Asian Hornet

A useful update from the BeeBase resource/National Bee Unit regarding the Asian Hornet:

Following recent press articles there have been many reports of potential Asian hornet, (Vespa velutina) sightings across the UK. We would like to re-assure everybody that there have been no confirmed sightings of Asian hornets in the UK, and so far all hornet reportings received by the National Bee Unit have been identified as the native European hornet, Vespa crabro.

Experts at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology confirm that the hornet picture taken in Kent and featured in the press is not an Asian hornet – which would be darker in colouration, and that the size suggests European hornet.

The Asian hornet or yellow-legged hornet, is smaller than our native hornet, with characteristic yellow legs, a dark velvety thorax, and a dark abdomen with a distinctive yellow band on the fourth segment.

We are aware of the potential impacts they could have on honey bees and have contingency plans in place to remove them if they are identified. This includes comprehensive monitoring and teams ready to destroy any confirmed nests.

For those who think they have seen an Asian hornet please first read the Asian hornet ID sheet which outlines the main differences between the native European hornet and this Asian hornet.

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…

Keeping woodpeckers away

Woodpecker damage to a polystyrene hive.

Here in southern England we have to protect our bee hives against Woodpeckers who occasionally attack colonies usually in late winter when insects are hard to find and other food sources are scarce. They can rip into either a wooden or polystyrene a hive in seconds creating a two inch wide hole through which the woodpecker can make quite a meal from the thousands of bees inside trying to defend the hive.  A hole that size is impossible for the remaining bees to close up and usually the whole colony is dead from cold within days.

It seems that only Green Woodpeckers attack hives in certain areas at certain times, and it’s thought that it may be where families or groups of  birds teach each other how to attack bee hives. It’s also interesting how the woodpeckers seem to know exactly where the weakest point is and always attack where the hive material is at its thinnest, usually where the handholds are on the side of the hives.

Bee Good hives now protected from the “green menace”.

So to counter this, we have to protect our hives with either chicken wire or in my case plastic mesh fencing. The mesh is big enough to let the bees through, but too small for the woodpeckers, preventing them from getting too close to the hive exterior. We usually fit these at the end of December or early January once we have treated the colonies with oxalic acid to greatly reduce the numbers of Varroa mites attacking the bees. The bamboo poles hold the mesh away from the hive body and can easily be removed, allowing the mesh to be lifted away if we need to inspect the inside of the hive or feed the colony for any reason.

The mesh will stay in place now for the next few months keeping the Bee Good colonies safe and sound until later in the spring when the  weather has warmed up and the woodpeckers have plenty of other insect food available…


The bees know best…

So today we went to have a quick check on the colonies in the main apiary to make sure they were OK after the recent stormy weather here in Hampshire.

We had previously reduced the hive entrances on the main hives down to about 2″ wide to make it easier for the falling numbers of bees in the colony to protect themselves from potential attack by wasps or hornets. However the Nuc box was particularly full of bees and seemed very busy so we left the 4″ wide entrance as it was.

Bees blocking up the hive entrance

It seems the bees had other ideas though, as during the week we were away, the bees have started to block up the entrance to their hive with a mixture ofpropolis and beeswax.  It’s been very cold today, so we were not expecting to see many flyers, but you can just see the head of a guard bee in the middle of the hive entrance checking that everything is OK.  Used my £4.99 eBay stethoscope on the outside of the Nuc and heard a satisfying, low-level hum from both this colony and all the other hives in the apiary, so I know they are OK so far, but I feel its going to be a long winter…..

(Cross-posted from my Bee Good blog)

At the UK National Honey Show

So this week Elsa and I went to the UK National Honey Show in Weybridge, Surrey. It runs over three days and consists of a series of workshops and lectures given by real experts in their field from all over the world.  There was a lot to take in, but for me the stand out talk this year was an update by Dr Alan Bowman from the University of Aberdeen on his teams work on Transient Gene Knockdown as a means of dealing with Varroa mites. It seems they are actively working on a couple of methods that seem to provide real promise of dealing with this huge problem by killing mites whilst they are developing inside the honey bee cells and are preparing for field trials as early as next Spring – I will write about this exciting news in more detail separately.

As ever, there were lots of exhibitors selling all kind of beekeeping products and supplies, but we really did not need anything new, so I resisted spending any money.  One thing I did notice was the proliferation of new books on beekeeping, so I’m going to be busy reading quite a few of the ones aimed at new beekeepers before the start of the next Fleet BKA “Beekeeping for Beeginners” course next February.

I did try to persuade Elsa to buy a new bee suit (she had outgrown her existing one after 3 years) and despite persuading her to try on various suits from Sheriff and others, she decided to settle on the next size up of her current Swienty bee suit from Modern Beekeeping. I have to agree they are excellent quality – mine still looks good after several years hard use and at half the price of similar suits, I guess she knows better than me!

This year, for the first time we entered our honey in various classes having won several 1st’s at the Hampshire County show .  The standards at the national level are incredibly high – bordering on the obsessive, so not it’s not surprising really that we did not win anything this time, given that I had not really spent any time preparing for it – Still there’s always next year!


From bucket to jar.

I got back from Tokyo on Saturday, and spent some of Sunday and Monday getting the honey into jars.  Using clingfilm first to rip the wax that had risen to the top off.  Then warming the honey to 80 degrees in the preserve maker Caroline bought for us from Aldi earlier in the year (still in the buckets, inside the warmer full of water) and pouring that, as it was then far runnier, through a filter.  Which was a doubled over old net curtain.

