Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Report from the hives: Feb '14

When we last checked the hives, just after Christmas, we found that 4 looked fine but one had just a very small brood ball huddled in one corner of the brood box, and we were sure we would loose it.  Yesterday the weather was fine enough to have another quick peak and check them for food levels; I am pleased to report that all 5 are doing fine.

Interestingly most have not touched the fondant we gave them which indicates they still have enough honey reserves. We left the fondant we had given them previously but its much better that they consume any remaining honey first because, certainly if its left in any supers, the old crystalised honey will get in the way of later honey crops.

There were a few bees flying but we did not observe any pollen being collected yet even though the catkins are out and snowdrops are beginning to flower; its just too early I suspect.


Bees: mid-winter feeding


Its vital to check your honey bees at this time of year to see if they still have enough food. Over the Christmas period there was one day (yes, just one) when the wind dropped and the sun shone briefly to raise the temperature to around 10 degrees; just enough for us to risk taking the lids off the hives. We only peeked down between the frames to look for signs of life and then added a block of fondant to the hives that had finished most of the honey in the super above each brood box.

One of the hives did not initially appear to have any activity and still had most of their honey so we thought it was dead. But then we found that the bee ball was hunkered down right in a corner of the brood box rather than in the middle. The ball still looked very small so it might not make it. This really surprised us as this was a strong and productive hive last year and I dont think there were any signs of queen succession in Autumn that might have resulted in an un-mated queen leading the hive into winter. However, at this stage there is nothing that can be done about it so we will just have to wait and see.

We will check their food supplies again in February.

Beekeepers report 2013


This was our 4th year as beekeepers and, although we still have lots to learn, we are beginning to feel more confident and able to take action without having to check the books all the time. In other words, we have a bit of experience now and its getting easier. This was also our best year in many other ways:

* most honey - 350 jars from our 6 hives

* least number or lost swarms (we had 3 but caught them all)

Our only real problem this year was wasps which where so prolific that they caused one hive to dwindle to a non-viable scale. We started the year with 3 hives and ended with 5  - having merged two after the wasp attacks- and now they are all fed and shut up for winter with the mouse guards on.

Normally I miss the regular hive visits during winter and worry how they are doing but this year I feel quite happy to have the time for other activities and am a bit more certain the bees are fine.

Update from the hives: Sept 13


Overall this has been a good year for the honeybees. We increased our colony numbers from 3 to 5 and they produced much more honey that usual although most of that was early in summer. August was not such a good month for two reasons; firstly it continued to be very dry and the pond at rosybee dried up  which meant the bees going further to find water, secondly there have been vast numbers of wasps this year and they have been attacking the hives since early August. Wasps try and rob the honey but in the process waste a lot of the bees energies in defending the hives. Help them we have put the winter doors in to reduce the size of their entrance and have surrounded the hives with 'wast traps' (bottles of dilute jam and washing up water).

In spite of our attemps to protect them we have lost one of our smaller hives which, yesterday, we found completely without honey and no sign of the queen. We merged the remaining bees and brood in with another hive in an attempt to salvage some of them. The other hives are all low on honey too so we are not taking any autumn harvest from them at all.

Today it is raining so that will give the bees some rest from the wasps and hopefully the wasps will now begin to die off allowing the bees to forage in peace and lay down some winter reserves.

The bees and our Denman College site do not seem to have suffered with the wasps and we took two supers worth of honey at the weekend; really rich and toffee flavoured - yum.


Summer honey crop


It is really amazing how the bees recovered from a long horrible winter and are now thriving. The result is that we have had the best early honey crop we have ever had in the 5 years as beekeepers.  We took a first harvest mid-June when the winter sown oil-seed rape had finished flowering but then had to take another harvest last week because many of our local farmer had to re-sow the rape in spring because it simply rotted in the fields during the cold wet months of February and March.  (Last year we only took the early season honey once and then later we found there were many frames of rape honey that had set hard and in winter the bees were unable to eat it so it was no use to them either).  One of our hives has already filled 4 supers giving us around 80 jars; well above average.  Two of our hives are in the grounds of Denman College (WI HQ) where they have a little shop there. The picture is one of the jars we have labelled up for them.

