The Lucky Beekeeper #5

A swarm is the old queen from a colony, leaving with half the bees from it.  Drones fertilise her in-flight (incidentally leaving their genitals with her, just like their stings), and they find a safe place to hang while scout bees find a nice new home.  Like my waiting hive.  BTW, I’m not just calling myself a lucky beekeeper – every one I meet who here’s this story includes the word “lucky” somewhere in what they then call me…

Anyway, so Simon has set up a frame with one of these in the middle:

So he can gather larvae from one of his healthy and calm hives.  He then introduces those cups, vertically, to the hive you want to re-queen.  And leave the workers to do the work.

Normally, if a colony decides it needs a new queen, it creates a larger cell that runs vertically to the comb.  Remember that normal cells run horizontally, and can be filled with food, pollen or eggs.  A vertical cell is either large for a full queen, or slightly smaller for a “supercedure” queen, I think.  And sometimes they just build larger vertical cells for practice.  It’s common practice for beekeepers to destroy these when they find them, to halt swarms, in the case of larger cells – if you get a new queen, the old one is soon off, with half your bees.

But supercedure means they think the current queen is on her last legs – so to speak, and what your suggestion is aiming at.  Make her lame, and let the colony deal with the result.  The thing is, in all this time, I’ve not seen her.  You can lift out all the frames and search both sides, and she’ll escape every time.  I’ve seen one of Simon’s, and we trapped her and painted her back immediately.  But generally, you judge her presence and health by what she’s been up to – laying, mostly.  Find lots of eggs and sealed brood, and you know she’s doing OK.  And I’m still finding that.  But then one of Simon’s was full of worker-laid eggs – which are drones, and the caps are domed for more room, as they’re bigger.  And when we looked, the hive was half full of drones, which was a very bad sign – we’ve now seeming got a new queen happy in there.

So anyway, you get larvae in a plastic cell, and you mount it vertically on a frame, and the workers will find her and give her royal jelly, as that’s what you do with vertical cells.  And you get them bringing up the new queen, which will then replace the old one.  Especially if, once you know you’re safe to, you find and crush the old queen so there’s no competition.  It’s not unknown for two queens to kill each other in contest for the colony.  Leaving you worse off than when you started all this.

So, that’s the plan, anyway.  He’s learning to rear and breed them now, and needs some for his own hives.  We might in the meantime be able to take a filled queen cell that’s appeared naturally in another hive and graft it into mine, but it’s getting a bit late in the year for that.  He’s had 6 or 7 from his other hives earlier in the year, that went to other beekeepers.

For the sake of the colony though, they should have a new young queen to get through the winter.

The Lucky Beekeeper #4

So, we returned to the FreeBees last night.  Both daughters came with this time – Eldest is getting interested, but also wanted to talk to Lisa, who owns the land, about doing a study on her Chickens.  Eldest wants to do her A2 Biology Extended Project on whether food colour is important to them, but our 4 aren’t a big enough test group to make statistical sense.  But Lisa clearly had guests, so will try again tonight.

Anyway, so within a minute of us getting there, Simon turned up.  He was planning to do some work on his hives, but my first job was making room in my hive to finally slide in the last frame I’d not got in there in the beginning.  I’d tried using it with a piece of hardboard in it as an end board, but it was too thin and they build out the next frame too wide.  So I’ve made a set of end boards from a solid piece of thick ply (Simon now has 4 of them) and put foundation in the freed up frame, but that too-wide frame stopped it fitting.  So I’ve been squeezing it harder against the next frame each week, waiting for them to shrink it back – they instinctively make 2 bee height’s gap between each frame so 2 bees can pass each other back to back.  But it was taking too long.  So I took the frame out, took it away from the hive, and took my hive tool to it, trimming down the wax to the right-ish depth.  Very messy, loads of wasted honey (which they’ll find and steal back) but I was then able to get all 10 frames in the box.  But *boy* were all the bees angry then – and not just my hive.

Simon was able to add a Super box to one of his before I annoyed them all, but we decided to leave then, as they all seemed a bit aggressive, because of the smell I’d made.  He desperately needed to put another Super on another of his hives, but the frame shortage (bought on by all the new beekeepers this year) meant he didn’t have any frames for his boxes.  But I did – I made up enough for 2 boxes over the last two weekends.  So I gave him one of my sets, which he’ll replace when he can, before I need them myself.  We’re both off to the Association Shop on Friday, as I need to buy some full sized frames for my Nucleus box, ready for the next swarm I get.

Simon needs more Supers because his colonies are still growing.  He started the year with 4 hives that all got through the Winter all right.  He now has 10, all the extras from his original hives overflowing and swarming for more space.  And 2 more are close to going again.  So much for the death of our bees. =O}  If I don’t have a Super on mine before they finish the 9th frame (half way there yesterday) and do this new 10th one, I’m going to have problems, and could lose half my bees, too.

