Friday, 3 September 2010

Bottoms up

After some discussion with a few seasoned beekeepers I went ahead and extracted the last two supers of honey. The idea is to then feed the bees with their own honey. Some beekeepers suggest this is better then uncapping the frames and leave the bees to 'transfer' their honey to the brood frames. Everyone agrees that one cannot just leave the capped honey frames, in the super, as the bees may not climb up to the super when the weather turns cold, in which case they will go hungry, or even starve.

I took the opportunity to carry out the seasonal Varroa treatments with Apiguard. All in all I spent most of Thursday sorting all this out going to and fro from the hives. I extracted some 15 pounds of honey. This give me a grand total production of honey, for the year, between 70 to 80 pounds. The honey I extracted this time round is for the bees. I have a surplus of around 50 pounds for myself. This gives me an idea what I should be expecting for the next season. Without doubt better organisation, my my part, would give me a bigger yield.

When I placed the empty frames near the hives the bee and other insects just went completely crazy. They were all over the frames cleaning them of the residual honey. I looked this morning and saw (photo) bees feeding happily next to wasps; their heads deep in the honey cells and their bottoms pointing up in the air. It was a comical sight. The frames were cleaned of honey in no time at all.

I noticed that the mornings are turning cooler even though we are having our usual September sunny days. Horse chestnut trees near by are ripening with nuts. Autumn is not far behind.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The colour of summer

We are now heading towards the end of another beekeeping season. Summer is near its end and I have just harvested my second and last crop of honey for the year.

The photo shows the difference between the Spring (right) and the Summer honey. It is known that as seasons progress honey acquires a darker colour. We can certainly see this in the photo. In terms of taste my summer honey is a touch sweeter, but still taste as good as the Spring crop.

I inspected both hive this morning (got stung on my backside) and was surprise how many seal brood cells and grubs there are in HV1. I saw the queen(HV1) for the second time this season. She clearly has a busy years so far. HV2 is still small, but is looking healthy and good. Both hives are left with a super of honey: HV1 has about 6 full frames, and HV2 has about 4. I am starting to think about preparing for the winter, treating the hives for Varroa, and feeding the bees. Generally getting them ready for the winter.

I noticed that my sun flower has yet to open up and we are already at the end of August. This season has been a strange one with many keepers saying that honey flow came to a stop suddenly in July where as June is suppose the month when there is a gap in honey flow. I expect there will be a little bit of nectar around before the season comes to an end. Whatever the bees collect from now on will be theirs. For me they have produced a total of over 50 lb of honey, It's modest, but very welcome.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Well Beeing

As all beekeepers know during the summer months worker bees live a productive, but very short life. Estimates vary, but in general they live for about 6 weeks. Although worker bees hatched at the end of the season could live through the winter. The Queen can live for up to 4 years. One beekeeping writer had pointed out that queen bees, unlike many other living things, have it both way: a long life and sexual reproduction. For the poor old worker bees we can say that they literally work themselves to death in the summer, which is a condition many of us can identify with. Many of us know what happen to the even less fortunate male drone bees.

Throughout the season I have seen few bodies of bees laying in my garden. From time to time, I have seen a few clawing aimlessly on the grass seemingly unable to fly. It is a pitiful sight. Of course I am concern that this may be something other then the end of its natural life cycle. There is always the fear that they may be affected by some unknown illness. If any reader of this blog have any information concerning this I would be grateful if you could drop me a line. Knowing what goes into producing a jar of honey ( about 20,000 bee miles) only make me more appreciative of these insects.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The House that bees built

These honey combs are the ones that the bees built underneath the hive (see previous post 11th July). After I removed them from below the mesh floor I placed them on the crown board and just let the workers get on with the job of cleaning them of the honey store.

This method of cleaning is also used on frames after honey was extracted. Last weekend I placed the frames (from Hv1) in Hv2 after I extracted the honey and when I inspected the hive today I could see all the frames are clean and repaired, and one of them already has new honey deposits in some of the cells. If only bees did house cleaning.

Today's inspection is also to see how this hive is developing. The good news is that the colony has increased in number, there are newly laid eggs and sealed brood cells. Although I did not see the queen I know from the eggs that she is around.

