood disease which is often present at low levels in colonies. It is thought to become a noticeable problem when the colony is weak and when levels of carbon dioxide rise above normal, because the bees are failing to maintain the correct conditions in the hive. It is also linked to stresses such as insufficient nurse bees, pollen shortage and the presence of sac brood.

Chalk brood is caused by a fungus named Ascosphaera apis. This delightful organism begins to germinate when a larva takes in its spores with its food. Inside the gut, the spores start to grow, producing multiple branches of fine cotton-like threads. These break through the gut wall and continue to grow throughout the body of the poor larva, until eventually it becomes “a swollen mass of fluffy white fungus with a small yellow lump where its head used to be“, as Celia Davis puts it in her excellent book ‘The Honey Bee Around & About’ (2007).

The infected larva dries to a hard chalk-like lump called a ‘mummy’, which can be white, grey or black. These will rattle when the comb is shaken. Death occurs after the cells have been sealed, so workers will tear the cappings open to remove the mummies and dispose of them outside the hive. Unfortunately the mummy spores are sticky and will attach to the bees, causing them to infect larvae when they re-enter the hive. Yet another reason to change brood comb regularly – the spores are resistant to heat and have a life of between 3-38 years.

Like chilled brood, beekeepers are most likely to see chalk brood in the spring when colonies are expanding the brood nest rapidly, but do not yet have a large adult bee population. Even if the resulting chilling is not sufficient to kill the larvae, it seems to encourage the growth of the Ascosphaera fungus.

And as the highlighted section indicates maybe my early feeding and rapid colony expansion was out of sync with the availability pollen to feed the brood once the bees had used that stored over winter in the hives. I guess I could have used a pollen substitute as a supplementary feed (there are many recipes online as well as those commercially produced) but as it is the bees effectively removed all the chalkbrood and it does not seem to have affected them or their ability to fill the hive with brood again and it no longer seems to be a problem at all. Interestingly it also only affected one hive in the apiary.

Buckfast queen back in May, plump and laying very well

Buckfast queen back in May, plump and egg-laying very well

So the colonies are healthy, the queens are fruitful and the number of bees in each hive has rapidly expanded, so much so that the hives had become congested by early June so it was a given that they would try to swarm as soon as the weather improved! My black british queen was first to go – I checked the hive and didn’t spot anything (nor the queen) then came back 10 days later and bang – three fully formed capped queen cells and a fourth in the making – I attempted to carry out an artificial swarm but this was hampered by a sudden downfall of rain and despite going through the hive three times I just couldn’t find that elusive queen so had to assume she had already gone, which kind of defeats the object of an artificial swarm so I moved the whole original hive back into its original location and have now left it to its own devices. The first visual swarm recorded at the apiary this year, and collected by my bee buddy Paul, was likely to have been the first of these virgin queens leaving with a cast or secondary swarm.

Queen in a queen clip

Queen (marked white on left) visible in a queen clip during artificial swarm

Last Friday I checked my  second hive and sure enough my second generation buckfast queen had also been busy with three queen cells formed with eggs laid in them, although quite early in the process I decided to carry out another artificial swarm on the hive but again I struggled to find the queen.

On my last inspection this queen was large and plump and easy to spot due to having been marked earlier in the season. Finally I found her, slimmed down as the bees prepare her for swarming and flight, I popped her into a ‘queen clip’ designed to hold the queen due to her greater size but allowing free movement of smaller worker bees, anyway she walked straight out so it definitely wasn’t my imagination that she was slimmed down! Once she was found again, the artificial swarm was a textbook exercise and I left the queen with three frames of brood and food and a few workers on drawn comb as all the returning workers flying that day will join her, along with those that fly from the daughter hive the following day.

Now its a case of sitting back and counting the days until I check the hives to see how the new and old queens are  getting on and also keeping an eye out for the occasional swarm from Paul’s Warre hives.

Hives after artificial swarm - one has all 'non-flying workers', brood and honey, the other the artificial swarm

Hives after artificial swarm – the nearest one has all ‘non-flying workers’, brood and honey, the next nearest to the right houses the artificial swarm

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.

Bees on veil during an artificial swarm

Bees on my veil during an artificial swarm, people often ask if it bothers me – flying stinging insects all around my face – the answer is NO until they find a way in – always buy a good bee suit!

Murder, swarming and too many queens ….


What a month May turned out to be with plenty of activity in the apiary and the bees have hardly had a chance to leave the hives! It seems to have pretty much rained since the last week in March and as we enter the second week in June the heavens have only teased us with occasional glimmer of sunlight through the clouds and in  southern England we have been given more flood warnings and are set to experience even more rain into this weekend and next week.

The National Bee Unit (NBU), part of FERA, have again issued a warning this week for beekeepers to check their hives and feed the bees thin syrup if in any doubt about the amount of stores in the hives. This is of particular importance if the hive is made up from a split or a swarm this year as there is a very real chance that the bees will starve if they cannot fly.

