Saturday 31 May 2014

Log Book

I've been fascinated by bee biology for some years and a month ago decided to go in for beekeeping. I contacted the Kidderminster Beekeeping Association and as it happened there was a hands-on teaching day coming up at Bishopswood Nature Centre and I was able to go on it. It really was an impressive bit of teaching and I got to handle frames full of bees. And I'd never even seen inside a hive before. That was it - I was hooked.

Expert training for beekeeping novices

A week later there was a sale of hives by someone in Stourport giving up beekeeping for health reasons and I came away with a wooden National hive and (a bit of impulse buying here) a polystyrene Beebox hive. Next step was getting some bees so I registered with Kidderminster Beekeepers for a swarm. A few days later one came up in Stourport, I took by Beebox round (the National needed some work doing on it) and the swarm, now on a set of 5 frames, was transferred across. I was off on holiday for a few days so left them there to get used to their new accommodation.

I have three books on beekeeping and they all recommend keeping a log so I started one on my laptop. Then I had the idea of converting into a blog, possibly others may be interested in some of the content and can provide feedback - it's the modern way! So this first section of the blog is the whole log as it was when I decided to go online.

All books also recommend not jumping in at the deep end but going on a winter course and then starting gently in the spring. I'm afraid I decided to ignore that advice. At my age I don't hang around!

-------------------- 2014 ---------------------

Friday 16th May
Collected my bees last night, in my poly hive which now has 5  wooden frames holding the swarm and 5 of my own plastic frames with fresh foundation. Estimated DOB of swarm is 8th May.

Unfortunately it's a mix of brood and super frames, had somehow envisaged a nice new set of my red plastic frames. Reality is a bit different. Made a pint of weak syrup for them to take from a feeder. Have made a top board with a hole in it to take the feeder as the polybox doesn't have one. Took the door cover off last night, and this morning they are hovering round the hive exploring their new surrounds. But a few are coming in with pollen so that's encouraging. In the afternoon I kitted up to explore the frames but didn't get very far, all a bit daunting first time round. Can't see any comb on the plastic frames yet. Didn't quite have the courage to pull out and fully examine the frames so simply topped up their feed (looks like they've had some) and put the hive back together again. Did take a few photos though while I had the bee gear on. Not that they were very interested in me.

Saturday 17th May
Out-Apiary day with the Kidderminster Beekeepers. Visited two members' hives and learnt a lot more about how to recognise problems. Also had some hands-on experience removing and examining frames full of bees. Ken Beddoes was leading things so it was highly professional and informative. A very well timed day as it happened - this was just the extra confidence boost I needed. Now feel able to dive in (well, not literally) and check out my own hive.

Monday 19th May
Carried out first inspection of brood chamber, with the help of a not overly enthusiastic Helen who was on smoker duty.

- Min/Max thermometer in empty super showing 29C max. (a bit high I think)
- half of the pint of syrup has been taken so rate is a pint a week.
- five wooden frames (2 super 3 brood) have nectar stored, in about 20% of cells
- the two super frames are being grown downwards with new comb - very artistic it is too
- no pollen stores visible although there is plenty being taken in
- no brood visible, capped or not
- no queen cups/cells
- couldn't find the queen, if indeed there is one
- new comb just starting to be built on the first of the outer plastic frames

Thursday 22nd May
Added a pint of syrup to feeder which was almost empty. Also added a second hole to the feeder board and added some zinc mesh - this should improve ventilation. The Beebox doesn't have any through ventilation at all which is something my various books say is important. Two matchsticks under top will now allow through ventilation. Min/max was showing 20C max. I modified the hive stand to allow debris to fall through. Examined accumulated debris with microscope and found a live varoa mite and a longish insect with spots, of similar size. Must do a dust of icing sugar next time. I've had them for a week now, good progress I think.

one of the workers
Monday 26 May
Brood chamber inspection.
- thermometer in super showing 25C max
- 1 pint syrup added 4 days ago now almost gone
- both short frames now extended fully down with new comb, very impressive
- plenty of uncapped honey, capped honey, pollen stores
- at last, capped brood visible on several frames - I THINK I HAVE A VIABLE HIVE!
- some frames joined together by comb - bit of a nuisance, maybe I have the spacing wrong
- replacing frames difficult because of comb buildup, end spacer left out for now
- comb being produced well on one plastic frame, about 4 still untouched so plenty of room.
- no queen cups
- couldn't see the queen
- bees given a dusting of icing sugar
- moisture visible around top so added a few small spacers

Tuesday 27th May
Went down to watch the bees at around 5pm and under the chair I normally use I noticed a ball of bees on the lawn, about 6ft from the hive. Took a photo out of interest and brushed off a few from the top which revealed a large bee in the centre. The ball was a queen surrounded by her handmaids!

What she was doing there I have no idea. Possibly she fell off a frame when I was inspecting them yesterday but she would have been surrounded by her entourage which would have been very conspicuous. All a mystery. Anyway I rushed back to the house, picked up a small box and queen marker pen and donned my bee gear. Back down the garden I scooped the ball of bees into the box and managed to put a dab of white marker paint on the queen. No time to let it dry, just dropped them all at the entrance to the hive expecting the queen to crawl back home. But she just stayed there and loads more bees came out to join the scrum.