I am hoping that this hive and Hv1 will make enough honey for me to get another crop. The finally count of honey from Hv1 is 26 lb. Therefore I estimate there are roughly another 30 to 40 lbs of honey in the two hives. Of course most of these will be for the bees. My guess is that Hv1 almost certainly will fill another super, I am not sure if Hv2 (being small) will manage. We shall see.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Taste of Honey

This last week has been so busy I hardly had time to post the good news. Yes, you are looking at my first crop of honey. I collected it just over a week ago. It really was an exciting experience. The extraction process was a lot lot easier and less messy then I expected. I was given many good tips by other beekeepers, the most useful one is to have plenty of old newspapers handy to cover my kitchen floor.

This is genuine urban London (E17 to be precise) honey, and it is delicious. I collected just over 20 lb so far. I can't report the exact amount because I don't have a scale big enough to weight it. For the last weeks I have had the first lot of 'Friends of Chi's bees' collecting their first jar of honey. These Friends are people who donated a small amount of cash towards my first hive and had been waiting patiently for their honey. A big thank you for each and every one of them. Don't worry if you are a 'Friend' and you have not had yours yet, I shall be in touch.

In addition to this good news, the colony I hived (see previous posting) at Hv2 is doing well. Very well. Once again my friend Christine came and helped me to inspect the hive. We saw the queen and she is laying nicely. In a week or so there will be a whole lot more bees coming out of that hive. At present I estimate there is about another 30 lb of honey in the two hives. Of course I shall not be taking all of it as I must leave some for the bees for winter. There are now 2 supers on each of the hives and both hives have a near full one and a fairly empty one. So I am expecting another crop for collection before the summer ends. I am looking to get another 2o lb at least for the season, which is modest but good.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Gypsy Queen

The exceptionally hot days are continuing in London. This morning as planned I went and checked Hv2 to see what is happening to the remaining queen cell I left behind just over weeks ago.

Much to my surprise I found a number of new queen cells on some of the frames. The queen cell found has hatched, but no sign of the new queen. The brood frames are full of honey - too much honey I thought. I had to work out what to do next.

I set about to get rid of the new queen cells and on doing so discovered that they are empty but with lot of what I assumed to be royal jelly! One cell was sealed so I decided to leave this one and prepare to wait another week to see what will happen.

On closing the hive I happened to look down and saw what you can see in this photo: A massive cluster of bees hanging below the mesh floor! It was obvious to me a queen is there. The weight of the bees, pulling on the mesh floor, was leaving a gap from which they can enter and leave the brood chamber. This, I think, explains why there is so much honey in the brood frame. I believe that they were treating the brood box as a Super box. I think this may be the swarm that I thought I lost a few weeks ago. I shall know where to check in the future. Just to think of all places, this queen decided to camp outside the hive. It must be the Gypsy in her.

After a few phone calls, Olivia, a member from my local association came round with a mesh floor. With her help we hived the Gypsy queen colony back into HV2. They had built quite a few combs below the mash floor and were full of honey, but no eggs. While cutting these honey combs out I took time to look for the queen and found her trying to hid at one corner of mesh floor. She is a good looking queen. We shook her and the rest of the workers into the brood box. Having satisfied ourselves that we had her safely in the hive we closed up but before we did so I took out the sealed queen cell. It too was empty with just royal jelly.

One reader on this blog, from California, left a comment saying that the bees do keep me guessing. They certainly do my friend.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Golden Brown

This (f0r my bee friends) is the first sight of surplus honey in one of my hive: Hv1, the original hive that I started my colony with. After a whole season last year without making surplus honey it now has, at last, producing a fair amount.

What you are looking at is honey cells waiting to be capped by the bees. They will do this when the level of moisture in the honey is just right so that when capped the honey will not ferment. We human would need a special instrument to do this while the bees just do what comes naturally.

In the photo you can see a few capped honey cells on the top of the frame. When most of the cells are capped I shall collect the honey. Already I am thinking where I can borrow a honey extractor to do the job. Meanwhile back at the bottom of my garden I am waiting for the queen cell in Hv2 to hatched. Last week I had an urgent call from one of my neighbours who said that he saw a swarm in his garden. This was surprising news to me as I had clear all but one queen cell and after checking most carefully at the hive I decided there is definitely no queen in the hive. No queen, no swarm. So where did that swarm came from.

I decided that the swarm my neighbour saw could be the 'original' swarm that I failed to catch over two weeks ago, or else it's someone else swarm. In any case it is definitely gone by now, which is a shame as I would live to catch it. I am turning my mind to the third season next year and I am planing, over this winter, to learn more about swarm prevention, this is something I had not done too well this year. On the bright side for now I have the honey to look forward to. Yum, yum.

