By early April 2015, I was back down to two colonies. The weaker of the three colonies that went into the winter, at the end of the ivy flow in October 2014, never made it. I strongly suspect that the failed colony went into the main winter period, queenless – probably as a result of a failed supercedure/badly mated queen. Regardless, by mid-April 2015, I had two strong colonies only, one in a wooden national and one in a poly langstroth. My ‘spare’ wooden national was set up as a bait hive. This last point is important as both surviving colonies swarmed (lack of inspection on my part!), within 4 days of each other, around mid-May. In the first case, the primary swarm ended up in the bait hive, in the second case, I caught them on a bush (see below). Both allowed me to re-house the swarms in newly acquired poly-langstroths.
Post-swarming, I reduced both of the original colonies to a single queen cell, to prevent further swarming/throwing of castes; naturally, I also re-checked for QCs a week-or-so later, to ensure the bees agreed with my plan. I thought t they did but, of course, I missed one QC, which ended causing a caste to be thrown before the end of May. This small caste went into a national nuc.
So, by the end of May 2015, I had 5 colonies on the go – three in poly langstroths, one in a wooden national, and one in a wooden national nuc. This is pretty much how the season ended up too. In August, the bees from the [bursting at the seams] nuc, went into a third langstroth poly, meaning I went into the winter with 5 strong-ish colonies, across 4 poly langstroths and one wooden national.
There were, of course, some additional dramas on the way, including an additional swarm and subsequent re-combining, but no need to cover that here, as all ended up well, with no colonies escaping!
On the honey front, I harvested several supers-worth of honey in late August, and netted some 50 odd jars (of varying sizes). I invested in my own 3 frame tangential, hand-cranked, extractor too (read “cheap”!). My filtering was rough and my packaging even worse – I used a bunch of second-had jars, and found that the honey crystallised quickly, leaving me with a surplus of near rock-hard honey that was almost impossible to sell. Home use only then! Lessons to be learned going into 2016…
Yesterday marked the autumn equinox which, in my book, means that autumn has properly arrived; winter hides just around the corner. The beekeeping season is nearing an end too. Currently, my bees are ‘working the Ivy’ and have been for a couple of weeks; ivy flowers are a prolific pollen and nectar source at this time of year, here – not just for the bees, but for many other insects too. Regardless, it’s great to see the girls so busy during the warm autumn days, and the distinctive smell of ivy honey/nectar currently abounds around my small apiary.
Overall, I’m delighted with the way things have gone for me and my bees this year. Back in April I had only a single colony of bees, so my two aims for the year were simply to:
- Keep the bees that I had alive, and
- Make increase if I possibly could.
I started on the second objective in April, by vertically splitting my one colony. This split went well, but in mid-May the ‘original’ colony decided that they wanted to swarm, despite having been split. So, I then had to perform an artificial swarm, thus giving me a third colony. In early June I then picked up two small castes, leaving me, at that time, with five colonies. Since June I’ve combined the smaller colonies and now I’m looking at taking three strong colonies into the winter. The diagram below gives an approximate idea of the road I’ve travelled this year:
In addition, the amount I’ve learnt has been huge, including, but not limited to:
- Making & using my own Snelgrove board in my first vertical split.
- Performing my first artificial swarm.
- Successfully harvesting and then incubating queen cells.
- Successfully using apideas for the first time.
- Successfully combining two colonies using the ‘newspaper’ method.
Further, I’ve also managed to harvest one super of spring honey (extracted and jarred) and one super of summer honey (still awaiting extraction). In other words, my single colony has multiplied to three, and given me nearly 50 jars of honey, in one season. If you’d have told me that back in January, I’d have been disbelieving.
The bees have now all been treated for Varroa, have plenty of stores and are ‘filling up the corners’ using the ivy flow. I’ve even had to add an extra super to my strongest hive. I now have to keep my fingers and toes crossed that all three of my colonies get through the winter without issue.
With all my preoccupation with bees, the rest of our patch has taken a bit of a back seat, blogging wise. However, I’ve not been totally neglectful of the rest of the garden and its inhabitants…
On the chicken front, my aging collection of hens has been supplemented by three new pullets, bought from a local supplier, plus a home hatched-Light Sussex hen. As a consequence, laying rates are up to an acceptable level again (i.e. enough to easily supply our domestic needs, plus allow for a few gifts & sales on the side). The only slight annoyance is that while my son picked out the three pullets that we bought, I was distracted enough not to note down their breeds…annoying not to know!
In the greenhouse, all the tomatoes are doing well as are my cucumbers, chillies, strawberries and lettuce. As ever, my Claber watering system takes the pressure off the daily watering regime, leaving me with only having to worry about feeding, a few times a week.
The re-built veg patch is doing well too. All beds are occupied, with the overwintered garlic and onions about to be replaced by pumpkins. In the other raised beds, beetroot, runner beans, dwarf French beans, parsnips, leek, kale and spring planted onions, are all doing well. I’ve abstained from potatoes and turnips this year – both crops have gave me trouble in 2012 and 2013, so this year it was time for a change.
Elsewhere in the garden, all the trees and shrubs are pouring on the growth. The warm wet spring, followed by the current warm start to the summer, has given everything a good kick start.
Now…back to the bees!
