Queen Cells?

We got home on Saturday night to find a phone message from Simon. He and Geoff had popped by earlier in the day to borrow my Nuke box, which I’d put down the side of the house again, in case we caught another swarm. But they’d had one at the Training Apiary, and had hoped to catch that with it. No such luck. But they then checked the hives to see where it came from, and found that Emily and I were right last time we looked – our hive had been making Queen Cells. They found 11. They left 2, just in case as they couldn’t find our queen, but took the rest, as 2 of Simon’s hives were now queenless. And Simon asked us to look again for a queen in ours, so see what was happening.

On Monday evening we did just that. And much as we searched, we didn’t find her. Or any sign of recent laying – small C larvae, but no eggs. But we also found 5 queen cells, not two. We left at least one, and will check again next weekend. But we don’t think they could have swarmed. There were just too many bees in the hive to believe there used to be twice as many in there. And there were drones on top of the queen excluder, so the few remaining larvae in the first Super had hatched. And finally the new Super was about half full already. So we’ll need to add more supers soon. I’m actually planning an early harvest, take maybe both supers and put in two clear frames sets in my new Supers, which I painted and built on Friday. Unfortunately, the Shop was out of frames and foundation, and it could be 2 weeks before I get those. Both Supers could be full by then, and a swarm would then be very likely.

So, we have loads of bees, many drones, but maybe no queen. But queen cells are there, so that shouldn’t be a problem for long – we just have to wonder what happened to the queen we had, given she was new last Autumn. And we may very well have a lot of honey, mostly from apple blossom, soon.

No photos though – not much to show, and the bees really weren’t too happy to be bothered again so soon. And thinking back, they got more aggressive last time they had no queen, too.

But here instead are some links I’ve been reading recently. This guy started following me on Twitter – a new Californian beekeeper, with an interesting looking top-bar hive: http://ihavebees.com/ . And an interesting site on dark British honey bees my wife found – http://www.bees.me.uk/Bees/Welcome.html – I’m cynical because he then sells queens, but our bees are very dark, so seem to be british hybrids.

Getting ready for Winter

We didn’t get to see the Bees last week. It was either raining or muggy or both, or we couldn’t get out. So this Sunday evening was the first visit for 2 weeks. And all was well.

Queen Cell

This is the best of a bunch of not very good photos of what I think (please comment if you know better) may well have been the cell my new Queen came out of. Unfortunately I didn’t realise until I got home that I’d been focusing through the hole to the fence beam on the other side. It’s an interesting shot though – Queen cells tend to be vertical, where normal cells are near horizontal (slightly sloped up so stuff doesn’t fall out) and in frames, it can be hard to place them. So here they’ve cleared out a hole in the comb and created a Queen cell down into that. I’d found some practice cells elsewhere, never seeming to have anything in them, but this is the biggest and most obvious of them in the Brood Chamber.

And she’s been quite busy of late, laying to ready the hive for the Winter. The outer frames either side of the brood box are all nearly solid with food stores – mostly honey. In the centre there’s what looks like slices of a rugby ball of brood laying:


Another slightly blurry shot, sorry. We saw new eggs and still uncapped larvae, but lots of capped. She should be shutting up shop soon, though – this lot needs to last out the winter. And the outer sections of all the frames, and most of the outer frames, need to be filled with food to last the winter.

So we put the feeder back on, and poured another load of sugar water in, and will continue to do so for a few weeks. I then have some solid bee food to give them – sugar and pollen mixed. I’ll leave that up there for them over the winter, too. We also took the empty Apiguard container out of the Super. That’s done its job well, I think.

And finally, we put in an entrance restrictor. This leaves a lower top to the slot at the front, and helps them defend against wasps, and keeps mice out. Mice will actually take up winter residence in a hive if they can. In the next few weeks I’ll also need to go equipped with tools and the remaining chicken wire from building our run. The next threat to the hive is woodpeckers, and we need to build a protective case around the hive to stop them digging in and taking bees. I’ve seen examples of holed wooden hive boxes, and apparently the plastic ones survive no better.

Holiday Stuff

We’ve been off for a week, and back again, then off for 4 days, and in between we’ve seen the bees a few times, applied Apiguard, and helped with Simon’s honey harvest.  The bees seem fine, we’re relaxed, so all is well.