Friday, 25 June 2010

A Swarm in June

" A swarm in May, a load of hay. A swarm in June, a silver spoon." - old proverb

The new colony Hv2 swarmed today. It was quite unexpected. One minute I was busy baking some bread the next thing I know my garden was once again filled with that loud humming sound. I saw a large cluster hanging from my buddleia bush. By the time I called round at my bee friends, Mike and Jenny, and returned with the borrowed nuc box, the swarm had gone from my back garden. I am very cross with myself. I can only take comfort from the fact that there is a swarm of my bees in the wild - free. I hope it is not caught.

I did a quick check of Hv2 and confirmed that it is indeed the source of the swarm: no eggs, no grubs, plenty of honey and some sealed brood cells. The last swarm in May had taught me the signs to look for. I found a number of queen cells and removed all but one (photo). This will be the new queen for the colony. I took time to make sure there is indeed no queen in the hive, so I just have to wait once more for the arrival of a new queen. What puzzles me is that the hive is far from being crowded - there are at least 4 frames that were not fully drawn. I shall have to speak with someone about this.

The good news is that the long awaited surplus honey is happening. In both hives there are clear sign of combs full of honey in the super. This evening I am going to pick up two more new super boxes and frames. I think things may be alright after all.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


In the last few weeks I had been so busy that I hardly had time to update this blog even though I have been checking the hives to see how both are developing.

The good news is that I was wrong and HV1 has a queen after all. Last blog recorded that I put in a frame of eggs and brood from Hv2 into Hv1 hoping the workers will raise a queen bee, but this prove to unnecessary. When Christine and I checked HV1 just over two weeks ago much to our surprise we found another frame full with sealed brood cells. We quickly discount the possibility of laying worker as the sealed brood cells pattern was very evenly spread, which is very different to the pattern of the brood cells of laying worker bees. This meant we had in fact failed to spot any eggs when we checked the previous time and the queen is definitely was around.

Last Saturday we checked again and finally found the queen bee. We were delighted and agreed that she is very health and good looking. So at last I can relax. Had we not had a queen and the workers would not raise one I would have to consider either buying one in, or merge the two hive. So, all's well and ends well and the news of the the death of the queen in Hv1 was somewhat exaggerated.

Meanwhile I had a quick look at the super at Hv2 and found that the bees are busy drawing out the comb (photo) getting ready for storing honey - I hope. What happened to the the queen in HV1(when did it went out and mated?) and the old green queen is still a bit of a mystery, but this is half of the fun keeping bees I suppose. You keep them and keep you guessing.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Old Queen Bess

This is a rather interesting photo by Gina, which deserves a closer look with the larger version (by clicking on the photo).

In it we can see colourful pollen in the cells many of which has young grubs and some have eggs. This frame is from the new hive: Hv2. It is doing very well, the queen is laying well. The whole colony is busy and developing nicely.

The same cannot be said about Hv1 and its 'virgin' queen. I had given this queen a number of weeks to see if it will do its busy, but like old Queen Bess of ye old Tudor England she just won't reproduce. When I checked last time over a week ago she was seen wondering around rather aimlessly. I was advised to give it another week and see.

Yesterday I opened Hv1 and checked once more. I wasn't hopeful. My fellow beekeeper, Christine, was once again at hand to help. She observed that comparing with Hv2 the bees in Hv1 are too docile and seemingly without purpose, I agreed. The workers collective in Hv1 must have had enough of old Queen Bess for she is no where to be seen. We concluded that there had been a palace coup and the queen was got rid of. After a quick discussion we decided to try moving a frame with broods from the other hive and allow the workers to raise a queen. A quick phone call to my friends, Mike and Jenny, confirmed that it is something worth trying.

In the fading evening sunlight we spent sometime deciding which frame from Hv2 is best for the job. We have to use a frame that has young grubs as well as eggs. This will give the Hv1 a fighting chance. After much discussions we decided on a frame with eggs, young grubs and sealed brood cells. Christine reasoned that as the hive is already in decline due to the non-laying queen it would be good if we have some young bees from the sealed brood cells. In the event the workers failed to raise a new queen as least we shall have some new worker bees to keep the hive going. Of course in that scenario I shall have to unit Hv1 ans Hv2 in order to have one strong colony.

Now I just have to wait for things to happen, or not.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Helping hand

Last Sunday's newspaper (The Oberserver) reported that US government's Agricultural Research shows honey colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter. This is a huge number of bees.

