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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Feeding Time

Every October  the fair rolls into town bringing traffic jams, diesel fumes, dodgy burgers and cold weather. A week later and it rolls away leaving the city with a little more litter, lighter pockets and possibly a lingering stomach ache. The arrival of the fair roughly marks the end of the beekeeping season. The honey crop has been harvested and feeding is more or less finished for most of the country. Looking back over the blog my winter feeding is usually done in October.

We've had a strange September and start to October with unseasonally warm temperatures. The spider population appears to be booming with big fat round spiders all over the place and ladybird larvae months after they should've metamorphosed. This month I spotted a Grey Dagger Moth caterpillar, I'd thought caterpillars were more of a summer thing but according to the Internet these caterpillars don't make a chrysalis till November so whilst it's still warmer than last year perhaps the weather is slowly returning to schedule.

Grey Dagger Moth Caterpillar. Looks like a child coloured it in.
I'm not sure how it got there but I found that garish little critter on my glove, so I'd assume there's a few more of the lurking around the garden. Anyway on to feeding. Last winter I'd put candyboards on the hives in case they needed emergency food. I think it'd worked quite well and the sugar that was left I removed and later used to make syrup. When that was used up I popped out to get some more sugar.


I went to Booker's because they previously gave beekeepers a discount on sugar but that doesn't appear to be the case this year. As they're a wholesaler it's still cheaper than high street supermarkets. Whilst most of the sugar is in the baking section near the barrels of oil and gallon bottles of vinegar the cheapest sugar was tucked away with the tea bags. I think it worked out as just over 69p a kilo in the end. I later saw a post in the forums saying B&M had some at 50p a kilo, but they'll only sell you six bags at a time.

The thick winter syrup is referred to as '2:1 syrup' but that's based on imperial measurements in which it was 2 pounds of sugar to 1 pint of water. The UK's old Imperial measurements are basically a confusing mess of names and numbers with 16 Ounces to a Pound, 14 Pounds to a Stone and 160 Stone to a Ton, and for volume 4 Gills to a Pint, 2 Pints to a Quart, 4 Quarts to a Gallon, 2 Gallons to a Peck, 4 Pecks to a Bushel and 64 Bushels to a Quarter. 2048 Quarts to a Quarter? Confused yet? Surprisingly these old measurements still linger, examples being pound jars, pint glasses and land measured in rods and acres. Under the metric system 2:1 syrup is actually 1KG of sugar to 630ml of water.

Grubs up! It's Syrup. Again.
It takes a long time to dissolve the sugar in so little water, a little heat helps but if you heat it too much and the sugar caramelises it can release toxins damaging to the bees. I tend to give it a few hours to dissolve and only heat it whilst I'm stirring it to avoid that. If you're making a large bath once the liquid is warm it retains heat for quite a while anyway. I think the pan I use is a 19 litre saucepan -that's just over 4 gallons in olde worlde units. Whilst it was warmer I was feeding the bees using Contact Feeders -an upside down bucket with a fine gauze section in the lid bees can suck syrup through. However when it gets colder these can leak so I swapped over to Adam's Feeders on hive 1 and 2 and Rapid Feeders on hives 3 and 4. Both feeders work in the the same way. They have a reservoir of liquid accessed via an island in the middle which has a hole down the centre, a cup type dome placed over the island limits access to the liquid and stops your bees drowning in it.

Full Rapid Feeder, with the lid on.
The bees climb onto the island through the hole in it and drink their way down. Hive4 was able to empty a contact feeder in about 2 days.

Empty Rapid Feeder, 2 days later.

The Adam's Feeders are the essentially the same but far bigger having the same footprint as a Super or Brood Box, they're also made of wood. A solid crown board goes over the feeder then the hive roof. I filmed a short clip of bees taking syrup in an Adam's Feeder on Hive2. The bigger feeder makes things easier for the beekeeper as it means less time having to top it up. On the other hand mould in the feeder can occasionally be a problem which is a bigger pain with a bigger feeder.

