Cold hives, hot swaps, swarm !

It was May 1st; I never seem to get round to writing these things up when they happen. The weather had been very unusual, we’d  had a warm winter, right through to early Feb and then cold and miserable right through to mid-April. As a consequence the bees had not balled over winter and I’d left feed on. I’d sublimated oxalic to deal with varroa, but due to the warm weather I would not expect them to be broodless which is required for that to work optimally. A week or so before I’d been and looked through the bees, done some of a spring clean,  but the weather didn’t hold for a full job.

The first hive I went into, I found the queen right away, she was walking around on top of the frames as I lifted the crown board; and she was alone. This had been a good hive last year and had gone into winter full of stores and as I said still had feed on top. Further to this I’d  also put on a pollen patty a few weeks back and when I did the ‘spring clean’ I’d noted they only had a couple of frames of brood so I had topped in up from a neighbour with an extra frame of  capped brood to boost the numbers into spring. On further inspection, they had basically ignored the doughnut feeder full of syrup, they had gone through much of the pollen patty and then starved due to hard stores of ivy honey. This had happened last year; with a mild winter they had eaten all the syrup given to get them through the winter and replaced it with  ivy honey. The plan was to leave syrup on top so they could use that. Unfortunately it seemed they did not get the memo. In short the hive was beyond rescue, even though the queen was still alive.

The second hive was a bit short of frames of brood for the time of year, but then most were, and this one had supported hive one earlier, so 4 frames of brood was as expected.

The third hive had been  my favourite hive, productive, very calm and not swarmy. Unfortunately the wasps had robbed it to death late in the season and it has stood empty since, stone on top signifying it was empty.

Forth hive, basically had lost its queen, when I looked in before there was a sealed queen cell, but this time no sign of it and only drones being laid.

Fifth hive – packed !! The few weeks previous I had noted they were on 7 frames and so I’d put a super on. They had since put a bit of honey in the super, but  it was by no means full. The brood was almost wall to wall though in the brood box, 10 frames. Looking through they had made a load of swarm cells – and I mean a LOAD, going through the hive about 16. Time to do something about it first job “Find the queen. All the way through, more swarm cells, no queen. Through again, no queen, cut down on queen cells, but not all of them. No queen in sight I thought I would follow a couple of manipulations. First frame with eggs and early larvae to hive four as a test frame, three more frames complete with a nice queen cell to the empty hive three to split, to reduce the colony pressure on five nd have a new hive three, feeder on top to support that. I then went back through, but still no queen to be seen. Another super on top then time to go.

Just as I was leaving, stepping through the gap in the hedge I noted a nice swarm about a foot off the floor – so  that is where the queen went !. Well I didnt have my swarm catching box or anything, so, solution, back to hive one, knock any remaining bees out, carry hive to the swarm, place under the swarm, quick shake of the branch, flump, bees in the box; hive back to the stand, feeder on, roof on, job done !

All in all not a bad day, starting with 2 working hives, ending up with 4, maybe 5, if the test frame takes.


A beekeeper’s pockets

I washed my beekeeping jacket tonight and thought I would share what  keep my pockets to do the task at hand – From the top – lighters (have a spare), multi-tool (pliers, knife, screwdrivers), compass & thermometer, keys to the farmer’s borage field, queen marking cages, butler cage, 3 puzzle cages, queen markers (this year’s blue for new queens, last year’s green for re-marking), hive strap, sting relief and scraps of paper to start the smoker. In the middle is a thin piece of plastic I use to break brace comb in mating nucs between the comb and the hive wall.

A beekeeper's pockets

Good news, bad news

A hatch, a hatch !!

So the dark patch / hole between the two bees with their bums in the air is a hatch, where a queen has cut her way out and emerged from her cell. This means she is out and roaming the hive, still a virgin until she is mature enough to go on mating flights (about 4 days from hatch – Saturday), and we have the weather and the drones (cross fingers).

I wasn’t so lucky with the two mating hives, they both failed. On opening them the queens were not being cared for and only about 20% of the bees that I had put in were left in the hive. Lessons – follow instructions about stocking mini-nucs, or at least move them to another apiary so the flying bees don’t just go to the hive they started in. I also suspect that putting the queen cells in the metal cages might have dissuaded the bees from looking after them due to being cold metal – next time have comb to press the cell into.

Still, I have a hatch from my own first grafting, one way or the other its a win. Even if the queen does not make it to mated, I’ve kept the colony from turning to laying workers (or just being bored).

