Thursday, 24 October 2019

Late Season Grafting

I have always completed any queen rearing by the end of July when there are plenty of drones. However this year a few grafting rounds failed to either produce enough sealed queen cells (the bees would start them only to take them down, ever so frustrating!) or the queens failed to get mated. This has been a bad year for getting queens mated, I have had more drone layers this year than at any other. No idea why!

By now the weather had turned colder, the flow had all but finished but I decided to have one last round of grafting.

I had chosen another colony to use as as a cell raiser. It was very strong, on double brood and had three supers full of bees. I had prepared the cell builder in the usual way, ensuring that the hive was packed with bees, many of which were nurse bees.

Grafts were introduced to the desperately queen-less cell raiser. Checked a couple of days later there appeared to be eight takes from the ten offered. Not bad.

8/10 takes?

The queen cell were introduced to nucs as normal, There were actually seven ripe queen cells seven nucs in total and so seven potential new queens.

I checked for emergence a few days later and found these emerged queen cells:

Empty queen cells

I posted this picture on Facebook on 23rd August and had a number of comments and pms saying that they (queens) wouldn't get mated as all the drones had been kicked out and it was too cold.

It was true most colonies had got rid of their drones but I had a few colonies that were queen-less due to late failed supecedures and some failed mating nucs, these had a few drones still active. I recall reading somewhere that this is a good way to carry out selective breeding, remove queens and feed selected drone colonies at this time of year and these drones will dominated the local population. I did however think that maybe this exercise  was doomed to failure!

Well did it work?

Yes it did! Six out of seven nucs have mated queens that were laying well and adding to their colony numbers. I had deliberately made up strong nucleus colonies to defend against wasps, they all received frames of stores and were fed too.
I have already given one colony away to a beekeeper friend that had lost a queen, the others are looking good going into winter.

I'll do this again next year, putting more effort into stimulating drone production in some colonies that have desirable characteristics.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Nucleus Colony Give Away: A free prize draw

The beekeeping season is at an end now, or is it just beginning? Either way we are facing dark, cold months ahead with little or no chance of hands on beekeeping. As a way of adding a bit of excitement to these dark months I have decided to run a free draw.....

I am offering the chance of a free five frame nucleus colony headed by one of my Local/AMM 2020 queens.

The winner will be selected at random on 20th December 2019.

You should be a beekeeper or have recently completed a beginners course and if you are the winner you should be able to collect the nucleus from Crewe, Cheshire in the UK. (I don't post or ship nucleus colonies).

The colony will be ready for collection by the winner in July, or earlier if weather conditions are favourable.

To enter the draw, simply complete the form: Enter the draw

Good Luck!

Monday, 16 September 2019

A WARNING!!! Varrox Vaporiser

Varrox vaporiser
Hive sealed during treatment
It’s time to treat for varroa after taking off the honey harvest.

I have used oxalic acid based products with a Varrox Vaporiser for five years and must have done hundreds of treatments. One day last week I’d completed about a half dozen hives and decided to take a break after disconnecting the battery. This nucleus colony housed a newly mated queen, I’d just seen her for the first time and there were lots of sealed worker brood cells, happy days!

When I came back I found smoke bellowing from the nuc, I hadn’t disconnected the battery after all!
Luckily there were no actual flames but after letting things cool down for a while and taking a peak inside, there were lots of apparently dead bees on the floor and frames.

Having written off this colony, I was pleasantly surprised five days later to find three frames with eggs and lots of bees. The queen was obviously still present and laying. I didn’t see the queen but who could blame her for hiding from me after our previous encounter?

Were the bees dead or were they overcome with CO2 ? Who knows? I’m just grateful that they survived and I learned a lesson, another one!

Take care when using a vaporiser, in addition to the toxic nature of these products there is a substantial fire risk!

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Are Native Bees Productive?

Native Black bees
AMM colony split down at the start of the season

I purchased a couple of Irish AMM queens last year to use as breeder queens. They both came trough the winter well in double six frame nucs and then expanded into double BBs. When it came time to super up I decided to break one of them down into nucs, I only wanted to graft from these queens after all. This queen I put into a nuc with two frames, the rest foundation, took it home and left to build up. The other I supered  up as normal.

