Monday, 26 March 2012

She's a Killer, Quee-eeen...

Things are speeding along rapidly and I'm having to employ my last remaining brain cells (held in reserve to date) to keep up.

The task was to locate this 'emergency queen cell' I thought I saw when I transferred the colony from G's old hive to my brand spanking new hive.

Now a bit of an explanation is in order at this point I think. If you have a look at this post you can see how my hive goes together. Have a good look (I'll be asking questions later. Ed.).

Ok. When I got my bees they were all in the bottom box, known as the brood box. This part of the hive is where the queen bee lays her eggs, the subsequent generations of bees. On top of that then would go a queen excluder, which is a thin perforated sheet which has holes large enough for the workers to crawl through but, as the queen is bigger than the workers, she can't crawl through these holes. So she can't go 'upstairs' in to the box on top which is known as the 'super'. This box holds all the stores, nectar, pollen, and eventually honey! So there'll be no brood in the super, just stores (honey) which makes it easier to extract it to go into lovely jars!

With me so far? (No. Ed.)

Ok. I'd seen this queen cell. It looks like a sort of wax ball that sticks out quite a way from the other hexagonal cells. The queen is bigger remember. The worker bees create queen cells when the existing queen is in decline, not laying well or dead. An emergency queen cell would be the bees response to something catastrophic to the hives wellbeing. No queen = no eggs = no future! Emergency queen cells tend to be placed in the center of a frame on the frame in the center of the brood box.

So G and I went in to find the cell and / or (hopefully) the queen.

Puffing smoke gently over the bees to
move, calm and warn them I'm coming in...
Now in the boxes (brood box and super remember? keep up. Ed.) there are what are called frames. These are literally like wooden picture frames, built to an exact size, but with a wax centre called 'foundation'. It's on this foundation that the bees build out their honeycomb in which the queen can lay eggs and the other bees can deposit their stores (which they can then eat later and feed to the young bees / grubs). The brood frames are generally deeper in size than the super frames. It's the super frames from which I'll get my honey later in the year. It'll just be honey on those frames because the queen can't get upstairs to this box (because of the queen excluder. Yes, I see. Brilliant! I'm getting the hang of this. Ed.)

My bees are very placid, just a gentle hum.
Really calming to be honest, no really!
Ok, so we're after finding this queen cell or queen. Well the queen cell wasn't there. I was paniking to get the hive back together rapidly last time. It turns out it was an old queen cell from last year. These frames are G's old frames from the old hive not my new ones. So the queen cell was removed as it was empty, just scraped off the frame. That was good. Also there were tiny eggs in the other cells which meant the queen was there somewhere and laying. Really good.

So now we had to find her. Although she's bigger and longer than the other bees in the colony, she ain't easy to spot.

See her? No me neither...
What's usually done is that the queen is marked with a dab of bee paint on her back (thorax) so she can't clean it off. Once you find her (if you can find her) you pin her to the wax on the frame using a sort of cage with a mesh top. Then you use a coloured pen like a felt tip that has special bee friendly ink in it, and gently and carefully dab a spot of it onto her. There's an international colour code for queen bee marking, so that a beekeeper can tell how old she is. G had a white marker, that's all, so we had to use that.

She's quick too. Running around all over the frame.
Care has to be taken not to damage her or knock her off the frame and squish her. That could spell disaster for the hive. G got a bit of paint on her abdomen by mistake. She'll clean that off but she can't get to the bit on her back. I'll take some better pictures next time. It was a two man job this and awkward to snap away whilst doing it, sorry. (Tut. Ed.)

All sorts on this frame: eggs, hatching
new bees and stores
I put a couple more brood frames into the hive (a National Hive takes 11 brood frames) and on went the queen excluder, then the super filled with lovely new frames where the workers can start to store the stuff they are all bringing in now. The queen will probably tell her workers to shift some of the stores currently capped off amongst the brood in the brood box 'upstairs' to the super so she'll have more room to lay her eggs.

So then on went the crown board then the lid. Then I left 'em to it. They really are busy at the moment, zooming off to get stores.

I'm really fascinated by all this stuff. What's so encouraging is that I enjoy being around the bees. They'll crawl around on me, bees flying around my head, the loud humming of thousands of bees right in front of me, but it's strangely relaxing, I can't explain it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


So I moved G's hive (with G's help) last week. As we moved it he said "if we drop it just run!!!" Just what I needed to hear.

Now G's hive, the one he gave me, consisted of a stand, base, brood box, crown board and lid. Here's an exploded view of that lot.

As it stands now, old and new, with new fencing - windscreen!
There was no super on the old hive. This meant that all the winter stores of food and the new food stuff coming in from this years bee foraging expeditions were being mixed in with the brood (eggs of the next generation etc.,) so space in that little box was at a premium.

Yesterday, during a spell of unseasonably fine and warmish weather, I decided it was time to swap the contents of the old hive into my brand spanking new hive. On my own!

The air was thick with bees...
Donning my suit, I took the bull by the horns and moved in. The bloody smoker wouldn't light, that wasn't good, and worked intermittently whilst I moved the old hive off the slab where it sat and put the new one in its place. The bees were a bit narked. Although at this point they weren't narked at me so much. Nervously I plodded on.

