Beware of woodpeckers!

woodpecker damage on poly hive
This was done in seconds!

Woodpeckers (for some reason its only the Green Woodpeckers) can sometimes attack beehives to eat the bees and honeycomb.  They somehow find the thinnest part of the hive to go for and break through either a wooden or polystyrene hive in seconds to eat the bees and honeycomb.  This usually leaves a big hole in the side of the hive that  leads to the death of the colony either directly by the woodpecker eating large number of  bees or indirectly through cold as the hole left behind is simply too big for the bees to block up.

Where we are in Hampshire, it seems that only certain families of Green Woodpeckers in some areas learn to attack hives whilst most just leave them alone. They usually seem to attack late in the winter when all other food supplies have been used up, but this year we have already received reports of a members hives being attacked locally in Mattingley and so now is the time to protect your hives.

Protecting hives from Woodpeckers.

Woodpecker proof!
Woodpecker proof!

The process we use in the Fleet Beekeeping training apiary is to use either chicken wire or plastic fencing mesh around the sides of the hive to prevent the Green Woodpeckers getting access to the hives with their sharp beaks.

It’s important that the mesh is loose and kept away from the sides of the hive so that the woodpecker can’t reach it and its also vital to keep the mesh off the ground otherwise it acts as a climbing frame for mice and others wanting to get into the hive. The two ends of the mesh are secured with short lengths of gardening wire or twine and the two bamboo poles are inserted through the mesh and rest on the roof so that they hold the mesh at the correct height.  Inspecting the hive or treating for Varroa with Oxalic acid is easily done by slipping out the poles and letting the mesh drop so you can get to the roof of the hive to remove it.

These will stay in place until next spring when the risk of woodpecker attack is over and the plastic mesh can be rolled up and stored away for another year.

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.







Honey Harvest

Two visits have gone by since I last wrote here.  The bee inspector visited, and we didn’t have any EFB in the Apiary.

There had also been a lot of fears and warnings that this year has been so bad, so weird of weather, that our bees might actually be starving.  That they may not even have enough food for now, let alone for the winter, or even for us to harvest any.  And so 2 weeks ago I went and fed my weakest hive.  They didn’t seem to have stored any food in their Super, and there wasn’t much in the brood box either, so I gave them alb of a 1:2 mix of sugar and water, and that was all gone when I returned this week.

My main hive was fine, three Supers almost full, but that has always been strong.  But the weaker hive was clearly in trouble.

So this weekend, I wasn’t sure what I’d find, and met Geoff there to look over all the hives and harvest what we could from them.  But my 3 Supers were just about it.  We got one other Super off Simon’s strongest hive there, and decided to leave the rest with what they have to get through the winter.

So as we worked through the hives, checking them over, and Geoff putting Verroa treatment in them, I also worked on using the same methods as last year to try to drive out the bees from the frames so we could take them home.  Above is a Queen Excluder wrapped in an old pillowcase and sprayed with almond oil – which bees hate – set between two Supers.  It helped, and I pumped a lot of smoke through too to drive them away, and 4 times I moved the Supers towards the car, banging them on the ground to lose as many as possible before I walked them further away.
As you can see though I wasn’t all that successful, and ended up with quite a few bees in the car.
So that’s the total crop from the whole Training Apiary this year.  My three, still with the pillow case in to try to drive them off.  One from Hive 11, that was about 3/4s full.  And below that a Super with empty frames in – they just hadn’t been able to touch it.  Back in the Apiary, Geoff was working through them, bare handed as usual.  And he did actually get stung.  They weren’t happy with our actions.  I even got a slight sting through my suit and tshirt.

So I drove them home, still fully suited and booted, and put them in the garage with the window open.  There were still a lot of bees in the car, and we continued to find them the next day when we went shopping.  The weather allowed us to have the windows open, fortunately.  In the garage I closed the window once the sun set, so I didn’t get loads back robbing the next day.  There weren’t many left by then, but that’s where they died.  A fair few did come back and wandered around the garage looking for a way in.

