Thursday, April 30, 2009

No More Screen Bottoms

Having arrived in Sweden early on last Sunday morning, I checked to see if bees were flying later in the day. Of the two entrances, only one had bees flying. I went into the barn and opened up the one that didn't have flying bees to find a dead colony. There was a mouse nest and a huge mess of detritus all over the screen bottom. I thought by having the entrances through the walls of the barn that mice wouldn't be able to enter. Next winter prep I will fit mouse guards. I put the mess down to the mouse but decided to do a comprehensive check on the surviving hive at the first opportunity. I managed to do it yesterday and found almost as much mess in the surviving hive too. No sign of mice but the 6 month period of not being able to clean underneath and the fact that bees cannot clean the bottom themselves with a screened bottom has made me realize that I need to fit solid bottoms on my hives. I scraped half an inch thick gooey mess of horrible gunk off both the underside and top of the screen. The bees were fewer in number than when I left them in October and there was only one frame of sealed brood. I managed to correct some comb problems. There were a lot of attachments and I cut away some of the string that I had tied the comb onto the top bars. One comb that I was cutting side attachments was full of honey and fell off the top bar. I lifted this out and put in new top bars with starter strips. These bees had plenty of stores and were bringing in pollen. I believe these bees may not be as hygienic as my Spanish bees but I am now worried about the hives in Spain with screen bottoms will have similar problems when I return later in the year.
For a minimum disturbance management system that I am now employing, screened bottoms cause more problems than their worth in my opinion. Bees will keep a solid floor clean in my experience. I cleaned out the dead out hive today and removed the screen floor. I will fit a solid floor before next occupation.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I thought it was all over, it is now!

Walked down to the apiary yesterday, looked at all the entrances and watched the bees bringing in bright orange and white pollen. The dog came with me for the walk and we passed through the apiary and around the side of it into the olive grove. There in an olive tree was a good sized cast! Seems like they still have an urge to swarm even after I cut out all the queen cells over 3 weeks ago. Oh well, maybe one hive was just later than the rest. I decided that this one may be my contribution to the feral population and didn't retrieve it. I hedged my bets though and put out a Layens bait hive with starter strips and some old comb by the garage. They were still in the tree when I did my evening walk and again when I did my morning walk this morning. The scout bees were checking out the bait hive most of the day, then mid afternoon when I looked there were no more scout bees at the bait hive. OK, fair enough I thought, they have gone feral! I walked down to the apiary to see if they had gone and was amazed to see them going into a layens hive that I had combined 3 casts in 3 weeks ago! The bees in that hive have been flying everyday right up until I saw this happening. I wonder what process is going on here, if anyone has any ideas I would appreciate knowing them. I am hoping this is a one off and not a new wave of swarm fever. I am keeping the bait hive out just in case and will be vigilant for the next week until I depart.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spanish Seasons End

Well my Spanish beekeeping season is coming to a close. I brought back the swarm that took over the Layens hive on my porch from the out apiary and put it into the home apiary. They seem to be flying well this morning. I also put warre style entrance restrictors on all the casts that have been hived. At the moment there is plenty of forage but when the dearth starts, these casts will probably still not be up to full strength so a reduced entrance will help them defend better. Then there are the wasp problem in autumn that they will also have to defend. I have had bees abscond before because of battles with wasps and hornets. The two TBH's that are at the side of my garage have no real shade from the hot sun so I have laid 6 concrete roof tiles over the top of each roof plate for extra insurance. My next week will just be observing entrances and watching bees coming and going and little else to do. It will be interesting to see how many make it through to November. These bees have never been treated with anything since October 2007, not even powdered sugar. Yes they have Varroa and it doesn't seem to be a problem for them as yet. I am hoping the hygienic behavior I have witnessed is a sign that these bees can tolerate varroa to some extent. As long as I only make increase from the survivors instead of bringing in new genetics, this trend should only increase. I am quite prepared to lose quite a few of these colonies with the belief that those that do survive will have the resistance I am looking for.
As my Spanish beekeeping season ends, my Swedish beekeeping season starts[big grin]. I was worried that perhaps my Swedish bees may have not made it through the long cold winter but my in-laws, did a quick visit to my house in Sweden last week-end and I had asked them to look for flying bees behind the barn if the weather was warm enough. Lots of bees flying there, so at least one of my two colonies have made it through. It makes me laugh when I hear some beekeepers that say bees can't survive without good management. Good management, in their heads being constant inspections, dosing hives with all sorts of chemicals and robbing them of their honey and substituting sugar syrup. On the contrary, my minimalist approach of leaving them much to themselves, not treating with anything and leaving them with enough stores seems to be working.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Last transfer from Kenyan nuc to Kenyan TBH

