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

The dreaded varroa mite

gruesome close up of varroa on the trap

gruesome close up of varroa on the trap

At rosybee we have never really had a big problem with varroa but we still diligently do a couple of treatments each year just to ensure they keep at a tolerable level, However, towards the end of last season I noticed that a couple of the hives had a large pile of dead bees outside the door which is often a sign of deformed wing virus.  We did an autumn treatment with apivar but didn't failed to put the sheets under the open mesh floor so that we could note how many mites dropped.

Then this week we did a oxalic acid treatment and, because its still cold, the floors were in place so we could see the drop. Oh my!!  After two days I estimate we had about 500 on each floor which is way above any safe limit so I am really glad we took action.  I am now wondering if the apivar treatment didn't fully work for some reason as this is such a high number for this time of year.

The picture shows the volume we found and the mites in all their disgusting glory. I noticed there were a few baby mites in the mix which you normally would not see because they would be tucked up with the bee larvae but in winter they have to make do with adult bee carriers and so are equally impacted by the treatment.

the scale of the problem

the scale of the problem

Hopefully this has got a lot of them but we will have to keep an eye on the numbers and use further treatments if necessary. It just shows you have to be really vigilant.

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.




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.