Bees taking syrup in an Adam's Feeder

As well as the syrup I'm giving the bees they already had a lot of stored honey in the brood boxes. I'd actually tied bruising the comb to get them to move it up into the Supers for me to extract but they seem to have moved it sideways in the boxes instead. The bees are still quite busy foraging at the moment too.

video
Busy bees at the entrance to Hive4 on 11/10/14

I'm still not convinced the Queen in in Hive4 has successfully mated, but it's a bit late to be doing invasive hive inspections. I've had a quick look at a couple of frames from the middle of the hive and not seen any eggs, however given the recent temperatures and fact the workers are packing away lots of syrup in there even if she is mated she may not be laying at the moment. The bees seem very placid and they're bringing in pollen which may bode well. All four colonies are looking pretty strong at the moment so I'm going to cross my fingers and hope for the best rather than dequeen them and unite the workers with another colony.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

2014's Tiny Honey Crop

The mean temperature for September from 1981 to 2010 in the UK was 12.8 degrees Celcius, right now we're seeing daytime temperatures of 20 degrees Celcius. This seems to be having an affect on the honey crop. Looking in the supers on the 21st September I could see some capped and uncapped honey but far more cells were empty. Probably wasn't going to be worth extracting such a small crop but having got no honey at all last year I decided to go ahead anyway.

You can see the empty comb tops clearly.
This super has been cleared, the clearer board is still in place.
The bees are still being very busy and I have a suspicion that if I were to leave the supers on till maybe mid October I'd actually manage a decent honey crop, however that would mean starting winter preparation late and seriously reduce my bees' chances of surviving the Winter. So I reluctantly put my clearer boards under the supers and removed them a few hours later.

In preparation for this years' honey crop I'd installed honey gates on two food buckets to make it easy to jar up. It's a doddle to do really, just drill 44mm holes in the buckets leaving enough space below the hole for the retaining nut and screw them together tightly. Some people use caulk to help the seal, I didn't. Before using a bucket you've attached a gate to it's a good idea to test for leaks. You can do that by filling them with water, checking for drips and checking water levels if you want to or you can do what I did which was fill them with water, add food colouring then leave them in the sink for a couple of hours then later checking the sink for coloured water. These two were both fine so I emptied and washed them ready for use.

Lazy way to check leaky seals.
Honey is essentially nectar which the bees have collected and dehydrated. If it's not dehydrated enough it can ferment in the jar. Bees will cap the honey on the comb when it's water content is low enough but uncapped honey may or may not be ready for use. The basic test to see if uncapped honey is ready to be extracted is to give the comb a sharp shake and see if it drips, if it does it contains too much water, if it doesn't it should be fine.

Uncapped Honey, and a little Pollen
The shake test has probably been used by beekeepers for a few thousand years but we're in the 21st Century now so there's a more accurate and sciencey way to check water content. The science gadget to measure water content is a Refractometer. This clever device uses Snell's Law (follow the link if you want baffling by the physics) to measure the refraction of light passing through a sample of liquid and shows the content on a scale. I'm not going to pretend I fully understand how it works myself but you don't really need to be a physicist to use one.

The RHB-90ATC, keeping the old ways alive...
There's a few different Honey Refractometers available, I got an RHB-90ATC which came all the way from China via eBay. There seems to be a few UK based sellers offering the same device now. It came supplied with a calibration stone, calibration oil, a screwdriver (for calibration) and some droppers for the calibration oil. The instructions made no sense to me, I suspect any intelligibility was lost somewhere during translation and looking on the forums it seems this has been a problem for a long time. I looked at how how to calibration oil and stone but couldn't see how to use them and no online documentation helped either, however another beekeeper has posted an excellent video on Youtube called Honey Refractometer Basic Use. cold Pressed Virgin Olive Oil has a refractive index of 71-72 according to the video. I checked it with  some extra virgin olive oil I had knocking about and decided it seemed to be already calibrated, unsurprising as it'd never been used before.

Put some honey on the prism
 Using a stick I put some capped honey from the comb onto the Refractometer's prism, closed the cover and took a reading of the moisture content. Thanks to the miracle of smart phones and patience I was able to photograph the reading to show what a refractometer displays.

Refractometer reading for Capped Honey
As you can see the Refractometer has 3 scales, the Baum Scale, Brix Scale and Water Percentage. The Baume Scale (Be') is for measuring the density of liquids denser than distilled water which has a Be' value of 0, I don't really have a use for this as far as I know. The Brix rating measures the sugar contant of a liquid and the water percentage translates that into real terms. As you can see my capped honey was a little below 17% water. Looking how much capped and uncapped honey there was I figured I could probably extract the lot and still have a low enough water content for it to be safe.