So I took the top off the hive, prised a few frames apart, brushed the scrum into the box and dropped them in the gap between the frames. With a bit of encouragement they went down the gap. A ball of bees has a very strange feel to it, like a very soft ball of foam. They were going for me at this stage so I put the top on and beat a hasty retreat. They followed me all the way up the garden and a few clung on hoping for an opportunity to sting. Went back at 9am with the smoker to put the top board and super box on with a pint of syrup in the feeder. A peace offering! They sounded pretty angry still. Very different from the gentle hum I've encountered previously. So I don't know what's going on and I don't know if I've done the right thing. If it wasn't 'my' queen but another then they can fight it out in the hive. But it's highly unlikely that a queen would be out with just a small band of carers. Another possibility is that she had just been ejected for some reason. If so they'll just have to eject her again. Didn't know bees could be so exciting!

Thursday 28th May
Normal activity at hive, no sign of any great carnage. Someone has suggested that the ball of bees could have been a small cast from another hive, and there are a few hives quite nearby. Yet another possibility - who knows?

Tuesday 3rd June
Quite a bit of rain due tomorrow so decided to do my weekly hive inspection today and also top up their feed which I'm sure has all been taken. Put my bee kit on, got the smoker going, gathered everything I thought I'd need and headed for the hive. Gave them a generous blast of smoke at the entrance but the buzz level increased markedly. The smoke seems to get them angry rather than calm them down. Smouldering corrugated card does smell pretty evil, perhaps I should try wood shavings.

Result of inspection:
-Max temp recorded in super was 24C
-Feeder dry, lots of dead ants trapped in the dried syrup. Need to look into the ant issue.
-Plenty of new comb on outer frames but still about four not touched yet.
-Inner frames have good mix of nectar & capped brood. Saw the odd grub.
-Comb build between frames a nuisance
-One queen cell discovered. Took cap off and there was a large grub. Removed it although not sure I did the right thing. Maybe they need a new queen. Can't be about to swarm with all that space.
-Couldn't find the queen although there was a cluster that could have been the queen with her entourage. Didn't linger to investigate as the colony was really aggressive.
-No assistant so couldn't give them a dusting of icing sugar.
-Put the hive together again and added a pint of syrup to the feeder.

All a bit rushed as they were not in a good mood. Would liked to have examined the frames in more detail and maybe take a few photos but no chance. There were bees all over me and a few were trying to get under the elastic on my cuffs. How come these bees know about bee suits! Afterwards I counted a few dozen stings attached to my top, that's a few dozen bees that died for no other reason than I didn't leave them alone. Makes me wonder about this weekly inspection routine. A dozen stayed with me all the way back to the house but slowly drifted off after I swatted them with the bee brush. Except for one persistent devil that just wouldn't give up. Now that I'm satisfied they are expanding and producing young, I think I'll leave them alone for a few weeks now, just top up their feed when the weather gets bad. With the current rate of comb production they are not going to run out of living space for a several weeks.

Friday 6th June
I like to sit and watch the bees coming and going, interesting to see the different colours of pollen and also to try to make some sense of their actions around the entrance. However they no longer seem as tolerant of me. I'm usually about 8' away with a pair of binoculars but the last few days after a couple of minutes they are buzzing around me and I get the distinct feeling that I'm pushing my luck staying so I beat a retreat. Looking back there are usually half a dozen circling the chair I was seated on. I suspect they are still picking up my scent, the scent that drew them to me in the first place no doubt. Nice to know I'm so irresistible. After a few minutes they disperse. This afternoon Helen was having a doze in the conservatory but had a rude awakening when a bee stung her. I was just outside so was able to rush in and swat it - certainly looked like one of mine. An unprovoked attack on an innocent woman. Helen thought it highly unfair that she should be the one to get stung while the person who disturbs them (ie me) hasn't been stung yet.
As it happens I've just finished work on providing some hive space further down the garden,  probably 150' from the house rather than the present 50'. I'll think about moving them.

Monday 9th June
A friend who might be interested in beekeeping came round so I took the opportunity to do an inspection with a photographer at hand. Hence the pics!
- max temp recorded in feeder super 26C
- feeder empty after 6 days, topped up with another pint of syrup (1pt to 1Kg)
- still about 4 frames not touched but visible progress since last week
- no queen cells
- not really sure if I spotted the queen, there was pretty big one that could have been her, not easy for a novice
- plenty of brood cells and capped/uncapped store
- couldn't see any eggs or grubs, I'm hoping that's down to my inexperience.

New comb being drawn out on one of the plastic outer frames
This is a short (super) frame that the bees have grown downwards with new comb
There were in a pretty good mood today although I took the precaution of ensuring I inspected during a warm afternoon, didn't overdo the smoke, and gave them an icing sugar dusting (which really seems to calm them, as I'd read it should). In retrospect I think I should have shaken the bees off the frames to get a better view of the chambers. And I should have removed excess comb from the tops of the frames. Maybe next time. A bit too much to remember at this stage in my apprenticeship, easy to overlook the obvious. So all a bit inconclusive but they seem happy enough.

