Dear Auntie B and Uncle Drone
I have two colonies that I want to unite at the moment. Both need the late summer varroa treatment. How soon after uniting them is it safe to start treating them with Apiguard? I wouldn’t want the smell of the treatment to disrupt the chosen queen’s hold over her newly extended colony.
Now is an ideal time to unite colonies and it is essential to have strong colonies going into winter. As colonies have their own unique odour they will fight unless united slowly with time to get used to each other. There are a number of methods for uniting colonies but the newspaper method is easy and reliable.
Firstly a few tips about uniting. If you have two colonies to unite – your records should tell you which has the better/younger queen and the other queen should be culled. Don’t unite and leave both queens to fight it out on the principle of survival of the fittest, the victorious queen may well be damaged in the punch up and then you will have no queen for the following season.
How to unite, This is best done late afternoon when foragers have returned to the hive.
Remove supers from both colonies and place a sheet of newspaper over the brood box in the position that the final colony will occupy. Secure this with a queen excluder and make a few small holes in the paper to allow the odour of both colonies to permeate. Place the brood box from the second colony on top and close the hive. If you want to put back a super with stores a further queen excluder and newspaper sheet are required.
Most text books say it is preferable to unite with the queen in the bottom brood box but I think this is not important. As you have a queen excluder in between the brood boxes you will know where she is and you can reverse or amalgamate the boxes later on. Don’t over winter with the queen excluder in place though, if you chose to leave the bees on a double brood.
And the answer to the question. After a week, inspect the colony and if a good proportion of the newspaper is gone and the bees are moving freely between the boxes, I would tidy away any remaining paper and check that the queen is laying. You will need to see eggs or very young larvae to ensure that she is laying well. Then reverse the boxes if necessary so the queen is in the bottom box or amalgamate frames into one box if colonies were both small to start with. I would then leave everything for a further week before doing the varroa treatment. Bees are susceptible to stress and I like to do only one manipulation at a time and give them time to recover in between.
Final noteVarroa treatment should be done before feeding as most treatments are temperature dependent.
It’s got suddenly quite cold over this 10 days and I’m concerned about how my bees may be coping in early winter. Do you have any recommendations for this time of year?
Uncle Drone replies:
Is it a good idea to give my bees some syrup and/or pollen patties at this time of year, to help the queen start laying and the colony to build up after a rather cold and miserable March? I don’t want to encourage too much growth but it has been really chilly for them so far.
Uncle Drone answers:
Yes, now we are into April the bees should be bringing in pollen and this stimulates brood rearing. If they are not then you should watch carefully over a period of time in case they have not found a good source of pollen yet. Pollen is the protein that bees need to produce the brood food needed for the developing larva and the queen so supplementing this can help but is not always necessary if the weather is adequate to provide several hours foraging per day.
The extra syrup and/or fondant can be essential if their stocks are low and the bees get confined to the hive by low temperatures and wet conditions, either way it will not hurt to add a little extra and it will be converted into more bees at this time of year rather than stored.
Dear Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone
My bees are still flying in all this mild weather and I’m worried that they’re using up their winter stores really fast at the moment. Should I give them some fondant now or is it better to let them use their own stores first and put fondant on later?
Uncle Drone replies:
Well this point is of concern to all of us. It is too late in the season for syrup and it is wise to keep as much of their own stores intact as they act as heat sinks/insulation as well as food stores
So, fondant is the only option but it attracts moisture so must be given in small quantities (say 300-400 g) and wrapped in cling film (or flattened out in a ziplock freezer bag), cutting/slicing into it with a knife where it is to be placed over a hole in the crown board.
Once given/started it should be continued on demand till spring.
Hi Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone,
I found a heap (hundreds rather than thousands) of dead and dying bees in front of a hive this morning. A couple of days ago a lot of yellow lumps of pollen had appeared under the hive. Have had a closer look and most of the dead have furry bodies, probosces sticking out, folded legs and wings at more or less right angle to bodies. Recent Varroa count negligible. The hive seems to be thriving otherwise. Could be garden pesticide?
From Uncle Drone: Any situation where there is a sudden increase in dead bees in front of the hive should ring alarm bells as the most probable cause is a pesticide or herbicide being used wrongly and not according to the licensed method. Either a plant has been sprayed with a pesticide to kill greenfly or maybe some grass that has clover in it has been sprayed with a herbicide to remove weeds other than grass such as clover and dandelions.
With all the warm and dry weather this month, are my bees likely to delay sealing away the autumn feeds I’ve been giving them and instead raise more brood on it, perhaps to the extent of trying to swarm? I noticed a big patch of drone brood in one colony last week and wondered if I need to start looking for queen cells again, having seen others talking online about swarms being taken recently.
Uncle Drone replies:
You have two different issues here. 1) the unsealed stores and 2) drones and potential swarming.
A beekeeper asks:
Dear Uncle Drone
A swarm moved into an empty brood box in an inconvenient spot in my garden about six weeks ago and is now looking like a lovely colony. I need to move it about 10 yards so that the grandson doesn’t get involved. I’ve heard recently and seen on YouTube that its possible to move hives short distances (but further than the recommended 3 ft at a time) if you shut the bees in for 24 to 72 hours and put foliage in front when you open up. What do you think of this idea?
Uncle Drone replies:
While shutting the bees in for 24 to 72 hours may work OK I have never used it as a method because there is a danger (at this time of year) that the bees can panic and overheat. With autumn coming on there is less nectar, the bees will be collecting water to cool the colony, any break in these activities will unbalance the hive, potentially cause defecation in the hive and spread disease.
Remember that bees locate their home by remembering the vicinity when they first emerge from the hive, and try to make them repeat this.
My tried and tested method is as follows:
1. At dusk after all flying has ceased, close the hive to be moved using a wet sponge in the entrance.
2. Move the hive to the new site carefully, placing on a low hive stand (bricks or blocks) and completely removing all signs of where the hive stood (change the look of the old location).
3. Gather bracken, long grass, leaves, prunings etc, enough to spread over the front of the hive so that the bees cannot just fly straight out.
4. Pull out a corner of the wet sponge, to reveal about a quarter of the entrance.
5. Place all the assembled bits of bracken, leaves, long grass etc over the front of the hive that has just been exposed and fix to stop the wind blowing them away. Please note: you cannot have too much but you can have too little.
6. Check that enough debris has been applied to stop any bee flying straight out but must crawl out via the clutter you have just placed in the way.
7. Watch the bees in the morning and see them re-orientate to the new position as they emerge
8. After 2 days if the debris has not already blown away, remove the balance and the sponge from the entrance.
9. Job done.