Posts Tagged ‘varroa destructor’

Happy Christmas to all you beekeepers and bee carers out there!


Happy Christmas to all  readers of my blog, and also to their bees! I hope that you have had a good 2013 and your bees are all set up well to survive through the winter if you are in the northern hemisphere – remember to check on them for levels of stores as well as during and after any adverse weather conditions that we may experience in the UK. Make sure that the hive entrance is clear of both dead bees so that they can fly and excrete waste on warmer days and also to avoid suffocation by snow when it arrives.

BeeXmas

(please note the attached photo taken in 2012 is just stacked honey supers and DOES NOT contain bees before you start to ask….)

I have been busy making bee fondant at the weekend using my normal  Fondant_recipe which can be downloaded from the link, I have found that the bees have happily taken this over the last few years, often not until late February or early March but I like to give it to the bees at Christmas just in case! We have had a warmer-than-average December and this may have affected how much of their stores of honey and syrup that the bees have used in the hives and I lost a colony last year to isolation starvation despite having fed them in the Autumn and given fondant over winter.

I will also be applying oxalic acid when we get a break in the heavy rains and gale force winds – I will aim to do this slightly earlier next year though following the most recent research from Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex that indicate that between the dates of 10th December and Christmas is the optimal time for oxalic acid treatment. They also recommend that you check for sealed brood and destroy any, say, 48 hours before applying acid.

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

With many tales of beekeepers taking presents to their bees at Christmas I would be interested to know of anything that you do each year, feel free to comment…

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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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

 

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

Acid and candy – a winter days treat!


Seems like it has been a while since I have added anything to this blog, and I guess that’s because this is generally a quiet time of year for beekeepers in the UK on the whole.

The honey (what honey this year?) has been extracted from the comb many months ago, the bees have been fed a thick sugar syrup which they in turn have further reduced and stored to help sustain them over the long cold winter months and the first set of treatment has been applied to try and knock back the parasitic mite, Varroa Destructor, that inhabit virtually every hive in the UK.

Winter checks

Paul doing the winter checks

During late August and into early September, after the honey crop has been removed,  I used Apilife Var, an organic thymol based treatment with Eucalyptus Oil, Menthol and Camphor as additional active ingredients. This has to be applied whilst the ambient temperature is still warm, and there is brood in the hive so the bees keep the internal temperature around 36 degrees Celsius and therefore it is warm enough to release the vapours and allow their circulation. The mites reproduction cycle mainly takes place within the wax-capped brood cells with the bees own young so it is not possible to remove a large proportion of the sexually mature mites at this stage.

A second part of my ‘integrated pest management’ strategy is to apply Oxalic acid to the hives during the winter months. The Apilife Var would no longer be effective with cooler ambient temperatures and a drastically reduced hive temperature there would be no vapourisation of the oils. The hive temperature drops to around 20 degrees during the short period at the end of December and early January when the queen is not laying and there are no eggs  or brood present. The higher temperature normally maintained in the hive is required for brood rearing so by dropping the heat the bees are able to conserve energy and therefore use slightly less of their valuable stores, 50 million years of evolution has taught them how to survive and not starve! The queen will start to build the colony up again soon in order that she has a new healthy adult workforce ready to take advantage of the spring flowers and early pollen and nectar flows that they bring.

It really helps if you have a ‘bee buddy’ to speed up the acid application process and reduce the stress of cold exposure to the bees.

Oxalic acid

Oxalic acid

Trickling acid between the seams

Trickling acid between the seams

Many of the older beekeepers talk of great summers when their hives were taller than themselves, stacked full of supers of sweet golden honey, but sadly these days seem to have been lost with a change in agricultural techniques, removal of hedgerows, over-use of toxic chemical pesticides, mass-urbanisation, a shift in climate and weather patterns and a number of other factors leading to less areas of natural forage and increasing the struggle for colony survival.

I do not really like the thought of using the acid on my beautiful bees but feel it gives them some additional chances of pulling through to the spring. The weak acid is applied diluted in a sugar syrup solution and is carefully trickled into the hive along the seams, or gaps, between the frames.