Extractor, Sieves and Honey Bucket ready to go
I hauled out the Honey Extractor, set it up on a little table above one of the modified buckets with a double fine mesh sieve in it to remove particles like wax or clumps of pollen and a tray below that to catch stray drips. I'd washed the double sieve and a capping fork in the dish washer before use and cranked up the heating to help make the honey run better.

Two frames in the extractor, honey at the bottom.
Removing the cappings with a fork I placed the frames two at a time in the extractor and turning the handle span them first one way then the other before turning them round and repeating more vigorously then turning them round again to finish the first side -If you spin the first sides too fast the honey on the inside could damage the comb.

video

It wasn't long before the honey was flowing into the bucket. Unfortunately it wasn't long that the honey was flowing as there was so very little of it. It didn't completely cover the back of the honey gate in the bucket. The dual mesh sieves managed to keep out most wax and other particles but some seems to have made it through and there was a lot of air bubbles in the honey.


I decided to give the bucket a stint in the Honey Warming Cabinet I'd made a couple of years ago and not had chance to use. It's basically an old freezer with a couple of light bulbs for heat, some fans to circulate air and  room thermostat to control the temperature.

Low Tech.
I set it to 21 degrees Celsius and left it running till the next evening. When I removed the bucket it looked a lot clearer, not sure how well the photo shows that, and the bits of wax had risen to the top. I could've actually set it a good 15 degrees warmer but as I've never used it before decided to play it safe.

Ripened honey
As the warmth made the honey less viscous some managed to escape from the honey gate and dripped onto the block of wood in the base of the cabinet. I'll need to bear that in mind next time, perhaps the gate needs to be closed tighter. Whipping out the Refractometer I checked the water content of the honey again.

Water content of extracted honey
As you can see the water content of the extracted honey was higher than when I checked using a sample of capped honey initially, this is because I'd extracted the uncapped honey too which had a higher water content. I make it about 17.5% which is still fine.Next stop was to pop it into jars. There was so little honey I'm not going to bother selling it on but thought I'd use a variety of jars just to see how it looked. The honey gate on the bucket made it so much easier to fill the jars.

Let the bees clean up the honey bucket



They can clean the cappings and stuff too

The honey bucket had some residue stuck to the sides, as you'd expect. so I popped the bucket and the lid into a spare brood bock and sat it above Hive2 for the bees to clean up. I did the same with the plastic box that had the cappings in and the cappings fork on Hive1. Two days later I removed them all picked completely clean.  The wax cappings that were in the tray had also disappeared too.

The tiny crop only filled 7 jars of mixed sizes, so I won't bother selling it this year. Looking on the forums there seems to be a mixed bag of people getting bumper crops and people getting none, still it was a better crop than last year. Looking at why I've not done so well this year I suspect I need to be quicker with the Spring feeding and look at raising Queens so if laying is patchy I can quickly requeen a colony without the delay of raising new royalty.





Friday, 26 September 2014

More Queens Please.

Well in response to the MAQS treatment two of the hives appeared to have dequeened themselves, Hive1 and Hive3. The colony in Hive3 are two collected swarms which I've merged, and I'm pretty sure the larger of the swarms are black bees. The black bees were extremely placid when they were in their nucleus but after uniting with the other bees in Hive3 the whole lot became really aggressive. They'ed just started calming down before I spotted a varroa mite in a photo of Hive2 and decided to treat all three hives for mites using MAQS. Installing the MAQS wasn't a problem but when I went to remove the remnants of the strips a week later they were pretty aggressive. Since then they got worse. I wondered if they were queenless so did a quick inspection a week later. They were pretty horrendous, stinging me in the arms and legs through my clothing. Doesn't take a genius too figure out angry bees, no uncapped brood, no eggs, no sign of the large queen you marked a few weeks ago means you probably have a queenless colony.

I decided to check the other hives too as they'ed also just been treated. All looked fine in Hive2, lots of brood, lots of eggs and I spotted their green marked Queen ambling along the comb -she seems rather brazen about wandering around in plain view. Hive1 was a different story. They were edgy, I couldn't see any eggs brood or queen there either, so I figured they were Queenless too. Bad day for the bees. If it was earlier in the season I'd've transferred a couple of frames with eggs from Hive2 into 1 and 3 for the bees to raise new Queens but so late in the season it'd take a lot of luck for them to get mated, plus there'd be all that waiting for her to develop, emerge, mate and start laying and the eggs to hatch, develop and emerge so I decided to bite the bullet and buy a couple of Queens.