Hot bees


Apparently this is called 'bearding'.  In really hot and humid weather the bees can struggle to keep the hive from overheating.  If the hive overheats it can kill the brood so they have a variety of tactics they uses: * set up a line of bees at the front door and use their wings to fan air through the hive

* collect water and deposit small droplets in the hive to absorb heat

If all that fails, then rather than add heat from their bodies they 'hang out' on the outside of the hive like this.

The common advise is to ensure they are on an open mesh floor, which is already the case in this hive so we will just have to hope they get through it.

Swarming again


It seems to me that, however careful you are, sometimes you bees are just going to swarm.  In total we have 4 hives, three of them are just getting going and just beginning to lay down honey.  We were aware that the other hive did seem stronger and has almost filled its first super but still had some space in the brood box for laying and, when last checked - 7 days ago- showed no signs of swarming. None at all. So imagine our surprise when, just as we were approaching the hives for this weeks inspection, we saw a great cloud of bees hanging in the air at head height.  They soon settled on a fence post (see picture) and we quickly offered them the 'nuc' containing one of our newly acquired swarm wipes.  Within 10 minutes they decided the nuc was a better option than the fence post and 'voila', box of bees.

We then turned our attention back to the hives to find out where the swarm had come from. (we were fairly sure it was one of ours as the only other local bees are still very weak from the bad winter). Sure enough, inside the strongest hive there are now queen cells, but still uncapped with big fat larvae inside. I would estimate the queen cells were about 5 days old which means that the queen swarmed well before the replacement queen cell was capped. So much for being ok with you check each week!

However, apart from the fact that we now have 2 hives in various stages of requeening, we are glad to have caught that swarm and it gives us an insurance policy in case any of the other hives do not requeen successfully.

Bees need water


Bees need quite a lot of water to survive. In hot weather they may spend as much time collecting water as they do nectar. Honeybees use it to cool the hive and to dilute the honey they feed to larvae.  However - and this might seem like stating the obvious - bees cannot swim or stand on waters surface so they need to be able to drink from some for of platform or get their water from damp material. Floating plants work as a platform or muddy gradual pond edges where they can suck form the banks. Beekeepers should consider how close their hives are to the nearest source of water because longer journeys will put stress on the hive.

At rosybee we have put in a wildlife pond with graduated sides. The grass has now grown back at the edges and into the water itself. You can see in this picture how the bees find the water in the wet pond edges.

If you are a gardener you might want to think of providing a watering hole for pollinating insects - some capillary matting with one end in a reservoir of water will work. or a shallow tray filled with pebbles that will soak the water up.



Local beekeepers visit


Last Sunday our local beekeeping group (Vale and Downland Beekeepers) came to rosybee for and apiary visit. I found this to a surreal but very pleasant experience; 30 people arrived (I now know we have parking for 15 cars!) in the drizzle. It was far from ideal conditions for opening up any hives but as some of them had come from up to 30 miles away I decided we would inspect the strongest colony under the protection of a large golf umbrella.

I had expected that one of the much more experienced beekeepers would take the lead but in the end I found myself going through the frames and presenting to 30 veiled faces as I went.  My discomfort was soon compounded by the discovery that my main hive, from which I had taken an artificial swarm the week before, now had several emergency queen cells.  Where was my queen?!?  I thought that maybe I had moved her with the artificial swarm so we opened that hive too; no sign of eggs, just a nice capped queen cell.  The conclusion was that I had either damaged the queen or must have been a small swarm in spite of my efforts to prevent it. Damn!! its only May and already I have a hive needing to re-queen.

The group then stayed on for tea, cakes (which they all brought with them with maximum efficiency) and a tour of rosybee.  I certainly found the afternoon to be very educational and it makes me think that we really must try and invest more time in apiary visits.........just finding the time is a challenge.

Hive update; first queen cells of the season


Its really amazing how quickly the bees flourish in the right weather conditions. It is only two months since we were feeding them extra fondant to stop them starving in a very cold March and now one of our hives is already producing queen cells. In this picture you can see the queen larva  in a pool of royal jelly.