The Apiary early June 2012

The Apiary early June 2012

All this rain has also hampered the ability to get into the hives and properly assess what is going on, colony splits were made back in early May and new queens introduced to those colonies that required them but having ended April with 5 hives in the apiary we are now up to 11 hives following a serious of both artificial swarms and natural secondary swarms called  casts. Each ‘parent’ hive had at least two or three queen cells left in and as the new virgin queens hatched they will have fled with a small number of workers, if they stay in the hives there is a very real risk of one of their siblings killing them.  In nature these ‘casts’ would have little chance of surviving in the current weather conditions but my bee buddy Paul has been busy collecting all the swarms and re-homing them in his vertical top bar Warre hives (as below, click on the images to enlarge).

Paul's Warre hives

Paul’s Warre ‘vertical top bar’ hives

Cast swarm re-homed in a nucleus hive

Hatched queen cells line the comb, each virgin queen may have led to a swarm taking place.

Hatched queen cells line the comb
(in this case there were 5), each virgin queen
may have led to a secondary swarm taking place.

The inspections that have been carried out are to see if, and how many, queens have hatched from their cells, whether they have successfully mated and are  laying healthy worker brood. For those that have survived they seem to have been unable to get out on their mating flights so are in the hive but not egg laying yet and this will only widen the gap between the workers produced by the previous queens and those who will eventually be laid by the new queens, meaning far smaller colonies than in previous years and I am hoping that the bees produce enough honey to feed themselves over winter (this is preferable to sugar syrup) and I will be lucky if I manage to extract an excess of honey this year, but then that was not the reason for taking up bee keeping in the first place.

My inspections this week saw new virgin queens being marked in two of the hives (the queen is temporarily ‘trapped’ beneath a cage that she is too large to escape from and a coloured dot is put on her back to make it easier to spot her in the hive during subsequent inspections), a third hive has the queen donated to me by Bob Fitzpatrick and although I couldn’t find her the hive if full of eggs and brood so I know that she is mated and in there somewhere working very hard. The other two hives that I checked had no sign of the queen, no eggs or brood but it doesn’t mean that she is not in there so I will return in 10 days or so and re-assess how they are getting on.

The inspections are also to assess the overall health of the colonies, and other than a little ‘chalk brood’ ( fungal infection) in one of the hives they all seem pretty good so far this year.

The bees are still managing to get some foraging in and there is plenty of flowering plants and trees around the apiary and adjoining agricultural and woodland to feed them when they get the chance, including the borage plants planted all over the forest garden.

Honey bee on borage

Honey bees forage on the borage

The apiary at the end of June 2012 with hives everywhere!

As ever 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

New queens take to their thrones …


Following on from my last blog entry where two of my three honey bee colonies had seemingly lost their queens between the hive inspections in March and those carried out in April I now needed to act reasonably fast if I was going to be able to save either of these colonies. Both of the hives had already been given frames of young eggs taken from my strongest hive, Ogwen, in an attempt to get them to draw out an emergency queen cell, that in turn would lead to a new queen, but this had failed so it was time to try and source new queens elsewhere.

I contacted a couple of local beekeeping suppliers and had replies back to say  they would possibly have mated queens by mid-May, I also e-mailed the Kent beekeepers association to see if anyone else locally could help me or offer any advice. Additionally the blog is ‘published’ to Facebook and a few people kindly commented to say that either they had experienced something similar this year or to offer some advice.

Normal queen cells formed in the hive

Normal queen cells formed in the hive on a frame

I was very fortunate that I received a reply from beekeeper in north Kent, Bob Fitzpatrick,  who is  having success with the dark art of artificial queen rearing and who also had fresh queens in his hives ready to go. Bob produces bees for a local beekeeping supplier at Bluebell Hill. Like the rest if us his bees have been struggling with the weather this year, and although he has managed to get them to produce the  queens, there have not really been many good days for these virgin queens to fly and mate.

A queen bee will attend only one mating flight, early in her life,  she flies to a ‘drone congregation area’ where hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of unrelated drones (male bees) are waiting. The drones then pursue the queen and several of them will mate with her whilst still in flight. The queen will store up to 100 million sperm in her oviducts and these will be used to fertilise her eggs for the rest of her life, when she starts to run out she will be replaced. The drones do not survive long after mating as they have served their sole purpose to fertilise a queen.

On  Monday morning I drove up to Bob’s house to meet with him and collect  two newly hatched queens to deliver back to my now, slightly grumpy, queen-less colonies. These queens were formed after eggs taken from worker comb were grafted into special ‘cups’, the bees then draw these out to form the larger cells that will hold a developing queen and the larvae are then fed a diet of royal jelly rather than the pollen rich diet received by the workers and drones. Once the cells have been drawn out and capped (sealed) they are placed within a small cage so that  the new queen hatches in a place where the breeder knows her age and is able to move her into a small hive (nucleus or ‘nuc’) with worker bees to start a new colony.

