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We had one freak week in February when the temperature was high enough to start spring cleaning. If you can do gardening in your shirtsleeves then it’s warm enough to open a hive.

Two hives were completed, being given a cleaned and sanitized brood box, floor and crown board. The amount of brood unfortunately was not as much as I would have expected given the mildness of the winter. Both hives only had four patches of brood; one on either side of the two central frames. The weather turned chilly again so the other colonies will have to wait. Although there was still plenty of stores, most of it had crystallized so for the first time ever I’ve had to offer them fondant. Not all have taken it down as there is plenty of water around for them to use the crystallized. In addition there has also been plenty of fresh forage. The large ornamental plum has been positively alive with workers when it’s had the sun on it and the white bullace was also worked vigorously when that was in flower

Plum tree in flower

Again, oxalic acid treatment was not as effective as I wished so I’ve had to follow it up with Apivar. Weekly counts of varroa drop show the numbers now down into single figures but hopefully I’ll get six of the hives down to continuous zero before the Apivar has to come out.

Only six of the hives have the chemical treatment as hives 1 and 2 are running another experiment with Beegyms. Stuart Roweth found better results by placing the gyms above the brood frames so I’ve placed two gyms in an eke above the brood in these hives. I’ll let you know the figures as they progress

Winter in the apiary said that one job seemed to simply make another and how true this has been. My old stainless steel smoker which has been going for decades decided to give up the ghost yet again. About six years ago the hinge on the lid rusted through (Yes. A mild steel hinge on a stainless smoker) so I repaired it by making a replica. That eventually gave up so I’ve made a much stronger one but in stainless steel from my scrap metal box. This is much harder to work than mild steel but makes a more robust job. I also found two copper bifurcated rivets and two pop rivets to complete the task.

Stuart Roweth has said he would like me to continue trialing his Beegyms but this time placing two of them above the brood frames. Although my hives are on top-space there isn’t quite enough room so I’m having to make some shallow ekes. The circular saw needed to rip some 12mm battens decided it had had enough, so yet again, one job generates another. I’ve bought a new blade, cleaned and polished the anvil-slides in the blade raise and lower mechanism and adjusted the bevel gears.

12mm ekes
Beegyms from http://www.vita-europe.com and http://www.thorne.co.uk

Two of these Beegyms will be placed above the brood frames when I do the first spring-cleans on hives 1 & 2.

Oxalic acid in a sugar solution is dribbled between the frames over the bees as a varroa miticide when the brood is at its least, i.e. after a long cold spell. Whilst it can kill the mites on the bees or in open brood cells it can’t touch those behind a brood cell capping. A writer in BBKA News claimed that brood frames could be removed even in mid-winter, any cappings perforated and then the frames replaced prior to the oxalic acid treatment.

We hadn’t had a long cold spell but it’s a matter of compromise so I chose a day to suit me best. It was a lovely day; 9°C and the sun was shining. Thank goodness I was in full armour. Whilst it was too cold for the bees to be flying naturally, they really went for it, and me; when I took the decision to break the cluster out of their hands and made the decision for them. Having started however, I decided to press on and found three small patches of brood on two frames which I duly perforated with my uncapping fork before re-assembling the hive.

Lesson learned, the other seven hives were just given a quick 5ml of oxalic acid between the frames and the crown-boards replaced.

Unbeknown to me however, my back and hat had collected a huge number of hangers-on; the disadvantage of being a solo beekeeper. Having completed the work, as I disrobed and pulled my jacket over my head the bees on the back decided that my now bare face was a good target for revenge. Oh well, I suppose it helps to build up sting resistance early in the season.

One job leads to another they say.

I’ve discovered that my smoker needs some serious reconditioning as the hinge is worn and badly distorted and the interior is really caked up; a workshop job for a wet day.

No netting has been needed so far this year as there’s been no permafrost..

Stuart Roweth, inventor of note (and the Beegym) has sent me the mite-drop statistics for some of his hives through 1918. Some hives had two and even three Beegyms both above and below the frames and the results were really impressive. Rather than having just one gym on the floor of several hives I’ll try putting several in a few hives, above and below the brood and see what the figures are like.

The winter honeysuckle has flowered extremely well this year and the bees have been making good use of it on the many flying days.

Apple weekend at Audley End House was once again a terrific two days. Unfortunately the Sunday weather was appalling and by lunchtime the footfall had reached the staggering total of 150; Saturday’s total was 1500. We had an excellent team of helpers on both days and as usual the observation hive proved a great attraction.

Sally explains foundation and drawing of comb to an enthralled audience

Back in the apiary the number of hives has been united down to the usual over-wintering eight. The last three were each 5-frame nucs, one of which was the observation hived used at Audley End.