I’m going to leave them to a week on Saturday (12th April) so she has had time to become mature and hopefully had a weather window to get out and mated; maybe by then I will get to see eggs, fingers crossed.


Three, three, the rivals

So three cells have been made; three out of 30, but I only need one queen.

Well I say three, but two of them are heavily combed over, so maybe that means they are dead in the cells.

As I only need one I am going to leave them in the queenless hive and if they are all viable then they can fight it out to see who is going to rule the roost.

Today’s the day

I did my queen rearing today.

As the donor hive only had 4 frames of brood I didn’t want to leave them short at this time of build up.

I grafted tiny larvae from cells using a paint brush. I found that trying to see tiny larvae in a cell with a veil on and have fine hand eye coordination nearly impossible so I had to remove it. Fortunately the bees were smoked and calm so didn’t bother me.

I put the larvae in some plastic cell cups on a bar and put the bar in a frame. Then put the frame in the queenless hive.

I will now wait 9 days.

A little mistake

I, err, cough, chopped some queen cells down before finding the queen. Then I looked back and could not find eggs. OK you caught me doing something stupid and now I think it is queenless.
BUT, I have a plan. I have a much nicer queen that I am going to graft eggs from onto a cell raising bar and do a bit of ‘very early’ queen raising. The drones in cells just now should be up and mature by the time she is ready to need them.
In May I am doing a talk on Queen rearing and by then I hopefully will have something to show for this.
Although I hadn’t planned to start myself until about then, conditions are such that I should in this case and we seem also to be having a very early spring in terms of other colonies building up.
Why didn’t I just put a frame of brood from an adjacent hive in? Well we have three reasons there :
  1. On that site the queenless colony is the only live commercial hive I have on that site, the others are 14×12 national hives. Yes keeping bees on different sized frames is not a good idea, but I have my reasons.
  2. At this time in spring the other colonies only have a few frames of brood so removing a frame will severely set them back.
  3. If it all goes pear shaped I can do something else, but in the mean time – Plan B is to move the hive to another site where I can swap frames.


Seven is the magic number

On Sunday I opened a hive and found 7 frames with brood on. Not just national frames, 14×12 national frames, the ones with more cells per frame than a commercial !

7 is the magic number, it translates as time to put a super on.

Hooray, honey time !

In not so good news, I have lost a queen, my favourite one. Her colony was trapped in because the mouse guard got blocked with dead bees. I merged her colony with a neighbouring one because it was too small to requeen.

Oh and on one hive on Saturday I had 9 queen cells, half way to being capped complete with growing larvae inside. They are making an early start of that then… it may involve a lost queen though so…

…and how are your bees?

Spring prep.

Whether you are new to beekeeping or an old hand there is always lots to do in preparation for spring which is not a long time away. 

With the bees coming out of winter with low numbers it is one of the key times of the year to get right or repent at your leisure.

So I thought I would start with a few key points.

1. Purchase your equipment in advance. If you wait til you need it by the time you order, wait for the post then assemble it, it will likely be too late.

2. Increase your knowledge of beekeeping. Now is the time to take a beekeeping class. A thorough beekeeping class can make all the difference on how you can keep varroa mites under control, install a package, harvest honey,  trap small hive beetle and much more. It’s a different beekeeping world now. So much has changed so keep up with it all by taking a class.

3. Be prepared to know when to add hive bodies and supers to your expanding colony. I have a complete article and video for you to study so you will not make rookie mistakes.

4. For new beginners, brush up on how to install a package of bees. It’s really enjoyable. But watch my video first so you do it right.

5. Even though spring is close, do not let your bees starve to death now. Remember, bees need food and most colonies starve in late winter and early spring just before flowers bloom. Be sure to put on one of our Winter-Bee-Kinds to help your bees get that added nutrition to hit spring running. Be sure to select either 8 frame or 10 frame when ordering.


For those of you who have hives enduring the winter you need to have a plan ready as soon as spring arrives. I have some suggestions on how you can prepare yourself and your hive for spring:

1. First, DO NOT pull out a frame unless the temperature is above 60 degrees (f). Otherwise the cold can damage the brood. Warmer is better, but you can do a quick inspection if it is 60 degrees (f).

2. Once you can perform your first inspection you need to look for the following:
     a. Brood in various stages such as eggs, larva and sealed brood.
     b. Identify the queen.
     c. Assess the amount of pollen/honey. Add pollen patties or our Winter-Bee-Kind if low on food.
     d. Clean debris from bottom board.
     e. Determine how well the hive came out of winter in population. Are they low in numbers of bees are very strong?

