What had seemed an amazing start to the season rapidly turned sour. The marvellous weather we had in March enabled supers to go on eight of the hives earlier than ever before. April arrived, the oil-seed-rape came on flower, and the weather turned for the worst; next to no rain meant no nectar and the bitterly cold winds meant the foragers could not leave the hives. These conditions lasted for almost the whole of the rape’s flowering season. Some of the hives got up to two supers but I added the second just to ensure there was plenty of space to store any incoming nectar.

Varroa counts have continued on a weekly basis and Stuart Roweth (www.beegym.co.uk) has kindly supplied some more up-to-date beegym equipment. His floor-mounted model has been upgraded once again and these are installed in hives 7 & 8. Hive 9 has ten of the new production model minigyms.

The latest model Beegym
Weekly varroa drop so far

Varroa has unfortunately been the least of my worries. Last year I had a severe case of CBPV (Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus) in hive 8 which I managed to clear by hand-picking all the infected drones from the combs. This year the virus has swept through all the colonies killing thousands. Being confined to their hives has exacerbated the problem because it meant that infected bees were not dropping out of the sky away on foraging trips but were staying at home to share the infection with their brothers and sisters. To add to the misery I also had cases of DWV (Deformed Wing Virus). Each day the ground in front of the hives has been littered with dead bees, to the extent that I got ‘The man from the ministry’ to come and have a look. He confirmed not only my diagnosis but the fact that there is no known cure. He scooped up several handfuls of dead bees, put them in a carrier-bag to send off for analysis just in case there was something else we hadn’t noticed. All we can really hope for is more rain at night and more sunshine in the day.

Over the road is a crop of field beans just about to come on flower but whether they’ll yield a harvest for me as well as the grower remains to be seen.

On a less despondent note, the Saffron Walden beekeepers group had a trip out to Kew Gardens to see The Hive. A marvellous edifice in stainless steel complete with lights and music. Not a lot to do with bees unfortunately apart from the interior shape which resembled a skep

It looks as if they’ve all come throughthe winter; nine hives on 11 frames of 14x12 and one nucleus belonging to Trevor and Michelle. They have all been flying when the weather has been clement and seem as pleased to see me as I am to see them. The Winter Honeysuckle and Viburnum were great attractants and now they have moved to the crocus and hellebore. Primroses are in flower all along the footpath behind the apiary and the hazel catkins are looking good. The Sallow tree over the road will soon be an abundance of pollen. The cherry-plum has become an abundance of flower such that you get hit by the heady perfume as you approach it and standing underneath one gets showered in blossom confetti to the sound of a humming electricity sub-station.

Plum tree in flower

Although I have been using open-mesh floors on all the hives for many years now, I have been unable to do a varroa drop-count on the nucleus hives. The 14×12s have had white catering trays beneath them but I have now sourced some narrow trays and by putting a strip of aluminium angle along each side of the base, a tray can be slid beneath a nucleus hive.

Varroa tray beneath nucleus hive

A few weeks ago, a friend who knew I was a hoarder and an inveterate maker gave me a box of empty 2 litre plastic bottles; perfect timing. Another friend had given me a length of guttering so a slight adaption of the design on the National Bee Unit web-site and I have two Asian Hornet lure-traps. One is hanging by the bee-shed and the other is down beside the hives.

Asian Hornet trap hanging in apiary

It is possible that these will also enable the entrapment of queen wasps. Each spring we dispatch as many of these as possible using the numerous fly-swats positioned strategically around the garden and outbuildings. I always maintain that every one dealt with now is one less wasp nest later in the season.  Last year the score was over 40 and this year it is 5.......... so far.

The bees might not be doing much but the beekeeper has plenty of work.

After ensuring all the hives have been fed the feeders were removed, thoroughly washed and dried before being put into storage.

The bees were still flying on the odd warm day and bringing in what pollen they could find.

The old fruit-cage nets went over the hives in case a hard permafrost gave the green woodpeckers need for apian sustenance.

Oxalic acid was administered on 7th January and all hives were alive. Ideally this treatment should have been done after a lengthy very cold spell had stopped the queen laying.  As it was, I had to do it after only three days of night frosts before the warm(ish) weather returned.  Two colonies were rather small and their future depends very much on whether the winter remains mild.