Tuesday  10th June
Spotted this spider lurking in a cotoneaster bush that was covered in small bumble bees. Sure enough when I check ten minutes later it had bagged one. Don't know how many it gets through each day but he's looking pretty fat.

Yet another hazard for bees to face

This bumble bee never stood a chance
Wednesday 11th June
A rare sight, one of my own bees in my own garden.

During the afternoon it warmed up a lot and about 30 or so of the bees came out, as they often do when it warms up. They just swarm around aimlessly for an hour or so then all go in again leaving just the usual steady stream of foragers. I've no idea why they do this - if anyone has a theory I'd be very pleased to hear.

Thursday 12th June
Another warm day and they are doing the same trick, swarming around the hive. Except today there are a lot more of them. For a short Youtube video clip Click Here (yesterday's embedded video was too small so I'm linking to it this time, should be better).
They swarm around the hive at the same time, 3:30pm, just as the hive moves into shade, and then after an hour they resume normal behaviour and there's just the odd one flying in and out. All a bit disconcerting, Will they really swarm tomorrow? Thinking of adding a 'super' to give them plenty more space, although there is plenty of space in the brood box for them. It can't do any harm, so worth a try.

Friday 13th June
Yesterday evening I added a super thus increasing their living space by about 80%. I also gave them another pint of syrup as they'd guzzled the syrup I gave them only 4 days ago. And are they grateful? Not at all. At 11am I was in the garden and heard a load buzzing. Around the hive the air was thick with bees and there were a few hundred on the front. It certainly looked as if they were about to swarm away.

There was nothing I could think of to do so I left them to it. If they go they go. But I did put my second, unoccupied, hive nearby on the off chance they might move in. And I set up my video camera so at least I'd have something to remember them by, a last flypast as they swarm away into the distance. To view the short Youtube video Click Here

But an hour later they settled down and slowly started to go inside. Very soon it was business as usual with a few foragers coming and going. I phoned one of Kidderminster Beekeepers' experts who suggested it could have been a new queen going off on a mating flight, or it could be that they were just too hot in the hive. The latter idea struck a chord as the swarm behaviour stopped when the large walnut tree cast a shadow over the hive. So I placed a sheet of plywood on top to act as a sun shield. The test was at 3:30pm when they did a mini-swarm yesterday and as it happens there is then a shadow cast by the hedge following full exposure to the sun, No swarming, so maybe the poly hive doesn't keep the heat out as well as I'd expected. The plywood will do for now, I'll see if they behave themselves tomorrow.

Monday 16th June
At 3pm they were doing a mini-swarm act again, only 30 or so this time but it wasn't so warm today. Decided to do an inspection and that went ok but was inconclusive in terms of there being a queen around, or not.
- couldn't see any eggs or grubs or brood, although that may be down to my inexperience in spotting things
- did spot a worker emerging from a cell but that just proves that there was a queen there 21 days ago
- didn't spot the queen
- no queen cells
- bees are expanding their comb area, only three frames left now without comb being pulled.
- seem to be an awful lot more bees than last time, but difficult to be sure, can't exactly count them
- they haven't done anything with the super frames so I left the super to improve airflow
- gave them another pint of syrup
- they are using propolis to gum up the  zinc mesh ventilation I added on the top board - not very bright of them if it really is getting a bit warm in there
- they were in a good mood today - nobody tried to sting me - as far as I could tell

So the egg for the emerging worker I spotted would have been laid on 26th May. A day before I  found what I thought was the queen on the lawn outside the hive.  Also I've read that lack of queen pheromone will initiate swarming action. So today's lack of visible grubs is ominous.

Tuesday 17th June
I can set my watch by the bees - 3pm and there're out in force. Not very hot today, no sun at that time but out they came again. Hmmm

Saturday 21st June
Attended an 'out-apiary' session with the Kidderminster Beekeeper group, at a set of hives owned by one of the group members. Basically this involves inspecting the hives, under the direction of the amazingly knowledgeable Lyndon Corbett, and taking whatever action is needed to keep the colony healthy. Picked up a load of information and handling tips, now feel a lot more confident in handling my own colony.

I can for example now recognise eggs! They are the longish objects in the photo below, and I'd been looking for larger round white objects for some reason.

The photo below shows the somewhat longer queen, not so difficult to spot as she'd been conveniently marked with a green dot on an earlier inspection..

And I learned how to carry our bee genocide. One colony had lost its queen and so the female worker bees had started laying eggs in her absence. Sadly,  as the workers are not fertilised they can only lay drones, which are useless males. The colony is therefore doomed and the only recourse it seems is to 'get rid of' all the bees and start again. So the thousands of bees were knocked off the frames some distance away from the hive, and left to die - they can't survive outside a colony. ( I was only acting under instructions of course - so I wasn't really guilty!)
At least now I'll feel less bad about the few I inadvertently crush when doing my own hive inspections.