The Apiguard bit has been interesting.  As I said last time, I left the board in under the hive to see how many mites fell through onto it in a week, and figured we got maybe 2 a day that it was there – which is very low and healthy.  None would have been a miracle.

So, I then put the Apiguard on, and went back 8 days later to see how we were doing.  One of the side effects of doing this though is that the bees clean themselves more, and so what I had to inspect that time was a little harder to work on:

A very dirty tray

Lets see you find mites that are about 1 or 2 millimetres across in that.  Most of it is wax and lose propolis.  Or just dirt.  I think there was about 2-3 mites a day in there, but really have no idea.

So anyway, I put the first one on, and a week later moved it to ensure it all spread.  Then another week on I put the second pack in, and will be visiting today to move that.  Next week I’ll go back, and will probably remove the super and put a feeder on.

As best as I can make out, while they’ve been building comb in the super, they’ve not been using it for storage.  The queen has been winding down on laying, and they’ve been filling up the brood box with food as the cells have become vacant, ready for the winter.  And I want to make sure they’re well supplied to survive what may be a long and very cold few months.  So more sugar water will be going in for the next few weeks.

Last Sunday and Monday the girls and I went over to Simon’s place to help him with his honey harvest.  Sunday night was mostly cutting the caps off of the comb from the three supers from his other Apiary, and then spinning the honey out of them.  We’re going to do a full blog post on that separately, with photos, so I wont go into depth here, but suffice to say that in that first evening, with three supers, we got over 5 stone of honey out.  By the end he had about 170 pounds of honey, and while we filtered some of it Monday, he had a lot more work to do.  None has been put in jars yet, last I heard.  But what I tasted was fantastic – and I’m not normally a honey person.

Monday last week also saw me watching from a distance as my Eldest walked one of her best friends through the hive, so to speak.  Unfortunately she didn’t take the end board out first, and so didn’t separate the frames from each other before starting to lever them up, and one of the frames broke.  So I’ll probably need to replace it.  But it’s full of food right now, so I’ll leave it until the first Spring opening, and put a new frame of foundation in, hopefully before any laying happens.  They can then build it and fill it without any risk of them starving for want of that food.  They’ll stick everything together with propolis until then.

And then this last Sunday Fleet Beekeepers had an Apiary meeting at a local member’s house.  Well, it’s an old water mill with the most incredible grounds, so “house” just isn’t fair.  And she had three very interesting hives that we all got to take a look at, along with the most experienced members, to discuss and learn.  All three had been without queens for some time during the summer, and had taken a lot of effort to keep going.  One of them was unlikely to survive the coming winter without further help, too.  It’s only through her continual care any of them will make it though.  My wife, youngest and I learned loads listening to the others discuss this and other members’ problems, and asked and had answered a number of questions we had about ours, too.  It seems pretty certain now the swarm that just turned up in my hive came from a feral colony, of which there are more left than I thought around here.  Keith, who’s day job is the local pest control, told me that he regularly sees colonies in roof spaces, too.  And my bees are definitely darker than the others around here, suggesting they’re more closely related to native British bees.

This in turn makes me wonder whether I really want to re-queen them, which would lose that connection.  It’s going to go in time anyway – any mating the queen does will be with the surrounding European bees, and it would give us far more docile bees, as the ones around here have been bred for that quality.  But I think I’m willing to put up with a bit of aggression to keep some native bee genes in there.  My Eldest has also been looking into the British Black Bee, so I know she wants to keep them this way too.  We’ll have to see how we manage them in the longer term.

Clean Bees

We visited the Apiary twice this weekend. First on Saturday afternoon, to assist Simon in removing Super boxes from some of his hives for harvest. He got 3 full Supers from the 5 hives there, and then Sunday he removed another 3 Supers from his other Apiary. 6 Supers should give him 200 jars of honey this year – and there may be more to come a little later in the summer, as the bees are still collecting. I’m not yet sure how much we need to leave them with, since we’ll be feeding them in the lead up to winter, for their stores, so we’ll be replacing some of it.

Sunday evening though, we went to check out the FreeBees. And first job, before we even opened the hive, was to pull out the Verroa board and see what mite fall we’d collected since I’d put it in last week.

