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..


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…

Harvesting honey the easy way…

I’ve been a fan of polystyrene hives for some time, especially those sold by John Laidlaw at Modern Beekeeping. Unfortunately, these hives don’t have clearer boards as standard and being a cheapskate, I could not be bothered to buy some or even make them out of spare plywood.

Normally you would place the clearer board under the supers to be harvested and leave them in place for around 24 hours. The boards usually contain a one way “valve” that allow the bees to pass down from the super into the rest of the hive, but prevent them from returning back to the super.

The alternative would be to take each frame out of the super and brush off the bees individually before placing them into a spare super for removal. This not unsurprisingly makes the bees very aggressive and prone to sting as the follow you and the harvested supers into the car.

The Cavill Clearer Board...

Having tried both methods before, I decided to try something new this time around. So instead, my wife “donated” an old cotton pillow case which she fitted over a spare Queen Excluder and then trimmed it to size before creating a neat velco covered flap to close the remaining open end of cover around the excluder like a sealed envelope. As you can see in the picture, you end up with a sealed bag that fits tightly around the excluder but can be removed, cleaned and reused later for the next harvest.

We took this to the hives and sprayed the cover liberally on both sides with some “Bee Gone” that I had bought some time previously. This is a harmless bee repellant based largely on almond oil. It smells a bit like strong marzipan but is completely harmless to the bees even though they hate the fumes.

When I had visited the hives previously I checked the supers and worked out which ones were ready for harvesting. Both Mark and his kids along with my two came along to see their first honey harvest, and then Lisa the orchard owners son and his friend turned up, so it became quite an event, with two adults and six kids all involved or observing at some point.

Look no Bees!

So now, all I have to do, is take off the hive roof and place the sprayed board on top of the hive where it is left for five minutes. After this time, open up one end of the cover to let out any trapped bees that for whatever reason have not gone down into the rest of the hive and leave the cover on for a couple of minutes more. The repellant also seems to keep bees away from around the top of the hive which is an added bonus given how many children were around at the time.

It is amazing just how few bees remain as you can see from the picture. When I lifted the board off the hive, there was not a bee to be seen anywhere in the super. I took the super down to the car with the board on top and then place the super on its side to look up each frame to check for any “lurkers”. I counted four bees who quickly left and flew off back to the hive. This process was repeated for each super being harvested and when I got back to the car, there were a couple of stragglers left who soon departed once the car door was opened.

This was my smoothest harvest ever, the bees did not seen unduly disturbed once the board was removed from the hive and were very calm without a single sting on anyone which was quite amazing given the excitement level amongst all concerned!

The whole process took under an hour and we then proceeded to prepare the hives for varroa treatment by sliding in the varroa boards under the floors of each hive prior to adding the first container of Apiguard.

Once I got the supers back home, I placed them on two piles on top of a clean waterproof cover. I then placed an empty sealed feeder on top of each pile of supers to seal them from the top to prevent the smell of the honey within attracting any unwelcome attention from wasps and other bees. The feeder also enables any bees left in the super to come up to the feeder where I can release them by removing the clear cover. After two days, there was one solitary bee who flew off when the cover was removed. The smell from the “Cavill clearer” board placed by the entrance to the garage also helped keep away any unwanted intruders.

Next stage is to wait for the Association extractor and cappings tray to become available so we can get the honey extracted filtered and bottled!