Sunday 22nd June
Instilled with new confidence after yesterday's Apiary Day I decided to do an inspection to see if I could find any new generation of workers being made. About to get kitted up when an experienced beekeeper neighbour called to see how I was doing. He agreed to join me in the inspection - just what I needed, an expert opinion. The result was that my previous lack of sighting of any eggs, brood cells or grubs was correct. However my neighbour spotted the queen and also some eggs - which I couldn't see even when they were pointed out. I also would probably have missed the queen. It would appear that she's had a few weeks off  but has, and only within the last 3 days, started laying again. Had I not had my neighbour's experienced view of things I would, left to myself, have declared the colony defunct. But now I'm in with a chance if she carries on laying. Maybe she's getting old, but now there are eggs then the colony can decide what to do about her. Maybe they'll replace her with a supersedure cell. Looking at my inspection report of 3rd June it may well have been a supersedure cell I removed. As if bees don't have enough to contend with, without novice keepers.

The queen going through a bad patch could well have accounted for their neo-swarming behaviour so I have now removed the sun screens and the super, the bees in the super being knocked down into the brood chamber and the one frame that they'd been filling in the super was moved down into the brood chamber.

Wednesday 25th June
They have certainly settled down. No odd behaviour and lots of foraging going on. Took a one minute video of them at the hive entrance. A bit like the traffic at Heathrow except that arrivals sometimes crash into bees on the ground and departures are a bit erratic. In one minute I counted 16 arrivals and 23 departures. Two different types of pollen being brought in, an orange coloured pollen and a light grey pollen which, at a guess, is from Balsam which grows in profusion about 1000 yards away. To view the one minute Youtube video Click Here .

Sunday 29th June
Time for another inspection, see if my colony is viable. A warm afternoon so the bees should be in a good mood.
Took off the super with feeder and prised off the excluder without too much difficulty. A little smoke to calm them down and in we go. A week after the last inspection and they've been very busy indeed. Now all the frames have comb and there's loads of nectar in the outermost one. Working in from the end frame, there's lots of food stashed away and at the centre there's a load of capped brood cells. Just what I was hoping for. Didn't spot any grubs or the queen but things look good. I did spot what looked like two queen cells though, it could be they are planning a supersedure, I'll leave them to it and just hope they know what they are doing and don't swarm. Decided to leave them in peace so quickly built it back up again and topped up their syrup bowl. As all the frames now have comb I decided to put a super of frames on top. With so much brood there'll hopefully be an expansion in numbers shortly. I also gave them a good dusting of icing sugar for good measure and took the opportunity of swapping the end frame for a new one with raw foundation. This way I'll get a frame of  comb for my second hive - who knows when it will come in handy. The removed frame had a lot of nectar stored on it so I propped it against the hive to let the bees clean it up. They really are most obliging. In all I was only in for about five minutes and as soon as I put the hive together again they settled down immediately. Definitely in a good mood today!

Cleaning up the wax honeycomb 
Friday 4th July
The bees have cleaned up the comb wonderfully. The structure of their wax comb, built just a few weeks ago, is now revealed in all its beauty and precision. It is amazing to think that they can construct such a thing in pitch dark, just using their antennae to feel their way and their mouths to mould tiny pieces of wax that they exude from their underbody wax glands.Not only do they get the hexagonal shape perfect but they get the angle right too, sloping so that the nectar doesn't run out. All this behaviour is seemingly pre-programmed in their DNA and not acquired (like, they don't go on a training course and their mummy, the queen, certainly doesn't teach them). But how does that programme get itself  interpreted via such a minuscule brain? The only way I can imagine is that the DNA causes the instincts to be wired into the brain as it develops. Then there's space left for learning, like where they live, and what their queen smells like.

recycled honeycomb

Thursday 10th July
A few days ago I collected a second colony from a member of the local beekeeper group. I left my wooden national hive for a few days for the frames to be moved across and for them to settle down. Yesterday I collected another poly Beebox hive off a different group member and today have transferred the colony to this new poly hive while also doing an inspection. I've decided I quite like the modern polystyrene boxes, I'm sure they must be far dryer and warmer in winter and dryer and cooler in summer. Most beekeepers don't like them though, and a few positively hate them.
Yesterday was spent building a stand, landing platform and cutting a small entrance out of the plastic door blocker that came with it. I've also decorated the landing strip - hope they like it!

New hive and colony safely installed 

Inspection Report - New Hive
The colony came on 5 frames and these have lots of brood and capped honey. The other frames are new with undrawn foundation but the bees are working on several of these and there's honey being stored on them. No queen cells being built and good brood pattern and plenty of space so all seems good. Gave them a dusting of icing sugar for good measure. And decided to give them a feed of syrup as a housewarming present. They seem a very good-tempered bunch.

