Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.9

For two weeks following July’s drama, all three colonies progressed smoothly. The swarm I received in late June is continuing to do well. This colony has built up strongly and they have drawn out nearly nine frames of foundation. The only issue I have with them is their temper, they can be quite moody.

The new queen that emerged last month from the queen cell is also doing well. Her colony is very calm and productive. I was able to mark her around two weeks after she hatched (and I’m pleased to report that I didn’t make a mess of it!)

My original queen has failed. Her bees never got on with her. At one point, I left eleven days between inspections and when I returned I found two queen cups with eggs in them on one frame and two capped queen cells, side by side on the next frame. There was a queen cup on the top of this frame too.

I let the bees proceed with a supersedure as they’ve been trying to replace this queen since I picked them up. In spite of the queen being a young queen from 2018, I think they needed to replace her in order to strengthen their colony before winter. I’m hoping that at the next inspection (tomorrow), the new queen will have successfully mated… If not, this colony may be in trouble!

A fortunate aspect of being on an allotment is that there are many people keeping an eye out for pests such as wasps. Two weeks ago, a large wasp nest was destroyed after being found in a tree on the allotment border. I’ve also put some wasp traps up near the apiary…the combination of sliced apple and cola marinated spam seems to work very well! It’s shocking the number of wasps caught. I’ve reduced all the entrances to the hives to help the bees defend themselves.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.8

It’s been a month of extremes; from elation to (almost) despair, with a bit of panic thrown in. In spite of this, it’s certainly been interesting and I’ve learned a lot in my first month.

Last month I wrote that I had just picked up a nuc of bees. I let the bees settle into their new location for a few days and transferred them into their hive without incident, adding 2 frames of foundation.

On the next inspection, all seemed well though there were queen cups with eggs in them (removed). The colony appeared settled and was expanding
rapidly with a first super added 2 weeks later. I was thinking, “This is great, I’ve got this!” However, on the next inspection I found a capped queen cell on one of the frames! (Oops, how did I miss that last week??) Then, I went looking for the red marked queen… she was gone and there were no eggs! I couldn’t find her after 15 minutes of searching. So three weeks after obtaining these bees, I thought I’d lost the queen and failed to manage a swarm. Not impressed with myself.

Soon after, I was offered a swarm and as I have two hives, one sitting empty, I accepted it. I picked up the bees, placed them the apiary and returned mid week to hive them. The first inspection showed they were settling in, but the second inspection I saw less than a dozen eggs and the bees were starting to draw the comb out. I used a national feeder from the start to encourage this swarm to stick around and make this hive their home.

Last weekend I had a lot of beehive drama; First of all, I inspected the ex swarm. It’s doing brilliantly…loads of eggs and larvae! I made a point of remembering my queen crown and marker pen as I was intending to mark the queen. I found her on the last frame and as I reached into my pocket for my
equipment I realised I hadn’t removed any of the packaging around the crown or the pen! In the time it took me to remove it all, the queen had run off somewhere and I couldn’t find her. I gave up after a couple minutes in frustration. I’ll try again later…at least this time my equipment is unwrapped.

The ultimate drama was when I inspected my second hive, expecting to see an open queen cell and newly emerged queen. Neither were present. As I moved frame by frame, I saw loads of eggs and larvae so someone was laying…but it would be too soon for a new queen, surely?! Then I saw the red marked queen! On the next frame was the capped queen cell. There were a lot of bees gathering around it now, the hive was starting to get noisy. I thought the queen would be out within 2 hours. I quickly closed the hive and dashed home.

Thankfully, with England playing in the semis, there was very little traffic so I could really motor it. I picked up my nuc box and supplies, returned to the site, found the queen’s frame and hastily added stores and brood and moved it approximately 15 feet away from the hive.

I couldn’t resist a look at the queen cell, so I opened the hive; there were holes at the end of it, she was emerging. And at this moment, I got my first stings as a beekeeper, not just one, but three on my gloved right hand. In summary, I started July with a single colony and I am ending the month with three colonies and an urgent second hand hive purchase.

Beginners lessons so far:

Lesson 1: Always leave your wellies on until the smoker is completely extinguished and the ash is cool.

No matter how tempting it is to get into flip flops as soon as you’re away from the hive, they are not suitable footwear for stamping out a fire. (My smoker ash reignited on some gravel and I had to quickly hop back into my wellies to stamp it out). It made me think that I should bring a spray bottle of water with me, as the grass is like tinder right now due to our heatwave and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for burning down an entire allotment.

Lesson 2: When transporting a swarm of bees in a nuc, triple check that ALL the bees are secure and there are none under the bottom of the box (or anywhere else).

I had a moment of panic when driving on the M6 and noticed that a bee was on my back window…then it became 3 bees, then a few more to a total of 7. Thankfully, all 7 bees were preoccupied at the back window and didn’t venture towards me.

Lesson 3: Buy lots of sugar.

The family was not happy when all the sugar in the house was used to feed the bees & there was none left for hot drinks or for baking with. It’s remarkable how quickly sugar supplies are consumed when making 1:1 syrup.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.7

A lot has happened in the past couple weeks; the apiary site is finished now.

Last Sunday I brought my nuc box to the association hives where we transferred a new queen, a few frames of bees and two frames of stores into it. I watched Dave Bonner deftly clip the wings and mark the queen. I was informed that it’s best to move bees in the evening this time of year to ensure most of the foragers are back in the hive.

And so, the following Tuesday evening, I picked up the bees and drove them to their new site. I was actually a bit nervous driving with bees in the car, but the drive was uneventful and the bees were very quiet during their journey. I brought them to the site and placed them.

