Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Life of a Beekeeper - July & 'The Swarm'

8 July 2012 The Hive has Swarmed

As soon as we removed the roof we knew the hive had swarmed as there were only one or two bees in the top super now so we removed this completely. The second super also had a lot less bees in it and not much more had been capped. It was similar in the first super. The weather had again been awful all week with just one day of sunshine.

So, to the brood chamber. The first comb had a queen cell and another three queen cells were found on the third comb from the far end. No sign of the original queen who had obviously cleared off with the swarm. We decided to leave all the queen cells on and let nature sort it out.

We spent a fruitless hour wandering around the garden trying to find the swarm, in the hope that they hadn't gone far and we could rescue it, but to no avail.

During the week the bees have been warning us away from the hive, so we took it that no queen was present yet.

14 July 2012 New Queenie and Our First Swarm

What an exciting day. On the way down to inspect the hive, we could hear a swarm on the other side of our hedge. We decided to go ahead with our inspection and deal with that afterwards. Butterflies already starting in the stomach!

On inspecting the hive we found a new queen and lots more queen cells. The first, third, fourth and fifth frames all had at least one queen cell on. We found the new queen on the sixth frame. She looks completely different to the original queen but most definitely a queen. At least two of the queen cells were open and the bees were tending all of them. We put everything back as it was, again trusting them to sort themselves out as we had no way of knowing if the new queen had taken her maiden flight yet and mated. We decided that apart from having a quick look through the glass crown board we would leave them alone for the next two weeks.

So, the swarm.... As it was in next door's field we felt we should really deal with it. After all, we had a second hive standing empty. I think we thought we would either buy another nuc or split the original hive but dealing with a swarm seemed like the next step in our life as beekeepers. We strolled round nonchalantly to the farm next door and told them they had a swarm in their hedge and could we have a look to see if we could capture it.

After reassuring them it was relatively safe for us all to take a look, they turned the electric fence off in the cowfield and we all had a look. It was in the hawthorn hedge. It was obviously too much to ask that it would be hanging off a nice, overhanging branch. We took on the challenge and went back to ours to get kitted up, telling them we'd let them know when it was safe.

Kitted up and armed with the smoker, secateurs, bee brush, nuc box and a bedsheet we went back round. Butterflies were now doing cartwheels. On the way round we passed another neighbour with their grandchildren. The little boy of about 4, recognised us as beekeepers which was great, as if he had been older he might have thought we were coming to deal with a nuclear outbreak or something.

Back in the field we had to climb over the now unclipped electric fence and then the outer fence, giving us a long strip to work in which was only about 3 feet wide. We laid the sheet on the ground making our first mistake as we didn't spread it out enough. I held the nuc box up, having been warned by Pete that about 2-3 pounds of bees were about to land in it and I needed to make sure I was ready and not drop it. As if! Luckily I managed to brace it in the hedge so didn't notice the weight too much.

Pete then took the box and put it upside down on the sheet which we'd put a frame of foundation onto. He then used the lid of the box to prop one corner up so that the rest of the bees would be encouraged to enter it (the queen bee likes to be in the dark and the rest follow her). The bees that had been flying around gathered back in the hedge. Knowing that we had to capture the queen we cut the branch they were on and knocked them onto the sheet with the others, doing this twice more until we were satisfied we had got as many as possible. We waited about 10 minutes to see if they were going to stay where they were and went to tell our obliging neighbours that we felt we'd captured the bees but needed to let them settle down for a couple of hours before collecting them.

The weather started to draw in again and it looked like a storm was coming, so earlier than planned, at about 5.30pm we headed round to collect them. Back over the fence and most of the bees were still in the nuc box. Pete gathered up the sheet around it which would have been easier if we'd spread it out more and we put the lid on top. He lowered the box over the fence and while I held on to the top he climbed back over the fence. We then had a very adrenalin filled walk back round to our house and down the garden with what was basically a bottomless box with a large amount of bees hanging down below it, being kept in by my finest cotton sheet.

Between capturing the swarm and collecting it, we'd been avidly reading the books and had got two feeders ready, one for the old hive and one for the new. At the new hive we realised we hadn't taken the empty supers down for the feeders to go in and had left the feed behind. We carefully lowered the bees to the ground and went back for the supers and feed. Back at the hive and now we'd forgotten the door bar; we'd already decided which process to use to get the bees into the hive and didn't want to lose the queen immediately by leaving the door open and letting her escape straightaway so it was a run back to the house to collect it – not easy in full beekeeping kit.

Okay, now we're back at the hive and think we have everything with us. We had a choice now – let the bees walk up a board into the hive, which is the cool thing to do, especially if you can sit and watch them but with the weather closing in we decided to knock them straight into the hive. They went into the brood chamber like a treat and we then gently filled it with foundation combs, making sure we didn't press down and damage any bees. On went the crown board and feeder. After a minute of two we removed the entrance bar and hurrah, the bees stayed in the hive and one or two soon started to come out and explore the area. We then put a feeder on the new hive.

We felt like real beekeepers now but thoroughly exhausted after an adrenalin filled afternoon. Barely managed a glass of wine before falling asleep in the evening.

The following day the bees at both hives were happily going about their business. We put the entrance bar back on the new hive in order to reduce the entrance and help them defend it against any predators, such as wasps.

Next week we need to inspect the new hive to see if there are any eggs which will tell us if we have a mated queen or not. As we're rubbish at spotting eggs it could be a bit frustrating.

So we learnt a few lessons today – spread the sheet out more and make sure you have everything you need with you although the books say you always seem to have forgotten something.

21 July 2012 First Inspection of the Swarm Hive

Spotted the queen and some capped honey but no sign of any grubs or eggs (which we can't see anyway). The queen looked like our original one but as this was definitely a second swarm, it may not have been. We decided to leave the new hive for 2 weeks before inspecting it again to give them time to settle down.

28 July 2012 Big hive, Inspection following Swarm

I'm to take the lead on the inspection this time. Took the feeder off and placed carefully on the floor as still some bees on it even though there was no food left. The glass crownboard wouldn't come off straightaway and I struggled a bit using the hive tool to help remove it as this was my first time and I was unsure of what pressure to apply. Some frames in the top super were being drawn out and quite a few frames in the bottom super were covered in bees and some more capping had taken place.

It took some effort to take the queen excluder off without upsetting the bees as it was stuck in several places. There were three queen cells on the first frame and they were occupied. The second frame had lots of stores but no sign of the queen. The bees were starting to get a bit annoyed at this point, indicated by a notable increase in their volume. There were more queen cells on the fourth frame which we removed as we knew we had occupied cells on the first frame and if we didn't spot the queen we could leave those to develop. We found the queen on the fifth frame which also had queen cells but as she was on the edge of the frame I put her back in as quickly as possible. In the brood chamber the bees were running about the frames and clearly not happy which we believe is because they had no eggs or grubs to tend to. Sixth frame in and I was now getting nervous and taking too long as the bees weren't really reacting to the smoker and there were so many bees on the frames that Pete took over handling them. The rest of the frames were okay and we quickly went back through removing as many queen cells as possible.

We then decided we would leave this hive for two weeks to allow them to settle down.

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