Inspection Report - Old Hive
While kitted up, decided to check over the existing colony. While not strongly aggressive they were not exactly welcoming either so after checking the first few frames of the brood box and seeing lots of brood I decided to leave them in peace. I did however check all the super frames and all seems well. No brood so the excluder seems to be working and lots of comb being built and plenty of honey going in, but none of it capped as yet. Probably ok for a good month but will check again in a few weeks.

So I think I can safely let them all get on with it for a while.

Wednesday 16th July
The new colony is working its socks off. I took a short video of them bringing in pollen of various colours, and not just in their pollen baskets but occasionally on their head, back and legs. The bees also have a surprising variety of colour and stripes. Their mother the queen obviously found lots of different drones to mate with on her nuptials. For Youtube video Click Here.

Thursday 17th July
Decided to do a quick check on the hives to see how their honey gathering was going.

First (old) Hive: The super frames are all being drawn out nicely and there's good honey weight on the central frames, but no capped honey yet. So there seems to be plenty of work for them to be getting on with. Gave them a dusting of icing sugar and boxed them up again without disturbing the main brood chamber.

Second (new) Hive: I'd intended topping up their feeder but that wasn't possible as they'd built comb right into the entrance and filled it with honey too. They'd also filled the space between the frames and the crown board with honey filled comb. I checked the brood chamber and the outer frames are almost fully drawn out so they are working well. Decided to put a super on top rather than feed them. I don't want them to run out of space. I also took the opportunity to install a temperature probe just above the centre of the brood chamber. This has a digital readout and I fixed it to the outside with adhesive velcro. Boxed them up again and after a short time the display was reading around 34C - just like the books say it should. Be interesting to see if it drops at all at night.

Sunday 27th July
This afternoon was an out-apiary event with the local bee group. It comprised a visit to the hives installed at the Bishop's Wood Centre, the same set of hives that started me off on this venture some two months ago. About ten members under the direction of tutors Lyndon Corbett and Ken Bedoe checked out a couple of hives that were deemed to be suspect. The first was a simple case of overcrowding so an extra super was installed. the second was without a queen, as manifest by poor brood pattern (mainly drone cells) spurious eggs in the brood chamber and super and  general lack of vigor in the colony. The opinion was that one or more females had started laying eggs, which would account for the drones as that's all they can lay. And of course there was no queen - at least we never found one. So it was decided to re-queen the hive, something I'd never seen before so it was of particular interest. A nucleus hive was set in the position of the original hive, and the frames from the original hive were then taken about twenty feet away and vigorously shaken to dislodge all the bees. The original hive was also taken away and all the bees shaken off. The idea is for all the 'normal' workers to return to the hive location and enter the new hive, the nucleus. The crucial point in the operation is that any female that had started to lay (and any queen for that matter) would be unable to fly well enough to make it back to the new hive. Having set up the new colony, a new queen (acquired from a commercial outfit) was introduced into the hive. And this is another nifty operation. The colony needs to get used to her smell and accept her (otherwise they'll probably kill her as an intruder) and to achieve this she is placed in a meshed plastic box with a candy plug at one end. The bees eat through the candy and a day or so later she can get out, by which time they will have become used to her smell and accepted her as their queen. How clever is that?

Introducing the new queen to the hive.

Thursday 31st July 
I was watching the first hive for a while today with binoculars and noticed that the entrance was very 'busy'. Quite a few wasps around looking for an opportunity, and the guard bees were chasing them off. I'll have to reduce the entrance in a few weeks as the wasps become more of a problem in the autumn. And there was a lot of wrestling between drones and workers. Looks like
the males are being turfed out already. The mating period has now passed so they are deemed to be a waste of space and food, so out they go! No free-riders in a bee colony.

Saturday 2nd August
Did a quick check to see how the supers were being filled.
Old Hive - about 70% of the frames have plenty of capped honey. I need to decide if it's worth adding another super given the fact that it's now August and the food supplies will be falling off.
New Hive - the super I fitted two weeks ago is still being drawn out and there's no sign of any honey in there. Not much progress really although there are lots of bees up there. Hopefully they are putting all the incoming food into the brood chamber. They certainly have enough space.

Decided a bit later, having read one of my bee books, to add the super to the first hive. Also decided to give the second hive a feed of syrup to bring them on a bit so added an empty super to accommodate the feeder.

Monday 11th August
Decided to do a full inspection of both hives, they haven't been looked at properly for over a month now.

First Hive
Checked out all frames in the brood chamber and everything looked just fine. Plenty of worker brood cells on the inner frames (no drone cells) surrounded by open and capped honey. Saw plenty of grubs. Outer frames pretty well full of honey, most of it capped. Didn't see the queen, but then I don't think I'd recognise her if I bumped in to her.
The super is being filled up nicely, about 90% has nectar/honey and of this about 60% is capped. The second super with just 6 frames has hardly been touched, although there were a hundred or so bees in there, presumably drawing out the foundation. Good that they are filling up the hive from the bottom first. The bees were in a good mood too, a happy hive is a productive hive perhaps!

