Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.39

It’s been a funny month from my Beekeeping point of view. On the positive side, I managed to get myself better prepared for the upcoming season, especially as I finally got the equipment needed to be able to boil up some frames which had accumulated.

When I first started beekeeping, I certainly never anticipated all the equipment I’d need. Who knew?

In spite of feeding all my colonies, I have lost one due to isolation starvation. It’s so sad opening a hive and seeing it still and quiet. Luckily the other colonies are doing well so far, with three of them very large and strong. When we had the few days of fantastic weather a few weeks back, I was able to have a quick peak in all my hives. I decided to put two supers on the strongest colonies to give them loads of space and some added work to do.  I decided to do that as I didn’t want to risk early swarms on the allotment and given the forecast, it didn’t look like the weather was looking good for regular inspections. Hopefully that plan will work.

I also started a new project in March. I started making mead with some naturally fermented honey I’d obtained. I added apricots, apple, cinnamon and black tea as flavourings in the mead. I’m well impressed as its actually smelling quite nice and seems to be progressing as it’s supposed to. It’s almost ready for secondary fermentation.

In early April I noticed two fields of oil seed rape starting to bloom not too far from my site, so hopefully the foragers from my colonies will be making the most of that.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.38

This month’s write up is a bit of a confessional. I don’t feel prepared.

I had a moment’s panic when I read an email from our branch suggesting swarm season is sooner than anticipated; what happened to February and March?! I just don’t feel very organised this year. Last year, attending Bee Tradex forced me to check my gear, plan for the season and make a shopping list. I wonder if this is because I don’t have the experience yet to have a robust routine established.

Well, no point in making excuses, I’d really better get cracking. The signs are there: the pear tree blossoms, bees bringing in pollen and attending a branch Zoom meeting about Swarm management last week really brings it home that the colonies are expanding.

Fortunately, I have some time off work around Easter which means I should be able to get some important jobs done. I’m thinking I’d better make a “To Do” list as there’s a fair bit to be done.  In summary, the bees are fine, it’s me that’s got the issues.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.37

I’ve seen a few bees on snowdrops with pollen in their pollen baskets, so beekeeping season is coming up! I’m hoping that this year I’ll be able to take my Basic Beekeeping Certificate.

Our allotment has expanded, adding new plots, so it’s going to be even more important than ever that my bees are all well behaved bees (Wonder if I should give them a firm talking to before Spring arrives?). At least this year, I’ll have a bit more practical knowledge about techniques and timelines for helping manage this. Of my 6 hives and Nuc, there’s one colony I’m worried about, the others seem OK…so far. Another Kg of fondant was applied to the hives which needed it. Three hives are hungry hives, consuming 3 kgs of fondant each so far!

After attending a branch Zoom meeting, I was able to ask a question about managing (the possibility) of having too many colonies. Combining and Selling where the two top answers. I must really start my planning now as I’d rather not have the season sneak up on me!

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.36

Oxalic Acid has been applied on all hives and I have had to add one more kilogram of fondant for each. I am reassured thanks to signs of life in all colonies and can now start planning for next spring.

I will have to strategise carefully for the coming spring as I don’t want to end up with more colonies than my site can handle. If all six of my colonies, together with the Nuc, overwinter well, then that will be exactly the case. Other than the site capacity, I think I will struggle with swarm control and I would also risk my bees becoming a nuisance on the allotment. I am also concerned about the available forage of the area, as I know there are a few other beekeepers nearby.

However, I should not count my chickens before they hatch!

Let’s see how many of the colonies making through the winter, but for now, we just need to plan.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.35

Last month I was worried about one of my hives being robbed, however it’s still alive and appears to be a decent size colony. I may have been mistaken there. By hefting my 6 hives, I found that two are really heavy, two seem decent and two of them are light. This week I added fondant to all colonies. I figured with this warm weather they’ll be consuming more of their stores and it would be terrible for them to run in to trouble early in the winter season.

The poly nuc is still in the back garden. It’s fitted with a miller feeder and I’ve put some fondant in that. They probably don’t need the supplement as I found them on my neighbours’ mahonia. I’m hoping my neighbours haven’t noticed me intensely staring at their shrubs or I may get a reputation for being odd (if I haven’t already!). It’s late November and I’m noticing some of the bees are still bringing in some hefty pollen bags.

This was to be the first year of my boiling super frames but I managed to get out of it by accidentally reversing over the box of frames after being distracted and forgetting that I didn’t actually put the box in the boot of the car! The wood made nice kindling in a fireplace and I salvaged as much wax as I could. I still need to boil up and filter the wax.

This past season I’ve focused on being able to identify local trees and shrubs of benefit to the bees. As I’m not from the UK, this is a learning curve for me. I find it interesting that something I’ve walked past and never noticed for years (i.e.: Mahonia) is such a helpful shrub for providing winter forage for bumblebees and honeybees.

I’m hoping everyone is keeping healthy and well.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.34

The autumn feeds have been completed on all 6 hives and a nuc. I’m concerned that one of my hives is being robbed. It was when I took a moment to watch the flight paths of the bees from each hive that I suspected it. When I heft that particular hive, it does seem lighter compared to my last hefting. Well, unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about it now if that’s the case.

This particular colony was the one that suddenly went queenless towards the end of the season and I had successfully requeened using the newspaper technique…hmm, maybe not quite as successful as I thought! Perhaps, I’m mistaken in this matter, but I think the next heft will reveal the facts of the situation more clearly.

I’ve really appreciated the bulk ordering which has been organised from within our local association as well as shared bulk ordering with a neighbouring association. This has helped me get my winter supplies in order. Last winter I ran out of fondant as I didn’t really understand how much the bees would consume. This year, I should have no reason to panic on account of fondant.

