Bee Prepared

5/09/2017 03:28:00 pm 2 Comments

My beekeeping mentor Chris Wells always says that ‘the world does not need more keepers of bees, it needs more beekeepers’. It’s easy to see how keeping bees without sufficient training can be stressful, overwhelming, lead to the spread of disease and be potentially dangerous. I've had proper training, yet as a fledgling beekeeper I still I rely heavily on my mentor's advice, and this week his guidance was essential. 

Our first task was to perform a 'Bailey Comb Change'. This is a method of transferring a colony of bees from one hive to another, and onto brand new, clean frames, without losing any valuable brood which has been built up on the old frames.

If you remember from previous posts, a hive and colony of bees were donated to Honeydale by a local supporter but was in dire need of refurbishment and the colony needed a fresh start in a new home. We installed the old hive at Honeydale last year but waited for the warmer weather to transfer the bees. Firstly we had to dismantle the hive and find the queen - which was easier said than done. Chris eventually spotted her with his eagle eyes on the second pass through the frames.

The queen was removed and put in a temporary cage (see below).

The old brood box was put to one side and three frames containing a good amount of brood were placed in the new refurbished brood box. The remaining space was then filled with new brood frames.

After having her wings clipped and her back marked, the queen was then introduced to the new brood box, containing three frames and some of the bees from the old brood box. 

Look carefully and you can see the queen at the centre of the photo
She was then trapped in the new brood box by putting the queen excluder on top of it. 

On top of the queen excluder goes the old brood boxes containing the remainder of the colony and frames. 

The colony will gradually follow the queen by migrating down into the new brood box from the old brood frames. This technique works well because it means all of the brood on the old frames is maintained and allowed to hatch rather than being lost. The newly hatched bees will also travel down into the new box to be with the rest of the colony. Down in the new brood box the bees will (hopefully) set up home and create comb on these new frames.

Two happy beekeepers!

The hive is left in this arrangement for 21 days, which is long enough for any unhatched brood from the old frames to develop as normal and hatch before joining the rest of the family down in the new brood box. The empty old frames and brood box will then be removed and discarded, since they are too far-gone to be re-used.

This will leave the colony in the new hive and on new frames, ready for a new life at Honeydale.

Our next task was to check the swarm I collected last week. Pleasingly, this was looking quite healthy. The bees have done a good job at drawing out the comb on the frames and there are eggs and brood present, although many of the cells seem to be drones, judging by the size of them. We'll see how the colony develops in due course.

We’ve decided to put in place a 'bait hive' to save us the hassle of having to catch any more swarms. A ‘bait hive’ is basically an empty hive which contains some old frames which still carry the scent of the queen. If the apiary attracts any more swarms, or if any more of our own hives swarm, then hopefully the swarm will find the empty hive and set up home there instead of a nearby tree or hedge.

Chris and I also carried out inspections on all the other hives. One of our WBC's has been busy behind our backs! We couldn't see the queen anywhere and the presence of many MANY queen cells suggests the hive has swarmed. I must have missed a queen cell on my last inspection, annoyingly. However, the swarm looks like it has exited and then re-entered the hive in the absence of its queen. She would have tried to leave the hive with the swarm but would have been unable to do so, since she had her wings clipped, so ultimately she’d have been lost. Though it’s a real shame to have lost the queen, the good news is that we don’t appear to have lost any other bees.

We removed all but three of the queen cells, one of which emerged whilst we were watching! This virgin queen will most likely dispatch the other queens in their cells and become the new matriarch of the colony. We'll catch up with her next time, mark her up with this years yellow spot, and clip her wings after she has mated and started laying eggs.

The other WBC was doing well. I found the queen and she seems to be laying. Both WBC colonies seem to have a good amount of stores in their first supers. This is taking a while to build because the cold dry weather severely affects the honey flow. No moisture and low temperatures equal little or no nectar produced by the plants on the farm.

Chris' hives are all doing well too, including the five colonies he switched from nuc boxes into proper national hives. These pre-establish colonies had good stores and though one has swarmed it’s still in good shape. 

It’s been a busy week but a very satisfying and fascinating one, proving how rewarding bee-keeping can be, as long as you are well-trained and have an experienced mentor like Chris to offer advice and support in the early days. Sorry this post has been such a long one, but hopefully you will find reading about our experiences useful in the future - I’m hoping my next inspection and blog post will be a lot simpler!


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