Catching up…



Right, back to trying to write up visits as they happen, now the blog is working again.  And so above we have my first hive, 3 years after I became The Lucky Beekeeper when the swarm moved in.  And the comb in the brood box had become so dirty, I decided to do a “Bailey Comb Change” and get the bees to move onto clean frames.  Of course they had other ideas. =O(

The idea is, you give the queen a new brood box, above the old one, put the queen excluder between that and the supers, and she’ll start laying in the higher comb.  I gave the colony 6 litres of sugar water to help them build on the new foundation, and left them to it for a few weeks.  And what did I find when I returned?  Why that the rest of the colony had loved their lovely new, big Super, and filled the top brood box with sugar and sealed it in =O(

So, the only next step is to put the few frames of brood in the lower box in place of the less full frames of food, and then do a shook swarm to get all the bees into the new box, and then take the dirty frames home.


Here you see an empty Super being used as a funnel to catch the bees I shook down onto the frames below from the old brood frames.  I saw no sign of the queen, but then I never have in this hive.  I’m pretty certain she didn’t return home with me in the old frames though, so I hope she’s in there.  I’ll be back in a few weeks to look for signs of her.  There were also a few queen cells on the frames I had to move over because of the brood, sealed and unsealed, in them.  I couldn’t see any eggs, but then my eyes are getting old, and I didn’t have Lucy with me.

I then put everything back together, and left them to figure out their new home.  There are 3 supers on there, and most of the brood chamber is stores now.  Two of the Supers are completely sealed honey.  I figure they’ll move some of the stores in the brood box up into the unused Super and use the space for laying, as long as they have a queen to lay…

Then we moved onto the third hive, as there were other people working on either side of my second.


This is the new hive Lucy and I painted up, glued together, and then moved the latest false swarm from the first colony into over the past few weeks.  The feeder is now off, so all the boxes are that same lighter, olive green.  They’re very strong, lots of laying going on, and they’re getting in what forage they still can, but I may have to feed them more before the end of the season.  One of the frames was damaged though, so I switched in a new one from the set I’d bought for the first hive, and spilt some stored sugar water in so doing – which they quickly cleared up:


That all my bees are basically of the same stock, which has so far proven to be very hardy and productive, is something I’m very please about.  But we may need to re-queen from elsewhere soon, if one of them has problems.  As may well be happening with my second hive.

We’d not seen much sign of queen activity in the last visit, and this time we found a wasp high up in the Supers.  We got rid of it, but there were likely others in there.  We don’t know because the colony really didn’t want us there, though.  I got stung nine times through my suit and gloves – both forearms, forehead, hands and shoulder.  The guy helping me got a bee inside his suit that stung him in the neck.  So we got away, James closed the hive for us (not having been stung, he didn’t smell of the pheromones that would cause them to attack him too) and I left shortly after.


Oh, the joys of beekeeping =O}

Keeping the wasps away…

The long, hard winter seems to have had a real impact on this years wasp numbers which seem to be far fewer than last year.  Still, I’ve seen a few in and around the Fleet training apiary as well as my own colonies and so its time to act!

It only takes one wasp scout to get into a honeybee colony and back to its own nest to alert the others and within minutes there is a real scrap as the wasps try to get past the guard bees at the hive entrance to rob the colony of stored honey, larvae, eggs and eventually even the bees. themselves.

Over the years, I’ve probably lost more colonies to wasp attack than any other single cause and so I’m very alert to their presence and although I can’t stop them attacking the colonies, I can help the bees to protect their colonies more effectively themselves.

Reducer in place helps the bees protect their colony
Reducer in place helps the bees protect their colony

To do this with my poly hives, I make sure the yellow plastic entrance reducers are in place and then cut off a Langstroth frame bottom bar and insert it into the hive entrance, holding it in place with the frame reducer pinning it down. I leave an entrance space of about 2 inches (or 5cm) which makes it much easier for the guard bees to check everyone coming in and to keep marauding wasps, hornets  and other robber colonies at bay. The bees will propolis the bar in place within a couple of days sealing up any drafts.