Once it was cool again I then used the bucket with a tap to get it into jars and the plastic squeezy bears we got at the Show last year.  I’d first put the jars through the dishwasher and the lids through the warmer at a higher temperature to kill any germs.

And I filled everything I had – 61 jars and 8 bears.  And still had the bucket with the tap on 2/3rds full.  These are 12oz jars, not full 1lb, but still.  That’s a lot of honey for a bad year.  I’ve started sharing it, and asked for the jars back when people are done.  Sorry I didn’t take any photos of the process.  Blame the jetlag =O}


Not much to report this week really.  A large group of us turned up at the Apiary this morning, about half of this year’s trainees, and James, Elsa, Geoff and I as Mentors.  And the weather stayed good long enough for each group to go through at least 3 hives and everyone got to do some inspecting.

My hives are still both in the process of having a newly mated queen start work for the hive.  My main hive won “Best Beehaved Beehive” again, being completely docile and not caring a bit as we worked through looking for activity.  Both looked healthy, although there was some odd signs of either dead larvae of dried up/mouldy pollen in the newer hive, on both sides of one frame, in maybe 8 or 9 cells.  We’ll keep an eye on that over the coming weeks, see what’s happening there.  The picture above is of a worker bee hatching out.  We watched her eating the wax out of the way above her, a nursery bee came over to help, and I took this shot about 2 minutes in, as she lifted herself out of the cell for the first time.  Just above centre, with the nursery bee still clearing the wax from behind her.  It’s oddly nice to watch a bee birth.

Bee docility was really the main interesting thing of the day though.  My newer hive has been aggressive this year, but not as much as Hive 11, the strongest of Simon’s colonies in the Training Apiary.  To demonstrate, here’s a shot I took as we worked on my main Hive:Bees around the hive, but very few bothered by us.  On the other hand, here’s a shot of the team working on Hive 11 in the front corner:Hard to tell the beekeepers apart from the hive.  You need to be pretty sure you’re not going to freak out from being buzzed before you work there.

My team then finished on Hive 8, the one that had a mould problem a couple of months ago.  It had 6 closed Queen Cells last week, and this week half were open, and half still sealed.  So we figure we have a new queen, and she’s killed the others.  Whether the weather has let her out to mate yet is the question.  We now wait again to see signs of laying.  And if we can find any of them, we’ll mark them.  There was still some capped brood from the old queen yet to hatch, so the transition will be smooth.

My job is changing, so I’m not sure if I can even get to the hives in the next 3 weeks.  I have family over next week, and the two weekends after that I’m in California.  So we’ll really need other mentors if anyones’ free?

The Good And The Bad.

My main hive continues to be very healthy – I think I’m going to have to put a second Super on next week.  The current one was close to filling up on the outer frames already.  The above was a brood box frame, lots of laying going on, but no sign of queen cells, despite all the drone cells as in the lower middle here.  Below was taken as a peak into the Super – I didn’t want to disturb them too much, they were so busy, but I did take one frame out to see how they were doing.  The weather was looking difficult to start with, so I was careful not to leave any hive open too long, and knew I had work that needed to be done, so moved to those hives quickly.
So then I moved on to my second hive, which although it has a far smaller colony in it, was showing signs of wanting to swarm last time.  And again this week, while there wasn’t much activity in the super, the bees got very angry at my intrusion.  I therefore only looked at half the brood frames, since I was working alone, and found one sealed queen cell on one of those.  So they’re definitely planning something.

So I put on the swarm prevention device I bought from Modern Beekeeping last year.  As described there, it basically moves the entrance up above the queen excluder, so the workers and drones  can move about, but any queens are staying home.
The bottom entrance I completely blocked with that yellow plastic door, that’s usually high enough to let the bees in and out, but keep mice and maybe wasps out.  They got a bit confused at first, but started using the new upper door soon enough.

Next week will be interesting.  If any new queens hatch, and the old queen can’t leave, there’s going to be a fight.  But we should be left with the healthiest queen, and I won’t have lost half the bees from an already weak colony.

Then I moved on to the other plastic hives in the Apiary.  Geoff had done the wooden hives earlier in the week, and he and Simon had been to a husbandry course today, so I was trying to manage on my own for the first time.  The main job there was to put a new brood box on hive 9.  This is the one that has the beginnings of chalk brood, so by putting a fresh brood box on top, the bees will move up, the new brood will be born and join them, and the workers will build out and start working upstairs.  The queen should then start laying there, and we’ll end up with the bottom box empty, so we can take it away and dispose of the diseased comb.
I only did a cursory inspection, as the clouds came over again, but by the time I had it all back together, the sun was back out.  So I moved on to quickly inspecting the other two hives, starting with the weakest, Hive 8.  And what I found was bad news:
This was fairly old comb, but when we looked here last time, it was clean.  Somehow some mould spores had got in and found a home.  About 20% of the comb, mostly the lower right hand side of the brood box, has gone green.  Simon has always said we should replace comb regularly, 3-4 years apart, but some of the frames in here were marked 2007, so they’ve been left too long, and this has happened.

There were still bees here, and some small amounts of brood on this side of the hive, but we need to act fast, and I’ve already been talking to Geoff and Simon about it.  New frames and foundation need to be built and put in here, but I’m not sure what we can do to keep the mould from travelling over with the bees.  I need to rely on them for that information.

Having touched all this, I could scorch my hive tool, as I have been doing between each hive so far.  But I had no way to clean my gauntlets properly, and didn’t know how this mould travelled, so I didn’t inspect the last hive, number 11.  It’s been the healthiest of these for some time, so there’s little change of a problem there.  I’m just concerned for hive 8 now.