Swarm season is upon us

With the weather finally warming up after a cool spell, as expected, calls start to come in. One surprised me on Friday – a swarm in a bird box. usually these are not swarms at all but Bombus Hypnorum – the tree bumblebee that likes to use them. This one WAS the exception. The bird box was a little owl box so quite large in the bird box world – certainly a lot bigger than the usual blue-tit box we love to put up in our gardens – and the swarm arrived en mass.

Incidentally we put up 4 boxes in our garden last autumn and 3 of them are occupied which is pretty good; with the parents busily flying in with food from dawn ’till dusk.

More about swarms here:-  http://www.norfolkbee.co.uk/swarms


Spring – Hurrah

The warm and dry weather of recent days has allowed the bees to really get away. Nucs are crammed full and supers have started to fill. In fact some nucs have had to be ‘down-sized’ to stay in the box, so the extra brood has gone to other colonies.

CHALK BROOD is caused by a fungus ascosphaera apis.  A couple of colonies had it this spring. One quite badly. I have seen chalk brood follow the queen – so there must be a genetic component of it – and it tends to occur in spring – maybe it is caused by insufficient feeding of the larvae. It has been rumoured that bananas can help so I put some banana skin in the worst affected colony. After a week or so the colony was noticeably better. But so was the less affected one!

Winter losses

Brief inspections so far this spring of my bees. One colony at my out apiary is dead – looks like varroa was the culprit despite the colony being treated. Maybe the usual quantity of apiguard is not enough for a large double brood colony. If the bees remove it promptly then maybe there’s not enough to go around and kill the majority of varroa? Another large colony was similarly affected by varroa. However as that colony was in view, I noticed the decline in flying bees and dealt with it last autumn. This colony is OK but small. It shows that having the opportunity to look at the hive entrance can be of use.  The only other non-viable colony is one with a 3 year old queen that has failed to lay anything other than a small patch of eggs this spring. She had done brilliantly before and was removed by me during supercedure last autumn – so the bees would have dealt with her if I had not ‘rescued’ her. As it is, I can unite her colony with the small one just mentioned. Disappointed to lose one colony but not all will survive, I guess.

Spring again

It nearly feels like spring is here – or its very close at least. This means that it’s the time of year that calls come in for nucs. As we only have a limited number available as we only use our over-wintered queens, they usually sell out quite quickly. Summer queens won’t be available for a while yet!

When is oxalic acid not oxalic acid?

It used to be quite simple. Bees were treated with a 3.2 percent oxalic acid solution during the depths of winter – ideally when there is no brood present. Some suggested that the dribbling of the liquid harmed bees but I have seen little evidence of it and no queen issues either. However we are now not supposed to use the stuff unless it’s stronger and it is supplied with sugar and an anti-caking agent from a branded supplier. The UK authorities have long ‘tolerated’ oxalic acid; the reason being, I understand, is that it has not been formerly ‘approved’ which is an expensive process for something so very cheap. Is the new ‘approved’ stuff supposed to be better despite being stronger that the usual UK concentration?  I don’t see how it will be any better for the bees or the beekeeper as the new stuff is stronger so could cause more damage to the bees in our care (why?) and oxalic acid residues fall to a low (undetectable) level pretty quickly in any case.

We are supposed to write down any vetinary medicines we put into our hives which makes sense. I have no problem with that and it’s what I do. However if I were to use oxalic acid crystals in winter and not make a note of it, no one would know as it would be undetectable. If I did make a note of it, would I be in trouble? Despite the oxalic crystals being the same as the branded oxalic acid with added sugar and anti-cake?

Maybe I can wait until spring and put in MAQS which HAS killed my bees and queens when used in accordance with the manufacturers instructions. MAQS is  approved so it must be OK then!

Varroa treatment

varroa-damaged-droneIt’s odd that the authorities in the UK have disallowed Apiguard in tubs but you can continue to buy it in the foil trays. Anyway with a mixture of Apiguard and some Apilife Var my colonies have been treated. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, one colony didn’t do what it was supposed to do in that the apiguard didn’t work. Roll on a few weeks and a double brood hive was reduced to a 5 frame nuc. Dead and deformed brood in cells and not many bees left. It can happen rather quickly – just a few weeks. Nothing to do with CCD or anything like that. No need to write to the press. Just varroa and a beekeeper who assumed that they would be OK. I should have checked earlier and I didn’t. I noticed that few bees were flying compared to other colonies. Shows that studying the entrance is worthwhile. Varroa treatment has been applied again and frames of brood given from stronger colonies in the apiary. Hopefully I have done enough for them and they will get through winter OK although I give them only  a 40% chance. The picture is of a drone with deformed wings. He will definitely not be able to fulfill his duties as a gentleman of the hive!

August and the honey has to come off.

So, we’ve had an awesome few weeks and the bees have been bringing in the honey. Privet, lime, blackberry and rosebay willowherb have all been flowering and there’s been some field beans nearby too. Varroa will be rising to possibly dangerous levels so the honey supers need to come off and we can start to prepare for winter. Has it been a good harvest? Well possibly, as the supers are pretty heavy. However a month ago I wasn’t expecting much at all as the weather had been poor. The supers will have to be cleared of bees, transported to the extracting room and dealt with before being put back for the bees to clean dry. I tend to freeze them for 24 hours before storage to ensure there are no wax moth waiting to munch through the comb and make a mess of it.