This process is very simple to do, takes about a minute and yet will ensure that your colonies (especially any weaker ones) are able to resist any attackers and hold onto their stores for the rest of the year and into the next spring. I strongly urge all our members to put on their entrance reducers now, before its too late…


Forgive me, for I have failed to blog

This post relates to my 3rd visit to the Training Apiary this year, and this is my first time writing it up.  Sorry about that =O}  Simon has been busy here though, I see.  And then, having said that, we had problems with the software used to run this blog, and it’s taken some time to get this entry posted.  Sorry again for the delay.  I’ll try to write up the rest of the events in the Apiary to date as soon as possible.

Back in February, with the weird non-end to Winter and non-start to Spring, I went and fed both hives some candy, to make sure they survived.  As with last year, they will have started getting active as they though Spring was starting, but then found very little forage.  So lots of sugar was given to try to stop them starving.  And I didn’t take a camera with me that time.

The next visit was 2 weeks ago, as part of the first day of on-site training with this year’s new beekeepers in the association.  And as we drove up to the Training Apiary, we saw a swarm up in the top of one of the orchard trees.


It was so high there was nothing we could do about it, so a nuke box was set up beneath it as a bait hive, and we left them to it. Unfortunately, they didn’t take up our offer, so it may have been one of the swarms that have been collected from surrounding gardens over the last 2 weeks, or it may have found a new home elsewhere.

We then worked our way around the hives in the Apiary, and many of them showed signs of preparing to swarm. So we took measures where we could to convince them otherwise. As well as swapping the super and brood boxes back over and putting the queen excluders back in, cleaning out, and looking for the usual signs of brood activity.

One action we took was to take some frames out of my first hive and into a Nuke box as a false swarm, to start a new colony under our control:


We put some new frames in around those, and replaced the frames in the main hive with other new ones. And hoped both new colonies would figure out the changes. Above you see three frames in the middle from the old hive – one of stores, two of brood, and then we added a couple of queen cells from another hive into it:


You can see one laid on top of the frame there.  And inserted in between the frames here:


And so we left the Apiary in hopefully a better state than we arrived, and returned again today to see how they were doing. And again, we all arrived in time to see another swarm, this time a lot lower in an apple tree in the orchard.


So a swarm box was fetched from one of the cars, along with a set of pruning tools, and we cut the branch the swarm was on so that it fell into the box. A sheet was already prepared on the ground, so they then flipped the box onto that, and looking around, pretty much the whole swarm was in the box:


This was later wrapped up and taken to start its new life in a new member’s hive.

Then into the apiary, and inspecting the colonies again. And these colonies seemed strong, with many creating queen cells still, preparing to swarm. Some of which were removed and put in other hives who seemed to be queenless.


Of the work done on my hives last time, the Nuke box appeared to be doing very well. In fact we found a very slim looking new queen, seen here:

queen1 Getting a photo of her in such bright sunlight without her disappearing into any shadow we caste, on a camera phone with only a capacitive touch to take the shot, while wearing leather gauntlets, proved hard, however. But you can see her just on the shadow line middle top, twice the length of the workers around her.

They seemed happy, so we left them to it.

We then looked at the hive which, two weeks earlier, we’d found a hornet in the middle of. This hornet had done a lot of damage. The first 5 frames were stripped bare, with holes cut right through them. As we lifted the forth frame, my youngest daughter said, “This is due to wasp attack, isn’t it, Daddy?” And just as we were discussing how it looked like it with her and the other new members with us, the fifth frame came out with this massive hornet just sat there. We shoot it away, put a block in the hive entrance to stop it getting back in, but leaving just enough room for the bees to get in and out, and continued our inspection. And the rest of the frames had the colony crammed onto them. They seemed remarkably well, considering, with lots of brood in various stages. So we left them to get over the attack, and closed the box again.

This visit, they had started to spread back to the damaged frames, but we also found renewed signs of chalk brood – this is the colony that had to deal with this fungus last year, too.

chalk It’s getting so warm and dry now that they should be able to clean it out themselves, and they seem so strong, we’re pretty sure they’ll manage to do so.

Then we moved on to my main hive. And found no sign of brood or laying in there at all. I’d hoped, given the health of the Nuke, but with no sign of new laying, that the virgin queen was all that was in there, and so we’d left the queen in the main hive, rather than managing to transfer her with the frames we took over. But if she’s there, she’s stopped laying. Possibly in preparation to fly – the hive was very full, the Super seemed about full, so maybe she was preparing to swarm. But I found no new Queen cells, so don’t see how that could be so. So we added a queen cell from another hive, and left with our fingers crossed.

