Finding the queen
John the bees came a few weeks ago to check on progress and mark the queen for me. When we opened the hive we found the bees were doing very nicely. Lots of healthy brood (eggs and larvae), lots of stores of honey and pollen.
We needed to find and mark the queen. Marking the queen makes it easier to see her when you are checking the hive in spring and summer to make sure she is present and laying and to distinguish her from any new queen that may have appeared. Five different colours are used to show the age of the queen (important if you have several hives)
Marking the queen bee
year ending in 5 or 0 – blue
year ending in 1 0r 6 – white
year ending in 2 or 7 – yellow
year ending in 3 or 8 – red
year ending in 4 or 9 – green
John marked the queen and clipped her wings. If they swarm next year, the queen won’t get very far and the bees stay with her. They’ll be easy to find – just under the hive – so easy to collect.
Now is the time to start treating the hive against Varroa mite. This mite has been causing havoc. in bee colonies. It carries a number of viruses and our bees have little resistance to it. So, it’s out with the chemical weapons, more specifically, thymol. A tray of thymol in a gel is placed in the hive for 4 weeks to kill the mites. We did this and closed up the hive.
I inspected the hive again yesterday. The bees seemed very agitated and made a great fuss. They run around quite a bit and a big clump fell onto the ground while I was holding a frame. When I checked my gloves later I found 7 or 8 stings. Don’t know why they were so annoyed. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe my gloves had been stung last time and I hadn’t noticed. I’ve washed the gloves now and I’m thinking about buying nitrile gloves to use instead of leather.
So, what progress? Well, the bees have now drawn out some foundation on all but 2 of the 11 frames. I saw honey and brood in 2 of the new frames so that’s progress. I saw a bee about to emerge – it would be great to be able to observe them for longer but I’m always anxious to get them back in the box so they can go about their business of making enough bees to get safely through the winter ahead.
The photo is not the best, but you can see capped brood in the lower left and empty brood cells where bees have emerged. In the top right is an area of lighter coloured capped honey cells.
I’ve inspected the hive 3 times now and have yet to see the queen. I suppose that isn’t too unusual for a beginner.
There are some great videos on Youtube (as well as some rubbish) and I particularly like this one of a very calm beekeeper and his docile bees. Wish mine were as placid. It’s worth watching all the way through to see the way he handles the queen and marks her with a number. No gloves and no stings.
The bees have now got through 6 kg of sugar. The photo shows the feeder containing sugar syrup. This is made by dissolving 2lbs of sugar in a pint of warm water. The feeder is then placed over a hole in the crown board so that bees can get into the feeder from the brood chamber. The feeder is checked, and topped up if needed, in the evening when the bees are all in for the day. This minimises the risk of robbers (other bees or wasps) being attracted to the hive whilst you are filling the feeder. The good thing about this feeder is that when you take off the roof of the hive to have a look, the bees can’t get out, so no need to get all the protective gear on.
The weather has been a mixed bag for the past few weeks with showers most days. I do see the bees bringing back a lot of pollen and when we opened the hive yesterday we could see the stores of pollen. The bees seem to have been busy drawing out the wax foundation but no sign of the queen laying in any of the new frames – only in the 5 original ones. Is this normal? No idea. Comments from the more experienced are welcome.
The bees have been with us a week now. They have got through 2kg of sugar so they must be busy in there. I’ve been watching their comings and goings, seen young bees on ‘play flights’ circling the hive as they learn about their surroundings. In the last few days I’ve noticed them bringing in a lot of cream coloured pollen from somewhere – think it’s probably elder flowers as there’s a lt of it in the hedgerows. Most people think of pollen as yellow but it can a whole range of colours including red and blue – see the colour chart on the Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association site for more information. Today however it was time to open the hive and take a closer look. I got the smoker going using some straw and paper and donned the bee suit. Quite excited to find out what has been going on in the hive.
We took each frame out to have a close look. The bees have started to draw out wax foundation in the two new frames nearest to the 5 original frames we put in the hive a week ago. You can see the workers on the new cells in the photo below.