Queen rearing cages

Queen rearing cages

The queens were given a little fondant for their journey, to prevent the queens chilling the cages were wrapped loosely in newspaper and then they were taken directly to their new hives about an hour away.

You cannot simply open a queen-less hive and drop a new queen in as the existing workers would not accept her and she would be killed. The cages have a small opening in the base for her to escape from but this is partially filled with a soft fondant or candy. The bees have to chew through this fondant from both sides to release the new queen and by the time she is free her royal pheromone has taken control of the colony and she is now in charge!

Queen rearing cage with 'hatched' queen cell

Queen rearing cage with ‘hatched’ queen cell on top

The weather on Monday improved significantly into the afternoon, but unfortunately the queens would still have been playing Houdini and by the time they had escaped the weather had again declined and the wet windy weather conditions returned. There have a been very few moments of sunshine breaking through since but I do not know if any of these have been long enough for the queens to leave the hive or if these replacement queens will now be stale by the time the warmer weather arrives this  weekend.

Before I put the queens into the hives on Monday I checked again to make sure there was definitely no queens present that had just been missed. Snowdon, my first hive was undoubtedly still without but I have never been to sure about my second, Tryfan.  In March there were eggs, larvae and brood present so the queen was definitely in there and laying but by April there was nothing there but also no supercedure cells were formed. I have checked and  checked again for the queen in this hive but she was not  found and there was no longer any evidence of her. However on Monday the bees in Tryfan seemed to have cleared an area of pollen and stores  in the central frames ready for brood rearing and there were now a few eggs in the cells, and certainly not the random or multiple eggs from laying workers. I did not know if these were definitely a new addition and therefore the queen was still present but had stopped laying during the recent cold wet weather (whilst the forager bees have been unable to leave the hive to collect nectar and pollen) or if they were old and abandoned eggs that I had missed under the poor light conditions during the earlier inspections,  so I took the gamble and  introduced the new virgin queen anyway.

Marked Queen

Marked Queen

I checked the hives again briefly today (Thursday) and both new queens have escaped their cages, however those eggs I saw last week  are now developing larvae meaning they were freshly laid when I saw them  and there was a queen present all along, however the introduction of the new virgin queen may have led to her, or the reigning queen,  being killed or injured so we are back to a waiting game until the next inspection to see what the outcome is for this colony.

If there are eggs and a marked queen  present then my original queen has survived, if there are eggs with an unmarked queen then the new queen successfully mated but if there are no eggs and no queens then I am back to square one, only time will tell.

The other very  important influence of the poor weather this year has been the amount of spring feeding required.  After an unseasonably warm and sunny March the colonies had built up fast and filled the hives to the seams with young workers all ready for the spring nectar flow but when the cold wet weather set in the  now enlarged colonies trapped in the hives have rapidly used up the last of their winter stores. As such the hives have required regular feeding throughout April and into May with a light sugar syrup (1kg sugar to 1 litre water) in order to prevent the bees from starving, it is amazing that my strongest colony can empty a full contact feeder of syrup in about two days so just goes to show what they woudl be using to sustain the colony if they were flying.  Feeding this time of year should be done with some caution as it can also encourage the bees to swarm and there seems to be a lot of that starting locally now.

August arrives with lost queens and egg laying workers – is this the end of my colonies?


It’s always the way that everything seems to come along just when you have really limited time, like carrying out last minute hive checks the week before you go away of a family holiday and finding that there is loads to sort out….

Following the artificial swarm earlier in the season I had left the old hive with the new queen well alone to allow her to hatch, mate and start laying eggs. The new hive (with the old queen) was checked and they seemed exceptionally strong as a colony as the bees had drawn out the comb rapidly filling every inch with brood, honey and pollen, all within a matter of days and ‘getting grumpy’ with the lack of space in an 11 frame brood box within a fortnight (note – getting grumpy means they rush out to meet you when you arrive at the hives and all want to get inside your veil to sting!)

When I came to check on the new queens progress I knew I was a little overdue, a combination of bad weather, commuting for work and a young family leaves me on a tight time bee schedule. I was hoping to open the hive and find a beautiful new queen with at least five frames of brood, good pollen stores and plenty of the golden stuff but unfortunately my visit revealed quite the opposite. No queen was found and I can only assume she never returned from her mating flights but even worse there were eggs in the hive but these were randomly laid (in a pepper pot fashion), the eggs were not perfectly placed at the bottom of each cell and there were multiple eggs per cell.

Eggs laid by workers

Multiple eggs in each cell as laid by workers (4 shown in this cell!)

