A new beginning

The great thing about being part of a local association is that people are there to help you out when you need something.

And so it was with our new bees. When we told people that we had lost our colony over winter, and were looking for some new bees to get started again, Ian, one of the association members, very kindly offered one of his hives, as he had got 6 hives and 6 nucs through the winter, and this was more than he needed.

On a fine April day, he dropped around the hive of bees, and we welcomed them to their new home. IMG_4594

Without too much trouble, we found the queen, and named her Rose, after Rose Gardens, where our Community Garden is located (although not where our bees are). After Ian had left, he sent a text saying ‘I forgot to say, she’s marked white, but she’s a 2012 queen’. According to standard convention, white is used for years ending in 1 and 6, and yellow would be used for years ending in 2 and 7.

It was great to have some bees back on the site again.IMG_4596

As it was getting a bit late in the year for a shook swarm, we decided to undertake a bailey comb change, to provide them fresh comb in the brood nest. Pests and diseases can build up in the brood comb, and so regular (annual) comb changing is encouraged.IMG_4604Here we have the brood box that they came in (the green one), with a second brood box on top. In the bottom brood box, they are confined to 6 frames with the use of a dummy board, and 6 frames of foundation sit above this in the top box, also confined by a dummy board.

The bees will draw out the new foundation, and with space limited for laying in the bottom, the queen will move up to the top box and start laying there. Once she starts to do this, we will make sure she is in the top box, and put a queen excluder between the two. The brood from the bottom box will emerge over the next 21 days (and the queen excluder prevents any more eggs being laid there), and can then be removed.

This is a slightly ‘gentler’ way of changing combs than a shook swarm, but also does not result in a brood break like a shook swarm does, and is therefore less effective a knocking back varroa.

Bad weather for bees

The weather has been, and still is, miserable! And bad for bees. With so much rain there has been little chance for them to get out and forage. The NBU sent out an advisory note this week warning that there is a risk of starvation of colonies. With such mild (and in some cases record breaking) warm temperatures in March, colonies have built up, and now there are lots of hungry mouths to feed – and without the chance now to get out and forage, the bees are in a vulnerable situation.

We fed our bees with syrup when we transferred them into their hive to make sure that they could get off to a good start and they had taken all of that feed this week, so we topped it up to make sure they can get through the next couple of weeks, which looks set to remain cold and rainy.

Once again, it is far from ideal conditions to be opening up a hive, but we needed to sort out the spacers on the frames, as the nucleus came with different types of spacers to the new frames we built, and these don’t match up. The concept of ‘bee space’ was developed by Langstroth in the mid 1800s and is a fundamental part of the way the modern hive is made up. The idea is that there is an ideal space between and around the frames that the bees will live within. Too small and the bees will fill it up with propolis, too big and they will build wild comb (which we then have to break apart when we open up the hive). Just right and they’ll leave it alone. The spacers keep the frames the ‘just right’ distance apart. We managed to get the right spacers onto the new frames, and remove some of the wild comb that they had already started to build up, which should help make things easier for future inspections.

This week the bees seemed slightly more settled (or maybe we were just more brave!), and so we had a quick look through all of the frames, which we didn’t do last week. Keeping the smoker lit helped – the egg cartons seemed to work well as a fuel supply. But again we were conscious of the weather, and so didn’t want to keep the hive open for too long, and so didn’t spot the queen. But there were eggs, so we know she is there.

We also spotted a bee with deformed wing virus, which is a sign of varroa mites (which are vectors for viruses and other diseases), so we’ll need to keep an eye on that. These days all colonies will have some level of varroa mite population, but the beekeeper’s role is to keep the number of mites at a tolerable level with a variety of control measures.

Let’s hope that the weather picks up and our bees can get back to pollinating the orchard and other trees and flowers, or this year could be a tough one for crops and for bees.

First hive inspection

Well the weather has been pretty rubbish. As it was pretty cold we needed to keep our inspection fairly quick, – most beekeepers probably wouldn’t open the hive and disturb the bees in this weather, but there were a few things we needed to check:

1. Do they have enough food?

2. What progress have they made in drawing out the frames of foundation we put in, and do we need to give them more room?

3. Is the queen present (especially as we didn’t see her when transferring them in)?

Before we opened up the hive, we watched them coming in and out of the entrance. Although it was reasonably cool, it was sunny and sheltered and there were plenty of bees coming and going, mostly laden with pollen. Based on the pollen guide on the Bristol Beekeepers website my guess is they were bringing in apple (they live in an orchard!), crabapple and dandelion. Bringing in pollen is a good sign – it means that they are raising brood (larvae), as the pollen provides protein for brood development.

We put a feeder on last week as the bees came with minimal stores on their frames, and the weather has been cool, so there is not a lot of opportunity for them to go out and forage. This will make sure that they don’t starve, and also help stimulate them to draw out the new foundation. We had topped it up during the week, and there was still plenty left this inspection, so we left it as is.

They hadn’t made much progress drawing out the foundation – just part of one side of one frame, so they definitely didn’t need more room!

We found eggs, which tells us that the queen is there. As eggs take three days to hatch into a larva, this means that the queen has been there within the last three days – i.e. since we transferred them in. As it was cool, and the bees were pretty agitated, we decided to close up the hive, as we’d seen all we needed to see.

We hadn’t yet seen the queen, but we knew she was there.

But then once we were home, Angela sent around her photos and the eagle-eyed Kathy spotted our queen on one of them. She’s unmarked, so tricky to spot. She is bigger than the worker bees, and has a long, pointed abdomen. Once it gets warm enough to spend more time with the hive open we’ll try and find her and mark her so she is easier to find.

Our bees have arrived!

Having come from Croydon the night before, our bees made the short trip across London from Kennington to Ealing without incident. They sat on my knee in their travelling box, buzzing away and clicking fairly contentedly. We wore our bee suits (veils down so as not to attract too much attention!) just in case, as all that was keeping them in their box was a piece of foam stuffed into the entrance.


They came in a 5 frame nucleus (‘nuc’), which is essentially a mini hive. The 5 frames contained a lot of bees and brood (eggs and larvae), but little spare space. So I’m sure they were glad to move into their new full hive (which contains 11 frames) with a bit more room to spread out and for the queen to lay eggs.


We transferred the frames from the nuc into the hive and gave them fresh frames with wax foundation to draw out and move onto. We briefly inspected the frames, but as the weather was fairly cool we tried not to spend too long with them open, and so we didn’t spot the queen. Hopefully she’s in there, or we have problems…


Once we had them closed up into their new hive, we spent some time watching the entrance to see whether they had worked out how to get into their new home.