What’s eating my bees

Apparently 3 hornets

Hornet on side of the hive

and several hundred varroa mites


Yesterday I went to top up the feed on my bees, after a week of varroa treatment. I took out the board and saw hundreds of varroa, above is a close up so you can see the details.

Today, I went back to drop off more syrup to the site and in the rain found three huge hornets. I photo’d them to check they were not the Asian hornets we are told to be on our guard for and because I don’t think I have seen any before; they were huge. Knowing that their diet would consist of my bees, I then dispatched them; with surprising difficulty, they are quite hard to squish as it turns out.

Missing, Presumed dead

So I went to visit one of my apiaries today and noticed one of the hives with no activity at the entrance. On opening her up there was nothing inside; no brood, stored pollen or honey. All that was left was half a handful of dead bees in the bottom and a whole lot of powered cappings on the floor. Now there were a lot of wasps around, but this hive had had the smallest of the three entrances of the hives there and the one with the front door wide open was thriving in spite of the wasps.

So what had happened? Robbed and killed off by wasps? Marie celeste style absconding? Colony collapse disorder? Mass pesticide-induced bee loss by losing their way while out foraging?

I guess I will never know; but I will surely freeze the frames before using them again incase it was disease related. As there were next to no bodies I doubt it…

Get her Girls

I was inspecting my bees on Thursday evening and removed the supers to see this sight.

 Bees attacking wasp

Obviously, this unwelcome visitor had got as far as the queen excluder before being spotted, which is a bit worrying she’d made it so deep inside the hive. My girls were not about to let her go once they found her though, tumbling over and over, biting and I am guessing trying to ball her to overheat and kill her. I guess failing that they could have gone for the kamikaze route and stung her in the musketeer fashion.

Find the queen

So today I needed to requeen a hive. I had put a test frame in on last Saturday and it now had what looked like sealed emergency queen cells… shrug, after 6 days?
Anyway, I decided to look in on my lovely new queen in my nuc that we introduced as a queen cell at Stock on the last day of my queen rearing course 8 days ago
So, I found eggs, but could I find the queen… I looked high and low, one side and the other, back and forth. You would not think it was only on 3 frames!!
I looked, and I looked, expecting to see a yellow queen with a black tail, or at least one that was a bit different to the other bees, longer. Nope, lots of the bees were long compared to others.
So I started to think what else can I look for. Height… she would be taller than the rest, well with uneven comb and bees climbing over each other, that quickly failed.
Leg colour, I had previously noted queens with orangey legs compared to the black legs of workers. I came up trumps! The queen at last! Stripped like the rest, very slightly longer than many of the others, moving quickly through and ignoring the others. Clearly orange slightly more substantial looking legs, especially the hind ones. A quick comparison to the others said that she was alone in these features.

I got hold of her marked her red, clipped one wing (after a lot of running around, I am not good at handling I am afraid) and put her in a cage blanked with a bit of fondant with a tiny hole in. I popped her in her new home and let them get on with it.

Lessons –
– she’s not always going to look that different
– don’t give up
– use other characteristics to look for her than shape / colour
– after keeping a nuc open for a while they will start to forget about the smoking your gave them, and a top up doesn’t always work.

Busy, busy. Queens, Swarms, new apiary

Couple of weeks since the last update and I have been very bee busy.

Lets see, not in order:

– Started on a queen rearing course – homework was making queen cups, that was fun.
– Killed a queen, not all my fault, she was squashed in a plunger during a mêlée as her hive attacked me.
– Requeened, maybe not successfully, can’t find the queen but saw about 5 eggs after 3 days
– Melted a mating nuc plastic parts while steam cleaning it. Apidea hive parts curl up as they cool, be warned.
– Got a new apiary on fields of borage; with a chap from our group we were hacking down brambles the other night.
– comb changed another hive, same issue of the bees ignoring her in the empty box like last time.
– set up a double mating nuc with bees and queen cells, although they may be a swarmy strain I don’t have much choice.
– picked up a swarm, hived it, and here is the video after I put her in the hive

– seen so many queen cells its unreal. I thought it was enough when I had 15 in a hive. Last night I found 10 on the bottom edge of one frame! Then about 7 on each side of a frame in the same hive.

She’s Doing it

Quick note – Good news from the hive. That hive where I was doing a frame change, and she wasn’t laying. Well after I changed the order so the new box was on top, they started building comb for her and she started laying when I checked last saturday.

Phew. Well now I can get on with doing it to two other hives.

In other news,

that queen seems to have lost a middle leg…
the WBC in matching green had more queen cells, and I plan to bailey comb change to artificial swarm this weekend.
I finally got some more frames so I can start patching the gaps I had, and swapping out broken / hole-y comb
the two other hives at matching are still not building up. I am thinking of using the below recipe to see if that improves matters.
1 x Tsp Tea tree oil
1 x Tsp Wintergreen oil
1 x Tsp of Spearmint Oil
10 drops lemongrass

Put a cup of water in a blender and then the oils. Blend to emulsify the oils
make up to 1.8ltr with water.
Pour 40 ml of this into 1.5 ltrs of 1:1 syrup shake up well.
I’ll see if that improves anything

Watch out ! They’re ready to swarm

I checked my 14×12 WBC the other day, and its packed to the rafters with brood. They were so packed in that they were making comb on the bottom bars and the queen was putting eggs in. They also had 5 queen cells on them. I didn’t see the queen, but I saw loads of fresh eggs (standing on end in the cells), so I was fairly sure she was present before knocking down all the queen cells. They had a super on but had just not touched it at all, so I took off the excluder to see if that would encourage them up there.