The varroa trays were all inserted to see what effect the oxalic had.  The nets were replaced and everything was left to settle down for a few more weeks.

The humidity in the bee-shed has left everything slightly damp so the clothing has come indoors for airing.  Now is also the time to do any necessary repairs.

This is the month for winter feed.  2 gallons of 2:1 sugar solution per hive have been mixed and this is supplemented with ½ gallon of waste honey.  It’s all mixed ready so they can all be fed simultaneously.

Winter feed ready mixed
Winter feed ready mixed

Miller feeders were put on all the hives and come the evening the syrup was poured in.

filling-the-feeders

Some hives had taken it all down in two days whereas others were somewhat tardy.  It’s comforting that they all took the feed because failure to do so is a sure sign of queenlessness.

Feeders off and varroa treatment can begin.  I’m still doing the weekly count so I can see the efficacy of the Apivar before we go into winter.  The last treatment was done in early spring 2016 but it makes more sense to get them going into the winter with, hopefully, a clean bill of health so we start the new year with stronger bees.

Apple weekend at Audley End has just been and gone with another great two days amongst all our friends down in the kitchen garden.  The observation hive never fails to be an attraction.  This year I have brought them home and transferred them in to a 4-frame nucleus hive.  They were a late cast and too small to overwinter.  I have added some frames of emerging brood to boost their numbers and get them well fed. This is taking longer as they can only take a 1lb jar contact feeder.

Green clearer boards in place
Green clearer boards in place

Clearer boards were put in place to clear the bees from the last dregs of honey remaining in the final supers. It really was the dregs as eleven supers yielded only three tubs of honey. Most of it was uncapped but had been sitting for so long that the bees had ripened it.

All the wet supers were replaced for a few days for licking clean and then began the mammoth task of scraping down frames and boxes and sterilising before packing away. An opened-out broadsheet is placed between each box and this acts as a cushion to prevent ingress of the wax-moth. Super frames are at very little risk as wax-moth needs the debris of the brood combs for food and therefore prefers these combs.

One of the big problems this season has been loss of queens on mating flights. This has happened time and again and I have finished the season with four queenless colonies. Fortunately I still have the nucleus colonies removed as swarm prevention so with uniting and requeening all should be well before the winter.

Alongside queenlessness the other big problem has been robbing. I have fitted the anti-robbing screens, reduced the entrances to one bee space and placed a large sheet of glass in front of the target hives.

Unfortunately the offenders just move down the line and target the next hive. The thieves are not from my apiary but are insurgents; either from the two feral colonies in chimneys over the road (hopefully a cold winter will put paid to them) or from other hives in the village.

Several swarm calls have enabled hive S2 to go back into service again but not into production; too late in the season for that.

Warleys, the field behind us, was re-drilled with borage to replace the ploughed-in oil-seed-rape.  This grew well and came truly on flower at the beginning of July.  Unfortunately some other more attractive forage took the bees in the opposite direction for the first two weeks.

Whilst the field was in flower it seemed a good time to hold a garden-meeting of Saffron Walden Beekeepers and have a visiting speaker from Kings/Frontier Seeds to talk about this and other pollinators’ crops.  To that end, Paul Brown gave us an interesting illustrated talk and the weather was more kindly to us this time.

We had hoped to have a field walk to see the borage in full flower but the contractor moved in the day before and swathed the whole field.  This however wasn’t entirely wasted as many members had not seen the result of this process at such close quarters .

Borage in full flower
Borage in full flower

 

The Swathing Cutter Starts
The Swathing Cutter Starts
Swathed Borage
Swathed Borage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four colonies have been strong enough to benefit from the last two week’s of flower so this will hopefully enable me to recoup a little of the dismal spring harvest.

Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus has worked its way down the row from hive 8 and hive 4 is now the hardest hit.  A visitor to the apiary last week commented on all the dead bees lying on the ground around the hive.  No cure unfortunately, so we can only hope they recover of their own accord before the winter.

Stuart Roweth has supplied me with some Mini-Beegyms and these are being installed during the regular inspections.  Varroa-drop data is being collected on a weekly basis and I’ll publish that at the end of the season.

More than twenty years ago I made the decision that out-apiaries were just not worth the trouble.  Arriving to find that you needed a special piece of equipment and having to make an extra journey; arriving to do an inspection and finding that nothing had changed; strapping up the hives to transport them back and forth etc.