In order not to overdose the bees it should be applied evenly across the hive at 5ml per seam (10 seams = 50ml), the acid should be harmless to the bees but burns the feet and mouth parts of the mites meaning they can no longer hold onto their hosts and feed on them so is very effective. The hives are only opened for a minute or so and the frames are not removed or disturbed.

IT IS HOWEVER HIGHLY TOXIC TO HUMANS, INSTRUCTIONS SHOULD BE READ AND PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WORN!

One nice thing about applying the acid is that you have a chance to check the bees are still alive, having only occasionally seen any movement around the hives since late October. All my colonies are now clustered at the top of the hives under the crown board, they were surprising active on December 28th when we dosed them with acid but then it was quite warm outside, around 8 degrees centigrade, and a few of the more inquisitive ladies tried to get up my sleeves.

Bee candy

Bee candy placed over feed hole in crown board

Before closing up the hives again a block of home-made bee candy is placed over the central feed hole  in the crown board. Even if you have heaved your hives and feel there is plenty of stores available the bees may not travel sideways in search of food and can starve in a well supplied hive, they will however travel up so it is another insurance process, if they don’t need it they won’t touch it – don’t worry the bees will not get obese – but I would rather it was wasted than they starved. There is of course the argument that a sudden increase in food leads to the queen laying early, increasing colony size when there is no pollen to feed the young and increased activity uses up the food source far too quickly – you make your own mind up. From my experience over the last few years hives standing in the apiary shoulder to shoulder with similar size colonies and amount of stores have used the sugar at very different rates but ultimately all have survived.

Finally the hive entrances are checked to make sure that they are clear of dead bees. I use mesh floors so don’t suffer from flooding but if you have solid floors on it is worth checking that the hive is slightly tilted forward and there is no standing water inside which would make it too damp for the bees to be comfortable and may well lead to their decline. With these visual checks carried out its back on with the woodpecker guards until my next visit which will be in three to four weeks time to see how they are gettig on with the candy.

Woodpecker protection

Woodpecker protection is replaced

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.

Applying oxalic acid

Applying oxalic acid

So where do all the bees go over winter?


September is virtually on our doorstep, sadly it is beginning to feel distinctly autumnal in the UK with below average temperatures and continued bands of rain crossing the UK and I am now turning my thoughts to preparing my bees for the long winter period ahead.

I often get asked ‘so where do the bees go over winter?’ I would like to say that they escape for some winter sun, the Canaries are a popular destination …. but the reality is not quite so nice. The bees have worked hard all spring and summer, on the few dry and warm days when they have been able to fly, collecting the various different nectars from flowering plants and trees. The nectar has been converted into honey, then its water content has been further reduced to stop it fermenting before it has been safely stored away inside a ‘capped’ wax cell to help sustain the colony over winter. Along comes the beekeeper in August and a certain amount of this honey is removed from the hives, and although a fair bit is also left on the hives, it is necessary to give the bees something back to try and prevent them from starving over the winter, or far more likely during the early spring period.

Feeding the bees

Feeding the bees

The colony size increases early in the year, with a large workforce required to collect pollen to feed the brood and nectar to feed workers as well as process the stores, but as summer nears its end the queen slows her egg laying down and the colony size reduces again so that there are less mouths to feed over winter. The bees being produced now (all female workers) will have a longer life span than their siblings born earlier in the year, surviving for several months as opposed to about 5 weeks, as the flowering plants reduce and finally disappear these bees will have hive duties only so will not literally work themselves to death. Instead their lives will be about protecting the queen over the winter and preparing the hive for the colony expansion to coincide with spring next year. The job of the drones (male bees) was mainly to fertilise any virgin queens and with this task completed for 2012 their lives as idle layabouts with all needs being tended to ends abruptly, the workers don’t need extra mouths to feed during the hard months ahead, and they are driven out of the hives into the cold and wet when they will perish. The queen will produce more drones next year when they are required!

Once the honey has been removed the hives are assessed for levels of stores left behind and any shortfall is made up using a heavy sugar syrup (1kg sugar: 500ml water). This must be done in August and early September to utilise a workforce that is still large enough to process the syrup and generate temperatures high enough inside the hive to reduce its water content sufficiently, once the ambient temperature drops and the colony reduces in size it would become a much harder, near impossible task and there would be a risk of fermentation which would lead to approximately 12,000  bees with diarrhea being trapped in a small wooden box together for the next 5 months – not a particularly nice thought.

