Tag Archives: advice

December branch meeting

 

December branch meeting.

This month’s meeting had as its topic winter hive management and there were several areas that as always sparked lively debate amongst the virtual club community!

Some of the highlights were as follows:-

Keeping the bees well fed and spotting the signs of potential starvation.

The key to this is to start early, depending on how much honey you have taken, feeding may be needed from as early as August through to October to give the bees the reserves they need to see them through the winter. A hive will need at least 20 – 22 kilos of stores to last until the spring so if you take honey, make sure you take it early enough (ideally before the end of August) so that they can amass the stores they will need after that while it’s still warm enough for them to cap the stores.

Every year is different and this autumn was really very mild which kept the Queens laying more than usual and the bees flying. Don’t assume that because you can see them being active they are OK, all this activity uses resources and checking their store now / hefting the hive will let you know if they have been a little too active and need help. Indeed the NBU sent out a starvation warning recently saying that your bees reserves might be a lot lower than you think.

Monitoring their situation throughout the winter is key. Looking at the drop on the floor tray can tell you a lot about where the cluster is and how big it is. Hefting (lifting each side of the hive in turn) the hive (although far from an exact science) can, with a bit of practise, give you an idea of how much food they have in their larder. It’s all relative, so you need to do this in the autumn to give yourself a reference point and then regularly follow on through the winter. If the hive feels obviously light then they may well need some help (more about that later).

If you think they are in trouble, don’t be tempted to give them any liquid feed, it’s too cold for them to be able to use it, fondant or whole food products with synthetic pollen mixed in are really your only option until early March.

The size of the brood nest that goes into winter can have a big effect on how fast the reserves are consumed, a five frame cluster from a strong colony will probably need feeding, brood and a half may be a good plan for them.

When to apply any winter anti-varroa treatments.

This is best done once the queen has stopped laying and there is no capped brood in the hive. In the meeting it was discussed which of the two governing factors (day length and temperature) were most important in determining the best time to either trickle or sublimate oxalic acid. As always in beekeeping, opinions varied. The important thing is to watch the weather and be pro-active. After a 12-14 day spell of cold weather the queen will likely have stopped laying, and those capped larvae in the hive should be hatching so after that is a good time to apply treatment. Other treatments were also discussed with a regime of hops/lavender and regular twice yearly box changing being seen as potentially effective. Sacrificing drone brood as a “varroa magnet” was also discussed (although this is a summer option) and opinions varied as to it’s effectiveness and also whether it is an appropriate sacrifice to make.

The method of applying oxalic acid was also discussed and there were no shortage of sponsors for both trickle and sublimation as an effective method of treatment. The trickle method is possibly kinder to the bees (from a health perspective) and avoids noxious fumes. Sublimation is highly effective but health and safety is paramount and proper (human) protective equipment must be used – masks must protect against organic acid vapour.  Delivery methods for vaping were also discussed, with some favouring the traditional electric heating element method and some in favour of the new gas-vap equipment.

With the recent cold snap, the bees have really hunkered down and it’s likely the queen will have stopped laying. It might be the ideal time (now) to apply anti-varroa treatments, be that trickling or sublimating, as the bees will all be in the hive and nicely clustered. Those pesky varroa won’t be able to hide in the brood and you can get a really high reduction in their levels (up to about 95%).

Preparing for the next season.

This depends to some extent on your strategy for the season. You may be trying for an early crop from (for example) oil seed rape, in which case you will need to build up the colony quickly, or you may just be wanting a slower start towards the usual end of July /early August main crop. Whatever you are trying to achieve, being pro-active is better than being reactive. For example, in order to harvest an early crop of oil seed rape honey, you will need lots of flying bees at the end of April /early May. As their first three weeks are spent in the hive nursing /cleaning etc., they need to be hatching at the start of April. Which means the eggs have to be laid in March, and to achieve that you will need to start stimulating the queen to lay in February with fondant or a wholefood.

It was also mentioned that having a young queen in the spring can be beneficial as they are vigorous.

It’s good to have a plan, even if it all gets messed up by mother nature having a different one!

One key point to remember here though is that if you do start to give them fondant, you’ll need to keep that up until you can switch to light syrup in the spring. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, if they need help, they need help!

A lively and well attended meeting that gave everyone plenty to think on. If only every question had only one answer!