I knew straight away that this was the sign of a beekeepers nightmare – the egg laying worker! With the lack of a queen in the hive the colony slowly dies as there is no regeneration of the workers. In some cases a number of workers will then develop active ovaries and start egg laying, bought on by the lack of queen pheromone that normally suppresses the ovaries of the workers. The workers have not mated and are not fertile and therefore they can only lay drone (male) eggs.

Erratic egg laying

Erratic egg laying with drone brood from an egg laying worker

Deformed worker brood comb to house drone brood

Deformed worker brood comb now being used to house drone brood

Their bodies are not adapted for egg laying and being smaller than the queen they do not reach the bottom of the cells and they do not have the queens methodical approach of laying eggs in cleaned cells together so that they can be tended, there may also be several egg laying workers in one hive.

Lack of time didn’t allow for me to go home, read a book, speak to a bee master or look up the best way to deal with it on google so I made a decision to unite the queen laying worker colony with the very strong artificially swarmed colony using the paper method, in which the queenless colony is placed over the queen right colony with only a sheet of newspaper between them, with a few small tears in it. This allows the bees to chew their way through and merge the colony with minimal loses due to fighting and the resident queen takes control of the whole colony.

Uniting colonies using the 'paper method'

Uniting colonies using the 'paper method'

Feeling quite pleased with myself I rang my friend Paul who pointed out that this was the one thing that the books recommend not to do and a egg laying worker in a colony is really a lost cause, I checked and he was right – it now looked like I may lose both colonies instead of just the one but it was now to late to change anything – it was done!!!

After returning from my holiday I attended the hives for a routine check, now expecting the worst but was very happy to find that against all the odds the old queen, artificially swarmed into a new hive back in June had seen off her ‘laying worker rivals’ and was heading a very strong colony with a large brood area and good stores. I am happy that this colony when treated will be strong enough to pull through the winter months ahead.

brood boxes united with queenless colony on top

Brood boxes united with queenless colony on top

United colony

two colonies united together

Checking my other hives I discovered that another colony that had been in shutdown conditions whilst the new queen hatched, mated and started laying was also queenless but here there were no laying workers and a new buckfast cross mated queen has been ordered from Paynes bee farm for introduction into the colony this weekend. The hive had swarmed back in early July but the old hive had not been checked in order no to damage the queen cells, but on the recent inspection there were no ‘used’ queen cells found so I can only assume that the queen fled without leaving a new queen behind – possibly due to weather conditions or hive conditions, guess I will never know but again I am hoping that this has been spotted early enough to remedy and save the colony.

A busy week lays ahead with a new queen to be established, final honey extractions from all hives, the application of varroa treatment and starting to feed sugar syrup back to the bees …. lets just hope that the rain clears long enough to get into the hives.

June 2011 – and the swarming season continues


It seems like the last three weeks of June have gone mad, there seems to have been a swarming frenzy with bees deserting their hives everywhere but luckily with with my friend Paul from Forest Garden Foods on board we have been able to collect and retain many of these swarms.

Swarm in a tree

My last blog explained how I carried out an artificial swarm up at one of the apiaries. There  was only the one hive there so once the artificial swarm had been carried out the risk of a real swarm occuring was very minimal, although having left five new queens cells in the hive there is always the risk of a cast (a smaller swarm leaving with the first born, or subsequent, virgin queens) but on the whole I have now left them alone to get on with re-queening, mating and re-building the colonies.

Close up of swarm in a tree

I was at work in London a couple of weeks ago and the phone rang, my wife has literally stumbled into a small swarm on the ground on the local common whilst walking the dog so Paul popped up and mopped it up, then the very next day a large swarm was seen in flight crossing a field in the Teisse Valley and settling about 200m from the out apiary there.

Again Paul bravely donned his bee keeping suit and happily collected the swarm. Two days later and one of my hives, Ogwen, decided to surprise us with a large swarm which settled in a tree near the Spa Valley apiary and Paul duly collected it into a cardboard box and re-hived in one of the the prepared ‘swarm control’ hives.

Swarm collected in a box

This new swarm stayed for a few hours before deciding to head out again, but due to a well placed queen excluder under the brood body the bees left but returned when they realised they were missing their queen, without which the colony has no chance of survival. I have been contacted yesterday and again today being requested to collect swarms but we seem to have run out of luxury bee accommodation in which to re-house the bees with all the hives now occupied. Buying additional hives right now isn’t an option so we are having to pass these on. Swarming of different colonies in the same area often occurs around the same time each year, I assume some of the factors outside of the beekeepers control that then lead to swarming are common across an area, being weather and forage availability.

The last three weeks have seen high pressure and unseasonably hot weather and as the colonies near their peak numbers life in the hives must be very warm and congested. The long dry spring has allowed the bees to work hard and bring in much nectar and the supers are filling very fast. Time to crop some honey …..