So the rest of Saturday I was over at Simon’s, with Emily, extracting the two Supers of honey he got from his other Apiary.  From all those hives, two Supers.  Above and at the top are photos of the process, as last year.

Then Sunday we returned, without (many) bees, with the three boxes collect on Saturday.  And off we went again, removing the cappings, spinning them in the extractor, filtering the result into buckets.  We had only one frame explode – one of the ones in Simon’s Super wasn’t fully attached to the frame, and was heavy, so we sort of expected it.  So there shouldn’t be much wax left to fine filter in a couple of weeks.Leaving us with this:

That’s about 2.5 times what we got last year.  Which was the bucket bottom right, about 3/4s full.

Emily and I then returned the Supers to the Apiary, and put them on the two hives.  Feeders on top of them, and over 2 litres of syrup in each of them.  The bees will clean the comb out properly, and take the syrup down into the brood box for storage.

In a few weeks, when I get back from a business trip, I should be able to remove the top Super from both, and feed them more, and start preparing them to get through the winter.  We can then also filter the honey into my bucket with a tap on, and then into jars from there.  In the mean time the wax should be floating to the top, where we can rip it off with clingfilm.

I’ll write that up when I do it.

EFB in the Apiary? But Hive 5 is Alive!

Back in the Training Apiary for the first time after the holiday, and after being warned by Geoff and Simon that one of the older hives was showing signs of European Foul Brood.  Just 2 cells, and not sure, but they’ve reported it to the local Bee Inspector for checking properly.

This had been found Saturday morning, when a group of new beekeepers had been using some of the hives to do their Basic Beekeeping Examination.  Possibly a bit more real life inspection test than normal for such an exam, sadly.  But I wanted to check Hive 5 this weekend, to see if there had been any laying, so snuck in Sunday evening, just to look at the one colony.
And as you can see from these shots, we have both capped and uncapped brood, at last.  Our queen has started laying late, but now the weather has improved, she is laying fast.  Not much honey put away – the only Super is built out but pretty light weight.  But there is some honey and sugar syrup from the last feed I gave them still stored at the top of some frames – as you can see in the top picture.  And lots of pollen rammed into cells yet to be processed.  I don’t think they need feeding again, but they’re light, so I’ll keep an eye on them.

I didn’t open my main hive – the notes in Hive 5 had a line dated 8/8, so someone, probably Geoff, checked them all over during last week to pick the ones for the Basic Exams?  The front entrance was very busy, and they’ve given no cause for concern for ages, so I just left them be.
The above was taken shortly after I’d smoked the hive as I opened it – lots of bees grabbing cheek fulls of honey in case they needed to flee with it.  Which is what slows them down and makes them easier to handle.  They put it back when it turns out not to be a full-on forest fire.

Not much to report…

That’s about it.  We do have some signs of laying in a number of the hives.  My main one is strong and doing well.  My second is docile, but no sign of laying at all.  Of the others, many now have larvae like in the above, apologies for the blurriness of the photo, shot.  In some frames in the older hives of Simon’s, we couldn’t see anything, but James put a stick into a cell, and when he drew it out there was clearly an egg on the end of it.  And others there had mainly come because their hives were the same, and they were looking for advice.  All of us being in the same boat at least let us relax a bit – it’s less likely our bees are having trouble if so many of them are reacting to the weather this way.

Hopefully James’ test with a stick holds true for other hives, and laying has started there too, which would help explain the docility of the bees.  We just don’t have good enough eyes to see it yet.

Of the wooden hives of Geoff’s that we saw worker laid Drones in last week…  The frame we put in of proper eggs doesn’t seen to have been touched, so they’re not trying to make a new queen.  And another hive now seems to be suffering the same issue.  We’ll need to keep an eye on them.

I won’t be around next week, but will hopefully be able to check in again the week after.