Saving a small feral colony

Back in July, during the very hot period a couple of weeks ago, the Boughton golf course found that they had some inappropriate guests in the wall of one of their sheds, behind the cladding. They contacted the branch to see if we could remove them to a safe place. This club seems to be a magnet for swarms and feral colonies as we’ve had similar call-outs for the last couple of years.

Anyway, despite the tropical temperatures, some stalwarts from the branch went along and got kitted-up, and carried out what is technically known as ‘a cut-out’ from the wall of the building. It was a nice little colony that obviously hadn’t been there very long, going on the colour of the comb and the small space they were occupying. The bees have been put safely into a nuc and the beekeepers are now recovered from their exertions.

Surveying the scene and getting ready to remove the wall cladding

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nice small colony, that will do better in a proper home and away from the developing wasp nest in the adjacent section!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The amount of stores in the front comb is quite impressive, given the short time they’d been there.

Spring feeding

A concerned beekeeper asks:
Dear Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone

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.

A down side to adding pollen patties and syrup/fondant is that they will stimulate the colony and in a months time or before the bees can be thinking of swarming, so you need to be prepared for this and avoid letting them get too cramped by keeping to weekly inspections/ checks and adding space as necessary.

Top tips

For part of one of the autumn branch meetings we had an enjoyable 20 minutes sharing those ideas and good practice that made things better for us and our bees. In no particular order, these are some of the ideas put forward by members:

  • Light your smoker before opening a hive, even if you were not intending to do much. You never know…
  • When making syrup (particularly 2:1) warm the sugar first by putting the bags in a moderate oven for 10 minutes. The sugar will then dissolve much more easily when you mix it with the (hot) water.
  • If you see a queen starting to be balled, powder heavily with icing sugar immediately (from the shaker you always keep in your bee box… 🙂 ). This often changes their minds.
  • Have a look at the National Honey Show’s channel on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiOtIebcpY0Zqqma0H5wLYQ), to see the great series of lectures by experts at past shows.
  • Don’t wash your hair just before going off to do a hive inspection. Some shampoo smells are not appreciated by bees.
  • Always wash (in soda solution) your gloves, hive tool, and the handle of your smoker, between hives.
  • The hood of your beesuit can go in the washing machine with the rest of your suit/jacket if you tuck it down into a sleeve (for the fencing type) or in the trunk of the zipped-up suit (if round type) first. Secure the opening of the suit with a safety pin and remember to tuck the velcro tab away from the veil as well.
  • A see-through/polycarbonate crownboard makes it easier to check how many seams of bees you have in the winter.
  • If you have a phone camera, taking some pictures up through the OMF in winter can provide reassurance that they’re still alive in there.
  • Luggage scales are very useful in monitoring stores situation in winter. Weigh either both sides or front and back at each visit and compare over time to see how much is being used.
  • A spray bottle filled with soda solution can be useful in rinsing gloves. Just be careful not to think it’s the one you filled with clean water for inspections in hot weather (when a fine mist of water can be more calming than smoke for the bees).
  • A wallpaper steamer fed down into a box of old comb on a solid floor can melt out the wax very well (and is what the Thornes’ Easi-steam system is based on).
  • If you go back to a hive after an inspection and having removed your beesuit, because there was something small you’d forgotten to do, the bees will not realise you were not intending to disturb them – “feeling lazy, I decided to quickly creep back and put my varroa floors in without putting my suit on. As I bent over the wind suddenly gusted and three poor bees got caught in the hair on top of my head and stung me. Later that day I looked like a dolphin.”
  • If you want to make some cut comb honey, don’t put the super you want to use directly above the brood box as that is where the bees often store some pollen. Always put your cut comb super on after the OSR season and only on a strong colony.
  • Dusting with icing sugar needs to be done regularly every seven days for a worthwhile drop in varroa levels over the season.
  • An old duvet cover makes a secure container for a boxed swarm in the car (making sure to leave enough ventilation).
  • Shaking a swarm into their new nuc/hive rather than running them in avoids having to deal with instances of them clustering under the new home rather than in it.
  • Always check to make sure you’ve placed the central cup back over the access hole when using a rapid feeder of some type. Otherwise, you risk finding 100s of drowned bees when you next check them and feeling like a mass murderer.
  • When doing a shook swarm, putting a single frame of uncapped brood into the new brood box along with the frames of foundation means that the bees are much less likely to abscond. Take it out and discard it after a week, when most of that brood has been capped, and you will also get rid of most of the phoretic mites that were on the adult bees.