Simon is also learning to rear Queens.  He’s bought and set up the equipment to get the colony to lay them, but then stop them killing each other, and breeding hives to get them ready once mature, so they can then be placed in our hives to replace our old queens.  Mine will be a few years old, as it’s always the old queen that leaves with a swarm.  And the bees he keeps in the next village South are a lot less aggressive than mine, so having one of the queens from there would calm them down a bit, as her brood takes over the hive.  We’ve been talking about this for a while – the current queen could just die of old age this winter anyway, so swapping her out before they settle in for the cold is a good idea anyway.

I don’t know yet if we’ll actually get a honey harvest this year.  I’d not expected to – they need to keep stocks for the winter – but they’re building so fast it might be safe to take a super load and let them refill it.

So anyway, back tonight to finish feeding them sugar syrup for the week, and put a super in, with a queen excluder sheet in between it and the brood box, and the feeder on top.  Might get some photos this time.

The Lucky Beekeeper #3

So, we’d noticed they’d been getting  angry when we were looking them over – and they’d been very calm before.  The most likely reasons were (a) the queen was dead; or (b) we smelled of bee alarm pheromone, which they give off in death.  So we washed our suits (and I then resewed some of Youngest’s veil, which was damaged in the wash).

Then, as I refilled the smoker this afternoon, I noticed 5 dead bees in the nozzle – they must have flown in and been cooked there.  So every time I pumped in some smoke to calm them, I was actually pumping in the smell of dead bee.  Which might not have the required effect… =O}

So, that sorted, my neighbour Tim – the one who builds aeroplanes in his garage – wanted to come take photos, so we set off at 7pm, as they would be settling and the heat was going from the day.

A couple of pictures:

Holding up a frame

A frame close up

You can see the little white curl of larvae in one of them very clearly.

The son of the couple who own the land rushed down to join us in his suit when he saw us – he’s become an avid beekeeper – and passed on the sad news that a fox had got 2 of their chickens at around 6pm the previous night – early for a fox, and a warning for us to get our girls away earlier.  We’d just got an egg from each of the four of ours for the first time today, too.

And since they’d been out over the weekend, they had way more partridge eggs than they could handle, too, so Tim and I were sent home with about 10 each in little plastic tubs. =O)  Got to love Lisa and Mark, and not just for letting us house our bees on their land =O)

So, the bees were pretty happy this time – although we had to cut the visit short as my smoker went out and my lighter ran out of fuel.  But there was plenty of brood, loads of stores, and we gave them another 2 litre of sugar syrup to be going on with.  The last frame in the hive was getting some attention now – all the others are built out – and with a little work I should be able to get another frame in the end next time.

I’ve built loads of frames for the Super box to go on top too – I might add that next time, to ensure they keep building and don’t think about swarming – I did find a practice queen cell as I looked through the frames…

The Lucky Beekeeper #2

So, I’ve been to see them a few times since, and they’re getting on
well.  The end board I made before was too thin, and they’ve been
growing out the comb on the next frame way too wide:
A Frame built out too far.

So, I’ve now shuffled the frames about, so that this one is next to
another full frame, and pushed them too close together, to make the
bees cut it back a bit, so they can squeeze through.  And I’ll keep
moving them close until they get it right.  I’ve also made a better
endboard by buying some thick ply and cutting it to the shape of the
whole frame.  This then frees up the old frame I’d put hardboard in to
take beeswax foundation.  Only it wont go in the box until they shrink
down that other frame, so we wait.

Here’s a picture of a busy frame:

A busy frame

The white capped stuff at the top is mostly sugar, from the syrup I’ve
been feeding them to get them building.  The next layer of yellow
capped cells is brood – larvae.  Some still growing, under their caps,
from the first run.  Some have emptied, and new larvae have been put
in, and they’ve not been capped over yet.  There are a few of these in
the middle-ish.  And bottom left of the brood area – you can just see
white C shapes in them.  The brown-coloured cells below that contain
pollen, which is a bee’s protein supply.  Slightly different pollen
colours signify different pollen types.  Then the lower cells are
empty right at the bottom, but some of the others seem to have honey
in, but haven’t been capped yet.

If you look carefully at the bees, some of them have lighter yellow
stripes than the others.  These are the newborn bees – my new flock
=O)  There are a few drones about too.  Workers lay unfertilized eggs,
if they lay at all, which make drones.  I found no queen cells though
– they’re not looking to swarm or replace this queen yet,
unsurprisingly as they still have loads of room, and she’s working
hard laying.

Now, this hive now has 5 stablemates alongside it.  My mate Simon has
had to split the original 2 he had on this site, as they got too big
from all the food they had to collect and store.  And he had a swarm
in another small box down by where we park the cars.  When he checked
his hives on his other site on Saturday, he was able to remove 6 queen
cells from them (all of them have doubles already, too) and give them
away.  Which turned out to be a bad move – two of his hives near mine
are now queenless.  One has been for long enough that now half the
bees in it are drones =O(  We found two queen cells in that, but no
queens – they probably fought and killed each other =O(

Queen cells look very different – like a round-bottomed vase or naan
oven, neck pointing down – as they need to holder a far larger bee
plus Royal Jelly.