Over here in the UK things are not much better. A study by Reading University suggested that bee population in England has halved over the last 20 years, and we have experienced a much faster decline then the rest of Europe.

While we are still waiting for a definitive answers, from experts, to why this is happening, concern for honey bee population and the possible effects on agriculture is real enough. Like so many environmental issues many of us are aware of what is happening, but we are not clear what can be done to cure the problem. More worrying is that many more people are unaware of the true impact if bee population is allowed to decline continuously without redress.

In the last two years I and others have tried to get permission for an apiary down in our local allotment, so far, we experienced strong opposition from people for whatever reason is against the idea. One would have though vegetable growers would welcome a few hives near by, but not so at this particular location. Strange but true. Talk about short sightedness.

My own solution is to keep bees in my garden. Any honey production, as far as I am concern, is a plus. The only person I needed to get permission from is my wife who following our first season is now warming to the little darlings. My neighbours all turn out to be very amenable even the one who told me, the other day, that she is highly allergic to bee stings. I advised her to carry an anti-allergy EpiPen.

Last year I looked into top bar beekeeping, which according to its supporters help the bees by reducing the amount of stress (on the bees) induce by traditional bee hive management. We all know how stress can damage human health. I am very sympathetic to the top bar method and aim to have a top bar hive in the future.

Meanwhile may be we need a more radical approach in order to help the bees. Perhaps a bit of guerrilla beekeeping is needed. I am thinking that as bee swarm naturally ( to increase numbers) so why not place a few hive of bees in the wild and allow it to develop with the minimum, or no, interference. Of course in guerrilla beekeeping we are not aiming get any honey in return, but like other conservation work the point is to give nature an helping hand.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Pretty in Pink

Last Saturday, overnight, we had over an inch of rain. Pink cherry blossom covers my street giving it the appearance of an impressionist painting. I love such moments in spring time.

Since the weekend the temperature has fallen a few degrees and we are back to central heating at night once more. From my dry kitchen I viewed my rain drenched garden with concern. I know that at a certain point I should inspect Hv2, and maybe take a look at Hv1 also, but the weather was against me.

Today the sky cleared at last and with the sun coming out soon the temperature rose to 16Âșc . As the rain was once again forecast for the next few days I thought that I must take advantage of the break in the weather and inspect the hives.

When I opened Hv1 I could see that the colony is getting on with things. After much searching I spotted the queen. Although there is plenty of stores I could see no sign of eggs, or grubs. Later on when I called on my bee friends, Jenny and Mike, they suggested that it's too early for this queen to start laying. They advised that I should leave this hive for 2 weeks as the queen may or may not have mated. It did look bigger than when I saw it over a week ago so it might have had its mating flight. Sex is such a complicated thing even for bees.

The new colony in Hv2 is more certain. I found the queen quickly and in the middle frames there are grubs waiting for their next stage of development. I removed the sugar feed and closed up feeling rather pleased even though I am still anxious about Hv1.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Workers' Collective

We had a thunder storm last night - it's the first bit of rain for over two weeks. The air was cool in the morning and even though the sun was out activity around the hive was very quiet. I spent the morning down at my allotment, digging and weeding, and by the time I returned home in the
early afternoon the temperature had risen so high that both colonies were buzzing.

My neighbour, big Jon, is now referring to both hives as Workers' Collectives and in a manner of speaking he is right. It's a shame that if I were to name them as such the hives would be WC1 and WC2. Think I'll stick to the Hv prefix instead.

I took a quick look at Hv2 first and things were normal. When I looked at Hv1 I was delighted to see one, then several bees bringing in pollen. This is great news! I am posting a photo and a short video in which you can see several bees retuning to Hv1 with pollen. Strangely, they all seem to have the pollen on their left hind legs. If so, I wonder how it would affect their flight.

If the weather is fine I planned to do a hive inspection, although now that I can see both hives are bringing in pollen I feel less anxious about checking. Anyway, it would depend on what the weather will do. We shall see.

How many bees are bringing pollen back to Hv1?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


General observations of the bees, the comings and goings, activities near the entrance of the hive can tell me a lot about what is going on with the colony.

In this photo you can clearly see a worker bee (centre of frame) bringing pollen back to the hive. I learned at the beginning of this season this is a very good sign. I had been looking out for this ever since I hived the prime swarm over 2 weeks ago. Even though I did not see the queen last Sunday in this hive the sign of pollen is a sure indication that there are young grubs in the hive, so the queen must be inside and she is laying eggs.

