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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.

Rehousing a swarm of bees – Part 3

IMG_1356So we went to see the swarm again in their new home to see how they were getting on. We had previously left them with a spare super with a small amount of stores as a emergency feed and left them to settle down after having cut down the comb to fit into a single Langstroth Jumbo brood chamber. The colony had grown considerably since our last visit and seems to be doing well.  No chance to really examine the comb as it is so complex and tightly woven around the apple tree branches we trimmed previously.

The real issue was what to do next to ensure the colony makes it through the winter into next spring. It’s getting quite late in the season and they are unlikely to be able to make much more comb, so adding frames of foundation would be pointless even assuming they could find sufficient forage to fill them. I had a number of completely full clean brood frames from Queenless colonies that I had merged previously and assembled into another jumbo brood box.  It was incredibly heavy and took two of us to lift onto the hive once we had removed the Queen Excluder.

So with up to 30Kgs of honey and pollen stores, placed just above the brood comb, the colony should do fine and we will keep an eye on them over the winter so that next spring the colony should have moved up en-masse into the top brood chamber with frames full of food.  On a suitably warm day, we should also be able to see signs of egg laying at that time on the frames letting us know the Queen is up in the top chamber.

At that point, we will run some cheese-wire between the two brood chambers to separate them, so that we can  then remove the bottom box and replace the frames, bees (and hopefully the Queen) back onto the floor before shaking out the bees left behind in the bottom chamber.

Those more experienced will recognise that in fact we are really doing a pseudo Bailey comb change, albeit onto complete combs and should this process should enable us to keep the colony intact whilst moving them off the current chaos of comb and twigs etc.



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….

Rehousing a swarm of bees – Part 1…

Even the most diligent of beekeepers employing a strict inspection process to manage swarming gets it wrong occasionally…

We have eleven active hives in the Fleet Beekeepers training apiary and try to ensure that  we manage the colonies to spot the signs of swarming and deal with it appropriately. But about two months ago, as we arrived at the apiary, we saw a huge swarm departing from one of the hives and settling high up in one of the apple trees within the Orchard.

The nest was deeply imbedded in the centre of the tree canopy

Typically, the first stopping point is purely temporary as the swarm sends out scouts to find a suitable home for the bees to go to and as we could not get close to the swarm we had to simply leave it there.

However it appears in this case, the swarm moved into another tree as a few weeks ago we spotted the swarm settled into another tree in the orchard about 15′ off the ground.  They had been busy building combs and had created a nest about 18″ square in the centre of the tree.

James carefully cutting away the branches around the tree nest

The nest was quite exposed in the tree and very unlikely to survive the winter once the leaves had dropped, so James, Geoff and I decided to mount a rescue and retrieval mission.  James built a scaffolding platform underneath the swarm and I supplied a Jumbo Langstroth poly hive to put the bees into.  James and Geoff then proceeded to carefully cut away the surrounding branches so that we could get access to the nest itself. This took quite some time and although the bees were extremely calm it soon became apparent that the bees had greatly expanded the nest and it had become huge!

It was the biggest wild nest we had ever seen!

Eventually, James and Geoff managed to cut away the surrounding branches and they carefully lowered the complete tree nest into the prepared brood chamber complete with tree branches, leaves and even whole apples within it!  Even now the bees stayed very calm as we placed them inside the hive and then we realised that the nest was so big it would not fit…

The nest was about 10″ too high, but as luck would have it, James had a spare brood chamber with him that we placed on top of the other lower chamber and closed the hive up.

The nest filled two jumbo brood chambers!
The nest filled two jumbo brood chambers!

We then left the hive for the rest of the day so that all the flying foragers could return to join the rest of the colony now happily inside the hive. We had no space to keep the colony inside the training apiary and so we decided to move the bees that night to my out apiary south of Odiham and then possibly shake the bees into new brood frames before overwintering them there.

In the next posting I’ll describe some of the difficult choices we faced when we tried to set the bees up in the new apiary…

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.







Elizabeth – The Queen bee in waiting…

Another busy weekend in our apiary.  Spring is finally here in all it’s glory and the blossom is out on all the apple and pear trees in the orchard where we keep the bees. All the hives have been really busy in the bright sunshine and so we are on the lookout for any signs of swarming.  All the hives in this apiary have 2012 Queens that are in full lay, creating plenty of fresh workers and now the male drones are beginning to appear in big numbers hoping to mate with any newly emerged Queens.

As we went through the hives, we were looking for any sign that a colony might be preparing to swarm.  Before a colony swarms, you need three things to come together, drones, an active Queen and charged Queen cells with a larvae inside.

Yup - This colony will definitely swarm very soon!
Yup – This colony will definitely swarm soon!

All the hives we opened today had young Queens and lots of drones but only one had fully formed Queen cells with several already sealed.  This is because we had initiated Bailey comb changes on most of the hives in this apiary a couple of weeks ago which had diverted the colonies efforts into creating new comb in the empty space above the main colony. A few colonies had a couple of empty play cups, but nothing more.

We also had a few late Queens from last year that had not been clipped and marked, so we made a special effort to find them with mixed success.  We found all but two Queens, but given that both hives had very fresh eggs (they stand upright in the cells for about 24 hours after being laid) we decided to leave them alone and look for them again another day.

Hive 5 part-way through a Bailey comb change but with sealed Queen cells.

The one hive that had sealed Queen cells looked ready to swarm at any moment and so we had to take immediate action.

Having marked and clipped the Queen in this hive, we removed the lower box with the Queen cells, brood and nurse bees across to the other side of the apiary as the start of a new colony using a spare floor and roof.

The current Queen was placed in the top brood chamber that had new frames of drawn comb and then placed back on the old floor and hive stand.

Old Queen on new comb and foundation.
Original hive 5 with old Queen on new comb.

The returning foragers that were away from the hive when we conducted the split will come back to the site of the original hive, join their Queen and continue the building of new comb to allow the Queen to start laying the eggs that will become the next generation of bees.

Now that many of  the bees that formed the previous colony have been moved with the other brood chamber and there is a lot of new comb to build, this colony will in effect act like a newly housed swarm.

The moved lower chamber of hive 5 with sealed Queen cells ready to hatch

Meanwhile, the original brood chamber has been moved onto a new hive stand and floor at the other end of the apiary.  The younger nurse bees will stay with the eggs and larvae previously laid by the queen and build up the colony.  The ripe, sealed Queen cells will hatch within the next few days and eventually a single virgin Queen will leave the hive on her mating flight.  Once serviced by 10-20 individual drones she will hopefully return to the colony and start to lay eggs to create the next generation of bees.

Elsa has already named the soon to be hatched Queen, Elizabeth but we won’t know if things have worked out for her for another couple of weeks or so when we should see fresh eggs indicating that the new Queen Elizabeth is now in charge.