There was a bit of a breeze (they're not keen on this) but the job needed doing. Prising the crown board off with the hive tool, a puff of smoke over the bees (damn this f**king smoker!) was administered to calm the fellas. I didn't hang about. The frames were taken out, carefully, one by one (some were firmly stuck with propolis) and placed in the new hive.

I did my best to inspect the frames but, in a controlled panic and knowing that it was still a bit chilly to be messing around too long in there,  I didn't have time to snap away with the camera too much - sorry.

Propolis (a kind of bee glue-very sticky, like set treacle)
All the brood frames were placed in the new hive. I didn't have time to check for the queen (she was unmarked anyway and difficult to spot quickly), and as the beads of sweat ran down my forehead (chicken sh*t. Ed.) I tried to stay focused and assemble the new hive.

More propolis & wax honeycomb on top of the frame
On went the queen excluder on top of the new brood box, now filled with the old, bee laden brood frames. Then on top of that went the new super with my new shallow super frames. Then the new crown board, then the lid. I stepped back to watch. This is how it goes back together.

In went the bees
The queen was supposedly on the brood frames I'd transferred over to the new hive. Not only that, but the new hive was in the same place as the old one and orientated the same way. So to them I guess, it was back to work as normal. A few hung around the old (empty) brood box...

I encouraged these blighters off here and onto the new hive.
At this point the neighbours on the next plot decided to go for a cuppa tea in thier caravan, sharpish! Good idea as the sky was humming! Still, my bees made an orderly entrance into their new home.

Right click on your mouse and 'view image' to zoom in a bit here...
I took out a couple of the brood frames at the outer edge of the hive (bees build from the warmer center of a hive first, moving outwards as a rule) and had a look as things quietened down a bit.

Some capped stores here on G's old frames
This will be moved 'upstairs' now into the super
I sat and watched them, suit off. They weren't bothered by their new Dad, they just wanted to get back to it.

I got stung once, through my marigold glove (marigold!?), yes marigold gloves. Usually they don't sting through these, thin though they are. It must have been my fault as a guard bee was inspecting me I didn't notice her and I obviously squished her a bit on my finger. No matter (for me, but poor old bee!)

Calm now. Notice the old dead winter bees from the old mesh base on the slab.

They seem happy now. Ish.

The thing I did notice, even during my controlled hysteria whilst moving the brood frames, was a queen cell. An emergency queen cell. I didn't / couldn't photograph this for you this time (eyes wide as saucers, heart racing, lol Ed.) but it has caused some major concern.

More to come later...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Bees Knees!

Glancing down someone else's blog-roll column the other day I noticed the familiar photo of some borage with a couple of bees hanging of off of it. Under this tiny photo were the words 'last post 7 months ago'! (Disgraceful. Ed.)

And yet this blog has managed to accumulate (up to) 30 followers! Incredible really, but it just goes to show how many of you courageous folk are, or might be, interested in keeping some of these little chaps.

Firstly an explanation is in order (no shit! Ed.)

Being a tight arse, I decided that this wing to the allotment-smallholding plot would be done on the cheap. Ok, I'd forked out for a decent suit (bloody brilliant actually) and the rest of the stuff like smokers, tools, (white wellies ROFL Ed.), but I built my own hives and was due to take delivery of some of my neighbours bees last year, for free.

Well. I had some health crap kicking off, the guy (G.) with the bees had his own business trauma to deal with, and before I knew it, it was winter and no bees. After the dust had settled it was cold and wet. Not a good time to be prising off lids and poking around in a bee hive. Gotta keep them warm and quiet over winter.

Here I am now though, in March, and (f**k me Ed.) I have taken delivery of my very first colony of honey bees!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just like that!

Miracle (with trees...)
G. had a few hives over the track from me. All had over-wintered pretty well. The sun was shining on Sunday and on went the bee suit and off went the lids. The air was already busy with bees collecting sticky stuff from heaven knows where, and the first hive we opened (my hive - hehe) was absolutely brimming with bees and loads of new brood and stores.

This particular hive had no super on it. It was just a brood box that had a feeder on top of it over winter. So the deep brood frames (all of this will be explained to those with even less knowledge than I have about this stuff) were full of stores and new brood waiting to hatch. Amazing. And wonderful to see these industrious creatures already banging away at collecting food. Awesome.

New apiary - with new apple trees!
We moved the hive last night.

There's a rule with moving bee hives. Moving up to 2 feet at a time is ok. Or over 3 miles is ok. But in between is a no-no. Bees have some kind of sophisticated map of the location of their hive. They use key geographical markers as waypoints in getting back to base like a tree or a shed or anything that has a bearing on getting back safe and laden with nectar, often after a foraging trip miles away from the hive. Move the hive too far and the bees will just go back to were the hive 'used' to be and, well, expire I suppose.

Now this hive was moved more than 2 feet and considerably less than a mile so some of the older bees will have made thier way back to where the hive used to be. But G. placed another hive in its place so hopefully they have gone in there and started another colony. The remaining bees (the younger ones that have not yet left my hive or were about to) have been in and out of their new home all day gathering resources. I watched 'em. I could have sat there and watched 'em all day. One landed on my hand and said hello to his new Dad.

This is going to be the start of a wonderful relationship.

Tomorrow I will start and get my brand-spanking new bee hive set up and begin transferring the bee-laden frames over to that. G. can have his old hive back and then - I'm in business!

More soon...