Amongst the 15 frames were several with yellow spacers, indicating old frames to be rendered, so these were removed. All the others with bees were given a spray unite. This was probably not necessary as I was uniting three colonies but I thought it best to be cautious. Colony smell must be smothered to unite two colonies but with three colonies they can’t sort out who the intruders are and peacefully accept their new foster sisters.  The spray was a very dilute sugar solution and a drop of oil of lavendre.

One barren queen was removed and the other two left to fight it out as I couldn’t choose which was the better. They are all now in hive 6 and the feeder is fitted.

  1. All hives now have an Ashforth feeder and all the feed is ready. Most of it this winter is recycled honey with just a small amount of sugar solution to help prevent crystallising.Inspections have been reduced in the last part of the season as little could be done. All I needed to do was monitor the varroa drops. This has stayed sufficiently low for treatment to wait until the mid-winter oxalic acid.

This month sees the start of foraging in earnest and also the start of swarming.

Although the oil seed rape was only just down the road the bees only worked it for pollen. The bees foraging for nectar went in the opposite direction. I am now beginning to wonder if modern varieties of rape have significantly reduced amounts of nectar.

Whatever it was they preferred, half the hives worked it vigorously. One hive got up to four supers and the others to two or three.

The colonies which only just made it through the winter have struggled to reach supering size but as two of these have 2016 queens and will be requeened this season.

The first swarm I was called to remove was a poor little bedraggled specimen hanging from a tree near Thaxted Fire Station. It had been there several days and was trying to set up home out in the open.

Thaxted swarm

It was nearly dark when I arrived so it had to wait until the next morning; a night of torrential rain and it was still raining next day. Half of them had been washed down in the night and were comatose mixed in with the recent lawn mowings. It was a ladder job to reach the little swarm and I then swept up as many as I could from the ground hoping that once they were returned to the bosom of their family they would become resuscitated. This did in fact work and most of them recovered. They were a pathetic little bunch when they were eventually hived; just over one frame of 14 x12 in a nucleus hive.

The rape finished flowering two weeks ago and any resulting honey would normally have started crystallizing by now. It’s all still clear which again leads me to conclude that the nectar came from elsewhere. The eventual analysis will be interesting.

I’ve had to perform three Pagden artificial swarms so far with another one to do this week. At the same time as creating the artificial swarm I also take a two-frame nucleus with a queen cell so I have a second string to my bow in the event of a loss on mating flight. The apiary is getting rather crowded now with sixteen hives.

Everything is late this year due to the very long winter; November to March. Colonies have been late building up but fortunately the rape has also been about two weeks late in flowering. This has enabled four colonies to be just about big enough for supering.

All the hives were spring cleaned between 14th and 20th April. This involved giving each colony a clean floor, brood box and crown board. All frames were inspected for disease and age and yellow spacers added to frames which had become too dark brown and needed replacing. These frames will be gradually worked to the edge of the box at each hive inspection and then replaced with foundation once any brood has emerged.

The dirty hives were scraped down and then scorched out with a blow-torch before being used again.

Stuart Roweth has produced yet another new version of his beegym and I will be trialing this in one of the larger colonies. (www.beegym.co.uk)

I have returned to the training scene this year with just two young lady students keen to learn about this absorbing hobby. Having just two students, rather than the six or seven in the past, will I am sure produce a much more rewarding learning environment.

The Asian Hornet justifiably continues to feature high in the list of threats. I have two lure traps, based on the National Bee Unit water-bottle design, hanging in the garden and charged with some of our own home-pressed apple juice. One by the hives and the other by the bee shed. Fortunately nothing yet.

The big question on my mind is whether 2018 will be a repeat of 2017 when it comes to oil seed rape. As the month comes to a close the rape has been on flower for two weeks now and the real-feel down in the apiary is -3, it’s blowing a gale and raining hard. It’s been like this for a week now and is set to continue.

Three flying days in a row now which seemed to herald the glorious anticipation of yet another season but then things turned.  Three weeks of arctic winter has kept them all indoors..

All eight colonies have been flying well and vigorously foraging on the Winter Honeysuckle, the Hellebores and now the crocus. The latter have very deep nectaries so the bees have to stand on their heads and struggle to get their reward.

I have been hefting the hives since the new year just to ensure that their stores are lasting them and all seem to remain fairly heavy.

Unfortunately, the winter oxalic acid treatment was not as successful as I would have liked so I have had to give them another course of Apivar. Weekly counts continue and some hives are now down to two successive zeros whilst others are down to single figures.