I spent a little time today observing both hives and it is clear that they are at very different stages of development. Hv2 reminds me very much of the beginning of last season when I brought the bees home. They were just busy settling down, building up the colony. Hv1, on the other hand, seem to be less settled and is finding its way. This is understandable given the amount of disturbance it has had over the last few days. My main attention will now be focused on Hv1 (the main hive). I shall be looking out for signs of bees bringing in pollen. The queen I saw in this hive must have been a virgin queen. This means that it will have to do its mating flight (if it has not already done so) and return safely. Let's hope 'all's well...'

Monday, 26 April 2010

The steep learning curve

You are looking at 5 queen cells (click on the photo for a bigger image). The elongated shapes near the top right hand corner of the frame are the queen cells. What does this means? Trouble, that is what.

When I checked the main hive (Hv1) after the prime swarm two Sundays ago I made the cardinal error of not checking the frames thoroughly for other queen cells; mistake, I'd like to think, I shall not repeat again.

After the excitement of the swarm I was advised to inspect Hv1 on Sunday to check that the one queen cell I found had hatched. I should have known that something was serious amiss when that caste of bees appeared a few days ago(see last posting). As I thought I only had one queen cell in Hv1 I didn't think to do a proper check again. Silly me. It's all down to experience I suppose.

On Saturday morning while I was busied working in the allotment I had a phone call from my neighbour, big John. He is interested in bees also and since my last swarm must have started to tune to any unusual activities with my hives. "You bees are swarming again!" I rushed home.

There it was clustering around the exact spot as the first (prime) swarm. I suited up and checked the nuc box and as expected the caste had gone. Meanwhile my friends Christine, a fellow beekeeper, and another neighbour arrived to help. While I set about to catch the swarm Christine was busy checking Hv1. By now we both suspected there were more queen cells. As I set the nuc box down to collect the swarm I spotted the queen! I brush her and some bees into the nuc and closed the box, soon the rest of the bees were heading into the nuc.

I then turned my attention to Hv1. Christine and I checked each frame twice. We found the new queen in this hive. The frames were full of bees and only after we gently blew most away from the frame we saw the queen cells. We counted 7 in total among all the frames plus 2 already hatched, which accounted of the the one we found in this hive and the one I saw and brushed into the nuc box. The text book will tell you that when a new queen hatched it will go and kill off the other queens in their cell. So what happened here? We proceeded to take out all the unhatched queen cells and once we are sure there is no more queen cell in Hv1 we closed up. Time for a cup of tea and some thinking.

Over a cup of tea we discussed what to do next. I spoke to my beekeepers friends, Jenny and Mike, who suggsted that we combine Hv1 and the nuc. This would involved getting rid of one queen. The reason for combining the two is because I do not want to weaken the main hive further. Otherwise this season's honey production will be affected. Christine and I agreed to do this the next day (Sunday). The next 24 hours were worrying time for me. Bees really can be worse then children.

At the appointed time on Sunday we met up in my garden. To merge two colonies we need to get rid of one queen, which involving finding it and remove it from that colony. This could be tricky. Then we have to placed a new brood box on top of the one already on the main hive (this will have a surviving queen in it). A sheet of newspaper is placed between the two brood boxes. Then we transferred the frames from the nuc to the top brood box and get all the bees from the nus into the box and closed the hive. The idea is that the bees on the top brood box will chew their through the paper and meet up with the colony below. This will give them time to get use to the scent of the remaining queen and the two colonies will merge as one. All these cannot be avoided if I had checked the main hive properly for extra queen cell. We are always wiser after the event.

In spite of my worry the whole process took much less time then I had feared, and we were lucky and found the queen in the nuc immediately. After removing that queen we got all the bees from the nuc into the top brood box. It's all done in 10 minutes.

I check this morning and can hear a constant humming from the top box. I am imagining they are chewing their way through the Guardian sports page. What happened to the other queen? It's very cold in my freezer.

Friday, 23 April 2010

A caste of bees

When is a swarm not a swarm? The answer is, as I discovered today, when it is a caste of bees.
With the new colony settling into its new hive I thought I could relax a bit. But late this morning I looked out to my garden and I saw what you can see on this short video. "They are swarming again!" was my first thought. I went out and saw a small cluster of bees hanging low down in my rosemary bush. I took a quick look at both hives. Hv2 (the new colony) is normal, but outside the main hive (Hv1) there was a massive amount of bees, all looking very agitated. I wasn't quite sure what was going on.