I didn’t manage to spot the queen (she isn’t marked) but we know she has been busy as we saw larvae at different stages. I was a bit anxious to get the bees back in their box, especially as the smoker kept going out, so didn’t spend too long inspecting each frame. Enough for a first inspection – I’ll have a bit of practice with the smoker before the next one.
Bees on new frame drawing out the foundation
A local beekeeper brought my bees their little nuc box yesterday. We had a wander round the garden talking about the pros and cons of different sites for the hive. As we run a B&B we wanted to make sure it wouldn’t cause any concerns for our guests.
Aerial photo of garden
The end of the garden by the compost heap (A) would be well away from guests but we would need to cut the grass around it. The back garden (A) has no lawn to be cut and no hens but the hive would be visible to guests, some of whom may worry about it. Somewhere we hadn’t considered was the flat rood (C), ideal for ensuring the bees would be flying well above head height but very visible and not very practical when having to carry stuff up and down a ladder! So, we settled on a sheltered spot (D), hidden from view with the hive entrance facing north. Our garden is quite a bit higher that our neighbour’s so the bees wouldn’t cause any nuisance to them. The hive gets some morning and evening sun here and there is no grass needing to be cut.
Beehive in place
Having decided on the position for the hive, we then got our bee suits on, smoker ready (wasn’t needed) and transferred the 5 frames of bees from the nuc box into the new hive. It was fascinating to watch the bees checking things out, doing little flights around the hive. They soon settled. I filled a feeder with sugar syrup and placed it on top of the brood box. All was nice and calm. Our cat Molly had to come and investigate. She got a little too close and was stung so I think she’ll now keep well away.
Will be looking out for bees around the flowers in the garden.
Everything is ready! I’ve made a stand for the hive out of bits timber we had in the shed. A quick coat of paint and all is ready for the bees. It’s been a long wait for bees. There were about 22 of us on the beekeeping course, all of whom want a colony of bees. It’s been an exceptionally bad year for bees with beekeepers having to feed their bees already. However, the wait is over as the local bee inspector is coming tomorrow morning with a nucleus (a small colony) of bees. Not quite sure yet where in the garden to put the hive but I’m sure I’ll have some good advice on what would be best. No honey this year but the colony will grow large enough to survive the winter and produce a good crop next year.
Here is all the kit, with a bit of explanation of what’s what.
A brood frame fitted with wax foundation
Once the boxes (brood box and supers) are assembled, the next step is to assemble the frames. The frames are where the bees make the wax comb. In order to get them to build the comb so it’s easier for the beekeeper to manage, a sheet of wax foundation is fitted into a frame and the bees then add wax to it to build up their cells. Each frame can hold 5 – 6 lbs of honey so the wax foundation is reinforced with thin wire.
This is a very pleasant job to do, with the lovely smell of beeswax. Just hope I can get some bees soon otherwise the wax dries out and the bees don’t like it.
We’re lucky to have Wynne Jones beekeeping supplies nearby so I can just pop in after my welsh lesson to pick up what I need. I’ve started with one brood box and a couple of supers. The brood box is where the queen lives and lays her eggs, tended by the worker bees. As the bees increase in number, they will need more space to store honey so you put on an extra box called a super. This is shallower than the brood box so it won’t get too heavy when full of honey.
As you can see, the hive is supplied as a kit. What could be better – you have the fun of lots of nailing and glueing to do! I could happily assemble bee hives all day. Assembly instructions can be downloaded from Thornes who make the hive but I followed the sequence on this video:
Novice beekeepers in the apiary
I recently finished a beekeeping course at Llysfasi College near Ruthin. The course was excellent and I’d certainly recommend it for anyone wanting to get started with bees. It was a good mixture of theory in the classroom and hands on learning in the apiary. Loved opening the hives and finding the queen, the smell of the wax combs and the bees flying around us. Such a lot to learn though and hard to imagine getting to the stage where we can take honey from our own hive. I hope to tell the story of getting there in this blog.