3. Once you have performed your first inspection in the spring you will need to plan what to do to help your hive grow well. Questions to ask are:

    a. Is the queen laying well or does she need replaced?
    b. Is the colony so strong in population that splitting the hive is necessary to prevent swarming?
    c. Do I have mites? Place green drone comb in each deep hive body to begin capturing varroa mites.
    d. Do I have small hive beetles? Insert small hive beetle traps, one in each deep between the frames.
    e. Determine if you need to place a honey super on for the spring flows.

These are important ideas and questions to encourage you to think now what you will do in the spring. For example, if you find your hive is very populated and you need to split the colony but you do not have another hive, then half of your colony may swarm. Be sure to have adequate beekeeping supplies before you desperately need them. Now is the time, while you are bored of winter, to prepare for spring.

Hive down… Hive down…

I visited my hives today and there as been a sad loss. One colony at Hastinwood apiary has perished from this world.

The outer insulated cover I made was blown off and was found 30 feet away. Meanwhile the hive was blown so it fell into the stand. At this point the lid came off, not sure how, more wind probably and the rain went in the hole in the crown board causing the bees to die from the damp I guess, or just leave. Still had food and fondant, what a shame :-(.

Of the other colonies, one I could not see bees in (but I didn’t go past the crown board), two have started feeding on the fondant the rest are still alive. So I have 8 colonies, unless that one where I could see no bees is gone too.

Sting time again

It’s that time of year again where I check on the bees and they get stroppy at me and the obvious result ensues.  I should learn to wear a veil, tsk tsk…

Anyway, I had a semi inspection at the weekend; I had looked in on Christmas eve after the storm blew through and there had been some disruption.  At the Hastingwood apiary the roof of a WBC had come off sometime during ‘the weather’ and was lying 10ft away upturned and full of rain water. Fortunately I had put hessian sack on top of the crown board over the hole, although it was soaked at least it mean it hadn’t been raining directly into the hive and onto the balled bees. Also the constructed insulated hive cover I had built had been battered by the wind and lost its lid.

Back to this weekend, I went and strapped up the hive covers with lots of duct tape. I also looked in on each hive and fed them fondant. Some of the bees were doing very well, some less well but fine colonies for saying it was the middle of winter.  The first hive was doing very well, I found this out party by accident. On lifting the roof it would seem the crown board was stuck to it; so I was left looking at bees covering about 7 frames, but me without a veil, and they were getting cold. On top of that the crown board was still stuck with bees attached to it.

After dealing with that one, the next had nearly as many bees all trying to come out the the crown board hole at once. The next was the one which had lost the roof a couple of weeks before. I was concerned because these bees are very productive and calm during handling. They were still in there and I am sure glad of some fondant.

I had a bit of trouble with the last hive. I had left the feeder on top because they had not touched the sugar syrup previously. I know I am not supposed to, but they had not taken any syrup down, like the others did. Also if you have ever dealt with a feeder full of syrup you will know what a treacherous beast they can be, waiting to spill all over your trousers at the slightest provocation. Either way it needed taking off, not helped by the fact it was glued down with propolis. I had resolved to kill two birds with one stone after loosening with the hive tool, remove the feeder by flipping it, emptying it onto the floor; the plan being to quickly put the crown board on in its place with minimal time for the bees to get upset / chilled. Fate had other plans.

Flipping the feeder off worked, however in  the process the hive was dislodged on its stand; one corner slipping into the middle of the stand the other corner going up in the air.  With me without a veil the outcome was inevitable. On trying to right the hive, it brought my face into range and one caught me on the left cheekbone.  Curses ! The problem with getting stung in the face is that you aren’t able to see the sting to scrape it out, unless you happen to have a mirror with you. I scraped where I thought the sting was with my hive tool, and things were starting to get ‘interesting’, me without a veil, smelling of alarm pheromone and one hive open and the others disturbed from their inspections and getting interested in the outside. I virtually threw the crown board on top, shoved the hive back into position, put the fondant on and packed up.

The next apiary was mixed in population, some burgeoning, some quieter, but still alive. Although I wore a veil for this one, it was the last hive that got me again.

At the last apiary the job could not have been quicker. Insulation cover off, lid off, inner insulation off, bees coming out the crown board hole – fondant on, inner insulation on, lid on insulation cover on and done. 40-50 seconds.

All told 9 hives, all alive, success so far. Hopefully I wont need to go back to them for at least a couple of weeks, depending on the weather, and even then only to check on the amount of fondant they have made it through.

End of the story, but I wont learn, at least not enough to not get stung.