This morning I did the last transfer of the season from my Kenyan nuc that I hived a cast into in a previous blog entry. Very simply, I set the full size hive on the cinder block that the nuc was sat on together with another block at the rear. Just lifted the top bars off and straight into the full size kenyan, taking care to keep the same order. The bees were in their 'linked arms' chains making comb and I had to gently pull them apart to move them. They had built about half a dozen small combs but the bees were nice and gentle. I give these a 3 in my temperament scale. I left the upturned nuc by the entrance so that the stragglers could walk back into their new home. I put on the queen includer at the entrance just in case and will remove it in a couple of days. I am giving them, and the rest of my Kenyans, the whole hive with a full set of top bars. I am not using divider boards. I will be leaving them for six months and they will manage their brood nest and honey storage to suit themselves. They have been doing this for millions of years so why do we sometimes think we know better and manage it for them. All you need to ensure is that the brood nest is next to the entrance and they will put the honey stores at the back of the hive away from any potential robbers. Before I leave I will put entrance restrictors on 75 x 7.5mm in case there is any robbing and they can defend better. I will be putting these on all the kenyans and warre hives. So my Spanish beekeeping season is just about complete. There are many flowers producing now with Olive to flower in May and also the Spanish Broom (Retamar) as well. I hope my bees take full advantage, especially if it is to be a really hot summer.

The dearth period will begin in June, everything green will frazzle and turn brown except the olive and citrus trees and some thyme on the hillside. The bees will stop brood rearing and have to survive on the honey they have stored. They will cool the hive with evaporative cooling, bringing in water and spreading it on the combs and fanning at strategic places. In a really bad year, all drones will be dispensed with! This is the danger period until the first blossom breaks the dearth period, probably late August early September, a scruffy plant known as 'Inula Viscosa' or 'Altabaca' in Spanish. It is a good source of pollen and nectar for the new generation of young bees. Luckily I have it growing all around the area. In the dearth of last year, I lost 3 out of 10 colonies. I am expecting to lose at least 6 colonies this year, but until I return in November I won't know if my 'no treatments' regime has caused further losses. At the moment I am up over twice the numbers I started with so 'no treatments' is a valid option!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bait Boxes to Kenyan Top Bar Hives x 2

Although a bit windy today, I transferred the bees in the Octagonal Bait hive and the papercrete bait hive that had attracted two of my swarms/casts. I didn't want to leave it any longer as I knew they would be building comb pretty fast and the if left for much longer the comb shape would have been all wrong and I would have had to resort to trimming the combs. I transferred the octagonal one first as this one had odd shaped top bars that were only about a cm thick. I took the same number of standard top bars and screwed through directly over these thinner bars and simply lifted them out and directly into the kenyan in the same order. So these combs are a bit odd as they have an extra underslung section.
I then tackled the papercrete hive. This was the last one to attract a secondary swarm so I knew its comb would be smaller. I lifted these bars out and into the smaller catenary hive. Again these bees were quite mild and in my 1-10 temperament league, I would give the octagonal bees a 2 and the papercrete a 3. I put queen includers on the entrances just to make certain they don't decamp, perhaps not liking the new wood smells. They soon settled down and are now back to normal. The photo shows the kenyan with the octagonal minus roof and behind the Catenary hive with the papercrete box on it's side. These hives are not in the apiary, I set my bait hives by the side of my garage about 100m away from the apiary. It will be some time before I can move them 1m at a time to their final positions.
I have one more transfer to do, the kenyan nuc to full size kenyan then my Spanish season is complete. Thankfully that one is in the apiary.