Contact feeder on the hive

Contact feeder on the hive

The sugar syrup is feed to the bees above the crown board on top of the hive. As it is ‘outside’ of the hive as far as the bees are concerned they work tirelessly to ‘rob’ this new nectar source and store it in the comb cells below. Different types of feeder are used, I have always used ‘contact feeders’, an inverted bucket with a gauze panel where the bees can access the syrup. The vacuum in the bucket prevents the syrup from pouring into the hive, this year I am also trialling an ‘Ashforth feeder’  which is about the size of a honey super with holes along one side to allow the bees to climb up into the box. The advantage of this is that you can put a large volume of syrup on the hive in one hit rather than having to keep returning to refill the smaller contact feeder, the disadvantages is that the bees have to climb up into the box and find it. I dribbled a little syrup through the holes when I placed it on the hive and it was near empty after the first week (3kg sugar syrup) so I am now happy that it works.

Ashforth feeder on the hive

Ashforth feeder on the hive

I try to disturb the bees as little as possible during this period, they are not likely to swarm (although not totally unheard of) but it is necessary to treat the colony for mite infestation. There is a lot already written on-line about Varroa Destructor, basically a bee parasite that is an Asiatic mite that breeds in the brood cells and sucks the blood from the adult bees. The mites reproduction cycle is only 10 days so is substantially quicker than that of the bees, they hatch from the bees cells as mature mites often mated and ready to lay eggs, therefore they can increase their number at a much faster rate. As the bees reduce their numbers for the winter the mites still reproduce, further weakening the colony. The mites prefer to reproduce in the slightly larger drone cells but as the queen stops laying drone eggs the mites move into the worker cells and if a critical level is reached they then have the potential to collapse (or kill) the colony.  This has become a widespread problem in the UK over the last 20 years and most beekeepers have an integrated pest management plan that they implement each year to reduce the mite numbers and colony stress.

Varroa Destructor - treatment

Varroa Destructor – treatment

Personally I treat the bees with an organic treatment called Apilife Var during August and September whilst I am feeding the syrup, I then return at the end of December when there is no brood in the hive and treat again with oxalic acid which kills the mite but doesn’t seem to harm the bees. The Apilife Var is a strip of material that is placed  into the hive directly above the brood and then releases strong thymol vapours. This is repeated on a weekly basis for a four week period so ties in nicely with the syrup feeds.

I also use open mesh floors under the hives, this increases ventilation and prevents water pooling in the bottom of the hive (a potential problem with solid floors if the hive is not level or slightly sloped forwards – damp is a bigger killer of bees than the cold!) but it also allows any mites that drop off the bees to fall through the mesh and they are unable to return to the hosts. I am not convinced that many drop off naturally but the main use of a mesh floor is to allow a ‘count board’ to be placed under the hive during mite treatment, or at other times of the year. This is left on for a number of days before removal and the number of mites are counted, divided by the number of days the board was in place and using an on-line calculator gives an indication of the level of infestation in the hive.

More information on managing Varroa can be found at the BeeBase website which also includes the current advisory leaflet.

Invaders must die!

Invaders must die!

Other pests are often removed from the hives by the bees themselves, like this optimistic slug that fancied some honey!

Once the bees have stopped flying for the year they will cluster in the hive, protecting the queen and maintaining a temperature, slightly lower than required for rearing young, but warm enough to keep them from freezing. 100 million years of evolution has allowed them to perfect this comatose state where very little energy is used and therefore very little food is required. However when the queen starts egg laying  at the beginning of next year getting ready for the spring flow the bees will break open their stores of honey and pollen and that is why this period poses the greatest risk for starvation to the colony. If the spring flowers are late again or it is particularly wet the beekeeper needs to feed a light syrup to the bees to prevent this.

With the current changes in the UK weather patterns that have been recorded over the recent years the bees need all the help they can get if they are going to carry on pollinating the crops that produce the  food that we require to survive – only a fool would think that they need us to survive long term, sadly the reversal of this statement is not quite so true.

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.

August arrives but still no joy for the bees….