Once I suited up I took the empty nuc box (again) and placed it beneath the bush. I cut out the branch of rosemary and let it drop into the box. Once I closed the box I place it next to the Hv1, which is a few feet away. By now most of the bee at the entrance of the main hive appeared to be retuning back into the hive. So far so good. It was then I made a number of calls seeking advice.

After a long conversation with one particular experienced beekeeper who outlined some of the possible scenarios regarding the caste of bees. She suggested that I either have a queen returning from its mating flight (best case scenario), or last Sunday I somehow missed a queen cell and now I have two queens. In the latter case I shall have to check things out and take corrective action. The latter case will involve keeping one queen ( in the main hive), and knocking off the other queen bee. That done I shall combine bees from the main hive and the nuc in order to preserve the strength of this colony.

All said and done I have had quite enough excitement for one week, though I have learned a heck of a lot. Who said beekeeping is a gentle pastime?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hiving the swarm

This morning my friend Tom came and gave me a hand hiving the swarm transferring the new colony from the nuc to the new hive. He took the photo you see here.

The weather is simply lovely. Yesterday morning I took the time to monitor activities at both hives and checking it against the clock. It would seem that around 11 am is the best time to move the bees when things are just warming up but not so much so as to be troublesome.

Ideally I would like to take time to look for the queen in Hv2 (the new hive) while I was doing the transfer, but as the entire colony must have enough disturbance since Sunday I decided just to move the frames, put out a feeder with sugar solution ( 1 litre of water to 2 kg of sugar) and closed up the hive. The proper inspection will just have to wait. I am also planning to get some help marking the new queen. Without doubt I shall have to do the same with the old hive (Hv1). Within half an hours of moving the frames all bees calmed down and starting to get in and out of HV2 with no fuss.

Things are calm over Hv1 so fingers cross the queen cell I saw on Saturday is getting on producing a new queen. There is now a bit of a mystery as to what had happened to the old green dotted queen. Has it died, or been supersedured ( a sort of palace coup for those who doesn't know what this is)? If so when did it happened? I only actually saw that queen a couple of times last year so it could have happened any time between January and a few weeks ago. In any case I think I had been lucky not loosing the colony. However with the old colony effectively divided I now face the challenge of having a hive (probably HV1) build itself up fast enough to start producing surplus honey. Peter who supply the new hove to me is confident that the new hive will build up quickly. Thankfully the season has just started so time is on my side.

Speaking of the new hive mine ( a National hive) seems to take 12 instead of the normal 11 frames, which is the usual number. Not that it matters just that I had 11 ready and had to quickly make up a new frame on the spot.

This afternoon. while working in my neighbour's garden I saw a bee with pollen on its legs. I did wonder if that is one of mine. Good if it is. My next inspect will be HV1 in about 10 days and Hv2 in a bout a week just to give al the bees a bit of time to settle down. We all need a rest some time.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

After the swarm

At the beginning of the year I had a general plan to prevent my hive from swarming. I had no plan to have a second hive until next year, at the earliest. But as we saw event over took me albeit with a fortunate outcome for me.

Looking back I now know that the local weather (at my garden) clearly warm up quicker and I must take this into account in future and perhaps inspect my hive at the beginning of March when we had the odd warm day. Now that the swarm had taken place I am left with a long to-do list including going back to my reference books and revise some of my knowledge on beekeeping.

On top of the list is to transfer my new colony to the new hive, which you can see in the photo sitting atop of one another. This I shall do tomorrow. Once that is done it's a matter of making sure that both hives have a productive queen. For the old hive (HV1) is a case of calculating when the new queen will emerge, complete it's mating flight, and return to the hive. On Saturday I clearly saw a seal queen cell, this means that the cell is at lease 8 days old. If so the new queen will hatch after a further 8 days. This in turn means the queen should be mated and start laying in 2 week's time (from Saturday). As for the new hive (HV2) my main task will be to check the queen again to make sure that a) it is a new queen, and b) it is laying. All information I had indicates that the new colony is prime to build combs, so I expect the new brood box will be filled up pretty soon. I shall also be giving this hive a feed to encourage the colony to build itself up. There is the mystery of what happened to the old green dotted queen.

Interesting observation today: I saw a bee landed on a honey suckle leave and seem to be sucking it for some time. If you read this and know something about please do leave me a comment.

Meanwhile please enjoy this short video of the new colony flying about the nuc entrance.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The new colony

In this photo you can see the nuc box which contains the swarm. This is the temporary home of my new colony of bees.