Second Hive
Brood chamber looked good, plenty of worker brood (no drone) and lots of food around the edge of the brood cells. After looking at a few frames decided things looked good so left them in peace. The super is coming on well with  nectar being stored in about 60%. Plenty of room in the outer frames. No brood cells so extruder is working. I topped up their feed with syrup to give them a bit of a boost. That super needs to have a bit more food in it by winter. Again, a good tempered colony, the smoker had gone out but wasn't needed. Did give them a good dusting of icing sugar though, which always seems to calm them.

Tuesday 19th August
Topped up the syrup in the second hive, checked progress on the 2nd super on the first hive - not a lot.

Monday 1st September
I've been wondering for some time whether I can take some of their winter honey store. I have two books, one says it's ok to spin off all the supers and another says the bees need at least one super for winter. The casting vote went to our local bee-guru who told me he takes the honey! So today I put bee-clearers beneath the supers on both hives. But I swapped the supers on the 1st hive so the full one is now on top, and put an empty super on the second hive, again below the full one. The bees form the 1st hive gave me a really hard time and I had to retreat to put on a second pair of trousers as they were stinging me though the trouser material. I also changed my boots for wellies, the black socks that I had on with the boots were thick with bees. I had read that they go for dark clothing - I now know it's true. So hopefully in two days time the top supers will be clear of bees and I can steal their honey stash simply by lifting off the bee-free supers. That's what the book says anyway. I will of course have to feed them more in the winter to make good the loss but apparently sugar syrup comes with the advantage over honey that the bees don't have to clear their digestive tract. Going out for a crap in the depths of winter is quite a hazardous venture for a bee.

Tuesday 2nd September
By evening, the super on the first hive has been cleared of bees so I removed it to the conservatory ready for Friday's extraction. The send hive however has not been cleared at all. So put the clearer board from the first hive on the second hive, I'll give it until tomorrow and see how things look.

Wednesday 3rd September
Second hive still not cleared so took the Porter valves apart to check them (they seem ok) and add some plastic shim to reduce the size of the bee corridor. I think the second colony is slightly smaller that the first so it's worth a try. Put the modified clearer board back.

Thursday 4th September
Second hive still not cleared so decided to take out the frames with capped honey and just brush off the bees. I put them in a spare super and quickly made a getaway up the garden to place the super in the conservatory with the other super. The bees were pretty annoyed at having their honey taken - who can blame them.  But only half the honey has been capped so they get to keep the uncapped frames, plus they'll get the empty frames and cappings to clean up so I think that's a pretty fair split. I'm not sure the bees would agree but I'm not asking.

Friday 5th September
So it's honey extraction day at last. Collected the centrifugal spinner from the local beekeeping group and set to work using the kitchen as my production centre. I used a bread knife to remove the wax cell caps which for some cells was fine but it didn't touch the shallow cells so I raked the tops off with a kitchen fork. Seemed to work reasonably well but I did end up with a lot of wax and honey. Not that it was wasted as I was intending feeding it back to the bees. As it happened I had just the right number of frames, nine, to fill the extractor. As I'd not done this before I had no idea of how fast to crank it so started slowly and gradually built up speed until I could hear the honey being splatted on the wall of the extractor. It took about 5 minutes of spinning for the splattering to stop, the point at which I guessed it was all extracted. Initially the honey was drained off into jars via a metal sieve but this took a long time so I decided to drain it into a plastic container instead and bottle it at a later date. A much better way to do things. So at the end I had five jars of honey and enough in the plastic container for another ten or so, all very gratifying. It tasted good too, but that may just be because it's my own honey of course. I'd already printed some labels and took great pleasure in admiring my small batch of professional looking jars of honey. Cleaning up was not so bad a job, I moved the spun frames and honey/wax debris out to the conservatory so I could clean the kitchen and the extractor. My big mistake of the day was leaving the conservatory door open. Within a few minutes there were two or three bees in there and within a few minutes more dozens more had arrived and numbers were building fast. Plus a few wasps for good measure. I rapidly donned my bee kit and moved everything out into the garden.  I then retreated to the kitchen, taking extra care to close door, and finished cleaning up. After the clean-up I put on my bee suit again and took the frames and cappings to the hives in two supers, one for each hive, so the bees could reclaim the remaining honey and clean up the frames for me. It took a surprising amount of time to complete the whole extraction exercise, but I'll be lot quicker next time and won't make the same mistakes again. So, a good learning day, with a lot more honey at the end of it all than I'd anticipated.