However………..110 acres of winter beans right on my friend’s doorstep was just too much of a temptation so I duly strapped up two hives and made the move.  All that happened was my original decision was reinforced.  Instead of the expected 50-60lbs of honey per hive, I doubt if I’ve got 5-6 pounds.

The weather was appalling and coupled with too lazy, over defensive colonies I resented having to make the weekly journey.  They’d been over there for nearly a month whilst the colonies at my home apiary, in spite of 'the June gap', were managing to find some forage somewhere and really going at it.

Hive S2 is already at home and has been united with hive 3 which started as a 3-frame swarm prevention ‘nuc’.

The queen was removed from S2 in a matchbox and the hive was strapped up and brought home to stand alongside 3.  Later that evening a sheet of newspaper was placed over 3 and held down with a queen-excluder.

Hive S2 was gently lifted from its floor and placed above.  Hopefully they’ll spend the next week of bad weather nibbling through the paper and getting to know one another.  In six days time I will separate the boxes, check that the queen has come through the ordeal, put all the brood down below, and remove the top box.

Swarm Collection 2016.

Spring this year has been a long drawn out extension of winter and now we get the sudden burst of summer.

Feral colonies which have been sitting waiting for the right conditions will now have switched to full swarming mode and the phone will soon be ringing.  Most of my calls will be from people I’ve helped in the past but if you are in the Saffron Walden area and are unfortunate enough to discover a swarm in your garden then call me on 01799 527773 or 07923 470733.

Not only out of the apiary but some way away.

Slovenia to be precise; home to the carniolan bee and the only country with a National Museum of Beekeeping.  We were only there for a few days but a pilgrimage to the town of Radovljica was essential. (http://www.slovenia.info/?muzej=10115)

Radovljica Bee Museum
Radovljica Bee Museum

Interestingly, the custodian agreed that Varroa and other parasites and diseases have been helped to spread around the world by man’s desire to move bees.  Slovenia bans the import of honeybees of any kind but ironically actively encourages the export of their own carniolan bees.  BBKA advises strongly against importing ‘carnis’.  First because of the dangers of importing disease and also because the first generation cross with our own bees produces aggressive offspring.  Not something any caring beekeeper would wish on their neighbours.

We saw the Znidersic hive popularly used by most Slovenians which was a development of Dzierzon’s original moveable frame hive; the hive which Langstroth further developed so that his moveable frames were lifted from the top rather than being slid out at the back.

There being no other visitors that afternoon I was permitted to dismantle one of these hives to discover the inner workings.

Znidersic hive opened at the back.
Znidersic hive opened at the back.

The back door opens and then removing the cross bars enables the frames to be slid out backwards.  There is no heavy lifting of supers as frames can be removed individually as they are filled.

Four out of every thousand Slovenians are beekeepers and many of them still continue the tradition of painting the fronts of their hives with beautiful folk art illustrations.  This assists the returning foragers to find their own hive in a crowded apiary and also identifies each beekeeper’s own hives.

The cold weather arrived at last and the queens stopped laying.  At least that’s what appeared to happen.

March was disappointing weather-wise and we had to cancel the first garden meeting of Saffron Walden division of Essex Beekeepers.  The day was cold wet and windy and no way could a hive be opened.

When we did get the odd warmer day in early April a swift inspection revealed that there were small patches of sealed brood but eggs and larvae had only just been started.  Question; will the colonies be large enough for the rape which is just coming on flower?

I now carry a thermometer in my tool-kit and one morning it was up to 20º in the apiary so I decided to do a ‘hive spring-clean’.

Temperature A clean and sterilised hive was set up alongside hive 7 and the frames scraped down and moved across one at a time. The hives were then swapped over.

Spring cleanRegrettably hive 7 looks doomed; two small patches of sealed brood but no eggs or larvae.  The queen was in attendance but so was a queen-cell complete with larva starting to be fed.  The queen herself looked as if she had a slightly deformed wing which could be the cause of her barrenness.

She, along with the two frames with brood and any nurse bees who wish to remain will be put in a nucleus hive and moved elsewhere.  Flying bees will boost hive 8.  Whether the new queen will get mated is debatable as there are no drones flying yet.  Either way, this colony isn’t going anywhere this season.