What a wet year this has been …. July was again dominated by low pressure fronts bringing in cloud and wet conditions for the first three weeks then it was unseasonably hot but this only lasted for a few days before the unsettled weather returned. The bees have been unable to fly on many days and even though many plants have been late to flower this year the bees just seem to be playing catch up all the time.

By the beginning of August last year I had three full honey supers on two of my hives and two on the other, full of delicious golden honey ready to extract but then the bees took advantage of the exceptionally warm and dry spring, this year I have about 1 1/2 supers to extract and even that has not been fully capped yet and it is still ‘loose’ so is unlikely to be reduced enough yet to prevent it fermenting in the jar – I have decided to leave it on for a bit longer to see if the current warm weather and late flowering brings a late crop or if the bees decides to take the honey down for winter stores, then that is also fine.

Hive inspection

Hive inspection before removing this years honey

I started this beekeeping year with 3 strong colonies, I have lost queens, added new queens, lost swarms only to catch and rehouse them – at one point there were 5 hives on the go but now I am back down to four with one being queen-less and with so few bees (about 3 frames) that I am letting them go rather than merging them this late in the year and risk damage to a laying queen preparing for winter so I will enter winter once again with three very strong colonies and all with healthy fertile 2012 queens.

Fanning bee

Bee fanning at the hive entrance to help regulate the temperature for brood rearing and honey reduction

Having started this blog entry at the beginning of August I have waited until slightly better weather in mid-August before I decided to extract the honey. I attended the apiary on Saturday morning (the hottest day of the year so far) to shake the bees out of the honey supers as best as I could and place the clearer boards with bee escapes in over an eke (‘spacer’ box) above the hive. The idea of adding an empty eke or super under the clearer boards is that it allows a bit more space and prevents congestion as the bees leave the honey super through the bee escapes, which in turn do not allow them to return.

Uncapped honey

Uncapped ‘ripe honey’ being worked in the hive

 

 

The theory is that in 24 hours your honey supers are clear of bees and ready for you to carry off unnoticed… of course the reality each year is that the the supers still have bees in them that need brushing and shaking off . I do this frame by frame, placing the clear frames of honey in a super over an upturned roof with a towel over the top to keep the bees out. This year there was an added complication of lots and lots of wasps in the apiary, as soon as I lifted the honey super off wasps were carrying the dead bees from the crown board off to feed their young, guess that’s nature and it saves them going to waste but angry wasps flying around your head is very off putting even to a beekeeper!

Frame of capped honey

Frame of honey before extraction

 

The honey frames are removed to a wasp and bee free space and uncapped, literally cut open, to allow the honey to flow out and then placed into a centrifugal extractor when they are spun at high speed to allow the honey to fly out, hit the sides and drain to the base of the drum.

 

 

Once the frames are all emptied into the base of the extractor the honey is run through a coarse, then finer filter, to remove any larger pieces of pollen and wax, these won’t effect the quality of the honey, indeed they add much to it’s aromatics, texture and beneficial qualities that have been removed from highly processed supermarket honey to give it a longer shelf life as runny honey.

Uncapping fork

Using the uncapping fork
to ‘open’ the honey cells

 

As soon as the honey has been removed it is time to feed the bees with a heavy sugar syrup to make sure that the removal of the honey has not depleted their food stores so much that they would not survive the winter.

I always leave my bees in a ‘brood and a half’, over the winter months, effectively I leave an additional super on as this allows them to have a greater level stores in the hive to try and prevent them from starving and also gives the space for the queen to lay up a large brood early next year when they are fed a weaker syrup to give them a boost in the spring.

The bees also start their treatment to combat the Varroa Destructor, a parasitic mite that are present in virtually every UK hive these days.

Coarse honey sieve

Sieving the honey for coarse bits of pollen and wax

Once the honey has been filtered it is allowed to sit in a settling tank for at least 24 hours so that any air bubbles introduced into the honey during the rapid spinning at extraction escape, again this is purely for aesthetics – it wont affect the quality of the honey but people seem to think it looks much nicer without them. Finally the honey is run off into freshly sterilised jars and the labels are attached ready for sale, or in the case of a lower crop like this year, ready for eating and making more mead!