The result:

The colony that was kept together currently has four supers on.

The broken down colony quickly expanded into two BBs, I then put a BB on as a super and I have just had to put another super on as they have almost filled the other with honey.

One of the early daughter queens (from last year) has two BB supers and three supers.

Who said that AMMs aren’t productive? I’m really rather pleased with them.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Selecting Breeder Queens, yellow or dark?

I am primarily trying to breed dark, near native bees and have managed to make reasonable progress although most colonies have some workers with yellow banded abdomens. Considering I'm based in Cheshire which has a large number of beekeepers, many of which purchase Buckfast bees, this isn't a great surprise.

Native honeybees
Dark, local bees, these were sold to a gent that I was mentoring a few seasons ago. They were very docile and produced a honey surplus in their first year.

I have over the last five years bred as many queens as I was able to with the equipment I had available, trying different methods of queen rearing, selecting desirable stock and culling the least desirable.

A Buckfast swarm caught just a mile from my apiary

However, I have a yellow queen (she's marked yellow too, 2017) that has provided me with brood frames and bees to make up a large number of nucs, bees for Apideas and produced a honey crop each year that has surpassed all of my other colonies. In addition the colony is very calm on the comb, the bees just don't seem to realize that they are being scrutinized. As far as I recall I have had no stings from this colony either BUT they are (the workers) 40% yellow. Last year and this I had ear marked her as "break up into nucs" but she (the queen) just keeps on giving, what to do ......

Nucs for sale
Nucleus colonies ready to go

This spring, feeling that I should repay the dept, I deciding to graft from this very productive and un-swarmy queen. I didn't want to use up a lot of resources so I chose to use the remains of a strong colony on double BB from which I had taken a nuc from to donate to my association apiary as a cell raiser. I put in seven grafts, four of which took and subsequently went on to produce laying queens. The last of these went on to their new owners today, these last two were on four frames last Friday in a "Twinstock type" nuc double from When I transferred them into their sales nucs on Sunday they had built the fifth frame out and the queens had laid in them. They were all as calm on the frame as their mother's colony, hopefully they will continue to be so as they expand and grow with their new keepers.

A twist in the tail:
This colony, having been a dream to work with is currently on a double BB with five supers, finally decided to let me down: I inspected them this Sunday, There were a couple of sealed swarm cells and more unsealed, luckily my yellow queen had been clipped and was still resident. She was easily transferred to a nucleus along with another emerging brood frame plus bees (WITH NO QUEEN CELLS: this is important!!) and a frame of stores. She will hopefully come back into lay and build up up the strength of the new colony.

So what to do now? We are told to "go with the bees". So my plan is to use the now queen less colony as a cell raiser in two cycles, one to raise more queens from one of my Irish queens, transferring them to cell finishers and then raising more queens from this industrious yellow queen.

The original colony obviously have their minds set on raising queen cells, so I will set them up and let them do their thing: Rear queens! I'll overwinter the resulting queens as nucs, using them in the spring to replace winter losses, nuc building or, if the winter is kind, sell any surplus in the spring.

I'll post some more pics here as we go through this process.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Three nucs under one roof

New queen
Three frame nucleus
New queen
Four frame nucleus

Once a beekeeper has “mastered” the basics ie what to look for during inspections, finding the queen recognising swarm preparations, etc etc, then planning and predicting what stage a colony will be at in a week or two become more important. This is particularly so if you have more than a couple of hives to manage or hives in an out Apiary. Having brood boxes, supers and frames on hand makes life much easier and saves time. Tasks can be completed in one trip to the Apiary rather than having to return with a couple of supers or extra frames. It can help to leave some extra equipment at each apiary, a brood box full of frames and a nucleus hive will often be found to be useful.