It's really not the season to buy Queens and all the places I looked had sold their 2014 Queens already and were talking about next years' batch. However in my searching (can't imagine how beekeepers managed during days before the Internet) I found a page on Norfolk Honey's website which mentioned possibly having some old Queen bees available so I decided to contact them. It turns out the chap at Norfolk Bees runs a Google group connecting people wanting to buy bees to people who want to sell bees, so he popped an advert up for me and it wasn't long before I had a reply from Northumberland Bees who were able to supply open mated Buckfast Queens and Black Queens. As I've previously mentioned Black bees are pretty xenophobic which makes them a little difficult to requeen especially if the new Queen is a different race of Honey Bee so I ordered a Black Queen for Hive3 and a Buckfast Queen for Hive1. At some point Hive3 will raise their own Queens who'll be open mated and become mongrelised but for now to increase chances of acceptance it was going to need to be a Black Queen. I placed the order on the Thursday and the Queens arrived on the Saturday by recorded delivery.

Pair of Queens, all caged up with attendants and fondant.

They were accompanied by about 10 workers each in yellow cages, both of which were plugged with fondant. They were labelled in the cages themselves and on paper caps attached over the fondant part of the cage. The underside of the cages slides out for you to stock the cages or release the bees. The 10 or so workers in the cage are there to look after the Queen during transit, I'm sure it's no picnic for her travelling across the country in the postal system but at least she's got some attendants to feed and clean her. I put a drop of very weak sugar syrup onto each cage for the bees to feed on as I'd assume they were quite dehydrated after their journey. Before putting the cages into the hives the first job is to get the attendants  out of the cages because the bees in the hive would probably fight with them and damage the Queen.

Queen in a bag.

With a rubber glove in my right hand I held the cage in a plastic food bag which I kept closed around my wrist with my left hand and slowly opened the cage till a worker came out. Once a worker was out I closed the cage, pulled it out of the bag and released the worker. It was slow going and had to be done for each worker. What happened about halfway through each cage was the Queen came out so keeping her in the bag I was able to remove the cage and shake free the remaining workers. Hopefully they'll manage to join one of the existing colonies in my garden. Then I just had to pop the cage back into the bag and get the Queen into it and close it again.

Lonely Queen Bucky

The cage then had to go into the hive. It should've gone in fondant end down between two frames with a toothpick or wire through the tab at the other end. However in the heat of the moment I forgot that and pressed the cages into the comb fondant side up.

Heat of the moment? Really? Yep. Lots of heat. a veritable inferno. In the week it took me to acquire new Queens the aggression of the bees in Hive 3 and 1 had been on the increase. When I was ready to install the cages I wore two pairs of trousers, a fleece under a beekeeping jacket with a veil which in turn was under a beekeeping schmock with another larger veil and on my hands I put thick gardening gloves over my rubber gloves and masking tape over the cuffs and up my forearms.

As soon as I opened Hive3 the bees were bouncing off me and planting stings in my gloves and clothing. Having a handful of angry bees attached to your gloves by their stings whilst trying to fly away feels really unpleasant. I was working fast but did keep wiping them off me and smoking myself to mask any pheromones, although with so many stings stuck in my gear it was probably a wasted effort. Despite my being armoured up and wearing gardening gloves over rubber gloves one bee still managed to plant a sting in my finger.

As soon as I got the new Queen into Hive3 I closed them up and moved on to Hive1. Pulling out a frame in the middle I was a little surprised to find a young unmarked Queen already there. Didn't expect that. She wasn't laying yet though so I decided to pull her out and pop in the new Queen anyway I could be more certain she'd mated well whereas the newbie may have be a bit late for a good mating. I removed her with a Queen Clip then closed the hive up, deciding to leave them Queenless for a couple of hours before adding the new royalty.

Thinking on my feet I decided to start up a new colony using this new Queen. Hive2 was very populous, so much so that I'd left the super on just for the sake of accommodation and they had a lot of brood about to hatch too which would cause congestion in the hive so I removed a couple of frames of brood along with them with some spare frames of honey I already had and put them into a six frame nuc and closed the hive up and the nuc, blocking the nuc entrance with some sponge and opening the mesh floor about a centimetre to allow ventilation -the nuc has vents in the roof too. All the while I was still being attacked by bees from Hive3. I tried walking away but they followed me down the garden. I puffed smoke on myself but they didn't really care. In the end to get them to leave me alone so I could go into the house without a little cloud accompanying me I got a hosepipe, set it to spray, pointed it directly upwards and stood under it. Bees aren't keen on rain. a couple of minutes later, very damp but free of followers I was able to go into the house.