It does pose a quandary though, unless you have two WBC hives, how do you do an artificial swarm?

Well I’m going to try a bailey comb change / demaree swarm control. Basically putting the current colony above a box of new frames, with the queen in the lower box separated by a queen excluder, then once she start laying swapping the ‘clean’ box to the top. This will supposedly reduce the swarming intent and also reduce the varroa count significantly as the old lower box is left.

On the down side it will require a good number of lifts, so its lucky I have a couple of spare ones, not entirely sure they will fit, but we shall see.

In other news, I have 1 national that I just made brood and a half, another that I tried to comb change onto commercial frames where the queen is refusing to lay in the new area. I have two hives where things are just not building up quickly, and two that are running low on space that I just put supers on. So in short, nothing that is going really well while not causing issues.

Bee rescue

So last week (Thursday 9th) moved to rescue my Buckfast queen “Danish Lady”. The colony was just not building up right in the previous inspections; in the last I could see no sealed brood, few bees and no sign of her. I thought the treatment with varroa guard had done for her.

So, I planned to have a shook swarm into a nuc. I prepared ahead of time, nuc, sheet, frozen comb, some stores and foundation. I put a super on the floor, put a mesh floor slide board up to it to make a ramp. Putting a sheet over both, I put the nuc on top, took the lid off to allow insertion of the queen to the hive; so her scent would draw the others in.

I went to the troubled hive and started taking frames out, starting with ones with no bees. Where I found bees I shook them onto the sheet in front of the hive after looking for the marked queen, all going to plan.

Then I found a patch of sealed brood. Ahh, the queen was doing slightly better than last week and is still here somewhere. So, plan B, not all new frames, I wasn’t going to throw this lot away. So I continued to shake off bees and pulling out frames; no more brood, just the one precious patch.

I checked the bees on the sheet and there she was, with a bright green mark; don’t know how I ever miss her, but there you go. I picked her up on the edge of a hive tool and popped hee in the top of the box along with her brood. Great! Brood in, queen in; the bees should smell them and follow along now… well come on then, in you go, I don’t have all day.

Oh, did I forget to mention it was windy; windy enough to probably blow away any attractive scent … oops.

Well, time to get the bees moving in, maybe if they see their sisters going in they will get the idea. Smoke them up into the nuc, shake the sheet towards the nuc, shout “come on, she’s in there!”; all tried with small levels of success. Then the smoker ran out of fuel. After a top up of slightly damp grass I got some nice yellowish smoke; oh yeah raining a bit too, not ideal conditions.

Anyway cutting a long story short, I got most in and the others can take their chances with one of the other hives there. I took the nuc away and drove home slowly due to forgotten hive straps.

The bees seem to be getting along ok in my garden for now, so I will cross fingers for a good build up.

Lessons to learn

  • Hive straps
  • Have multiple plans
  • Weather is a pain
  • Pheromone smell travel best without wind
  • Steeper angle on a ramp will allow you to smoke bees ‘up’. Smoking sideways tends to scatter them.
  • If you are in a rush, the bees won’t be.

Highs and lows

Well its been a mixed inspection this time round. Two WBC’s coming along nicely at Hastingwood but in need of some replacement frames. The Queens seem happy enough but the new one needs marking and clipping. On that note I just picked up some little snippers called “deadheads” the other day at Wilkinson’s that will be perfect for the job.
Anyway, the next few hives at matching tye were struggling a bit. One had very few bees and a queen, the other had 4 frames of bees but then emergency queen cells and no eggs. So now I have one fewer colony after a newspaper method merge. Well one was struggling and would have not built up quickly enough to catch the rape crop; and the other would have ended up with a virgin queen with no drones about to mate with.

The last hive on site held a surprise or two though. Apart from being the only hive that seems to be touching the pollen patties, it is also building up wonderfully. Four 14×12 frames of brood, right across the frames; the hive full of bees (and at lunchtime too, so the foragers would have been out) and lovely fresh honey coming in. Won’t be long til they will be needing a super. One little sting to the wrist, but with a result like that who could hold it against them.

On to the last site and, if you can believe it, better news. Seven frames of brood! So, you know what seven is the magic number for, yup, time for the first super of the year, Hooray! One sting from this hive, but what is that amoung such good news.

This year I have some supers that have drawn comb and some with just foundation. I am told that alternating comb-foundation-comb will improve the rate that the foundation is pulled out and so that is what I have done.

The other hive on site was doing well, up to 4 frames, but not quite ready for a super yet.

Both those hives are on standard national frames and I plan to comb change them on to commercial frames. More so that the colonies have made a mess of the combs and the woodwork is old. I may go back to having a couple of standard nationals there another year with some new/repaired woodwork.