Varroa Mites are one of the worst threats to bees. There are two Blights that can get to them, but this can be controlled if you keep the comb clean – basically by swapping out anything more than 3 years old, so they’re always building new and what they have is less likely to contain anything. This also keeps down the levels of insecticide they might bring home from pollen runs, as that can build up in comb over time. Varroa hang on to the bees, and feed off them, and in so doing weakens them. So like an immune system disease, it’s not the mite that kills directly, but they can allow other problems in to do that job instead.

So the bottom of modern hives has a grating, so that small things falling through the hive fall out, and can’t easily get back in. And then there are runners below that, so you can slide in a sheet of white plastic, and check what’s landed on that to see how bad a problem you have.

So, I pulled out this sheet right after I’d given the hive it’s first smoking, and carefully inspected it for mites. And as it was my first time doing this for real, it was quite hard to see them – they’re a lot smaller than the pictures on-line and in books would suggest. But we did find about 10 on them, some still moving. That’s just over 1 dropped per day since the board went in, which is pretty good. 3 or more per day, and we have a problem.

Even so, it’s worth treating, and so after we’d done the inspection, we left an open pack of Apiguard on top of the Super frames, upside down. This is Thyme based, and completely safe, although you don’t want to use it until after you’ve harvested any honey you’re going to. It gets stuck to the bees, and they clean it off, which also knocks off the mites. We’ll check back next week, and move the pack, so it spreads properly. Then in two weeks we’ll add another pack, and all through we’ll keep an eye on the varroa sheet, to see how much they’re shedding.

As to inspecting the comb, they’re were some new eggs and uncapped brood in the main box, but in general they seem to have moved from all-out laying to starting to stock up for the winter. The area at the top that was before used for food is now most of the frame, with just the bottom third being used for laying. We’ve still not found our queen, but we did find what looked like a sealed supersedure cell, so it’s possible another queen is being grown. It’s too late in the year for a swarm, so we left that alone for them to sort out themselves.

The Supers had some comb built on most of the frames this week, but they didn’t appear to be storing anything there yet. Which I guess is understandable, if they’re putting so much honey into the brood frames now. So we wont be getting any harvest from the FreeBees this year, but hope Simon will be generous with his when we help produce it from his frames later this week. ;O)

A new queen gets to work…

Before I start this week I want to point you to another bee blog I’ve been following with interest: http://novice-beekeeper.blogspot.com/ .  He’s been facing many of the same issues as me, plus a lot more, and it’s been interesting to read how he’s been dealing with it.  He’s been doing his own queen rearing recently, for instance.

We returned to the bees this evening – both my girls were with me, and as we pulled up, Simon and his daughter were already there, suiting up and lighting their smoker, having already seen their other Apiary.  In height order, that my eldest lent carelessly against the fence,  then Simon with his back to us.  Facing us on his left is my youngest, and his daughter is just to his right.  You don’t get better photographs for this money… ;O)

Families that bee-keep together get stung together

We started with Simon’s hives, all of which are almost ready to harvest – even the three super monster on the far right there.  Mine is on the far left.  So the girls got a good view of all the colonies, and could see the differences between them.  One of the two older, boxier poly hives on the joint stand was queenless, but Simon added a newly bought Queen which should fix that problem as long as she gets accepted by the existing workers.

The girls start examining frames

This is my youngest examining a super frame from a not-yet full super – it was placed in just above the brood box 2 weeks ago, with fuller super above, so the heat from the brood would help with the wax making, and so they’d concentrate more on this one.  You can see they’ve eaten away and re-used some of the wax elsewhere. You can see most of the bees here have their heads in to cells, sucking up honey.  This is what smoking does – Bees would normally live high in a tree within a forest so if they think a fire might be coming, so they gather up honey ready to run with it.  You don’t want them to actually run though, so you have to be careful not to over do it.

Newer frames

Here we are at the monster hive at the other end from mine, looking in the newest super, where they’re building more than storing still.

A Brood box frame

A frame close-up

The first picture here shows my eldest holding one of the brood frames from our hive.  The second besides it is a close-up of it.  Again, you can see a few bees have there heads into the stored honey, as we just smoked them.  But you can also see a number of larvae curled up like little white Cs in some of the cells, not yet sealed in.  Some of the rest of the cells are sealed – brood is a yellower cap than honey – and on the middle-right there you can see a larvae in the process of being sealed in, the dome not yet complete.  There are a couple more almost complete lower down.