Summer arrives finally for the bees, with pluses and minuses

For the first time in ages it was sunny this morning when I set out to the Apiary, but whether because of Simon’s late call to arms Friday night, the schools all ending the day before, or purely the shock of it being a nice day, only people willing to mentor turned out.  No one arrived to learn, which ended up meaning we just inspected all the hives, as we’d not been able to for two weeks, and I ended up learning loads from Eileen, instead.  And she started by putting me in my place.  I complained that Emily had just turned 19.  She told me that her eldest was 50.  We all looked at her in disbelieving shock.  She smiled demurely and said she was a child bride.

OK, first, explain the photo above.  All of the life of a hive in one shot, really.  The colours are pollen.  No idea which is which, but I’d love to know where the pea green one is from.  The pure white are larvae in various stages of growth until they’re capped over.  If you zoom in and look hard, you can see a few eggs growing too.  It’s unusual to see larvae and pollen so close, they usually clear out comb for the queen to be free to lay regularly.  But it does make for a pretty colour palette.  This was from one of Simon’s hives, one of the few that had any laying going on in it, it turned out.

We started with my main hive – the other beekeepers, James, Steve and Stan, spread out to look at the other groups of hives.  And the theme for the day turned out to be fear for lack of queens.  The bad weather seems to have caused a lot of problems, and restricted the possibility for mating flights.  Eileen also told us that a queen will tend to let the last of the old brood hatch before she starts laying herself, so she can be sure of which are her family.  And that she can wait up to 4 weeks before she lays.  Given how many of the hives were completely void of any sign of laying, this was good news, and explained why most of the hives in this state were just so calm about it.  In the one that wasn’t, Hive 3 of Geoff’s wooden Nationals, the signs of real trouble were clear.  There were about 4 frames of solid, seemingly Worker-laid drone cells.  This is the colony’s last-ditch attempt to get their genes out there, before they die off.  Push some males out in the hopes they’ll mate with another colony’s queen.  We swapped a completely empty frame from here for one with all stages of egg and larvae in it from another of his colonies, in the hopes that they’d take an egg and make a new queen from her, but at this point, it seems unlikely they’ll do it.  We may have lost this colony.
So, back to the FreeBees…  The original hive was extremely docile, the three Supers were doing very well – if I need to add a fourth I’m going to need a longer strap.  But there was just no laying going on at all.  If there’s still no sign next week, I’ll panic and try to find a queen cell from elsewhere to put in.  But Eileen has really reassured me here.  The bees are happy, and they know far better than we do what they need.  There’s a queen in there, they’re picking up her pheromones.  She’s just not started laying yet.  The picture above, by the way, is a worker harvesting some wax from the side of the hive box, where somebee had built a bridge to the edge board before I lifted it out.  The shot is taken down into the hive, with some light getting in through the bottom.

We then moved on to my second hive, which for the last few months has been really aggressive.  But not this week.  They were as docile as the main hive.  Again, I believe because there is a happy queen in there, although again there’s no laying happening yet.  The bees know best though, so I’m just leaving them be.  Sorry, that pun was unintentional.  Looking through here though, we did get a good example of a lot of bees acting like a liquid:

Imagine that swaying back and forth as we moved the frame.  A quick shake and they fall off with a splat, no harm done.  At this point I look over at the others, and they were doing some serious work on two of the Hives.  Hive 11 had loads of Queen cells.  Hive 1 was seemingly queen less and had been a while.  So James was moving some queen cells over.  We’ll see over the next few weeks if that was necessary, and if it helped.

We then started looking at other hives the other two teams hadn’t seen yet.  What we found in general was what we saw in my hives – brood hatching, but few with new laying.  Hive 9 had had 2 queen cells pushed into a frame 2 weeks ago, because there was no sign of laying, as now in many of the others.  There was still no laying going on, but those two cells had been torn down by the bees, and there was sign that one of them had been stung through the side as well.  This seemed pretty clear evidence that a Queen was in there, and us adding in some competition had not pleased her.  She’d killed the contents, and the workers had dealt with the remains.  She’s just not laying yet.  If this was one hive, it’d be a concern.  All of them means either we’re about to lose the apiary, or just that they’re all making the same decision – it’s too early to lay.  Or maybe mating flights in the recent weather has been too hard.  We now have a week of sun forecast.  Next Saturday may well be very interesting.