I’m just back from a ten-day holiday in northern Italy, mostly around Lake Garda. While away, I found myself peering at every flower that we passed, looking at the local bee populations undertaking their daily work. It’s curious how one’s outlook changes, based one’s interests! The many lavender plants around the various towns that we visited, proved to be great gathering spots for the local bumbles and honey bees alike, as did the many wild flowers we saw around the lake.
On return from Italy, I found my small number of colonies to be quite well. Indeed, they probably were the better for my absence! My main delight was finding that my third and fourth colonies had successfully united [through the sheet of sheet of newspaper that I had left between them] during my absence, and the single queen had since proceeded to lay-up another two frames of eggs/brood, due to the larger, combined, population. With a bit of luck, this new combined colony will develop strongly over the next month-and-a-half, and be good for overwintering. Anyhow, here’s a quick overview of where all my bees are at:
- Colony 1: Now progressing nicely with both eggs and brood. I might even get a super of honey, if I’m lucky, before our main flow ends [usually at the end of July], although I haven’t added one yet. These ladies are currently in a wooden national hive (brood box only), although I may well transfer them into a poly langstroth, if they look like needing that super.
- Colony 2: This national hive is currently my strongest box of bees. They are currently working on their second super of the summer, and are mighty busy. I’m leaving them well enough alone, other than checking the supers on a weekly basis.
- Colony 3: Now combined with ‘old’ colony 4, the numbers in this colony are on the up. The queen is laying on four frames, currently, so fingers crossed that they’ll be strong enough to overwinter well. The bees are currently across 5 frames of a 10-frame langstroth deep.
- Colony 4 (was colony 5): These girls, originally from a small caste, are currently in a 5 frame national nuc. On return from Italy I found a hatched queen cell, together with another queen cell that had been ‘chewed out’, on the frame [of then eggs & brood] that I had added on 24th June. As such, I have hopes that a single virgin queen is now around, although I didn’t actually lay eyes on her. So, currently, there is still some hope that this small colony might survive, although with new bees likely to be at least a month away, assuming the virgin queen gets mated and starts laying soon, it’ll be touch and go, numbers-wise, as to whether they’ll be strong enough going into the winter.
First a quick update on the caste that I housed last week, on the 3rd June. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll remember that last Tuesday (3rd June) a caste arrived at my bait-hive and I ended up having to move them from under the hive to in the hive, late in the evening.
Now, to continue the tale, the following day I got home after work to find that a good 30% of the bees were still convinced that living under the bait-hive was the best option. At this point I made the decision to remove them from the national bait-hive altogether, and move them into a new poly langstroth hive, immediately. This necessitated first shaking the bees that were inside the national hive, into the new langstroth hive, followed by shaking the bees from under the national hive. All this went smoothly, and to cut to the chase, the caste have been happily ensconced in the poly langstroth hive for the last week.
So, my thinking at the end of last week was along the lines of “My bees should now be all done with attempted swarming for this year, right?”. Wrong. Every time I think I’m in control on my bees, they spring another surprise on me.
On Sunday afternoon, I arrived home from a weekend away in London and, feeling like some fresh air, headed into the garden to cut the lawn. No more than ten minutes into my grass cutting exercise, and I noticed a large black object hanging in one of my plum trees…another caste! It was about 5pm in the afternoon and they were very quiet, which is why I hadn’t immediately noticed them. Well, I couldn’t leave them there, so I went rummaging in the garage for a box to put them in. I came up with couple of national supers, a base and a few frames – it’d have to do! Thankfully, the plum tree in question was only planted last year, so it was simple enough to just snip the small branch the bees had selected, and allow it to drop into the box; a quick shake of the branch and the whole caste was safely boxed.
So now I have yet another probable colony. I started this year with one, and am now looking at, potentially, five:
- The original colony – original queen went to (3) on 17th May; expecting newly mated queen to start laying any day.
- A vertical split from (1) on 28th April – new mated queen now laying heavily. Numbers should start to build as they start to hatch from around 18th June onwards.
- An artificial swarm from (1) on 17th May – queen originally from (1) last seen on 20th May no longer present (superseded?*). Expecting newly mated queen to start laying in week or two.
- Caste #1 picked up on 3rd June – hoping virgin queen is now mated or mating; Possibly a week or more before she starts to lay?
- Caste #2 picked up on 8th June – virgin queen likely to start mating over next few days?
* – With regard to 3, in an inspection tonight, I found no eggs and no larvae, a bunch of queen cells (one hatched), and a enough sealed brood to suggest that the clipped & marked queen that was in there when I last inspected on 20th May, was probably superseded no later than 25th May; in short, it could be another week or more before the new queen starts laying in there. I’m pretty despondent about this hive – if the original queen had remained, it should have been building nicely again at this stage.
All of which means that my colonies are going to be small when the main flow is on. Regardless, my feeling is that five colonies is really too many for my garden, large though it is. So I either need to unite two or more colonies (if I’d like any chance of a honey-crop this year), or else find another apiary site (if I’m going to take a longer term, more expansive, view). I’ll ponder what course to take over the next couple of weeks – the main flow doesn’t start here on the south coast of Ireland until early July, so I have a bit of breathing space before needing to make the [common enough!] ‘bees or honey’ decision. In short, I’m kicking the can down the road a wee bit, whilst I wait for queens, in 4 of my 5 colonies, to get mated and start laying.