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.

The weather has been unusually mild which is not good news for the bees.

Firstly it doesn’t wipe out the extended wasp season and thirdly it delays an effective oxalic acid treatment. The acid, when dribbled between the occupied frames kills all the varroa mites on the bees. Unfortunately it doesn’t kill the mites sealed within the developing brood. The plan is to wait until the cold weather slows down the queen’s laying to almost zero and then keep your fingers crossed that the cold continues whilst all the sealed brood hatches and releases the varroa.

Wednesday the 20th looks as if it might be the only opportunity before the cold snap breaks.

I still haven’t netted the hives as we have not had any real permafrost. I’ll be watching them closely however for any signs of green woodpecker damage.

All the feeders have now been taken off and once the Apivar has been removed the crown boards will be replaced with matchsticks under the corners and insulation under the roofs.

We got another oak-honeydew harvest this year; the third in 37 years. This year’s was the best, or worst, depending on your preferences. Many of the Audley End customers and several of my regulars look upon it as a rare treat so I’ll be doing separate bottling.

For those of you unfamiliar with honeydew this is a sap-based honey as opposed to the usual floral nectar.  If the oaks are infested with aphids, these insect nibble through the surface of the leaves to suck the sap.  The don't need much carbohydrate as they don't use much energy so they excrete the excess back onto the leaf where the bees can harvest it first thing in the morning when the dew is on it; hence the name.  It is dark in colour as it contains not only the usual glucose and fructose but also maltose which gives it its distinct colour and flavour

I’m writing this on 11th November and worker wasps were still flying today in large numbers as I was trying to clean down the feeders. I still can’t leave the bee-shed door open without attracting unwelcome visitors.

The wasp problem has continued. At one point they were so thick in the bee-shed it was like walking into a swarm except the insects were yellow and black. I could stand with a fly swat and just wave it back and forth and hit a wasp every other stroke. In the end I decided to use the vacuum cleaner and just sucked them up from the windows and out of the air.

wasps from hoover

I have a wasp trap in front of every hive, two by the bee-shed door and two by the solar wax extractor.

wasp trap In spite of these precautions I was getting fifty a day in each trap, and the ones that decided to cook themselves in the wax extractor made a carpet of dead wasps several inches deep

The worst year I‘ve known for wasps.

On a happier note, we decamped to Audley End again for their annual Apple Weekend. I was helped this year by Fran, Tony Handley, Anita Game, Sam Wells, Jane Pedley and Hedi Threlfall all of whom agreed that it was very tiring work.. Anita had almost lost her voice by tea-time

We met all our old friends amongst the gardening staff, other stall holders and regular annual customers. The observation hive again proved a great attraction.



In the light of the losses due to wasps I have decided not to do any more uniting but to go into the winter with 10 hives.

At the moment the used supers are being licked dry before they go into winter storage. I use no chemical waxmoth deterrent but scrape down all the frames and boxes and store them with a good wad of newspaper between each box. To date I have found that the absence of PDB (Paradichlorobenzene- moth balls) has fortunately made no difference

Saturday September 19th was our Saffron Walden Beekeepers Introduction to Beekeeping afternoon and we welcomed ten lovely people to our garden apiary. I am always guilty of trying to squeeze too much into an introduction session and spoke for almost an hour before we donned a goodly assortment of armour and went to meet the ladies. Hive 5 were very pleased to see us and behaved impeccably even though the queen had an attack of shyness. One visitor, Andy, had the awareness to note when the hive note changed and they were asking to be closed up again. The cluster on the front then showed off to all of us by demonstrating their Nasenov glands.

After some honey tasting we then enjoyed some of Fran’s delicious tea and had a general question and answer session. I should think that I managed to put off half the attendees who, although very interested, now realised how much time and hard work was involved. As for other five, I look forward to meeting them at future EBKA meetings

Vespula vulgaris. The Common Wasp

All the pest talk nowadays seems to be about varroa which can wipe out a colony. Maybe; but how many years does it take?

This pest can wipe out a colony in two days and there’s not much you can do about it. Once one of the blighters has managed to get in and out past the guard bees it then becomes open season and eventually the bees just give up.  Sometimes even a narrow entrance wont help.


Wasps raiding a ive
Wasps raiding a hive

This was a four-frame nucleus colony bursting at the seams and three days later it’s an empty box. I set up several wasp traps around the hive and narrowed the entrance to one-bee width but to no avail. I sat in front squashing wasp after wasp but in the end even I gave up.

We found one of the nests after I’d mown the grass in the apiary. A night-time visit with a pint of petrol and some matches produced a satisfying woomph and they were all humanely dealt with.

The aftermath
The aftermath

Before I start getting emails from the insect-rights readers, these wasps had outlived whatever useful purpose they served and had now become a thorough nuisance. Removal of a second nest about 100m away still seemed to do little to cure the problem and the traps were catching several hundred a day.

The inside of the bee-shed is like walking into a bee swarm in flight only they are all wasps. Standing with a fly-swat and waving it vigorously back and forth produces a hit every other stroke.

Very little can be done in the apiary during the normal working day as opening a hive is simply inviting attack

Mike and Hannah live in a converted barn with a stud-work and weatherboard construction – much-loved by swarming bees looking for a new home. The bees were coming and going close to the kitchen door and could be seen entering the woodwork alongside the extractor-fan vent.

Were they in the house wall or were they in the boiler-house lean-to? Rather than dismantle the house wall I decided to start on the lean-to and removed the weatherboard exterior, revealing a sheet of chipboard. Undoing the top screws enabled me to pull the sheet away – and there they were…

After heavy smoking, the extent of the comb was revealed.

Each sheet was then carefully cut out and wired into a 14x12 frame, before being placed into a swarm box. This proved to be too small so they were moved into a full-sized hive.

A pallet on a load-handler proved a useful work bench, which also enabled the hive to be loaded straight in through Timmy's back doors.

A short sojourn in the Honeyhouse apiary and then they'll be off to their new home with Anita at Ellis Green.

A few weeks back the Saffron Walden division of Essex Beekeepers had a very interesting talk from Stuart Roweth about his ‘beegym’ invention; how it worked, how it was developed and the various stages of its evolution.

Have a look at www.beegym.co.uk

beegym in situ
beegym in situ

His illustrated lecture backed up by ample data showed his bees using the various parts of the gym to groom themselves and scrape off the offending mites.

Sitting in the front row, I was the lucky member to be presented with a complimentary beegym and eke in return for recording the varroa drop on a regular basis and supplying Stuart with the results. Varroa drop is something I already do on a weekly basis so this was no trouble.

The initial results look encouraging. Hive 7 was picked as the recipient with hive 8 alongside as the control hive. Not really scientific I know but it is at least an approach to statistics. So far, hive 7 is showing a slightly higher drop than hive 8. If that remains constant whilst 8 gradually increases throughout the year I’ll know it’s working.