As I’ve kept the Nuc in our back garden, I’m able to observe quite closely what they’re up to. Some of the bees are still bringing in some full pollen baskets which is reassuring to see. I have no idea what they’re bringing in for nectar, if anything, maybe Ivy? There’s quite a lot of flowering Ivy nearby and if I pause when walking by it, it’s literally buzzing with all sorts of insects. As these bees are still successfully foraging, I’m reluctant to move them back to the apiary at present. I’ll aim to move them when we get a proper cold streak.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.33

The season is wrapping up. The varroa treatment has been completed. For the first time I used MAQS on the 6 hives and Apiguard for the Nuc. The polyhives come with plastic queen excluders which I normally never use, so I was able to swap out the metal queen excluders for the plastic ones as I’d read MAQS can cause rusting of metals. I thought it interesting that it’s derived from formic acid, which is what ants use to protect themselves. I was advised to use one strip of MAQS for National hives as the dosage is set for Canadian and American hive size, which is bigger. While I was a little apprehensive with this new product, I found there were no adverse reactions to the hives using MAQS. I checked the drop yesterday and 4 colonies were low, with two being low/moderate varroa drop levels.

In spite of my not putting out wasp traps this season, the bees have so far seemed to be holding their own against the wasps, which is a great relief.

Jobs for this coming weekend include fitting the mouse guards, final feeding if required, and getting the supers in the shed for winter storage.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.32

I ’m observing that the bees are bringing in very dark nectar right now, which I was told is honeydew. When I looked it up, it doesn’t sound very appealing, but I guess I’ll try it. There’s one super of late summer honey with a clearer board under it for extraction and the rest will be left for the bees.

The nuc which was under attack by wasps and relocated to my back garden last month has flourished. The bees filled the nuc to the point where I needed to add a Nuc super (with Queen excluder)! As of today, they’ve filled and capped three super frames. They seem to be finding good sources of pollen and nectar in the neighbourhood. This colony will overwinter in the Nuc.

The queenless colony which I united last month with a small nuc with a good queen was successful. They’ve now built up their numbers to a decent size for overwintering.

In July, I moved a Nuc into a hive and it seemed to be settling in nicely and had plenty of space, so I didn’t inspect them for a couple of weeks. On last week’s inspections I found them to be honey bound! I’ve read about this but never seen it before. There was brood present, but it was very sporadic. Luckily, I had a super of drawn frames recently extracted, so I popped it on. On today’s inspection, the bees have moved enough honey into the supers to free up three brood frames, which the queen has completely filled. There are no queen cells present and it would appear that the queen didn’t waste any time getting to work.

So, I guess the season winds down now…it’s gone by quickly. This is the second year that my bees have given surplus honey. I’m really pleased with the bees. I think they’ve done well in spite of our odd weather.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.31

The new supers and hive that were ordered last month, were painted and promptly put into use. I moved the strongest Nuc into the new hive and they seem to have taken to their new home; on last inspection, they’ve almost filled the brood box and are filling a super (with previously drawn comb). The additional supers were added to all colonies as two in particular were in need of additional space.

One of my Nucs had a drone laying queen, which was something I’d read about but never actually seen before. At first glance I wasn’t sure if it was a laying worker, but I didn’t see multiple eggs in a cell, and I did eventually find the queen. She was rather small. She wasn’t laying much, but everything was drone brood and the comb which had previously been even was now quite irregular with drone brood in worker cells. Unfortunately, she had to be removed and I shook out those bees.

One of my favourite colonies which was very strong and had a lovely temperament suddenly lost its queen! I don’t know how or why, or even if I’d accidentally damaged her during an inspection? When I tested with a frame of eggs, the bees started to build queen cells. I used the newspaper technique to unify the colony with a Nuc which had a mated queen and I’ll be checking tomorrow to see if it’s worked. (Fingers crossed!).

My last Nuc remaining was robbed and attacked by wasps and bees. It looks like half the bees were killed and all the stores were gone! I’ve rehomed it into a polynuc and removed it from the apiary for now to give it a chance to build up. As a result of this incident I thought I’d better put entrances on the smaller hives.

Yesterday five supers of honey were extracted from three colonies. Two of which needed the space as they already had four supers each. I have no additional supers now and I cannot order anymore. (I think I’d end up with domestic issues if I did!).

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.30

Well, I’ve done it again…I bought another hive! I have a hazy memory of assuring my husband after Bee Tradex in March that I absolutely wouldn’t buy anymore hives…hmmm…I hope I’m not developing a problem and if I am, I may need an intervention! Seriously though, I don’t have the physical space for anymore, although I did check whether I had space before ordering.

Honey was extracted one month ago from 5 supers and gave a very good yield. I promptly filtered it and stored it in buckets. I didn’t care to repeat last year’s mistake of what happens when you leave spring honey to sit too long before you get around to filtering it. This honey was mainly oil seed rape but also had a fair amount of spring blossom. I’m hoping there will be more fruit blossom nectar in the future as the allotment’s fruit orchard matures.

Each hive has two supers allocated to it. Last year that was sufficient for spring and summer nectar flows but this year is different. Presuming things continue smoothly, I think each of the 5 colonies will easily fill 3 supers. Whatever the bees collected additionally after extraction was left for their June gap stores and so far, it’s been enough. I’ve only had to feed the splits and the swarm which are in nucs. I will still monitor their stores, as I’m sure things can change quickly, in which case, I also have syrup on hand if needed.

So, in anticipation of summer nectar flow, I purchased a new super for each hive, and since I was already placing a bulky order, I thought I’d sneak in a new hive to my shopping cart!

Denali Enns