Sunday 7th September

Incoming bees with white backs from Balsam flowers

A busy Bee-Day, fitting mouse guards to entrances, making base boards to catch any falling varroa mites, and last but not least applying a sachet to Varroas treatment to the brood chambers. Next application is in 7 days but will have to be Saturday as holidays get in the way.
Did a brood chamber inspection before squirting in the varroa fluid, the results were much the same for both hives, briefly:-

Plenty of food on all frames, brood on inner frames plus some grubs, but not a lot. Didn't spot eggs but then I never do. Ditto the queen but she's obviously there somewhere. Lots of empty brood cells at centre of frames, now being used for honey. The pattern fits the anticipate fall off in worker production for this time of year. I only went halfway in as the pattern will almost certainly be a mirror image, but next time I'll try to inspect from the other side. I see it as a trade off of keeping the disturbance to a minimum and not wanting to miss anything. Also, by stopping halfway it's highly likely the queen will not be disturbed as she's likely to scurry away from the intrusion. Both colonies were pretty angry but not overly aggressive. I've known worse. A major problem continues to be getting the first super off the queen excluder without taking the excluder with it. I think the problem lies in the fact that the hive has top bee space and so there's no space at the bottom between the excluder and the first super so they apply lots of propolis. Following some advice at yesterday's Worcestershire Bee Convention in Pershore, I've not replaced the excluder on one of the hives (the first one). Apparently it can stop them going up to the super for food in the winter months. I'll take the opportunity to see if I can add bee space to one side of it.

It's been a hectic week of bee keeping, I've learnt how to make and use clearers, how to extract honey from frames and deal with it (and how to get the bees to clean up after me), and how to do varroa treatment. Have also put mouse guards on and fitted base boards to catch mites. Plus a full day of talks and hands-on experience at the Pershore Beekeeping Conference. But the sight of my dozen jars of honey nicely labelled up is a real treat. I've earned it I reckon.

Foraging on local Himalayan Balsam - loathed by some, but loved by bees

Sunday 21st September
Back late last night from a week's holiday cycling up the Mosel. The 3rd application of Cleanhive Varroa treatment is now a day overdue but nothing I can do about that.With so much gardening to catch up on I decided to do the first hive today and the other tomorrow. Sat with binoculars to see what they are bringing in and was amazed at how much pollen they are finding still. I has to be all that Balsam from about half a mile away.

Doing one hive at a time also means I don't get mixed up with what I saw where, so here are a few notes for the record:

- A large number of dead varroa mites have been caught on the floor beneath the bottom grill.
- The bees are still cleaning up the frames from the honey extraction so I'll leave them to it.
- They have finished off the syrup feed I left them with - no big surprise there
- They are still putting honey in the middle few frames in the super but nothing's capped yet
- No queen excluder fitted on this hive but no evidence that madam has been up to the super.
- The brood chamber is pretty well stocked, end frames are full and capped.
- A sample check on a brood frame near the centre showed brood cells still but the central cells are now being used for honey store.
- Gave the brood chamber bees a good squirt from a Hiveclean Varroa Stick sachet.
- They were all in a good mood, no attempt to sting me. My smoker had gone out but I didn't miss it, no doubt the fine weather helps.

Monday 22nd September
Results from the inspection of the second hive are:

- A large number of dead varroa mites have been caught on the floor beneath the bottom grill.
- The bees have finished still cleaning up the frames from the honey extraction so I'll remove them.
- Syrup all gone
- The super is about 80% full and largely capped.
Third frame from super, lots of food for the winter

- The brood chamber is very well stocked, end frames are full and capped.
- A sample check on a brood frame near the centre showed plenty of larvae and capped brood cells.
- Gave the brood chamber bees a treatment from a Hiveclean sachet.

Lots of bees around - super removed to access brood chamber

3rd frame in showing brood cells and honey & pollen stores

Close-up showing larvae

As with the first hive, the bees were in a good mood and made no attempt to defend their stores. Warm calm weather no doubt a big factor, and again I didn't need the smoker. This looks a very vigorous colony with a large number of bees still (no, I didn't count them, it just appeared that way) and a brood chamber and super with good level of stores.  I won't be feeding this lot again for a while.

Saturday 27th September
Read that the syrup has to be provided before it gets too cold for them to go up to the super so gave both hives a feed, about a litre each.

Thursday 2nd October
Mowing the grass around the first hive and I noticed lots of bees crawling on the grass. Probably about 20 within a six foot radius of the hive. Examined a few and they have deformed wings, probably DWV (damaged wing virus) brought in by the varroa.  Saw one individual being wrestled out of the hive by a healthy looking worker, when I checked it, it had deformed wings. The photo of one victim shows the wing problem, and the bee is very young I think, very hairy. The concern is that if a high percentage of young bees have the problem there won't be enough bees to get through the winter. Checked the base board and there are lots of varroa still, even after three treatments. Decided to give them another dose of Hive Clean, I'll check them in a week's time.

A bee with DWV

Sunday 5th October
Having read up over the last few days about various options on varroa reduction I decided to get some thymol based treatment. A beekeeping neighbour has loaned me a few packs of ApiGuard. I went to ask his advice and he readily agreed I had a serious problem. So following his advice I removed the super off the problem hive and placed the ApiGuard sachet on the brood chamber. I've made a one inch spacer to go on top of the brood chamber and the roof fits directly on that. However the bees were not impressed with loosing their honey and gave me a hard time. One managed to sting me on the neck through my suit - not nice. Next time I'll wear a neck scarf! I've inserted two temperature probes, one in the brood chamber and one on the ApiGuard.  I've added a blanket around the hive and closed off the base, need to get the temperature up a bit as it's now October. Ideally this treatment should be done late August. But I don't want to bake the larvae, so I'll have to keep an eye on temperatures.