After transferring the young Queen into a spare cage I put my layers and tape back on and wen to put the Queens into Hive1 and the Nuc. Although Hive1 was still on a war footing things were a lot calmer with aggro from Hive3. I inserted the cages and gave the Nuc a small feeder of syrup to occupy the workers.

I opened the nuc entrance three days later and this weekend I checked the hives to see if the Queens had been accepted. Things look good. In Hive1 I could see eggs and very young larvae and removed the empty cage.

Empty cage

In the nuc I saw the Queen herself and again removed the cage. Not certain if she's laying yet but I had seen drones still in the other hives so if she's not yet mated then there may still be time. Hive3 were less aggressive but nonetheless still aggressive I spotted some very youbg brood in the hive so someone's laying eggs in there now. I decided to leave the cage in there for now rather than disrupt the colony any further.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

September insect activity

By now most beekeepers will probably have removed their Supers and be dusting off the honey extractors for this years crop by now but the weather seems to move a little slower over here in Hull. At present the hives are ..well.. hives of activity. One lunchtime last week filmed a few minutes of the activity  outside the hives, holding my phone near the entrance of Hive3

Activity at the Hive entrance on 5th September 2014
video

Looking back at my records I can see I took in the 2011 crop on 1st September and the the 2012 crop in late September. This year I'll be removing the Supers in late September again. It's not a particularly good crop to be honest. Hive3 with the two united swarms gathered plenty of honey in their brood box but refused to put any of it up into the super. I tried bruising the cappings of the ripe honey to encourage them and they did move the stuff but instead of moving it upwards they moved it sideways so it's actually still in the brood box. Contrary creatures. Hive1 and Hive2 have been using the supers but neither are looking particularly full either and I don't think that's likely to change before I remove them. I've really only left the super on Hive2 as it's housing so many workers at the moment.

I took my phone down to Pearson Park and the Wildlife Garden on Monday , the bees there were still busy too and like mine still have a super on their hive. As I had my phone in my pocket I took a few photos of pollinating insects at work in the park.

Honeybee on a yellow rose


Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax)

Honey Bee working flowers on a tall marginal plant
Bumble Bee in a flower

Different Dronefly (Eristalis sp.) on a Coreposis gigantea
In my garden I spotted a couple of Harlequin Ladybird Larvae, these things look like monsters from a bad sci-fi film. But what's unusual is according the UK Ladybird Survey they should've been at this stage in July and developed into Pupae in early August and into adult Ladybirds  by now.

Harlequin Ladybird Larvae.
Still on the predator front I noticed a lot of spiders on my plants at the moment too. One keeps making a web by the hives and catches the odd bee. I tend to brush that aside on a daily basis. I think they're mainly European Garden Spiders.

European Garden Spider
Actually a couple of weeks ago when Hive3 was being particularly boisterous, I'd walked to the other end of the garden and was brushing off angry bees off me I saw a spider looking like a disgusting dark grey gobstopper attached to my arm. Regular readers may have picked up that I'm not massively keep on the eight legged garden dwellers. I may have shouted a rather short word the neighbours probably didn't want their kids hearing as I batted it off. I suspect that it's round shape meant it was carrying eggs.

I also saw the very first wasp of the season buzzing round the hives. It didn't stay still long enough for a photograph though. I'll be expecting a few more to be appearing soon.

Last week on Newland Avenue I also spotted some sort of large wood boring wasp. It was over an inch long and looks pretty horrific -looked worse in flight- but that long pointy bit at the back looking a little like a needle is actually for making holes in wood where she'll lay her eggs and these things don't actually have a sting at all.

Wood Boring Wasp of some kind



Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Down In The Park (almost)

We didn't have time to look at the apiary in Pearson Park Wildlife Garden during the Avenues Open Gardens this year but I popped down to have a quick look last weekend. When I first blogged about the garden in August 2011 they had two hives, a  WBC and a Kenyan Top Bar Hive. Later in 2012 a National hive was added bringing them up to three colonies.


