blog

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

Bees moving into Rosybee site

Until today our bees have been in their original site near our house. But yesterday, when we checked them, we found queen cells  so we swung into action and today we attempted to take an artificial swarm.  We are completely useless at finding the queen so our method is to move the primed queen cell and a few other frames of brood into the new hive. The frames we took where loaded with bees, which is great for the new colony, but we have to hope that the old queen was not amongst them - it was very hard to check.  Then we wrapped packing tape round the new hive and drove it a mile down to Rosybee.  We read a trick for persuading the foraging bees not to fly home to their old hive. Apparently you put a tree branch in front of the hive to make the look around when they fly out and say to themselves "Eh up, that wasn't there before. Oh, I see, we're in a different field. I'd better remember that and come back here".  Or that is the theory at least.

We have given them sugar syrup to encourage them to draw up the wax on the new frames and now we have to wait and see if a queen emerges and mates. I dont like this stage, when the hive is queen-less but hopefully in about 2 weeks time we will know.

Update 2 days later: yesterday we took a second artificial swarm and repeated the process. It is already apparent that the first hive has retained a lot of 'flying' bees so it looks like the simple process of putting a branch across the front entrance has worked.  Great!! and bang goes the myth that you cannot move bee less than 3 miles.

July update from the hives

So far July has been yet another round of trying to avoid the bees swarming, and failing. The first hive that showed signs of swarming produced 107 queen cells in a single week; we squashed every cell we could find and took an artificial swarm but the probably too late and the queen went.  They have a few remaining queen cells which have now hatched but still no sign of a new queen or laying. We have now added eggs to test if they have a queen or will build another.

The same goes for the new artificial swarm - still no laying so have donated a frame of eggs to focus thier minds.

The other two hives have needed bigger brood spaces; one we have been culling for the eggs in queenless hives and giving them back sheets of foundation to draw up; the other we have raised the queen excluder above the first super and have sacrificed some space was half full of their winter honey stores.

Checking two brood boxes is tedious so I think we will invest in the bigger size national brood boxes for next season.

We have also been feeding some limited amounts of sugar syrup to whatever hives needed to draw up new wax quickly (limited to when I remember to get out there).

As July draws to a close we dont seem to have very much honey laid down and the amount of flower available is rapidly beginning to look autumnal.  The season has been very disrupted by two rounds of swarming after the initial spring honey flow and now I think the priority is ensuring that we have robust colonies to prepare for winter.

If the queenless hives dont recover and have laying queens within the next week I think we will need to recombine. However, the other two hives are currently very full so i am really not sure.

This is only our second season as beekeepers but I suspect these dilemmas are standard part of the job; all advise welcome

 

 

107 queen cells in one hive!

Last week I wrote my June hive update stating that all was now calm following the swarming madness of April.  Well, that was clearly tempting fate and only a week later it has all changed again. The good news is that all three of our hives are now laying down honey again.

The bad news is that in one hive, where last week we squashed a few queen cells, this week we found one capped on (we must have missed one) and 107 new queen cells.  Most were just empty cups but quite a few had larvae in.

More worryingly, we couldn't find any eggs - but we did see some very small, 3-day larvae so we are just hoping the queen hasn't vamoosed.

Anyway, even though its now July, we decided to split the hive and force an artificial swarm. There were so many bees that we think the colony can stand it and still settle before winter.

We have both parts of the split colony sugar syrup to help them draw up more wax we will check them again at the weekend so we can see if we have one, two or any queens.

 

The hives have re-queened (at last)

We have had a traumatic 5 weeks ever since our hives started to produce masses of queen cells in mid April.   We tried to do artificial swarms but got the timings wrong resulting in multiple hive swarming and getting lost.  Then we waited for the new queen cells to hatch. They did but no sign of queens or laying so we waited.....and waited.... Eventually one hive was found with a laying queen and we were able to take eggs and put them into the other two remaining hives to encourage emergency queens. Last week when we checked, they were raising emergency queens nicely.  But yesterday, to my great surprise, we found that those emergency queen cells were still only at 'cup' stage........but the hives had newly laid eggs.  So the queens must have been there after all but took a very long time - 4 weeks - to start laying.

So, finally each of our hives has an active queen and hopefully they can begin to recover their numbers and get back to full health.  I cannot tell you what a relief this is.

We took honey off them last weekend and have given them back the empty messy frames.  I hope this gives them a nice honey boost as the clean them up.

May - update from the hives

Its been a really eventful month in which the highlights have been

  • production of many queen cells
  • attempting to artificial swarm but messing up the timings
  • swarming and loss of both original queens
  • painful waiting for the hives to hatch queen cells and requeen
  • queen cells hatching but after two weeks still no signs of laying in 3 out of four hives.

So, a month on from the first sight of queen cells, we finally have one new and very productive queen. On the other hives it looks fairly desperate;  all the brood has hatched, the bee numbers  are beginning to drop and the drones are pillaging the honey stores.

In an attempt to salvage something we have merged two of  the others back together and added a frame of eggs to see if there is a maiden queen or if they start to develop queen cells.  I am not sure they have time to grow a new queen from scratch we so we will also consider buying one once we see what they do.

This is definitely not as easy as it sounds in the books!

April - update from the bee hives

A week ago (first week in April) we did a full check through the hives.  It had been three weeks since our previous check and the change was dramatic.  Previously they had been active and healthy, bringing in lots of pollen, beginning to lay in multiple frames but still had some winter stores left in their one super.  We had added an extra super just in case. By last week the 2nd supers of both hives had drawn up comb and about half full of honey.  Not bad in 3 weeks!  But also both hives had several queen cells which which we thing are due running out of space in the brood box and thinking of swarming; the brood boxes (standard National) are well over half full of brood in various stages.  The queen cells were still uncapped but we could see larva in some.

One other point of interest is that we had followed the FERA advice for varroa control and added a super frame into each brood box to encourage them to make free-comb for drone brood.  To our surprise this worked perfectly in both hives although one had capped drone brood and the in the other some of the cells were already vacated.  The plan with this system is that you cut off and discard the drone brood and with it a disproportionate share of the varroa brood.  We did as instructed but found the drone brood to be entirely free of varroa. This seems a bit wasteful of the bees energy but they dont need that many drones anyway and it is quite an easy system so we shall continue.

As this is only our second year as beekeepers we needed to ponder on what to do with the queen cells. During the week we took advise on how to increase your colonies without needing to find the queen and managed to work out a plan.  Yesterday we went back into the first hive and, as you might expect, most of the queen cells were now capped. We selected a nice looking 'dimpled' one, brushed all the bees off (see top pic) and transferred that and a couple more frames into a new brood box.  We then squished all the other queen cells left in the old brood box.

The new brood box then went back on the same hive stack above an additional queen excluder to allow the bees to sort themselves out inside and some nursery bees to rise up the stack to tend the transferred brood.

Well it work fine with the exception of one unforeseen incident; our queen cell was at the base of the frame so we had not realised that when we placed the new brood box on top of the stack that cell was sticking out of the bottom fo the box with nowhere to go. We noticed immediately as the frame rose up at the top. The result was a slightly flattened tip to our queen cell and we have no way of knowing yet if that will prove fatal.  We resolved this issue by adding in an eke to provide the vital extra space. The stacked looked massive when we had finished. (see pic)

Today we had a brood box of bees which we moved to its new site.  Fingers crossed we didnt do damage and that by next week we will have a new colony.