I took a length of comb that I’d cut off the bottom of a frame earlier, and shaped it to hold that in the gap between two frames. Hopefully when we next visit this hive, it will have brood again. We also put a new super of frames of pulled comb that we’d emptied in last year’s harvest, to give them more space for stores.

And then onto the second hive. And again more problems. When Lucy and Elsa checked it out two weeks ago, they said it was fine, but they’d not spent long checking, as it had been a little angry. Opening it this week, it was also somewhat fractious. And there were again no signs of new brood. There were what looked like queen cells with growing queens inside, so it’s very possible that this is where that swarm came from. But then others looking at other hives there said the same of 2-3 others. Again, we could only add a second Super of empty comb, and hope that at the next visit, there would be new brood being laid.

The other hives had all been inspected, queen cells taken from where they weren’t wanted and put where they were, and a swarm captured. A good day’s beekeeping. Thanks Geoff.







Elizabeth – The Queen bee in waiting…

Another busy weekend in our apiary.  Spring is finally here in all it’s glory and the blossom is out on all the apple and pear trees in the orchard where we keep the bees. All the hives have been really busy in the bright sunshine and so we are on the lookout for any signs of swarming.  All the hives in this apiary have 2012 Queens that are in full lay, creating plenty of fresh workers and now the male drones are beginning to appear in big numbers hoping to mate with any newly emerged Queens.

As we went through the hives, we were looking for any sign that a colony might be preparing to swarm.  Before a colony swarms, you need three things to come together, drones, an active Queen and charged Queen cells with a larvae inside.

Yup - This colony will definitely swarm very soon!
Yup – This colony will definitely swarm soon!

All the hives we opened today had young Queens and lots of drones but only one had fully formed Queen cells with several already sealed.  This is because we had initiated Bailey comb changes on most of the hives in this apiary a couple of weeks ago which had diverted the colonies efforts into creating new comb in the empty space above the main colony. A few colonies had a couple of empty play cups, but nothing more.

We also had a few late Queens from last year that had not been clipped and marked, so we made a special effort to find them with mixed success.  We found all but two Queens, but given that both hives had very fresh eggs (they stand upright in the cells for about 24 hours after being laid) we decided to leave them alone and look for them again another day.

Hive 5 part-way through a Bailey comb change but with sealed Queen cells.

The one hive that had sealed Queen cells looked ready to swarm at any moment and so we had to take immediate action.

Having marked and clipped the Queen in this hive, we removed the lower box with the Queen cells, brood and nurse bees across to the other side of the apiary as the start of a new colony using a spare floor and roof.

The current Queen was placed in the top brood chamber that had new frames of drawn comb and then placed back on the old floor and hive stand.

Old Queen on new comb and foundation.
Original hive 5 with old Queen on new comb.

The returning foragers that were away from the hive when we conducted the split will come back to the site of the original hive, join their Queen and continue the building of new comb to allow the Queen to start laying the eggs that will become the next generation of bees.

Now that many of  the bees that formed the previous colony have been moved with the other brood chamber and there is a lot of new comb to build, this colony will in effect act like a newly housed swarm.

The moved lower chamber of hive 5 with sealed Queen cells ready to hatch

Meanwhile, the original brood chamber has been moved onto a new hive stand and floor at the other end of the apiary.  The younger nurse bees will stay with the eggs and larvae previously laid by the queen and build up the colony.  The ripe, sealed Queen cells will hatch within the next few days and eventually a single virgin Queen will leave the hive on her mating flight.  Once serviced by 10-20 individual drones she will hopefully return to the colony and start to lay eggs to create the next generation of bees.

Elsa has already named the soon to be hatched Queen, Elizabeth but we won’t know if things have worked out for her for another couple of weeks or so when we should see fresh eggs indicating that the new Queen Elizabeth is now in charge.


Bailey comb change – Stage 2

About two weeks ago we started the process to change out some of the old comb in certain colonies.  We placed a new brood chamber containing frames of foundation and a feeder with lots of syrup on top of the existing brood chamber and left the bees to it.

The weather has been unseasonably cold and windy recently, so we were unable to get into the hives and see how things were moving along.  We could see the syrup was being consumed, but it was only yesterday when the weather proved warm enough to start the second phase of the Bailey comb change process by encouraging the colony to move up into the new brood box. We use the fact that the bees in a colony will always follow and surround their Queen by placing her in the top box, inserting a Queen excluder beneath her to stop her going back down to the box below.