The field of rape down the road, easily within flying distance, seemed to have resisted the ravages of the pigeons for a long time but eventually the vermin found it and are now tearing it to pieces.

Once the feeding is all done and the feeders removed, beekeeping becomes a more relaxed pastime. In effect, there is little to be done apart from the oxalic acid varroa treatment and repairs to equipment.

Oxalic acid will achieve an approximate 95% knock down of varroa. Not a complete cure but sufficient to seriously deplete their numbers before the brood rearing starts in earnest.

I mix a 50:50 solution of sugar water and add 18.75g of oxalic acid dihydrate to the mix. This is then dribbled 5ml into each between-frame seam of bees. Having the crown board up on matchsticks makes its removal almost vibration free.

The acid will only kill the mites which are outside the brood cells and cannot touch any beneath a wax capping. It is best therefore to do the treatment after a seriously cold spell which will have reduced the queen’s laying to almost nil. i.e. less sealed brood and hidden varroa.

Charging needle-less hypodermic

Trickling oxalic acid between the frames

 

 

 

 

Each colony can be done in less than a minute and the hive quickly closed up again before the cluster suffers heat loss.

The varroa trays go underneath just to give me an indication of efficacy.

This treatment can only be done once a year as the acid burns the carapace (the dorsal exoskeleton) of the bee and must also burn the bee’s mandibles.

In the workshop I have reinforced the bellows on the stainless-steel smoker, repainted the numbers on the hive roofs and made a new aluminium cover for roof 8.

Apple weekend at Audley End House was once again a terrific weekend. English Heritage say the foot-fall was 4500 over the two days. Talking bees, pollination and honey for two days solid was very tiring but greatly rewarding. One very interesting visitor who introduced herself to me was none other than Ted Hooper’s granddaughter Lauren who told me that sadly, they no longer have a beekeeper in the family.

Winter Feed 2017

The bees have all had their usual amount of winter feed; 8l of sugar solution and 3l of waste honey. Hive 1 had the container of Apikel which I was given. Interestingly not all of this had been taken down but it could have been a case of them not liking it. I removed the feeder, gingerly removed the middle frame to find brood in all stages so carefully replaced it knowing they were queen-right. Had there been a problem, some of the earliest brood would have had emergency queen cells. As it was, the reason was that apart from the brood in the centre, the brood box was chock-a-block with stores.

Three other hives have only taken some of their feed and I’m hoping they are in a similar state because they had ample nectar flowing from all the volunteer borage in the field behind. As Tom, the farmer, freely admitted to me, "Yes, we cocked up there."

Volunteer borage amongst the wheat

The Apivar is almost at the end of its recommended insertion time but the varroa are still dropping high weekly figures. Some are still up in the hundreds per week.  Hopefully they should fall to single figures any day now and the strips can be removed.

All the honey has now been extracted. This year was the first year I noticed such a strong floral smell as I lifted each crown-board. It was possibly the hawthorn which has a strong pungent aroma and is a most erratic yielder. All the honey this year is dark in colour, strong and loth to crystallize. I fear my creamed honey regulars are going to have to get used to clear honey .

One super was simply fitted with eleven starter strips rather than foundation. As the bees drew out this 100% fresh comb, one frame was removed and the remaining ten spaced a little more widely. This gave a slightly wider and heavier comb to cut into blocks. Much of it was also drone comb which, with its larger cells, meant less wax and more honey.

Having removed all the supers I can now complete my records of honey-yield per hive in order to make my decisions as to which queens to over-winter. Eleven colonies and one nucleus are going down to 8 hives. The queen in hive nine was culled and the colony moved around the apiary further than three feet each time placing it alongside other colonies whose number I wanted to boost. Each time it was moved, the flying bees returned to the hive nearest its old position. This way I gradually bled half the colony into other hives. The remainder was then united in its full-sized box with the nucleus colony. Each frame of bees was gently misted with a dilute sugar solution with a drop of oil of lavender to mask the colony aromas and the frames placed alternately into the 14 x 12 box and left for a few days to settle down. This box was then united with hive 1 using the newspaper method. The queen was removed from colony 1 and then later in the evening, this queenless colony was placed above the queen-right colony with a sheet of paper between them. By the time they had nibbled through, their aromas were sufficiently blended as to avoid any confrontation.

The varroa counts have reached scary levels so I decided to treat with Apivar before I feed. Having had Deformed Wing Virus and Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus during the year I thought it best not to just leave it to the beegyms. The hives fitted with beegyms have registered noticeably higher mite-falls but the beegym instructions do say ‘use as part of your integrated pest management’.

Next week we have the ‘Taster Session’ for prospective beekeepers followed by Audley End Apple Weekend. Lots of hard work to finish the season.