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Monday, 22 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 so I wondered if they were queenless so did a quick inspection the week later, and 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 capped eggs and I spotted their green marked Queen wandering about -she seems rather brazen wandering about in plain view. Hive1 was a different story though. They were edgy and 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 so I decided to bite the bullet and buy a couple of Queens.

It's really not the season for buying 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 in the 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 with 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 8 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 there were so many stings stuck in my gear it was probably a wasted effort. Despite my being armoured up and wearing gardening gloves one bee still managed to plant a sting in my finger. I got the new Queen into Hive3, closed them up and opened Hive1 to pop their Queen in. 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 been too late for a good mating. I got the Queen clip and removed her then closed up Hive1, 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 Queen. Hive2 was so populous 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 could cause congestion in the hive so I removed a couple of frames of brood and popped them with some frames of honey 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 so I decided to just leave the plastic cage in there till Spring rather than disrupt the bees further by digging it out. As I was trying to work my way towards it I did spot some very young brood though so I think she's okay in there and laying.

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

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 :)


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 ( I did) and trying not to breathe in.

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.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Avenues Open Gardens, 2014

Every year a number of houses in The Avenues area of Hull fling open their gates and invite in all and sundry to peruse their gardens to raise money for a huge range of charities, this year it was Dove House Hospice. A charity providing community care for people with life limiting illnesses. You buy a map of the gardens and the money goes to the charity, some householders were also selling items ranging from plants to cakes through to books and bric a brak. This year the Avenues Open Gardens fell on Sunday the 6th and 13th of July 2014. There's a lot of gardens to see with some being open one of the days and others both. I previously blogged about it in 2012 but seem to have missed last years. This year with a friends small child in tow we only got round about a quarter of the gardens.

This tree sculpture is a tribute to St Cuthbert.
It was carved in 2006.
As well as nice big Victorian houses and fountains The Avenues has a number of adult trees. Unfortunately over the years some of these have died back. From 1999  number were turned into a collection of sculptures. Over the years their numbers have dropped as they've to decayed or been unexpectedly chopped down by the council and the last few are expected to be removed and sold off at some point.

 There's usually a few interesting things to see in the various gardens. I can't recall what was in each garden at the moment but in the first was a rather impressive 18 year old bonsai tree, and a number of brightly colour Coleus. One had a large hole with the legs of a mannequin sticking out from the shrubbery in it. I'd guess it was possibly a pond at some point and jaunty crime scene look which to be honest you just don't see that often.

Old beehive tucked away
It wasn't long before I spotted an old beehive at the side of a garden. It wasn't in use but the lady of the house used to keep bees in the past. I'm not entirely sure what type of hive it is with the lip on the edge of each box. It may be some variation of the William Burroughs Carr Hive with straight instead of sloping sides in which case these would be lifts that go on the outside of the boxes containing the bees, otherwise I suspect once propolised those boxes would be very difficult to separate.

This? It's called um.. Red Flower I think.
Some of the gardens had obviously had a lot of time spent on them by folk who evidently knew what they were doing and what they were planting. The striking red flowering plant above is probably a Crocosmia Lucifer, according to the picture recognition wonders of Google Image Search.

Flock of Metal Birds
The Mushrooms and the Ivy
It's often interesting to see what people use to decorate their gardens and the range included chimney pots, wooden pails, a couple of flocks of metal birds, various ceramics, a huge ancient flag, random bits of metal and wood ware and I'm pretty sure I saw a ships figurehead at one point.

Wildlife pond
There was an abundance of water features ranging from fountainy things and waterfalls to fish ponds and wildlife ponds. Some were tucked away whilst others were focal points. There's certainly a lot of frogs living in the Avenues' gardens.

This one? Pink Flower. Definitely Pink Flower.
I thought this shed was fantastic
There were some unusual constructions in stone, wood and metal including the shed/arbour/summerhouse combination above.

WBC Hive
There's another beekeeper in the avenues and I had a look at his apiary. He's still making hive boxes from reclaimed wood. He also makes his own wax foundation which he said saves him a lot of money. Wax foundation is basically a sheet of wax beekeepers give to bees to kick start the comb building and help control where they build it. Most small scale beekeepers buy it ready made and it needs replacing every few years. He mentioned that two of his five colonies were queenless at the time. One of mine was queenless at the time too so it was good to know that even with over thirty years experience it's not always avoidable. He showed me some wax queen cells he'd made from a wooden mold, basically 4 rounded dowels protruding from a base which are dipped in wax. They looked like bullet casings but apparenty the bees like them. I've used the Jenter system myself which consists of plastic cups and metal tubes to make artifical queen cells and I can imagine the ones made from wax are more readily accepted by the bees. I'm not sure how they work but I'd assume they can be stocked with an egg or grub by a beekeeper or the bees themselves may move a viable egg into the cup if they're in the mood.

The last garden I looked at was home to a couple of recently arrived chickens. I'm not sure what breed they are, Barnvelders possibly, but they were very different to my Hybrids and Calder Ranger. Despite the size when I first looked at the run I actually missed them as their colouration was similar to the soil they were scratching in. One of them spotted my camera phone and posed long enough to get a headshot.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Big Black

Not an entry about Steve Albini's 80's noise metal band -although they're definitely worth a listen. This one's about a big black Queen.

The swarm I collected last month seem to be Black Bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) rather than Buckfast or descendants of Buckfasts. The rule of thumb way to recognise a black bee is, somewhat unsurprisingly, by it's colour -black or very dark brown. They do have browny orange fur but there should be no orangey brown sections of abdomen. There's also various measurements of body parts size, hair length etc to be taken into account if you want to be certain. There's a comprehensive article on how to identify black bees here.

I managed to locate the Queen and mark her with green paint (for 2014). She looks long and thin in comparison to the Queens in my other hives although part of that could be to do with having been slimmed down prior to swarming.

Black Queen with attendant worker, notice the black abdomen on both

You can see her slender abdomen shape
After I collected this swarm and along with another colony I'd made I found myself with 5 colonies which is realistically too many for my garden so I had to unite some colonies to get myself back down to three. I had to unite the swarm of black bees with Hive3 which contained the swarm I'd caught last year, I suspect they were probably Buckfasts originally. Black Bees have a reputation for not accepting other bees amongst their numbers and I can honestly say that at present this mixed race colony is seriously bad tempered. Whilst they were in the 6 frame nuc they were actually very placid but now they're sharing a hive with the Buckfasts the colony is very aggressive during inspections and I've had to walk away a few times already. On the first inspection after uniting them they put a good 6 stings into the wrist of my jacket within a few seconds of opening the hive. I had removed the Buckfast Queen from the other bees before uniting and I'm currently hoping that with time as the Buckfast workers die back they'll be replaced by Black Bees and the colony will revert to it's previously placid temprament. I united them on 3rd July and both sets of bee had eggs. With 3 weeks to emerge and a summer bee lifespan of 6 weeks I'm looking at early September by the time that happens. There was actually a break in egg laying after uniting to colonies but someone in there is laying a lot of eggs again so I'm hoping the original mated black Queen is still in there so I can see how they are to work with in comparison to my other colonies.