Hive status:

Denman hive: brood on 5 frames with one of those all eggs. (20% egg/capped ratio). Honey and pollen in brood but none in supers yet. Happy and calm

Rosybee 1: brood on 6 frames, eggs round capped centres. Signs of beginning to put honey in first super

Rosybee 2: brood on 7 frames and uncapped queen cells found on 3 frames, all along the bottom bar indicating swarm cells. Some of the brood frames still have space taken by old 'rape' honey which is taking some of the space and the rest is full of new honey and pollen.  No signs of honey in supers but they are inspecting it. Only 1 complete frame and other bits available for laying so assume it is lack of laying space is the cause of the swarming signs.

Action:  Took artificial swarm, moved one almost capped and very healthy looking queen cell plus 2 other frames of brood and one of honey and pollen. 

We have the local beekeeping group doing an apiary visit next weekend so we will get some expert opinions then.


Bee chat

My husband captured this great shot of our bees looking like they are having a chat at the front door of the hive.  Maybe thats exactly what they are doing?

My husband captured this great shot of our bees looking like they are having a chat at the front door of the hive.  Maybe thats exactly what they are doing?

A rare sighting of a queen


We tend to find it really difficult to find the queens so we were really happy to see this one last weekend. Its meant to be easier to find them at this time of year because there are less bees in the hive and less frames of brood to check. It was even more unusual for us to also have the camera at the ready to capture this picture.  We did not dare mark her for fear of damaging her in the process; I think a good queen will be a valuable commodity this year.

Do you have trouble finding your queens?

Update from the hives: first proper check 2013


Its been a long winter. Today, after weeks of anxious wait the weather, although still very windy, was warm enough to let us have a reasonable look at the hives at rosybee and a proper brood frame inspection of our newly sited hive at Denman College. All good and the bees are clearly making up for lost time, during the poor winter in March, by really working the pollen now.

Rosybee 1 (polystyrene hive) observed bees carrying in pollen but not as active as the other hive: replaced a couple of frames in the super and added another super

Rosybee 2 (national) very busy bringing in pollen (as you see in the picture) and lots of activity. We had overwintered with a brood box below so we moved this up but were unable - due to the wind - to check where the queen was. Just have to hope she is now the right side of the excluder; it will soon become apparent. Added a 14x12 eke with plans to start moving the brood onto longer frames. Added a super.

Denman 1 (14x12) very busy and managed quick brood box inspection: found brood in all stages and even managed to see the queen.

All bees looked healthy with no signs of distorted wings etc.


Ooo. I feel like a beekeeper again. Happy happy happy.


Installing beehives at Denman College (WI HQ)


Yesterday we moved our first beehive to Denman College where we are 'beekeepers in residence'. We had been waiting to make sure the bees had survived the winter. On inspecting the chosen hive we found them to be very active but all up the top eating the fondant and small amount of pollen we had given them. The brood box was very light when we lifted it so they must have completely exhausted all their other stores. Thank goodness we have kept feeding them!

When we got to Denman, we were struck by how sheltered the apiary site is compared to Rosybee which is amongst a flat arable expanse. Its a lovely apiary site, nestled under tree old apple trees at the far north of the gardens. The bees have the full 20 acre garden to themselves and we are not aware of any competing hives anywhere close to their introduction should be benefitial to the local environment too.

Here we are just installing the hive. It will be very interesting to keep bees on two sites and compare the difference in the bees behaviour.

Our first bee colony loss


We have been keeping bees for 4 years now and have slowly increased to 4 hives, but this winter we lost one.  We last checked the hives only two weeks ago and they were still alive then but we did not go right into the brood box to check so number must have been very low and we did notice they were not eating much of the fondant we had given them. Anyway, as this picture shows it is now a very empty box with dead bees in the corners. Looking back I realise that it was not a strong colony when winter started; we had merged two mediocre colonies which had both had bad summers, swarming multiple times and having periods of queenlessness. 

I remember reading somewhere that two weak colonies will not make one strong one but it seems illogical becuase you are making one bigger colony in terms of pure bee numbers but I guess there is some other factor involved with the colonies organisation structure.

Anyway, its been a terribly long winter and I guess, in the circumstances, these losses are to be expected. Its still a little upsetting though.  Lets hope for a good summer (if it ever arrives) that will enable us to replace this colony. We need a couple more hives now as we have two sites.