When we do this, most of the bees will naturally follow their Queen up into the top box where they will accelerate the comb building process so that she can start laying eggs that will become the next generation of workers. Some of the younger, nurse bees stay with the sealed brood and recently laid eggs in the bottom chamber and as they hatch, the new bees move up to join the rest of the colony with their Queen. 

The top entrance is now open between the two brood chambers
The top entrance is now open between the two brood chambers

To encourage them further, we close off the main entrance to the hive in the lower brood chamber and open up a new entrance into the top box where the new comb is being drawn and the Queen now resides. In the picture on the left you can see the bees starting to use the new entrance. The colony is unlikely to swarm as the large amount of new foundation in the upper brood chamber “tricks” the bees into thinking they have already swarmed and so they concentrate their efforts into making a new home where they are now rather than raising Queen cells and preparing to swarm.

Confused bees at the now closed entrance
Confused bees at the now closed entrance

The returning forager bees automatically home into the entrance they had left from previously and are therefore a bit confused as they attempt to get into the brood chamber. However, after a while, they realise that the entrance has moved up about 10 inches and they start to walk up the hive or fly into the new entrance. Moving the entrance like this further encourages the newly returning bees to join their Queen in the top chamber and place their foraged pollen and nectar into the new comb.

After about three weeks, all the eggs and larvae in the bottom chamber will have hatched and moved up to the top brood chamber to join their Queen. At that point we can simply remove the bottom box with the dirty old comb, leaving the bees with nice clean comb for this years new bees.

This technique is a very simple and benign process that gives the bees a nice clean home without too much disturbance and discourages them from swarming although the energy required to create the new comb will reduce any potential harvest this year. However, it is in my view a small sacrifice to greatly reduce potential disease or possible impact from any pesticides or other nasties that can build up in the comb over time.

In the training apiary…

Hmm – I think there are more bees on their suits than inside the hive…

For the last two weekends we’ve been running practical sessions in the Fleet Beekeepers training apiary in Rotherwick for our “NewBees”.  It’s the perfect site for an apiary, right in the middle of an old Victorian apple orchard.  We have room for 11 colonies arranged in a horseshoe with the entrances facing out so that we can all gather in the centre and approach each hive from the rear.

We have a mixture of wooden Langstroth, Commercial and National hives along with a number of polystyrene Langstroth Jumbo/Dadant hives. This enables our trainees to get experience with a wide range of hive types, before deciding what works best for them. With the very late start to the beekeeping year in 2013, we have only been able to get into the hives very recently and so  there has been a lot of work required to get the colonies prepared for the new season.

IMG_20120707_113535This weekend we went through all the hives showing the trainees how to conduct a spring inspection, checking for any signs of disease or other problems, looking for the Queen or signs of her presence with freshly laid eggs as well as seeing if there are any drones (if any) around yet. All hives seemed to be OK apart from one Queenless colony, so we placed a frame with fresh eggs from another hive in this one and hopefully they should raise Queen cells.

Next time, we will start to mark and clip the Queens as well as starting Bailey comb changes on the Poly hives with brood frames that are getting on for three years old.  We do this to minimise the potential build-up of disease or any pesticides that might impact the colony later in the year.



Keeping our bees healthy – Bailey comb changes

One of the key ways we can ensure that our bees stay healthy is to change the beeswax comb that makes up their home every two to three years. Viruses, bacteria and pesticides can all build-up in the comb over time and with the added pressure of the dreaded Varroa mite potentially passing disease from bee to bee all puts the colony under pressure.

We mark each of the frames containing the brood combs so we know how old they are at a glance and at the beginning of the Spring we review the colonies and then start something called a Bailey comb change.

Stage 1 of a Bailey comb change
Stage 1 of a Bailey comb change

This is a relatively low-stress way of changing the bees comb where we place another brood box with bare frames each containing a starter strip of foundation comb on top of the old brood box. We put a feeder containing 10l of 1:1 sugar/water syrup on the top and leave them alone.

Over the course of the next few days, the bees move up into the new box attracted by the free food and use the syrup to start building large amounts of fresh comb in the top chamber using the foundation as a template.