November 2013
In November 2013 I noticed the topbar hive was gone. I know it was there in September 2012 but don't know if it survived the 2012/2013 winter or was united into one of the other hives. It's certainly easier to manage your bees if they're all on the same frame type.

August 2014 Single Brood Box
When I went to look on 17th August 2014 there was just the one lonely looking hive consisting of a brood box and a super. I thought maybe the two colonies had been united but a little digging on the web turned up a story of the bees arrival and mentioned that unfortunately their previous colony hadn't made it through the winter, doesn't mention the other colony but perhaps they were united. So this is actually a new colony that arrived in July.


You can see the frame of the Queen Excluder
between the Brood Box and the Super.

Today when I went to have a look it seems the bees' fortunes have changed and they were on a brood and a half. So as well as a regular deep box for the brood there was another super below the Queen Excluder which was also being used for brood rearing. Using a brood and a half is fairly common these days in the UK as the National  sized brood boxes we seem to have standardised with are one of the smaller hive types. Whilst it does mean you have two boxes and twice as many frames to manage and search for the Queen in, it increases the number of cells available in the brood box from 54,000 to 81,000 (the Commercial brood boxes I use have room for about 80,000 cells for comparison). You can tell it's a brood and a half and not two supers by the position of the Queen Excluder.

Brood and a Half
September is a little late to have a super still in place but this year we're having a strangely warm month and I've still got them in place on my hives at the moment too. Whilst I was loitering with phone in hand I decided to zoom in and film a little of the activity at the hive entrance. If you never seen black dots moving about on a screen before you're in for a treat :)

video


In October last year a new shed appeared on the site which I felt photoworthy. It was an art installation from the 2013 Freedom Festival and here's a snap of it for your delectation:


The Shed.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Mite Away Quick Strips

During my last hive inspection I took a photo of a Queen bee and spotted a varroa mite on a worker bee in the the shot. The chances of that happening are pretty slim, I'd actually taken a burst of images so I could choose the best one and the mite was only visible in one shot.

Varroa Destructor on a worker bee
As a result I decided to treat the hives for mites. There's a few different treatments beekeepers can use depending on what's happening in the hive. In the winter when there's no sealed brood in the hive a drizzling of oxalic acid solution is applied directly to the bees which does more harm to the mites, however if there's sealed brood in the hive then any mites in the brood are protected from the acid so it wouldn't be any use in August -unless the bees were broodless perhaps. During colony build up or after the honey has been removed I've used Api-Life Var before which is a bar impregnated with thyme oil, menthol and a few other things to treat varroa but at the moment I've still got supers on the hives so that rules that option out. This time I'll be going with a fairly new (to the UK) treatment based on strips of fondant and formic acid in a paper wrapper which acts as a wick. The product comes from Germany and they've called it the Mite Away Quick Strip or MAQS. Unlike other treatments it can be applied whilst supers are on the hives and treatment takes only 7 days unlike API-Life Var which needs repeating. Also this treatment is reported to penetrate brood cappings affecting mites are sealed within developing brood. Sounds pretty good and some may be thinking it could replace all the other mite treatments, however there is a popular school of thought that suggests using a range of treatments on the mites is wise to reduce the chances of mites developing resistance to the same treatments applied repeatedly which I'm inclined to go along with.

MAQS Beehive Strips
You can buy them in packs to treat two or ten hives. I have three hives but two small packs cost not much less than ten so I bought a large pack. They're supplied in a white bucket which I notice is a food grade plastic so I guess a lot of beekeepers will be repurposing them as honey buckets once empty.

Don't breathe in
Inside the bucket the strips are paired and sealed in plastic. A ten dose bucket contains 20 strips as you use 2 per dose. Even though they're in plastic wrappers the bucket is full of formic acid vapour and it's like taking a huge hit of smelling salt when you get that lid off, so I'd suggest not opening it indoors (..like I did) and trying not to breathe in.

Pictures!
The instructions for use are printed on the box in pictures. Basically you apply two strips on top of the brood box then if in use pop the queen excluder and super, or second brood box, or second brood box then queen excluder and super on top. The instructions look fairly idiot proof ..but the ingenuity of idiots is often underestimated. The instruction diagram show a hive with the frames aligned at 90 degrees to the hive entrance, this is called 'cold way' probably because of air coming in through the entrance. My hives are oriented with the frames parallel to the entrance or 'warm way' in beekeeping parlance. There's probably good arguments for warm way and cold way orientations but I've opted for warm way because of where I've located my hives and positioned the entrances, I also suspect that whilst it probably mattered more when people used solid wooden hive floors it's probably less important with the open mesh hive floors of today.