There are many European rules and regulations relating to the labelling of foods, including honey, and these can be found at the ‘Foods Standards Agency’ website by clicking here, but if you don’t have time to read all 23 pages there is a quick summary at the bees-online webpage here.

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.

Spa Valley Honey

Spa Valley Honey

The National Bee Unit comes to visit


This blog update is a follow-on from my previous entry…..

Colonies infected with a bee disease called European Foulbrood (EFB) had been identified within 3km of both of my apiary sites in Kent and therefore the National Bee Unit (NBU) inspector contacted me in order that he could come and inspect the health of bees and the brood in my colonies. It was a nervous few days waiting to find out if my bees would get a clean bill of health or ‘be burn’t at the stake’ or in a pit of fire anyway.

Food and Environment Research Agency

Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

The NBU is part of The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) set up by the government to assist and educate beekeepers to help to protect the health of national bee stocks and also to  monitor and prevent the spread of serious bee disease, often caused through the bees ‘drifting’ between hives or deliberately entering other hives  as ‘robbers’ where there are weaker colonies defending them.

European foulbrood is caused by Melissococcus plutonius,  a bacterium that infests the mid-gut of an infected bee larva. EFB is considered less deadly to a colony than American foulbrood. Melissococcus plutonius does not form spores, though it can overwinter on comb and symptoms include dead and dying larvae which can appear curled upwards, brown or yellow, melted or deflated with tracheal tubes more apparent, and/or dried out and rubbery.

Opening up the hives for inspection

Opening up the hives for inspection

European foulbrood is often considered a “stress” disease – a disease that is dangerous only if the colony is already under stress for other reasons. An otherwise healthy colony can usually survive European foulbrood.

David, the NBU inspector, arrived at the apiary and got kitted up in a very clean bee suit, freshly sterilised boots and proceeded to clean his hive tools in washing soda so there wasn’t much chance of him bringing infection in and I was hoping that he wouldn’t be finding any to take away.

We gently smoked the hives and David inspected the bees and the brood, paying particular attention to anything considered outside the ordinary.  David has a large number of colonies himself used for training and nuc rearing so not wanting to waste an opportunity of having an expert to hand both my friend Paul and I asked as many questions as possible relating to the health of our bees and we got very comprehensive answers.

Checking the brood frames for disease

David checking the frames for any signs of brood disease

The four colonies inspected on the day did not show any sign of EFB, this was a great relief both to myself (and the bees) as I had considered my bees to be relatively healthy, albeit with a touch of varroa mite that I had been treating over the last four weeks, and I hoped that I hadn’t simply missed spotting the symptoms of a serious disease through failing to recognise it or just plain ignorance. The hives were all active on the day with the foraging bees bringing in plenty of bright yellow pollen.

The brood inspections did identify a small amount of baldbrood, possibly caused by the bees removing cappings due to the larvae of the wax moth moving through the comb, and also a small amount of Chalkbrood. The infected larvae were removed from the comb for closer examination.

Chalkbrood or Ascosphaera apis is a fungal disease that infests the gut of the larva. The fungus will compete with the larva for food, ultimately causing it to starve. The fungus will then go on to consume the rest of the larva’s body, causing it to appear white and ‘chalky’ and it is quite sticky when removed from the comb which in itself is a useful field test for this disease. Hives with Chalkbrood can generally be recovered by increasing the ventilation through the hive but this should not pose a problem to my colonies.

Close examination of the larvae for possible disease

Closer examination of the uncapped larvae for signs and symptoms of disease

The experience of having David come to inspect my bees was a very positive one, he was friendly and approachable and able to answer the many questions that we put to him. I would recommend, in fact urge, any beekeepers not currently registered on BeeBase to do so. This may well help to prevent the spread of serious disease from your colonies to others, or from others to you, in the future at a time when there are enough environmental pressures working against the bees survival on a global scale.

The last week in September has had a warm start and it is set to get hotter into the weekend so it looks like the summer has finally arrived and I am hoping that the bees will take full advantage of the fine weather and late flowering plants to bring in further stores of pollen and nectar for the winter.

Further information regarding the Healthy Bee Plan and for registering your UK apiaries on BeeBase can be found at:

https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/index.cfm