Looking back it has been a long time since my last post where has the time gone? I have not touched my latest book for months either! I really must knuckle down and stop being distracted by life.
Anyway Late last year I ordered two Apis M.M. queen bees (Northern Europe/British Bees). One to re-queen my weak hive and the other to do a split from my strong hive which also has an A.M.M queen. (The weak hive had an Italian mongrel queen).
Unfortunately the weak hive despite having plenty of stores did not make it through the winter it was very sad. I could not see a reason for the demise so I assume the weak queen died and they just lost the will to live.
Anyway the strong hive with the A.M.M queen built up quickly. It is surprising when her girls fly it can be cold wet and windy and there is still a queue at the hive entrance. Nothing the like the Italian strain which would be well clustered in such weather!
I kept my order for two queens open as I figured I could easily take two splits from my remaining hive without any problem. Due to bad weather the delivery was postponed several times, as the queens had not mated. When I finally received notice that they had been posted to me the weather forecast could not have been worst rain cold and gales It was the last week of May for havens sake!
On the Friday the day before the queens were due to arrive there was a break in the clouds sufficient for me to split of six frames from the strong hive and install them either end of one of my empty Horizontal Top Bar Hives. I had the hive reversed with the main entrances blocked of and the single entrances either end also blocked off. I used two feeder follower boards and a single follower board in the middle of the hive so three follower boards isolated the splits.
The following day when the queens arrived it was dreadful weather so I gave them some water by smearing a wet finger over their cage and put them in a cool quiet place in a cupboard drawer.
The next day was little better however I did get a break in the constant rain so I dropped the queens into their respective hives the cage hanging from a top bar on a short wire. The entrances I half opened with a cut cork.
It was another four days before there was another break in the weather. I just lifted the topbars with the queen cages to check if they had been released. All was OK so I removed the empty cages topped up the feed in both sections and left them to it.
Several days later I noticed one side was quiet while the other was busy with bees coming and going. I checked the quiet hive and found the bees lethargic and queenless. They had either rejected her or something had befallen her.
I stapled some newspaper over my frame follower I had built for combining bees and slid the queenless ones up to the busy section of the hive with the newspaper follower separating them.
A couple of days later I checked and the bees had shredded the newspaper and all seemed calm and happy. So despite it being the coldest and wettest June since records began over two hundred years ago I have at least managed one successful split. I do wonder if I had been able to manage things a bit better rather than having to hurriedly do things between breaks in the torrential rain whether I would have had 100% success rate. Oh well I will never know but at least I have replaced my winter failure.
Bees Foraging From My New Hive
Two of my beehives were getting full (even after a wet summer) so it was time to give them a little space. I decided to remove three bars of caped comb from each.
I lifted the first bar giving me room to slide the other bars along. (I no longer have a follower board in my strongest hive as the bees have expanded to fill the whole thing). I moved the bars along until I came to the caped combs, which happened to be about four bars along in both hives. I lifted each bar out carefully then with a sharp jerk shook of most of the bees. I removed the rest using a soft bee brush. I then put each bar into one of the small NUC s I had built. It takes six bars so is just right for placing the full combs into. When I had removed three combs from the first hive I gave the Nuc a couple of puffs of smoke to keep the bees away and covered it with a cloth leaving a corner turned back slightly so any stragglers could escape.
I replaced the bars with new empty bars and closed the hive back up. I worked carefully from the storage end of the hive without disturbing the brood area, which is another advantage in having a hive with offset entrances. I repeated the process with the other hive and once it was closed back up I carried the honeycombs in the Nuc up to the house away from the bees.
I lifted each bar in turn, brushed of any remaining bees and cut the comb from the bar into a food standard bucket.
I put the lid on the bucket and stood it in the kitchen. I cleaned the remainder of the comb from the bars and stored the Nuc box and bars away in the shed.
To extract the honey from the comb I use the crush and strain method. First I cut the comb into smaller chunks.
Then with disposable rubber cloves break it up finely by hand. I find this the best way of doing it rather than using a tool such as a potato masher or wooden block. It is easier to get the comb and honey into a fine mush and remove any missed debris such as the odd earwig or bee.
The result should look like this.
There are several ways of making up a DIY strainer but if you look you can find them fairly cheaply on the Internet. I brought my strainer and honey bucket (It has a large clog free drain valve for filling jars) brand new from ebay.
Put the strainer over the honey bucket and pour the honey comb mush into the strainer. Cover the remainder of the mush with the bucket lid and let the honey drain through the strainer overnight. You can add more to the strainer as the honey drains through. Make sure you undertake this process in a closed room. You don’t want your house full of bees or wasps for that matter, trying to steal the honey.
I ended up with just over 14lbs of honey from the six combs plus a good saucepan full of bees wax for making polish.
Having only taken three combs from each hive there should be ample stores to see them through the winter. The next harvest will be when they are just starting to build up in the spring. I will then remove any remaining honey left over from their winter stores and give the bees plenty of empty space to expand into again.
Originally posted on my Beekeeping website http://www.topbarbeekeeping.com/
I had just arrived home the other evening when I received a frantic phone call from one of my neighbours. There was a swarm of bees round a small tree in his front garden.