MAQS strips placed across the frames

My thinking is the strips need to placed across the frame tops regardless of the orientation of the entrance so vapour is being released into each seam, more so in the middle of the hive and each there is air flow around the strips to distribute the vapour through the hive. If the strips were placed along the frames you'd probably find a strong concentration of vapour under and above them and no or very little vapour reaching the centre of the hive.

Queen Excluder goes over the strips

Over seven days vapour from the evaporating strips fills the hive killing the mites -or 90% of them anyway. With this treatment ventilation is important to distribute the vapour so the manufacturer recommends leaving mesh floors open as opposed to closed with a sliding bottom board. Apparently a test with closed floors showed a 4-5% drop in efficacy. They also not that bees aren't keen on the stuff and it's common for treated colonies to be seen bearding (hanging out of the front of the hive in a mass). After seven days what's left of the strips can be removed and composted. There's some handling instructions for the strips. Basically wear gloves and don't get the stuff it on you. Whilst it does mean a distribution of formic acid throughout the hive the manufacturers point out this is something which occurs naturally in honey in concentrations of up to 2,000 ppm whereas in the hove air the formic acid concentration stays below 100 ppm so it should have no impact on the honey. Now to wait 7 days..

Monday, 11 August 2014

An August Inspection

Well the bees in Hive3 seems to be calming down a bit, they're still far from placid but today they didn't sting me once which is a huge improvement. The Queen is pretty elusive, I've not actually seen her since the day I marked her and with a splot of green paint on her back she should be hard to miss. However she's definitely laying eggs in there now.

Black Bees and Buckfast bees.
Spot the difference.
In the photo above of the bees on the top bars of Hive3 you can see some bees have one, two or three orangey brown bands on their abdomens. The sections of abdomen are actually called tergites and you can also see that some of the bees have only black tergites. Those are, believe it or not, the black bees. As time goes on the proportion of black bees in the hive should increase and as the Buckfasts reach the end of their short summer lifespan. Unfortunately I probably won't have a black bee colony for long because as soon as they raise a new Queen and she goes off to mate she'll mate with drones that re very unlikely to be the same race so it'll be mongrels from then on.

Hive1 had been queenless but I wasn't too worried as I'd spotted a huge Queen Cell in the middle of the comb so knew they were superseding her. During today's inspection I didn't see any eggs or young brood but I did spot her wandering about the comb. I suspect she's recently hatched and may not yet have mated, there's been some very rainy days recently so she may not've been able to make any mating flights so far. Because of that I decided against marking her just yet. Don't want a big blob of paint marking her out for birds after all. The hive was already very populous so despite being briefly queenless so they've been busy working the super. I'd actually given them a second super but they've barely touched that so far.

Plenty of capped brood in Hive2

Hive 2 is pretty full of brood ready to emerge and their Super is busy with already. I think when the current brood emerges they're going to need more space so I'll probably be adding another super very soon.

It's busy in the Super.
The Queen was happy to pose briefly for a picture. She's still the same Queen I found and marked in June and she's laying up the hive very nicely. Think I should've maybe been a bit quicker off the mark this year and made moves to replace the queens earlier rather than waiting for the bees to do it mid season.

The Queen of Hive2 going about her royal business
The more eagle eyed out there may spot something not so good in the above picture. I didn't see it at the time but when I was scaling it down to post on here I spotted a bee with a varroa mite on it's back.

Varroa Destructor on a worker bee, just above centre.
It's currently believed there's some level of varroa in every hive although some people will swear down their hives are mite free it's a little unlikely -unless you happen to be keeping bees in the Pitcairn Islands anyway. However you can't usually see them on the bees themselves unless there's a very heavy varroa load. The usual way to spot them is by putting a sticky board below the colony to catch any mites that fall through the mesh floor or to pull out some drone brood with a capping fork and check them for mites. I went through all the other photos I took today and couldn't see any more varroa but that's not too surprising really as they'll mostly be in with the sealed brood anyway.

Pulling out Drone Brood to check for Varroa
I've ordered some Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) today and when they arrive I'll be treating all three hives just to be safe.