ApiGuard temperature on left, brood chamber on right

Saturday 11th October
The ApiGuard is certainly killing the varroa. The photo below shows four days accumulated varroa catch on the removeable floor board.

Saturday 18th October
Second ApiGuard sachet placed on the problem hive. The first one has all been eaten. Earlier in the week I'd decided not to give them the second dose but the continuing mild weather and the ongoing problem with significant numbers of DWV infected bees walking around the grass have changed my mind. The Varroa drop has been ongoing but gradually falling off.

Following a conversation with my beekeeper neighbour I decided to pull off the honey in the supers. So that's three frames off the problem hive and 6 off the second hive. Both have good supplies in the brood chamber so unless it's a hard winter I'm told they should be OK. I'll get some solid feed for them just in case. Advice on this varies according to who I talk to so it's my own gut feeling at the end of the day. I'm also influenced by having poly hives, which will make a significant difference in allowing them to keep warm. Better insulation equates to less fuel required, just like my own house.

The extraction went a lot better than last time although I made a lot of extra work by forgetting to filter the honey as it poured out of the extractor into my honey bucket. It's 6 weeks since my first extraction and I've forgotten something as basic as that. Must make myself an instruction card.

After pulling of the honey all nine frames went on top of the second hive for them to clean up. They should get quite a lot out of nine frames. So they now have the brood chamber, a queen extractor (another change of heart), a super with a full set of mainly empty frames, a crown board, and then a second super with the messy frames. When they have cleaned them up and I take them out I can use that top super to feed them. An advantage for me in doing the extraction, apart from getting a dozen jars of honey, is that next spring they'll start with an empty super and I'll know that any honey they put in it will be the new season's forage, probably oil seed rape.

Tuesday 9th December
This is the quiet period when the beekeeper has nothing to do and the bees just have to survive the winter.
A few weeks ago I have each hive some fondant - about a half Kilo each in an upturned margarine container (with a few bee-size holes in it) placed in the super over the ventilation hole. I also added plenty of insulation to the super to reduce heat loss in the brood chamber. And I've closed off the open floor mesh by sliding in a base board. There is a temperature probe hanging into the brood box but as the bee cluster moves around a bit it's not really much use other than telling if there's a heat source somewhere in there ( ie they are still alive). The best information I have is from my bathroom scales. Each week I take them down and measure the weight of the hive. I use a piece of wood to take the weight of the two rear legs and then position the scales under this piece of wood. So I get about half the hive weight on the scales. It's a bit coarse but over time it gives a very good trend. Plotting curve is always revealing. And a simple spreadsheet will do this for me very easily.

For example over the last 4 weeks the far hive has consumed 1kg of honey per week. It's weigh started at 42Kg and I would guess that all but about 10Kg has to be food (the hive support is very light and poly hives don't weigh much). So on this rate of consumption they should be ok for some 20 weeks. But if and when the queen starts laying (anytime after December) the consumption will rocket because they'll have to maintain a much higher brood temperature to keep the grubs alive. So the weight curve will also tell me when laying has begun. I can then give them some enriched brood food. The brood temperature has also dropped over that period - in line with the drop in outside temperatures. It started at 24C and is now down to 10C. But as I say I'm not sure if that's really the cluster or which part of the cluster.

The first hive has consumed less than half that amount of food. But it went in to winter very much weakened by DWV and there are not that many bees in there. I've insulated it in the way described above, short of putting a heater in there I con't do much else for them.

I would have liked to have the hives linked to monitoring systems by now and I've been working on what I call my BeeBug - a microprocessor based unit which measures various temperatures and hive weight and passes the data up to the internet. Once there it can be plotted. The system is ready but the internet link, using WiFi, is not. I'm waiting for some software libaries from the manufacturer of the microprocessor unit so in the meantime I'm monitoring things the old fashioned way, pen and paper. Which today means laptop and spreadsheet!

Thursday 31st December
The Beebug monitor has been installed for a week now, in the weaker, first, hive. It has been interesting to see the curves each day but I view them each morning not without some trepidation as the weather has been very cold with overnight lows of -6C and there really aren't many bees in there thanks to the DFV.  It's very difficult to know how they are doing as the brood chamber probe is in the centre of that section, and the cluster of bees will be somewhere else surviving by consuming the honey. Occasionally there is a welcome short lived jump in temperature, which I interpret as being the balls of bees moving across the sensor.  But the second sensor at the top of the brood chamber consistently shows about 5C above ambient so there's something in there producing heat and it can only be the bees! The hardware and the internet Wifi system has performed faultlessly, and if there have been problems then I'm not aware of them thanks to the watchdog protection I added. However the weight and temperature sensors have thrown up some problems (like the temperatures don't log below zero!) and I'll improve things a bit with the second unit which I hope to have installed by end-January.

Hive No.1 data log for 31st December with details shown for 8:50pm

The live BeeBug data log can be accessed at

There is seperate blog on the BeeBug project, see