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

Have our queens swarmed?

Its a difficult business being a new beekeeper.  We probably should have spent more time getting trained but learning from books seemed to be going quite well till recently. A week ago we had lots of queen cell activity and were working on how to manage an artificial swarm.  However another week on and we find that neither of our original hives seem to have any new eggs or larvae which strongly suggests that our queens have swarmed.   So our current status is:

  • one original colony has two capped queen cells and only capped brood - assume old queen swarmed a week ago just after our last check. There are slightly fewer bees but still a viable quantity. Luckily we missed squashing a couple of cells so hopefully one of them will hatch and carry on the colony.
  • the other original colony has loads of queen cells, some capped, and some small larvae but no eggs and no sign of the queen who was marked.  Looks like the old queen swarmed a few days ago so we should have taken action on this hive last week to avoid this.  The good news is that there are still a lot of bees.
  • new artificial swarm colony - the queen cell has not hatched after 8+ days so is probably not viable and they have started to create an emergency queen cell.  About a third of the larvae appear to have died but some are fine; we probably didnt have enough nursery bees to look after them properly.  Not great but we have decided to just wait and see what happens to this colony.

Having done our research after yesterdays inspection we have decided to get home from work early this evening so we can go back into the 2nd hive to deal with the surplus of queen cells; we need at least one to replace the old queen but multiple queens risk a further swarm.

But where do the swarms go? We have had no complaints from neighbours and our lure hive is untouched.  Do they just disappear?


Bees collecting pollen to feed the brood

We haven't dared open the hive up to check them, but judging by the amount of pollen they are collecting, this lot must be building up a lot of brood. Today we observed 3 slightly different shades of yellow pollen and one very pale buff/cream. The main quantity is a day-glow bright yellow which I think must be from willow cat-kins where we have heard them buzzing.

Anyway - check out the video and seen them whizzing in and out of the hive.

Getting the bees ready for the new season

Today was glorious; it started out at -3 degrees but by mid-afternoon the hives were basking in the low sun and the bees were all out having a party. We have been getting our equipment ready and this seemed like the perfect conditions to open up the hives for some late winter treatement.

This is first time we have opened the hives since a mild period in early December. At that time we were concerned that one of the colonies had no external signs of life but, thankfully, we found it was just ticking over.

We were very relieved, today,  to find the brood boxes quite full of life but it wasnt warm enough to lift out the frames and check for signs of new lava. Both hives had a surprising amount of food; honey and fondant. We must have been overly generous.

The frames of honey have set hard so if the bees dont eat it we will have to work out what to do with it. Maybe we will retrieve the fondant to encourage them to eat the honey and empty out these frames ready for re-use later.

We also treated them for varroa mites using oxalic acid. This has to be done before they start to expand the brood. A warning to anyone who hasn't done this procedure with a syringe before; you can't fill the syringe direct from the bottle as the nozzle is too short and you cant pour the liquid into it either as it comes out the bottom. It would appear that you need to pour it into a bowl first but the instructions dont tell you this. I hadnt worked this out in advance, so there I was, standing in the field needing 3 hands and trying not to get chemicals all over me and my friend Amanda.  Very tricky.

We are aiming to try and increase our hives from 2 to 4 this year by dividing the brood and using a technique called 'artificial swarming' (I am sure there will be blogs to come on this).  Therefore we want to get them off to the very best start to swell in numbers to a size that will divide giving two viable colonies.  So far, its looking good.