I’ve still not seen any eggs here – we didn’t check every frame, and didn’t find the queen because my smoker ran out of cardboard and they started getting a bit angry with us.  In fact as I took this picture, a bee stung the rubber around the edge of the Bumper on my iPhone, leaving the sting behind.  So we put the brood box back together.  But the new larvae means we definitely have an active queen again – as does this:

Super comb under construction

My bees have started construction on some of the frames in the super we put on.  Not much, and no food storage yet.  And what they do store I’ll leave them with for the winter.  But they’ve started =O)

So we put the hive back together, with too little smoke, so they were a little angry – but no where near as much as they have been before the queen arrived.  Here they are at the door:

A busy entrance

Sorry for the gloved thumb in shot – I’m just not a photographer, and I was surrounded by bees and watching my kids…  Well, you get the idea.


So this is my first entry here as an actual Blog post, rather than a copying in of an email post from the past.  And it’s a been over a week since my last post because of the weather – bees hate humidity as much as we do, and visiting already aggressive bees when the weather adds to their annoyance is not a good idea =O}

But on Wednesday evening, I finally returned to the FreeBees.  And they seemed very happy.  Much of the water I’d put in the feeder was still there, so I poured it away, and have taken the feeder home for cleaning.  The Super frames had bees on them, but no visible building had taken place, which was worrying, but this late in the season maybe shouldn’t be surprising.  They’re filling up the brood box for the winter now, rather than giving me something to harvest.

But I found the bees to be generally in good mood.  There were loads of them in there, pouring out as I lifted the frames.  I came without the girls, expecting them to be aggressive again, so no photos of the inside of the hive this time, but here’s a photo of the hive put back together afterwards, next to one of Simon’s with three supers on, as that colony has been very, very active this year.

My HiveOne of Simon's Hives

One thing my bees had been doing was gluing everything together with propolis in a big way in the last week and a half.  Simon tells me he’s not seen such orange propolis anywhere but this part of Hampshire – here’s a photo from one of his Supers just to give you an idea of the colour:

Super frames

My end board was completely covered in that stuff – it’s basically plant sap mixed up by the bees to really gum stuff together.  I had to cut the board free of the side of the box, and then work really hard to lever the board up and out of the box, so I could free up the frames.  And each frame was also well gummed in place, needing some serious levering work with the hive tool to free it from it’s neighbour before lifting it out.

And the frames were a happy sight.  I found uncapped, young larvae in cells in clumps in a number of frames, so we have a queen laying again.  I found a number of drone cells, some open now, some looking new.  But I’m pretty sure I saw not a single drone on the frames.  And I found one large cell, built out from the comb and drooping downwards, with a hole underneath.  This I think was the supersedure queen cell.

So it’s all detective work after the event, but what I think happened is this.  A few weeks ago I think my queen died, or at least stopped laying to the point the hive got very worried.  So they created a supersedure cell (I think this is the cell I thought was a “play” cell – a practice one they sometimes build anyway which I saw last week) and moved a larvae that had previously been laid elsewhere into it.  They then stuffed the cell with royal jelly and sealed her in.

I had drones last time, so sometime since last week, this queen hatched and went on a mating flight.  Simon tells me (having read my initial assumption here that my queen would have mated with her own drones) that she would instead have attracted drones from the other hives in the Apiary.  So maybe my drones mated with a queen from one of Simon’s hives?  Which would be why I have few if any left, and new ones have since been laid in the corner of one outside frame.  Anyway, the queen would then have returned to the hive and started laying again.  We’re coming towards the end of the laying season, so she may not lay many, and the brood box is very full.  But there’s little to no chance of a swarm now.  I think I now have a fresh queen to take my colony through the winter.  Again, with no work required from me.  I really am a lucky beekeeper. =O)

One last thing you can’t see from the picture of the outside of my hive is the dead wasp I found to the right of the entrance.  Why a wasp thought it could take on such a large colony to steal from I don’t know.  But it found out the hard way it couldn’t.  I brushed it away before I took that picture.

So, then I moved on to helping Simon.  He’d come to the apiary at the same time as me, in case I still had problem, so he could help figure out the cause.  Since all was well, he started on his own hives, and I went to see what was happening there.  And the main thing about his hives is the honey.  Oh so much honey.  That three super tower I showed earlier is the extreme case, but his older Poly hives are at two supers each too.  Not all the frames in them are full, but the last picture above shows frames completely loaded with honey – it’s going to be a good harvest.  And in fact they were so intent on storing as much as they could this year, that they build between the super frames in the top and lower super boxes, leaving this when he lifted the very heavy box off the top:

Inside a super

The bees immediately turned up to gather that honey and take it somewhere else.  But look at all that honey =O)  And something I didn’t notice until I pasted this picture in here – above the bee at the bottom, approaching the honey, is a wasp.  Nice picture of the two different insects next to each other, really.