Friday, April 10, 2009

3 casts in 2 warre boxes

Here is a rather unsteady and incomplete video of me combining 3 casts in a couple of upside down warre boxes. I later attached the floor with a couple of brackets, put a queen includer on the entrance and slowly and carefully turned the boxes the right way up. I popped on the quilt and roof and 3 days later removed the queen includer from the entrance.

Populated and Hastily Made TBH's

I have three swarms sat in bait hives that need re-homing before I leave for Sweden in two weeks time. I spent the last few days making a couple of Kenyan TBH's (Top Bar Hives). I made them out of some leftover timber I brought back from Sweden for work on the log cabin. The roofs are simple flat OSB boards with a strip of wood around them to provide an air gap between the roof and the top bars. I didn't have enough woood for the third hive so I have converted the mould I made for the papercrete hive I made a couple of years ago into a catenary curved TBH.

Today I did a very brief inspection of the two Kenyan Top Bar Hives that I hived swarms in on the 23rd and 26th of March. What a difference in temperament. Maybe it's because they are in a hive that is more to their needs and are able to build natural comb. Each hive had built out over 12 combs each since that time and had good pattern brood on about 10 combs. I didn't mess too much as I didn't need to find the queen. The combs were centred perfectly on the starter strips with no side wall attachments whatsoever. I would give both these colonies a 3 for temperament now whilst before it was 6 or 7! I was particularly careful with these combs as they are brand new, built only in the last few days. My mission was purely to see that both queens were laying and was quite surprised at their progress.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Merops Apiaster

The 'Bee Eaters' arrived today! I didn't see them, I heard them. I was on my usual morning walk with the dog in a heavy mist early on. On the way back I heard a flock of bee eaters go all around me. There trill sound is quite distinctive and is quite unmistakeable. I suppose they will take quite a few of mine but it has never been a problem and is part of the natural system.
I finished pressing my honeycombs this morning; total of about 50lbs. Just enough honey to last us the whole year. The taste is absolutely amazing, delicious, superb. I have not fine filtered it just as it came out of the pressing cloth with tiny bits of wax and pollen.
I saw something today which I thought I would never see. A virgin queen coupled with a drone. I was sat watching the last swarm I have had sat in a tree take over a Layens hive so I was underneath looking skywards. It was about 3pm and either side of this Layens were two other bait hives with casts in. I don't know which of the two the virgin came from but I had to do a double take not sure at first what I was seeing. It must have been about 8ft from the hive when I saw the queen coupled with probably one of their own drones as she left on her mating flight.
So I started the season with 7 Layens hives and now have 21 populated. I have three Kenyans TBH's to build and transfer these bees from in the next three weeks before I leave for Sweden.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Enough is Enough

Having dealt with more swarms and casts than I remember in this last week or so, I decided that's it. I have to do something about this. I started at one end of the apiary and went through every hive comb by comb and removed all queen cells. There were still many sealed and unsealed cells. I must have lost the queen from one of the layens frames whilst cutting out queen cells on one Layens frame. My wife spotted her so I caught her in the clip catcher and returned her to below. Whilst doing same I removed all the frames from the transfer boxes on the kenyan and the hybrid kenyan and shook the bees back in. Transfer boxes are not the way to go when trying to convert from box hives to either warre or kenyans. Restricting them to move downstairs has only led to the swarming urge even with lots of room below.
Whilst understakingthis onerous task, I took the opportunity of harvesting eight layens frames of sealed honey. So tomorrows job is pressing these.