After yesterday's excitement today is the time to observe (the swarm) and to prepare a new home for the new colony.

As expected a few bees (from the nuc) were seen flying round in my neighbours garden, over the spot where they clustered yesterday. Once the air is warm enough I could see bees coming in and out of the nuc box. This is a good sign and indicates that the colony is settling into their new temporary home.

With the new colony I have made a few changes in the bee area, which is now in fact a small apiary at the back of my garden. Last night I began the process of repositioning the old hive making it facing more to the back garden wall.

This afternoon I bought a new brood box and other bit and piece and then spent much of the afternoon assembling the new hive. The shinny new hive is now ready and waiting for the right time to take it's place along side Hive no. 1. Some beekeepers name their hives may be I shall choose names for mine.No.1 and no.2 sound a bit dull. Any suggestion, readers?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

What is that noise?

We had a whole week of beautiful sunny days. Temperatures at night were cool, even cold, but during the day it warmed up nicely - more so each day.

Back in March I put down in my diary to do my first inspection this weekend. Though the swarming season is near everyone I spoke to agreed that we have a bit of time to get things ready to prevent swarming. Someone had forgotten to tell the bees.

Yesterday after I finished my son's outfit for his friend's birthday costume party I decided to just take a quick look at the hive before I went out for the day. When I opened my back door the noise hit me. Hundreds of bees were flying high above the hive. Their intention was clear. 'Don't panic', I told myself. I quickly suited up and got a super box out of my loft. Lighting the smoker when you are trying to keep calm, as I discovered, is not easy. Once that was done I quickly opened the hive lid, removed the crown board and put down the queen excluder then added the super. After closing the hive I made a call to one of the more experienced members of my association. Jenny and Mike confirmed that my bees were intending to swarm and very kindly suggested that they would come and take a look, but as they were busy I would have to wait till the morning. They also suggested that I inspect the hive and see what is going on inside and may be put a box down, if I had one, near the hive hoping the swarming bees would go there.

With the bees still humming all around me I opened up the hive and began my inspection. There were a massive amount of bees - more then I have ever seen. The first two frames were still not properly drawn, which I supposed to mean that they were not short of space. As I moved further on I could see a large number of sealed worker cells and a few drone cells. No sight of the green dotted queen! Problem...

I moved on and suddenly my attention was drawn to a high pitched piping sound. What is that noise? I examined the frame really closely and located the source of the sound. A queen (not The queen) was moving along piping now and then and stopped from time to time to dip it's back into a cell. Was it laying? I went through the rest of the frame and could not see the green dotted queen which came with the nuc I bought last year. So it's good news and bad, I thought. Then I spotted something else: a large queen cell hanging from the top of frame 8. No mistake. I closed the hive by now the whole hive had quietened down a lot and there were fewer bees in the air. I called my friends once more and they confirmed that the piping insect is a queen. That's what the girls do.

Saturday came and went and my son had a nice party at his friend's. Meanwhile I was worrying about the little darlings flying away. This morning I woke up bright and early and had a quick look. The hive seemed fine. Activity normal. By 10 am I was beginning to get anxious but I just had to wait for my friends to turn up. I took another look at the hive - a handful of bees at the entrance - nothing unusual. I went in the house and washed my face. It's now just before 11am. Suddenly I heard that loud humming sound again. I looked out of the window and they were gathering once more. I rushed downstairs and my wife was busy closing the kitchen windows. They were swarming over our neighbour's garden!

I quickly called Jenny and Mike to update them on the event. They said they would come quickly. Meanwhile I could only watch my bees gathering on my neighbour's fence and cluster on some low hanging branches. I suited up and told my near neighbours not to venture into the garden and the bees are harmless. They were really good about it.

Half an hour later my my helps arrived. With their expert help we managed to get them into a nuc box, which they brought with them. It was a wonderful sight to see thousands of bees getting into that box. I am now waiting for evening to come so that I can move the box back to my garden and hopefully they will stay. If so I shall have an extra hive. There are lot of things I shall have to do in the next few days, and weeks, not least to get a new brood box.

Due to a volcano eruption in Iceland, Northern Europe has been a no flying zone for three days now: Clearly this does not apply to bees.

See for yourself here how they get into the nuc box.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The sun puts its hat on

We went up North for Easter for a week and returned to a London bathing in glorious sunshine. Yesterday morning I took time to look at the bees. By mid morning they were in full foraging mode flying in and out of the hive in groups. Their happy humming sound filled the air.

