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.