Autumn courses and workshops

Now that it’s the time of year when we’re not involved in so much hands-on stuff with our colonies, it’s a good time to consider taking a course, attending a workshop or a bigger event, in order to gain more knowledge and insight.

a) The ‘Beekeepers@KSRC’ group has some good evening sessions coming up next month on the key skills for improvers (beekeepers with a little experience), details of which can be found on their website at http://ksrcbees.org.uk/?page_id=4

b) Another event is a talk by Jennifer Berry, leading American bee breeder, researcher, author and lecturer. 7.30pm Thursday 5th November, Crofton Hall, Orpington.

Sidcup beekeepers would like to remind everyone that Jennifer Berry, a world renowned expert and colleague of Keith Delapane at Georgia University, is giving a talk : ‘an American take on beekeeping’, on 5 November. For the past fourteen years, Jennifer has been the Apicultural Research Coordinator and Lab Manager for the University of Georgia Honey Bee Programme. Recently, she has also undertaken an ambitious campaign to educate the public about the importance of pollinators and other beneficial insects, including honey bees, and how to reduce pesticide use.This should be a fascinating evening – Jennifer has published many articles and academic papers, and some of her queens reside in colonies at the White House. We are very privileged that she has agreed to fit in this event for us whilst visiting the Northern Ireland annual conference – there will not be another opportunity this year to hear her lecture in SE England.

 Crofton Hall is immediately adjacent to Orpington railway station BR6 0SX , and also has good parking. Admission payable on the door is £5, which includes tea / coffee and cakes. To help us with catering arrangements, please let Melody Faulkner know if you plan to come on melody.faulkner@googlemail.com

c) The National Honey Show (http://honeyshow.co.uk/) is on at the end of October, in Surrey. This is a major national event and a fascinating one, with so many good talks and workshops, exhibitions and seminars, as well as the mindboggling variety of items in the trade hall. It’s a very good day/weekend to consider attending whether you’re a complete beginner, an improver, or someone who is thinking about becoming a beekeeper.

Report from the branch meeting of 30 May 2015

Today’s meeting had possibly the highest number of attendees (human ones) ever. With lots of new people to involve, plus another group who are going for the Basic Assessment this year and wanted guidance on preparing for that, as well as another few of us who were happy to help out all round, it was a busy afternoon – as can be seen from the photos below. Discussions before the inspection covered topical subjects such as swarm prevention, and how to do an artificial swarm using the ‘cup of tea’ method (for more details, ask someone who was there 🙂 ). Our branch secretary, Julie, and apiary manager, Keith, both had a busy afternoon and we and our bees made full use of the warm and pleasant day.

Lots of people, all learning something.

Lots of people, all learning something.

 

New potential beekeepers getting an introduction to what is involved.

New potential beekeepers getting an introduction to what is involved.

 

Bees recovering after an inspection.

Bees recovering after an inspection.

 

Bees and beekeeper, hanging out together.

Bees and beekeeper, hanging out together.

 

 

Demonstration meeting on how to identify Nosema

Nosema identification on Saturday, 4th April, sponsored by BDI,  was very enjoyable although the turnout was a little disappointing.  Those present brought their own bees and were able to do a Nosema diagnosis – all proved to be negative.  As the bees were not flying particularly well some fun and games was had taking the required sample of 30 bees per colony.
Dale demonstrated an Acarine dissection and Julie demonstrated how to mount some pollen from the legs of one of the bees.
An interesting discussion about the different types of microscope was enjoyed by all with one member following up to buy his own in the near future.  The branch has several  microscopes that can be borrowed by members, please contact Julie if you would like to do so.

Report from the branch meeting of 31 January 2015

On Saturday 31st January we had a very interesting talk on ‘Queen rearing for the small beekeeper’ from Terry Clare, a national authority on queen rearing and a past-president of BIBBA.  His style of presentation was unexpected but very very relevant and the outcome seemed so simple to understand by all levels of beekeeper.  The importance of starting with bees that were as healthy as you could help them to be, that had been assessed over a whole previous season for valuable characteristics such as, for example, fertility, docility, health, non-following and no excessive swarming, was very encouraging for those of us with 3 – 8 colonies (who are apparently the norm in England). His clear outline of doing an artificial swarm with the chosen colony in May or June, so ending up with two colonies rather than one, was also well received. It was an inspired talk that all could understand and appreciate.