Then we moved to Hive 9, and as I lifted off the top Super, the colony went “ZZZZZzzzzzzz” and Eileen said, ah, this one has a happy, laying queen.  I’d been told before you could tell by the noise they made how content the colony was, but only Geoff and now Eileen have been able to demonstrate this to me.  And sure enough, as we inspected the brood chamber frames, we found fresh-laid larvae.  Eileen seemed quite nervous after saying that that she was wrong, but I felt I learned so much just working with her today I’d had no doubt she was right.

We also had a discussion as we worked about natural beekeeping.  Over the past year I’ve come round to her way of thinking, that the bees know way more about being a bee than we do, so why should we keep interfering when we don’t have to?  We can help with disease and Verroa mites, which after all are generally our fault.  But clipping wings, and tearing down queen cells when they want to swarm, is working against them, not with them.  If you fear a swarm, put a bait hive or Nuke box nearby for them to move into.  If they like it, they’ll take it.  My first hive proves that.  Trying to stop them just puts off their wish to leave, it won’t prevent it.  Some of the other, natural hive designs may go a bit too far, making it too hard to work on the bees and help them when we should, I definitely prefer the poly hives I have.  But beyond that, just letting them get on with it seems best.

While we worked we also got called over to hive 10, though, to take this photo:

An ants nest had got in under the lid.  That had to be cleared out outside the fence.

So, altogether one of the most enjoyable mornings I’ve had with the bees.  Sun, nothing too much to worry about, and Eileen to talk to and learn from, made gave it just that bit more.

Finally a Queen – just not mine

Back from my business trip, with a new phone and thus camera, I turned up at the Apiary today not sure if the weather was going to let us do anything.  And those who also arrived were in the same mind, and in the end we did have to stop and start through the morning.

Here you see beekeeping in the rain being Not Much Fun™.  But we did get to look inside all the hives for the first time in a couple of weeks, even if we did have to close a few up quickly again after only getting half way through.

My group started on my second hive, and all seemed fine.  Loads of brood, no sign of disease, and the syrup I gave them seems to have led to them building out the Super and start to store in it finally.  But Rain Stopped Play about a third of the way through it.  We found a few queen cells, sealed, in it in that time though, and we cut a couple of them out.  This proved useful to James, who found Hive 8 to be queen less, so we put them in there.  Then it stopped raining again, so we opened up my main hive.  This was also looking very healthy, and they’ve half-filled the 3rd Super already.  I need to make some new frames up, to put more Supers on both Hives.

It was then that my team moved to Geoff’s Hive 3, once it stopped raining again.
And it was in here we found the queen in the top photo.  She’s bottom middle, surrounded by workers, slightly brighter and shinier than the others – and way bigger.  We called out to the more experienced beekeepers, as she was unmarked, and tried to mark and clip her, as per Geoff’s instructions.  But she was too wriggly, so we only managed to mark her – we couldn’t get her wings to pop out of the cage enough to cut them.

We then released her carefully back into the Hive with a white mark on her back.

Less than 2 hours there, and the rain coming back, we headed home.  But it was definitely worth the visit.

Emily Returns

Emily’s back from her first year at Uni, and the weather stopped another training session happening Saturday, so Sunday afternoon, we both went to the Apiary to check out our two hives.

The first hive is doing so well, we’ve now put the 3rd Super on top.  We checked through the Brood box, and there were a good 6 frames of laying, capped and uncapped brood plus eggs.  Lots of forage in the brood box at the sides, too, but both Supers were nearly full, so a 3rd should help keep them happy.

The only concern was that some of the brood capping was so flat it almost looked concave, which would be a sign of disease, but I think it’s just well trod.

The 2nd hive was looking strong, with plenty of laying too, but the signs of chalk brood are still there.  No building going on much in the Super, so we put a Feeder on top, with over a litre of syrup in.  After warnings about starvation due to the on-again-off-again weather, better to be safe with them.  The picture above is of the really art deco building these ladies seem to prefer.

I’m off the next two weekends, so if anyone checks into these hives in that time, it won’t be me.