The photo, resembling to a piece of modern art, is my varroa board. Before I left for Easter I left it in the hive and when I pulled it out yesterday I could see the physical evidence of the bees busy time.

The bright colours cluster of pollen droppings shows where the main activity inside the hive. I think the bees favour one side because that is the more shelter side. I know that one can get pollen charts whiich will help to identify the type of pollen. The faint white bands (on the right half of the board, are, I believe, drops of bee wax. If so this would indicate that the bees are also working on the other frames in the hive.

As the air temperature is warming up fast my thoughts turn to when I should be adding a super on top of the brood box. Last Sunday I got my hive tools and a super box down from the loft. As this is my second season and from what I have seen so far the number of bees I am seeing indicates that the colony is growing. As we shall be entering the swarming season soon (next month) so space will be an issue for the colony. At the last bee talk I attended, three weeks ago, the beekeeper said he took the opportunity of a few days of warm weather in March to check his hive, and interesting enough he said he has already put his super on. My plan is to wait and see what the weather will do for the next few days and if it continue to be fine and warm I shall install the super. This will give the little darlings a early start in preparing the frame for honey storage. Oh happy days.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Changing weather

So far, this Spring has not really made up its mind. We had a few days of fine weather followed by drizzling cold days. We even had a threat of a light frost the other evening.

The bees seems to be taking the changing weather in their stride. Today is a typical example. The day started cool and cloudy with a little bit of rain, but when I ventured out to my garden to do some planting I noticed that despite the fine drizzle the little darlings are out! Obviously the air temperature is high enough for them to go on their foraging trips. The bees continue bringing back pollen to the hive. Watch the video (below) and look out for the little "yellow pantaloons". Fingers cross the Queens is busy inside reproducing the next generation of workers bees for the season.

This week I am thinking about adding more flowers in my garden. Of course there are many gardens up and down my street, but I thought it's time I do my extra bit. This afternoon I made a big effort of clearing one corner of my garden, which frankly had been very neglected in the last few years. I clear some very invasive plants and buckets of weeds and created a short flower bed which I shall plant a few sun flowers. I planted some Marigold seeds in the main flower bed. Hopefully when the weather really warm up I shall have some bring colours in the garden this years. Already, looking at the few daffodils I planted some years ago. I thought I shall get more bulbs in the autumn and plant a host of them for next spring. There is nothing quite like a mass of golden colour, set against the spring green, to lift ones heart. The photo is that of our Buddha corner with some early spring flowers. Lovely don't you think?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Dancing in the sun

Here they are - the little darlings. My wife thinks I am nuts calling them darlings! But you know what I mean bee lovers.

After those long winter months the very sight of them brings cheer to me and lifts my spirits.
Today happens to be Mothering Day Sunday and I do wonder how the Queen bee is doing. The weather is not yet warm enough for me to do a proper hive inspection, so I just to have be patient and wait a little longer. I have to admit it is an anxious wait to see if the QB is alive and laying.

Looking at the bees they appear to be well. I have not idea what flowers are out at the moment though I have noticed some crocuses are out and the daffodils can'e be far behind. I noticed also that the pussy willow is beginning to bloom up the near by Lea valley.

The close-up photo, taken today (Monday), clearly shows one of the worker bees bringing in pollen back to the hive. This is a good sign. As the sun is out again today I spent a few minutes observing the coming and going from the hive. I can't wait when it's warm enough to open up and have a good look inside. Watch this space readers.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Spring is back

After long days of grey skies the last few days saw much sunshine. It helps to brighten up my garden putting a little bit of colour back. Even though the air is still cold, even wintery on some days, I can feel that Spring is finally returning after what was an unusually harsh winter.

Welcome back to my blog if you followed it last year and the good news so far is that in spite of the harsh winter the colony is alive. I had been restraining myself from taking a peep. The last time I open the top briefly was to put a piece of fondant sugar in. That was in January and the bees were alive then.

Throughout the winter I have noticed there were many little bees' corpses outside the hive. One day, in the depth of winter, I actually saw a worker dragging a dead bee out of the hive. I suppose this is the inevitable casualties of winter. With the improved weather my mind is turning to my second season. I expect that I shall be busier as I really have to keep an eye out for swarming and other problems. One thing I am looking forward to is the likelihood of having some honey. First there is still the long wait for the air temperature to warm up sufficiently before I can open up for my first inspection. "Oh what a glorious thing to be. A healthy grown up busy, busy bee."