Bees carrying pollen in early March


The bees have been out in force today. Although there is still a cold chilly breeze it was beautifully sunny and by lunchtime the temperature was around 10 degrees. I heard them from about 100 meters away  - something I dont remember experiencing since the heat of mid summer.  And sure enough, there was a big cloud of them milling around both hives and a carpet of them covering a fair portion of the hive front.  They mainly seemed to be basking in the sunshine.

Plenty of them were bringing in pollen of several different shades. I spotted a very pale buff or cream, light yellow, bright orange and a dark orange too.  Having checked the charts I think these will include hellebore (cream) and crocus (dark orange). I am also seeing them on the tiny little speedwell flowers but cant work out what pollen colour that has.  Any suggestions welcome.

Bees flying in Spring


How lovely it was to see the bees flying in the sunshine earlier this week. I saw them bring in pollen which is a sure sign of brood and hence that there must be a laying queen in there somewhere but its still too cold to open up the hive.  The pollen I say was * a grey/white colour that is probably from the early blossom of wild plum trees

* a bright yellow that probably means that some of the willows are beginning to flower


Mice in the beehives

Disaster! We forgot the put the mouse excluders on this year, and we thought we had got away with it. All 4 hives have made it through the winter (so far) but I was worried about one that appeared to have very few bees.  I did not want to open it up for a full inspection because the temperature has not made it above 2 degrees this week and the wind has been so chill, but our hives have open mesh floors so I took a quick look a the tray underneath.

To my horror I found it covered in a thick layer of crumbled wax and mouse poo. (see picture)

Having then taken advice - online- we decided that we had to get the mice out before they destroyed any more of the wax and food supplies. So, today, we very carefully eased the lid and crown board to one side, so that we could lift out just the frames at the side. Sure enough, the outer ones one each side have big holes chewed through the wax but no sign of any mice.  We quickly put the boxes back together and added the mouse excluders; phew.

There really are only, maybe, a thousand bees left in that colony but have food and with any luck they still have a queen so they should be able to recover.  Still very worrying so that has taught us a lesson.

Update from the hives: Feb '13

Finally some milder weather; wahoo!  On Friday it was a balmy 9 degrees at rosybee so we took the opportunity to have a quick peek at the bees; only taking the roof off to see as far as ekes we have put above the queen excluder as a space for extra food. It all good news: all four hive have made it through the winter although with differing levels of activity.

All but one had been eating the fondant (see above) we gave them at Christmas and one hive had completely finished their block so we gave them a bit more. There were not many bees flying but we did see a couple of bees carrying bright orange pollen (see picture left) into the hives which is a sure sign that their queen has started laying and they need the pollen to feed the babies.

wpid-3005701.jpgThe one hive that had not touched its fondant probably has plenty of honey as the hive still has some weight to it. However this may mean that their numbers are greatly reduced, hence why they have not consumed so much, therefore we will keep an eye on then just case.

Moving beehives in cold weather

Until now we had one of our beehives on the old site near our house but we wanted to have them all at rosybee, mainly because is much more convenient to have them all together. We have been taking great care over moving them because its only 1 mile between the two locations and we did not want to risk the colonies getting lost trying to go back home. We moved one in summer, not long after we had extracted the first honey harvest and successfully employed the 'put a tree branch in front of their door' method. It seems to make them re-orientate themselves on exiting the hive and realise that they are somewhere new.  Certainly we did not observe any significant drop in bee numbers however, moving an active buzzing and aggressive hive was not a pleasant experience so we decided to try a 'cold move' for the next one.

Today represented the perfect conditions: freezing cold for the last few days and cold predicted for the next few days. In theory this means that the bees should be firmly hunkered down and not inclined to move out to investigate. Hurrah! that was exactly how it was. On moving the hive we could hear a faint buzzing deep inside but not a single bee came out during the entire 20 minutes it took to move them. I don't know if how they will now behave when it warms up. Maybe, having been stuck inside for a while they will reassess their surroundings when the emerge or maybe we should put a branch in front again, just in case.

Anyway, job done for now and its a treat to have a bee related task mid-winter.