Lovely newly built beeswax comb
Lovely newly built beeswax comb

We returned to the hive after about a week to top-up the feeders and in doing so, we had a quick peek inside the top brood chamber to see if the bees had been busy. They had indeed from the picture on the right. Most of the central frames of foundation in the brood chamber were already being built up with new fresh beeswax comb. Unfortunately the weather started to turn rather cold and windy, so we decided to stop at that point and leave the colony alone for another day when we  start part two of the Bailey comb change process where we encourage the colony to move up into the new box – but that will be the subject of another post…

What a difference a year makes….

Yesterday was still very cold, but as we had to feed the Bee Good colonies to prevent them starving, we did so anyway.  The winter seems to be dragging on forever here in the UK this year and is a huge contrast to 2012.  Looking back at my colonies records for last year, I saw that we had temperatures of well over 20C for a week in March and I had my first swarm out of the main apiary on 3rd April!

I thought I would look at the long term forecast for April to get an idea of when we might be able to undertake the 1st spring inspection for 2013. It makes for rather depressing reading… According to the chart below, I might be able to conduct a spring inspection on the colonies some time around the 16th-17th of April when we reach the giddy heights of a predicted 16C before the weather cools down again back to 9-10C.

April 2013 Weather
The local weather forecast for April…

I though 2012 was the worst beekeeping year in living memory – it seems 2013 is already trying for the record….

Feeding Bees in winter

Here in the south of England, the winter refuses to loose it’s grip and it’s barely reaching 6C in the sunshine. Few plants are flowering beyond the odd Crocus and even the Daffodils seem reluctant to flower in the continuing cold – and tomorrow is the 1st of April!

Even though we ensured the bees went into winter with a full set of stores and a spare super full of honey as insurance, the extended winter must have used most of these up by now, and so we’ve been feeding the bees with sugar in candy form every two-three weeks since mid February. The Polystyrene hives are great at keeping the bees warm, but don’t have much top space, so we place the candy into large sandwich bags that just fit between he top of the brood frames and the roof.

We’ve now got the process down to a fine art and can open a hive, remove and replace the candy and close up the hive again in under a minute. Here is how we do it..


1. Remove the bamboo poles holding up the anti-woodpecker netting to expose the roof.

2. Cut open the side of the plastic bag with a sharp knife to expose the candy.

3. Peel open the side of the bag and invert it ready to place on the hive

IMG_0605 IMG_0607  IMG_0610

4. Once the roof is removed, the empty candy bag under the clear cover can be removed.

5. The new bag is placed on the brood frames with the exposed side down.

6. The clear cover and roof is replaced before putting the woodpecker mesh back in place.

I’d normally remove the anti-woodpecker mesh at the first inspection of spring, but it’s still way too cold for that, so I’m leaving the protection on for now as I feel the woodpeckers are just as hungry as the bees at present!  The feeding has helped us ensure that all our colonies have made it through the winter so far, but we desperately need spring to come soon…

Bees don’t read books!

Here in Hampshire, we’ve had about 5″ of snow locally over the last 24 hours with quite strong winds and as I write this it’s snowing again.  Many local roads are very icy making driving rather tricky, so earlier today we took a long walk to visit the bees at some of the local apiaries to do our weekly check on the hives.

IMG_0523We visited the main apiary at midday and checked on the bees inside listening to them with the stethoscope as usual this time of year.  I’m pleased that the polystyrene hives are working well as can be seen here where the snow on the top of the hive remains pristine even though the bees are clustered inside at a constant 20C plus just underneath the roof. Keeping the bees in well-insulated hives like these enables the bees to keep warm through a long, cold winter without consuming all their stores.  It also encourages the Queen to start laying eggs for the new generation of workers several weeks ahead of those colonies in wooden hives.

We were surprised to see the odd bee leaving the hive entrance and flying around in front of the hive for about a minute before returning inside.  We even saw one land on the snow and then take off again to return back inside. The books tell you that bees don’t fly out when it’s below about 5C, so clearly our bees have not been reading much lately!

Bee poo in the snow
Bee poo in the snow

Towards the end of the row of hives we came across an area of pristine snow and there dotted around here and there were little patches of brown bee poo. This space about 1m away from the nearest hive, was being used by the bees and after waiting a few seconds, sure enough a bee flew out of the nearest hive and did a poo over the snow before going back inside.

The bees were clearly taking their opportunity to clean up the colony, but I had no idea they were so keen to do so that they would go out in such cold conditions…