So, he needs to re-queen them, but hopefully will be able to get
queens from another hive soon.

We moved the box from near the cars up to be near the others Sunday
evening.  It took both of us, they’d filled the box so well, even with
the Super off the top, it took two of us two lift and carry the hive.
Problem was, once we’d rebuilt the hive in it’s new home (which we did
late, so most of the bees would be in it) there were still some bees
looking for it where it had been.  And they weren’t friendly any more.
I’d already been stung earlier, when I foolishly put a tile under one
leg of the stand for mine to better level it, before I put my suit on.
As usual they went for my neck, and luckily, I don’t react to them.

Anyway, so there we stood, Simon, 3 kids and I, near our cars, with a
bunch of angry bees around us.  Our only choice was to drive home
still suited up, and take the veils off once we got home and were sure
we’d not brought any with us =O{  Beekeeping can be embarrassing.  ;O)
But hopefully the bees will pick up the smell of home and travel the
30 meters or so to it’s new site and got home that night.

The Lucky Beekeeper

I got my hive and most of the frames last week.  Due to the huge increase in beekeepers this year, the beekeeper suppliers are running out of everything, but I had my beebox hive painted, and the brood box frames built and in place, and the whole thing on a recycled pallet stand by Sunday.  But it and the car wouldn’t go into the garage together, so I moved it down the side of the house for the week, expecting to move it to where it will live, and to have to buy £150 worth of colony for next week to put in it.

Then I went out yesterday, and it had quite the crowd of little honey bees paying it some attention.  The foundation you put in the frames is processed bees wax, and smells of honey, so I guessed they were just foraging, and watched them for a while.  But nothing much came of it.

And then today.  It was a bit busy again, but under a hundred of them – small change in bee colony numbers.  Until about 1pm, when my nearest neighbour rang to say she wasn’t going to come knock on my door to tell me – look outside.  And indeed outside my kitchen window the sky had gone quite grey.  Some of those bees had been scouts for a swarm, and they’d brought the rest over.  The hive was of course a perfect new home for them, and they moved in.
The FreeBees Arrive

Most of them were in by this point.  Another neighbour came out to take this picture.  A good few thousand bees all checking it out at once.  Friendly bunch.

The hive is the dark green, polystyrene set of boxes to the bottom right.  Scan back through the pictures to see it being built and painted.

So this evening I got my mate Simon over – he ran the course.  We separated the hive from the stand, strapped it together tightly, jammed the entrance full of foam rubber, and put it in the boot of the car, with the stand.  We drove to where it’s supposed to live, suited up (no photos of me in the CSI Bee suit available on purpose) and moved it into place.  We then removed the top two Super boxes, where the queen isn’t allowed, so you just get honey.  There were no frames in there, due to shortages of stock, and the bees were already building wax down from the roof to fill the space.  I have a 2cm cubed block of it here to play with.

The problem is the queen can’t get through the excluder to that bit, but the workers will start from the top and work down – so she’d starve =O(  Without the two top boxes, all the work will now go on in the main brood box, which is now set up and will be left for a few days for them to settle:
The hive on it's stand

I’ll need to add a feeder level on top to allow them to build lots of wax to get the hive ready for eggs next week.  I just put the order in for one from Modern Beekeeping, as I didn’t expect to need one until the autumn, as a bought colony would have comb built on frames already.  But I’ve saved about £120 doing it this way.

Because there’s so much pollen out at once right now, most colonies are growing like crazy so they can gather it.  And so they’re out-growing their hives, and the Queen is creating new queens, and then leaving with half the colony.  All the beekeepers I know are having swarms, and moving them to new hives as best they can.  Simon’s 4 hives are now 7, but this swarm wasn’t from him, and we don’t know many others it could be from close enough.  It could be feral, but they’re very rare these days.  Finders keepers with swarms though.

The point though is that I’ve just had bees turn up from nowhere and settle in, with no real effort from me.  It’s very hard for them to find proper homes these days, so they could have just died, if they weren’t spotted and collected by my colleagues.  I’ve now idea of their lineage or their temperament, so we’ll probably replace the queen (the older queen leaves, so she’s probably not got much life left in her anyway).  *If* the queen’s in the hive, we’ve not been able to check yet.  If not, we’ll need to merge it with another, of find a queen elsewhere soon.  The hive can’t grow without a laying queen.

It’s all getting quite exciting. =O)

The only downside was that after we’d moved away, and I’d put the super boxes in the car, we de-suited, and then I lifted the boxes into the car.  And there were still bees in them, and one of them stung me on the side of the neck.  I’m not allergic, and I think I stopped it putting much sting in, so it didn’t hurt much.  But that’s me lost my cherry at last. =O}