You can also see down through the gap left by the frame Simon was looking at at this point to the Queen Excluder sheet between this super and the brood box below.  This has slots in that workers can get through, but the queen can’t, ensuring that food – honey – is stored up above it, but no brood is laid here, ensuring a clean harvest.  And you can see the white-capped honey cells in these frames.  Exactly wide enough to give the maximum honey storage while leaving room for two bees to pass back to back on different frames.

In summary then – the FreeBees have once again done all the work for me, saving me from effort and/or cost, and I’ll be returning with my daughters this weekend to check them out again.  We’ll need to start taking precautions for mites soon too – I’ll put the varroa board in underneath this weekend, so we can check it next week so see how many have fallen through the grating on the bottom onto it, to judge how much of a problem we have.  I don’t see any sign on the bees, but they’re tiny and hard to see, so this is a good way to be sure.  And in another month or so we’ll treat the hive with Apiguard, to sort out any problems we might have.  You can’t do this within 6 months of harvesting the honey, but I wont be getting a harvest this year anyway.

And with luck the girls and I will be helping Simon harvest all his this year – and what with his hives going up from 4 to 10, and those having multiple supers on, I hope he’ll be paying us in kind. =O)  What do you think, Simon?

The Lucky Beekeeper #6

Eldest has gone off for a week, so it was me, youngest and my wife
joined us to see how they were going on this evening.  Sadly, she didn’t
take Eldest’s new suit, just one of the inspection cowls we have, and I
didn’t check what she was wearing on her legs – after having been
gardening all day.  Given how aggressive they’ve been the last few
visits, this was bad of me… =O(

I’d been discussing them with Simon again during the week.  We stood and
queued to buy more frames and foundation together at the Association
shop – for me 10 Deep Langstrum brood frames and foundation for my
Nucleus Box.  This is a small hive to put swarms in and carry around easily.
They take the same size frames as a normal hive, but only 6 of them, so when
you’re ready, you can just move them over and you’re done.  And at that point
I’ll need the other 4 frames anyway, so it’s not wasted. Simon was there for 30
Super frames and foundation, as his 4 hives are now 10 from swarming this
year, and some of them have 2 or even 3 Supers on them now.

Anyway, so Simon suggested one possible reason for their aggression was
the other bees could smell the sugar syrup I’ve been giving them, and
were coming into the hive to steal it.  So my bees were being
defensive.  So this week I’ve just given them water.

But it looks like that’s wrong.  There was plenty of sealed brood in the
comb I checked, but I found no eggs in the four frames I managed to look
at.  As they were very unhappy.  I got stung once in the arm through
my suit (I must stop wearing short sleeves beneath it) but my wife got 6
stings up her legs and had to move well away quite early on =O(  She’s
OK, the stings didn’t stay in long, but where she rubbed she spread the
venom she had.  Not nice.  Youngest was fine, and I kept working a
while, trying to figure it out, with a swarm of very buzzy bees all
around me, having a go.

So I put it back together and gave them the water and sealed it up
again.  And walked away, still surrounded by bees.  I’d as usual had
trouble with my smoker, and I’m pretty sure I’d over filled it, having
watched Neil Gaiman’s video tutorial on doing it right at:


So I took out the old sugar bag I’d tried to use and left it on a log by
the car when I was lighting it.  And it worked quite well this time.
But in our hurry to get in the car without being stung and get home, I
left it there.  And I don’t want to annoy Lisa and Mark, who own the
land, so having dropped the ladies off, I drove back to collect it.
Simon arrived as I did, and as I turned to talk to him, I saw a bee dive
at full pelt right at my forehead, and felt the sting.  I’d of course
returned unsuited, as I wasn’t planning to approach the hive.  And I
got two or three others in my hair, not stinging, but annoyed.  So I
warned Simon to be careful, and explained what I’d seen, and we plan to
re-queen it from his breeding attempts as soon as possible.  Simon was
only there to put another Super on one of his, so I left to get whatever
I smelled of away from him.

