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.


Preparing and cleaning mini-nucs

A couple of years ago I bought some polystyrene mini nucs. Over the last couple of years they have seen some good use; raising a good number of queens, for loss replacement, expansion and swapping mean queens out to improve colonies (and reduce stings).

2014-05-05 17.55.25Anyway with a couple of years of use it was time to give them a proper clean and spruce up; I’d had some that had been plagued by wax moth to the point where they leaked syrup when I fed them. Wax moth, while mating a mess digging holes though wax and leaving something that looks like spider web everywhere, dig into hives when they want to pupate; in polystyrene they dig right into the hives and sometimes through. Leaking syrup, besides being annoying, messy and a waste, it attracts wasps in – which to a small hive, with few bees to defend, it is almost certain death.

The first steps I took was to take out the top bars and see what was worth keeping. Each box needs at least a comb and a half to start with, for holding the queen cell and for stores, in this 4 bar hive the other 2 can be broken stubs of comb or foundation to be built up. Better prepared beekeepers will store theirs in sealed boxes with acetic acid, to kill the wax moth, and anything else about. Acetic acid is vinegar, but where normal strength on the table is about 6%, this is 90% plus; not something to mess about with, oh and it eats metal.

The  next step was cleaning the boxes themselves. Clearly the usual option for sterilising20160131_175032 a hive, blow torching, wasn’t an option. Starting with scraping off propolis and wax – this can be surprisingly difficult to get right, and I found the best tool was a blunt small wood chisel. After this soap and a scrubbing brush – but scrubbing a bit hard can end up damaging the box. Using a old toothbrush for the nooks and crannies seemed like a good idea but was often not up to the challenge. Moving from washing up liquid to kitchen cleaners didn’t really make an improvement. For getting rid of propolis this stuff can’t be beat, but its quite caustic so beware, and with this then the toothbrush does start to come in very handy for small areas as the propolis is ‘melted’ by the spray.

20160131_220439The recommended solution to cleaning poly hives is a bleach solution (warning handling bleach can be a danger to health if handled incorrectly – watch out for fumes and wear gloves). After my attempts at cleaning there was still ground in muck and so bleach it had to be. It did shift a lot with brushing, but a better solution was to soak. Of course soaking polystyrene has its own challenges – it floats, even more than wooden  frames. The solution? Well there are a few options, I used wedging something on top between that an a cupboard above, putting heavy things on top, and finally tying it down with string. Having 10 boxes to do and different sized containers to soak them in having a few techniques helps. As the containers were classically washing up bowls they also were not deep enough for complete submersion, so 1 week soaking on one side and 1 week turned over was the solution there – not forgetting to soak the internal cover, floor slider and the front entrance disk.

After a couple of weeks the hives were all but clean, rinsing well to get rid of the bleach, short of a scrape of wax here and there. Time to resolve a couple more issues – from the first picture some of you may have spotted an issue – drifting. The bees tended to gravitate toward the box on the right as they returned and didn’t know which box was which, not being able to read the numbers (tsk).  Now bees see colour very well (apart from red) so it is said that having hives different colours can help prevent drifting, also having poly hives painted (on the outside only of course) makes them last longer and easier to clean.

20160312_124845Painting poly hives is not difficult, fence / shed paint is inexpensive, comes in lots of different colours and as long as you cleaned all the wax off the paint goes on well, a couple of coats does the job nicely. So easy that in this case I actually employed bit of 10 and 12 year old help. Be warned spilt paint does not go well with carpets and so split open bin bags covered in newspaper is a good solution (mostly). The only down side here is running paint from little people heavy handed with the paint can end up with the hives stuck to the paper – another scraping job for the blunt wood chisel.

20160319_175636The last job was re-assembly, another thing that had caused me issue was the entrance disks, held in by a screw, but not held in very well – the thread chewed the polystyrene and just came loose. On re-build I chose to fix this issue, drilling right through and fixing with a nut and bolt, with washers to make sure it didn’t just pull straight through. Finally I mixed and matched the roofs for the most discernible different and variety for the bees.

I still need to paint on numbers – for record writing purposes in queen rearing.

Lonely queen

I tried to overwinter a mating nuc this year for the first time. I put it inside a full size hive and padded with hessian sacking. But then the winter was too warm and they starved – too much flying, too little forage. They had filled the feed section with brace comb in autumn so it looked like they had plenty and I could not put more in for fear of drowning / burying bees on that comb.

Anyway, at the weekend I started the cleaning up task, and was quite sad to find the queen sat almost completely alone on a mini frame 🙁

Supercedure and too many supers

For the first time I have 2 queens running side by side in one of my hives. I was looking through my hive the other day and saw the queen and was quite happy that she was doing well, this year’s blue queen, born about the end of May. Then I turned over the frame and randomly spotted another queen, in lay, by the size of her, and unmarked. Now I have enough fun finding queens at the best of times, so I have no idea how I spotted her and I don’t know what they are playing at superseding so soon, especially as the first is laying quite nicely. Well I am sure they know what they are about…

In other news, I have found k-wing in 2 hives and as such have started treating for varroa, as it happens I also found a bit of deformed wing on the other 2 hives on that site. I have swapped to apiguard this year from my usual api life var, just cos I had it to be honest. A few weeks ago I went round and cleared off what I had assumed would be the last of this year’s honey; the borage was cut and everything was slowing. Or so I thought. I went round and took off another 4 supers in total. Due to a backlog I now have 17 waiting for me to extract – I had to climb a step ladder to get the top ones on the stack – sigh… I appreciate for many this may be a welcome problem, too much honey, but it takes a long time to decapitate (sic) & spin. And its a sticky job. And then you have to put the supers on a hive to pull the remains of the honey out (As such I have left a couple of hives without treatment for now). And filter the honey into buckets. And this is all before jarring, labeling, selling, etc.

Oh and for those who think “oh that’s a good amount of honey”, it all comes at a price. I’m looking down a £350 sales shopping list at Thorne’s sale this weekend and at some point I want to get a motor on this extractor so another £350. And earlier in the year I paid about £300 for jars, and £70+ for turpentine and linseed oil – it never stops just keeps going around… Vicky ( the other half) is going to start a spreadsheet, as I think I spend more than I get back. Still its a hobby and my other hobbies I have would cost far more if I was doing them instead (yacht sailing is very far from inexpensive and the bees have kept me off that for 2-3 years now).