I was advised to not transfer them into the hive right away, but to let them get used to their new location. It was a pleasure to open the entrance of the hive and see the first few bees emerging out to explore their new area.

I’ll do my first inspection tomorrow and will be looking out for signs of swarming and queen cells, as I was kindly advised to do! I’m really looking forward to visiting the bees tomorrow and seeing how they’ve settled in.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.6

It turns out the injury to my hand was more serious that I thought, so recovery is still ongoing. This has held me back from placing the last concrete slab on my hive site. I still don’t have bees yet, but I think that’s a good thing given everything.

I’ve been to the Coventry Branch apiary hives to help out with inspections. It was a wake up call as I became aware of some items I didn’t think to get at BeeTradex. I’ve now placed an order for dummy boards & smoker chips. I also think I may need more frames than I’ve got at present. I’ve prepared a binder for hive records. Once my order has arrived, I should have everything I need.

Might be a good idea for me to have a quick skim through a few chapters of the BBKA Guide to Beekeeping.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.5

When I look back at my first entry from December 2017 I wrote that I hoped to have everything completed by end of February 2018. (Insert sardonic laughter
here). I’m still not 100% finished. I’m one concrete slab away from being done.

Unfortunately, due to one of the slabs landing flat on my hand, I had to to leave the project incomplete. As soon as I feel my fingers are ready to handle that sort of physical work, I’ll finish it. As it is, the site could hold one hive easily and two hives close together. In retrospect, I should have chosen a more level site. It’s taken over 150 kg of gravel to level it. Hopefully, I never have to do this again!

The overall location is really good. I’ve got red & white clover seedlings ready for planting around the concrete slabs. I’ve been cultivating wildflowers such as Cowslips, Foxgloves, Common Valerium and Giant Bellflower for the nearby forest. I noticed some Bluebells already there.

The hives are all painted and set up with frames & the nuc is ready to receive whatever bees come its way. If all goes well, I may actually have bees next time I write.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.4

I’ve had more delays on the apiary site due to weather and work commitments. The gravel is down and laying the concrete slabs is the next job. I hope to have the site completed and the hives painted by Easter weekend.

I bought two complete hives with extra supers at Bee Tradex. I decided to go with National poly hives for the following reasons:

  • Good reviews from current poly hive owners
  • They are lighter weight than cedar
  • Excellent insulating properties
  • Affordability
  • Can be mixed with cedar National Hive components (according to the
    salesperson)

My husband and I spent the rest of that weekend making nearly 70 brood and super frames with wax foundation. I must credit my husband for his patience as all the hive and bee equipment, including the painting supplies, are now stuffed into our third bedroom. It’s an eyesore! (Another reason I need to get the hives painted and site finished ASAP!).

I’m hoping to be able to purchase one or two overwintered nucs from the Coventry Branch Apiary, but I won’t know if they have any spare nucs to sell until our spring weather is more settled. I’ve also put my name down to assist with swarm collection, so I can learn more about it and obtain a swarm (or two) for my hives if needed.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.3

In terms of preparing my site, I’m more behind than planned due to delays with finding a strimmer. It’s not a practical purchase for us as we can manage our yard with pruning shears and a small mower…and storage space for anything is very limited.

The allotment informed me that they had a strimmer for members to borrow, but it was’t working at the moment. They were hoping some of the men would be able to fix it. After a couple of weeks waiting and hearing nothing, I asked the members of my local beekeepers association. Thankfully, one member had a strimmer which he was willing to lend me (I’m very grateful for that). As a result, I am able to report that I got the site cleared of brambles & weeds! My husband was nearby to provide encouragement and medical support in the event I strimmed my legs off. Thankfully, there were no such issues.

The next step involves levelling the site with gravel before placing concrete slabs.

Regarding hives: I’m still not 100% decided on which type to buy at BeeTradex…Poly vs Cedar. I’m going to visit a beekeeper who has poly hives to see how he’s gotten on with them. Following this, I’m hoping to have more clarity which hive type to choose.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.2

On December 30th I met with the allotment coordinator to determine if we could find a suitable place on the allotment for placing two hives. Basically, here’s how it stands.

Pros:

  • All the allotment members were in agreement to the hives being present.
  • Short drive from home and able to bring the car quite close to the hives.
  • The site is secure either by fencing, locked gate or very thick brambles.
  • Two holders have chickens and pigeons in coops on their allotments.
  • There is a nearby swamp and stream.
  • There’s a lot of natural forage available already, including early spring & winter forage.
  • I can locate my hives away from the actual allotments on the edge of a small willow copse, which will also provide shade against the afternoon sun in the summer.

Cons:

  • The site requires a lot of heavy work to prepare it!

I’ve signed the papers and will pick up my allotment key on January 20th. I’m giving myself until the end of February to get a site cleared, levelled, gravelled, sanded then covered with concrete slabs.

I’m planning on going to BeeTradex on March 3rd as I’ll need to make some rather big purchases. I’m currently researching which type of hive to purchase & what components I’ll need to pick up. I’m not completely decided on anything at present. Currently my priorities are finding a solid streamer and
preparing the site. And in case anyone was wondering…

I did not get a hive tool in my stocking at Christmas but I did get a copy of The BBKA Guide to Beekeeping, 2nd Edition!

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.1

Success! I received an offer of interest and may have a suitable location for two hives of bees this coming spring! Exciting! We’ve arranged to meet on December 30th to determine the most suitable location for the bees. It may turn out not to be a suitable site, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

My name is Denali & I’m new to beekeeping. I’ve been asked to write this column from a novice perspective; the challenges, failures & successes.

Continue reading “Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.1”