As I think I’ve said before, swarms are the old queen deciding the
current home is too full, and leaving with half the colony.  She mates
with the drones, and then goes off to find a new place for her colony.
And this one, or at least her scouts, found my hive.  Fine, but she was
clearly quite old, and seems now to have stopped laying, if she hasn’t
actually died.  It’s possible there’s a queen cell in there, if the
workers have been paying attention, but I’ve not had the chance to look
properly.  We’ll have a better look when I’m not worried about those
around me, and add a queen from elsewhere if necessary.  There are
larvae there, so the workers could make a new queen themselves.  I
hope they do.  The Super I put on last week had bees in it, but
absolutely no building work has been started there.  That’s very, very
odd, and points to a lack of a queen, too.

So, all home now, more stings among us than all previous visits put
together.  No ill affects – none of us are allergic to them.  We’ll be
back next Sunday, and hopefully we can check the frames counting from the other side and see if we have a new queen cell or two.  If not, I’ll be getting one
off Simon as soon as possible.

The Lucky Beekeeper #5

A swarm is the old queen from a colony, leaving with half the bees from it.  Drones fertilise her in-flight (incidentally leaving their genitals with her, just like their stings), and they find a safe place to hang while scout bees find a nice new home.  Like my waiting hive.  BTW, I’m not just calling myself a lucky beekeeper – every one I meet who here’s this story includes the word “lucky” somewhere in what they then call me…

Anyway, so Simon has set up a frame with one of these in the middle:


So he can gather larvae from one of his healthy and calm hives.  He then introduces those cups, vertically, to the hive you want to re-queen.  And leave the workers to do the work.

Normally, if a colony decides it needs a new queen, it creates a larger cell that runs vertically to the comb.  Remember that normal cells run horizontally, and can be filled with food, pollen or eggs.  A vertical cell is either large for a full queen, or slightly smaller for a “supercedure” queen, I think.  And sometimes they just build larger vertical cells for practice.  It’s common practice for beekeepers to destroy these when they find them, to halt swarms, in the case of larger cells – if you get a new queen, the old one is soon off, with half your bees.

But supercedure means they think the current queen is on her last legs – so to speak, and what your suggestion is aiming at.  Make her lame, and let the colony deal with the result.  The thing is, in all this time, I’ve not seen her.  You can lift out all the frames and search both sides, and she’ll escape every time.  I’ve seen one of Simon’s, and we trapped her and painted her back immediately.  But generally, you judge her presence and health by what she’s been up to – laying, mostly.  Find lots of eggs and sealed brood, and you know she’s doing OK.  And I’m still finding that.  But then one of Simon’s was full of worker-laid eggs – which are drones, and the caps are domed for more room, as they’re bigger.  And when we looked, the hive was half full of drones, which was a very bad sign – we’ve now seeming got a new queen happy in there.

So anyway, you get larvae in a plastic cell, and you mount it vertically on a frame, and the workers will find her and give her royal jelly, as that’s what you do with vertical cells.  And you get them bringing up the new queen, which will then replace the old one.  Especially if, once you know you’re safe to, you find and crush the old queen so there’s no competition.  It’s not unknown for two queens to kill each other in contest for the colony.  Leaving you worse off than when you started all this.

So, that’s the plan, anyway.  He’s learning to rear and breed them now, and needs some for his own hives.  We might in the meantime be able to take a filled queen cell that’s appeared naturally in another hive and graft it into mine, but it’s getting a bit late in the year for that.  He’s had 6 or 7 from his other hives earlier in the year, that went to other beekeepers.

For the sake of the colony though, they should have a new young queen to get through the winter.

The Lucky Beekeeper #4

So, we returned to the FreeBees last night.  Both daughters came with this time – Eldest is getting interested, but also wanted to talk to Lisa, who owns the land, about doing a study on her Chickens.  Eldest wants to do her A2 Biology Extended Project on whether food colour is important to them, but our 4 aren’t a big enough test group to make statistical sense.  But Lisa clearly had guests, so will try again tonight.

