Rehousing a swarm of bees – Part 2

In the last posting I described how we had removed a large and well established swarm of bees that had build a large nest from high up in an apple tree and relocated them in a hive within my apiary south of Odiham.  Here’s what happened next…

Too tall to fit in a single brood chamber
Too tall to fit in a single brood chamber

Once we got the bees into my apiary and on a sturdy hive stand, we could take a good look at them.  The picture here shows what we found. The bees had built across seven combs in a tangled mess of tree branches, twigs, leaves and even several embedded apples.  It rapidly became apparent that simply cutting away the combs to shake the bees onto frames of foundation was not going to be an easy option without massively disturbing the nest.  This could potentially kill many bees, possibly including the Queen which would obviously lead to the death of the entire colony over winter.

The other problem was that the main branch the colony was attached to stuck up over the top of the bottom brood chamber by about 10″ and therefore there was a huge amount of wasted space that would be hard to fill with unwanted brace comb. At the same time, the whole hive felt quite light as we moved it into position and we could not see many stores in place.  This is probably because being positioned high in a tree had left them very exposed and unable to keep the brood nest very warm and so they had probable consumed the food as it came in to feed themselves and their brood.

Trimming the branches to get the nest inside a single brood chamber
Trimming the branches to get the nest inside a single brood chamber

We decided to try and get the entire colony into a single brood chamber as a start so that they would not waste further energy building more comb to fill the space left.  I held the hive steady whilst James cut away some of the bigger branches with a tree lopper as well as removing all the embedded apples and bits of twigs and leaves that we could easily get at. The whole nest is made up of beautifully clean, fresh yellow comb, but it’s in a complete mess making it impossible to remove single combs without destroying the ones next to it.

We took away a couple of empty combs attached to the top of the main branch and although the bees were all over the inside of the brood chamber, they were all very docile indicating that there is probably a healthy Queen in these somewhere.

Apiary_swarm_5Having cut the branches back, we  then placed a Queen excluder on the top of the brood chamber plus a super of recently extracted honey for a quick feed.  We then closed up the colony to reduce the stress and left them alone to acclimatise to their new location and start foraging again whilst we think of a way of transferring the colony onto frames of foundation…

I’m thinking of a Bailey comb change, placing a brood chamber of frames and food above the current brood nest which would be ideal if was not so late in the season. I do have a good hives worth of clean brood comb full of honey gathered from recently merged colonies that might work, although it would mean creating a double Jumbo Langstroth (Dandant) sized hive to go through the winter which is a big space to keep warm. However, their in a nice warm poly hive which should see them through to next spring with a bit of TLC and candy feed when required. Hopefully, by next spring the bees will all move up into the upper brood chamber with the food and the Queen will be laying up there which in theory means I’ll be able to simply remove the bottom box, shake off the bees and let them get on with it in 2014, but somehow, I think removing a brood chamber full of brace comb will not be all that easy….

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..

  IMG_0599

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…