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.
Auntie Bee answers:
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.
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.
The branch meeting on 3rd January started in somewhat inclement weather. As we huddled in the meeting hut, our branch Secretary, Julie, gave a short presentation explaining the purpose of this seasonal Oxalic Acid treatment, as well as reminding those present about the importance of keeping good hive records
throughout each year as an aid to assessing each colony’s character and performance. As the weather cleared to merely damp, we then went to the bees.
The four branch hives had their roofs and crown boards removed, 5ml of Oxalic Acid was syringed down the space between each top bar where there were bees present; this varied between 5 and 8 applications per colony. The crown boards and roofs were then replaced quickly to avoid chilling, and we returned to the hut for tea and debrief.
A reminder about the new lecture series:
The lecture series at Tesco’s, entitled “The Beekeeping Year”, is being lead by Keith Hooker and starts next Saturday at 9.30am for 5 weeks. This leads into the “Beginning Beekeeping” series starting in February which has three practical sessions in March. All are welcome, beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike. More details can be found here: The beekeeping year
There will be a meeting up at the campus apiary on Saturday, 28th December at 11.00 am, for a demonstration of when and how to give the oxalic acid anti-varroa treatment. We will also be putting the fence up again, doing a bit of planting, and generally making sure all is well up there.
Attendance at the meeting could also be useful in treating ‘Christmas over-indulgence’ for anyone suffering from it…