Anyway, so within a minute of us getting there, Simon turned up.  He was planning to do some work on his hives, but my first job was making room in my hive to finally slide in the last frame I’d not got in there in the beginning.  I’d tried using it with a piece of hardboard in it as an end board, but it was too thin and they build out the next frame too wide.  So I’ve made a set of end boards from a solid piece of thick ply (Simon now has 4 of them) and put foundation in the freed up frame, but that too-wide frame stopped it fitting.  So I’ve been squeezing it harder against the next frame each week, waiting for them to shrink it back – they instinctively make 2 bee height’s gap between each frame so 2 bees can pass each other back to back.  But it was taking too long.  So I took the frame out, took it away from the hive, and took my hive tool to it, trimming down the wax to the right-ish depth.  Very messy, loads of wasted honey (which they’ll find and steal back) but I was then able to get all 10 frames in the box.  But *boy* were all the bees angry then – and not just my hive.

Simon was able to add a Super box to one of his before I annoyed them all, but we decided to leave then, as they all seemed a bit aggressive, because of the smell I’d made.  He desperately needed to put another Super on another of his hives, but the frame shortage (bought on by all the new beekeepers this year) meant he didn’t have any frames for his boxes.  But I did – I made up enough for 2 boxes over the last two weekends.  So I gave him one of my sets, which he’ll replace when he can, before I need them myself.  We’re both off to the Association Shop on Friday, as I need to buy some full sized frames for my Nucleus box, ready for the next swarm I get.

Simon needs more Supers because his colonies are still growing.  He started the year with 4 hives that all got through the Winter all right.  He now has 10, all the extras from his original hives overflowing and swarming for more space.  And 2 more are close to going again.  So much for the death of our bees. =O}  If I don’t have a Super on mine before they finish the 9th frame (half way there yesterday) and do this new 10th one, I’m going to have problems, and could lose half my bees, too.

Simon is also learning to rear Queens.  He’s bought and set up the equipment to get the colony to lay them, but then stop them killing each other, and breeding hives to get them ready once mature, so they can then be placed in our hives to replace our old queens.  Mine will be a few years old, as it’s always the old queen that leaves with a swarm.  And the bees he keeps in the next village South are a lot less aggressive than mine, so having one of the queens from there would calm them down a bit, as her brood takes over the hive.  We’ve been talking about this for a while – the current queen could just die of old age this winter anyway, so swapping her out before they settle in for the cold is a good idea anyway.

I don’t know yet if we’ll actually get a honey harvest this year.  I’d not expected to – they need to keep stocks for the winter – but they’re building so fast it might be safe to take a super load and let them refill it.

So anyway, back tonight to finish feeding them sugar syrup for the week, and put a super in, with a queen excluder sheet in between it and the brood box, and the feeder on top.  Might get some photos this time.

The Lucky Beekeeper #3

So, we’d noticed they’d been getting  angry when we were looking them over – and they’d been very calm before.  The most likely reasons were (a) the queen was dead; or (b) we smelled of bee alarm pheromone, which they give off in death.  So we washed our suits (and I then resewed some of Youngest’s veil, which was damaged in the wash).

Then, as I refilled the smoker this afternoon, I noticed 5 dead bees in the nozzle – they must have flown in and been cooked there.  So every time I pumped in some smoke to calm them, I was actually pumping in the smell of dead bee.  Which might not have the required effect… =O}

So, that sorted, my neighbour Tim – the one who builds aeroplanes in his garage – wanted to come take photos, so we set off at 7pm, as they would be settling and the heat was going from the day.

A couple of pictures:

Holding up a frame

A frame close up

You can see the little white curl of larvae in one of them very clearly.

The son of the couple who own the land rushed down to join us in his suit when he saw us – he’s become an avid beekeeper – and passed on the sad news that a fox had got 2 of their chickens at around 6pm the previous night – early for a fox, and a warning for us to get our girls away earlier.  We’d just got an egg from each of the four of ours for the first time today, too.

And since they’d been out over the weekend, they had way more partridge eggs than they could handle, too, so Tim and I were sent home with about 10 each in little plastic tubs. =O)  Got to love Lisa and Mark, and not just for letting us house our bees on their land =O)

So, the bees were pretty happy this time – although we had to cut the visit short as my smoker went out and my lighter ran out of fuel.  But there was plenty of brood, loads of stores, and we gave them another 2 litre of sugar syrup to be going on with.  The last frame in the hive was getting some attention now – all the others are built out – and with a little work I should be able to get another frame in the end next time.

I’ve built loads of frames for the Super box to go on top too – I might add that next time, to ensure they keep building and don’t think about swarming – I did find a practice queen cell as I looked through the frames…