I told him not to worry and I would be over shortly to have a look. I had half expected to find a wasp nest when I arrived. It is funny how many people can’t tell the difference between wasps, bumble bees and honey bees. I have been called out for a swarm of bees a few times but when I arrive I find mostly wasps and bumble bees.
To my surprise (and delight as I had just completed constructing a third hive) it actually was a swarm of honey bees!
One of the neighbors had a video camera, so this is me (The Fat Bloke) up a tree!
Today, beekeepers are losing 30 to 40 percent of their colonies each year to mites. News articles and scientific research warn the world of the imminent nutritional danger humans face since honey bees are dying at alarming rates. In the US, almost 50% of managed honey bees have been annihilated by a pest known as the Varroa Mite. Since the late 1980′s, the varroa mites have become a major problem to the health of bee populations and many beekeepers have experienced significant loss of production as well as increased costs.
Conventional beekeeping methods of using chemical treatments have only resulted in producing chemical resistant mites without causing an significant reduction in their numbers.
Natural beekeeping methods tackle the problem from a different angle. The first is letting the bees build their own comb rather than using foundation. The Varroa prefers larger cell sizes such as drone cells and the larger cell size forced on the bees by comb foundation.
When left to their own devices the bees will construct comb with smaller cell sizes (regression) which naturally restricts the Varroa.
Second, use natural substances to upset the Verroa and encourage the bees to groom one another knocking of the mites and killing them.
Personally I use Beevital Hive Clean which works naturally and does not affect honey or the wax.
After its application the tiny drops of the liquid deposited on the bees’ hair are then transferred onto other bees through contact and the bees’ natural urge to cleanse. Hive Clean cleanses bees from parasites and honeycomb cells from dead larvae which then drop to the bottom of the hive.
It is non-toxic and does not kill Varroa instantly. The Varroa immediately sense a change in the environment after applying Hive Clean. This irritates them and they fall off the bee or are bitten off by other bees. Eventually they die on the open mesh floor tray.
Both my bee colonies survived the very harsh winter and are building strongly
It is now time to undertake the first Spring Verroa treatment. The knife is my TBHive tool. I use it to prise apart the bars and clear any excess propolis (A conventional hive tool is not very useful when working on top bar hives).
Dribbling hive clean between the hive bars in the brood area.
Depending on the mite drop I will undertake two more treatments spaced over the next ten to 15 days.
At the same time as undertaking the Varroa treatment I added five empty bars to each hive so the bees have plenty of room for expansion. If the weather continues like it is at the moment there may well be some surplus honey fingers crossed!
While I was researching for my eBook on Natural Beekeeping I came across a lot of misinformation with regard to using a smoker on bees. The biggest and most quoted misconception was that the smoke calms the bees and makes them easier to handle. Conventional beekeeping methods rely on this and use a smoker every time a hive is manipulated.
The fact is the smoke does not calm the bees. When bees smell smoke their natural instinct is to prepare to flee. After all in the wild smoke would only mean one thing…. Fire!
A forest fire would of course destroy their nest so as soon as the bees smell smoke they immediately start to gorge themselves with honey. If they find they have to leave their nest and relocate to somewhere safer they will then have sufficient reserves to tide them over until their new nest is located and set up.
A bee gorged with honey will of course act calmer and be unable to sting because she can no longer bend her abdomen easily (how do you feel after a large meal!). So while all outward appearances are of calm they are in fact on high alert preparing to “high tail it outta there”.
That of course is the reason why too much smoke will have the opposite effect. It will cause the bees to become more agitated rather than less.
Smoke has an added consequence of destroying the hive scent and the pheromones within, which are used to control the smooth running of the system. The advantage to the beekeeper being the guard bees cannot mobilise the hives defences against him or her.
The down side, once the beekeeper has finished the task they set out to do is the bees have to repair the damage to their supplies caused by gorging themselves. They also have remove the scent of smoke from their hive so things can return back to normal.
Can you imagine the stress and adverse effect this has on a hive when every ten to fourteen days the conventional beekeeper comes along and subjects them to a good few puffs of smoke and pulls their nest apart?
It is good practice as a natural beekeeper to avoid using smoke on your bees. If you want to inspect them chose your time so most of the foragers are out away from the hive. Handle your bees gently; calmly and methodically then nine times out of ten you won’t have any trouble at all.
If you need to get them to move out of the way, when you are closing up the bars for instance a light spray from a garden spray bottle of water or water and a few drops of cider vinegar will get them to duck out of sight.
You can then shut up your hive in the knowledge you have not left behind the chaos caused by a smoker.
Having said that, for the one time things don’t go to plan you should always have a lit smoker on the ground within reach. That way if things do start to get out of hand you can give them a few puffs of smoke so you can shut them up and return another day.
Because of how a smoker works on bees it is a waste of time smoking a clustered swarm. The smoke would in fact agitate the swarm and may make them fly. If you are trying to collect a swarm either use nothing on them at all or spray them with weak sugar water. They would then be too busy licking it off one another to bother about you.
If you have not yet read my book on natural beekeeping for beginners than you can get it with a special subscribers discount here: Natural Beekeeping