If you have some spare equipment on hand you are often able to make the most is what the bees, or good fortune, offers you:

I found queen cells in a colony (that had been!!) headed by a particularly gentle and productive queen, one cell was sealed and I was unable to find the queen so assumed that she had lead a swarm. I had planned to raise a few queens from her this year but, because I had some boxes on hand, I was able to take advantage right away. I was able to find four frames each with a good, open queen cell. I took down all other cells. I had available, an extra hive (floor, BB, crown board, and roof) a twin five frame nuc (floor, BBs, crown boards) but no extra roof.

With a little head scratching I came up with this solution: Three hives in one. One colony was made up in the brood box and covered with the crown board. On top of this was placed the twin nucleus, arranged so that the entrances were to the left and right of the lower BB entrance. A forth colony was obviously left on the original site. I had lost a queen but been able to react quickly and by doing so I would soon have four new queens..........fingers crossed.

 I inspected these quickly last weekend, not really expecting to see any sign of a laying queen but there in the four frame nuc was a new queen looking very proud of the large patch of eggs that she had layed ;)

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Foundation-less Frames

Foundationless frames

Why would you want to use frames without foundation? Well there are a number of possible reasons:

 1. You save on the cost of buying foundation. We beekeepers are known for our frugality are we not?

 2. The bees can build the type of comb that they wish, worker or drone comb.

 3. If you insert the foundationless frames when the bees are trying to build drone comb, on a flow they will build a complete frame of drone comb. Knowing this can be useful in two ways:
 a) If you're queen rearing queens, you will want drones from your best colonies with which your new queens can mate with. By encouraging drone production in your best colonies you are directly effecting the quality of not just your new queens but those of your neighbours too, which will benefit you in return in subsequent years.
 b) By encouraging the colony to build a complete fame of drone comb it can then, once this is capped, be opened, inspected for varroa infestation loads and if high the whole comb can be removed and destroyed. Therefore removing a large portion of the varroa population. Cut out the comb using a knife or the edge of you hive tool and replace the frame, the bees will draw out more comb. This can be used in reverse to that above, colonies that are not particularly desirable can have drone removed so that their contribution to the gene pool is reduced, prior to their re queening.

 4. Swarm prevention! I have on a few occasions dissuaded a colony that had started queen cells from swarming for a while by placing foundation less frames in the brood area. The bees draw these frame very quickly, much faster than foundation, it does not introduce a barrier to the movement of the queen within the hive and the queen will lay in this new comb almost as it is drawn, immediately  providing more space within the brood nest.

Why wouldn't you want to use founationless frames?

1. Well for a start, your hives must be level! The bees draw out the comb hanging from the top bar, it will always be vertical because that's what gravity does. If your other frames are on the tilt, because your hive is, it will cause problems.
2. Too much drone comb will according to some promote varroa population growth.

How do you prepare foundation less frames?

I initially used thin (1mm) balsa wood, bought from craft suppliers, these came in 4 inch by 2ft sheets that needed to be cut to widths of about 1 to 1.5 mm which is time consuming, these strips of balsa would then be fixed with glue and pinned through from the foundation retaining strip where the foundation would usually go.

I now use tongue depressors, as used by dentists these are readily available on line at Amazon and similar web sites.

Lolly pop sticks

These are simply glued into the slot on the top bar with a thin bead of PVA glue.    

Foundationless frames

Beehive framesBeehive frames

This takes no time at all to do.

There is no need for pins, the bees propalise all spaces fixing everything in place.

The bees will festoon from the top bars and build comb quickly. Initially the comb will look something like this:
Natural bee comb

Later, as the frame is filled the bees will respect bee space leaving a gap between the comb and the side and bottom bars.

Pesticide free wax

At this point it is important to always keep the comb vertical. It is not supported from either the side or bottom bars and may hold brood and nectar that has considerable weight. If the comb is held horizontally it will bend and probably break off! 

For inspections the frame should be held by the frame lugs and rotated 90 degrees so that the top bar is now vertical. Rotate the frame about the top bar away from you. Next rotate the frame 90 degrees in the opposite direction to your initial manoeuvre. You will now be looking at the reverse face of the comb, the top bar now being the lower edge of the frame. During this procedure the comb has not moved from the vertical axis. Try it a few times with an empty frame, its really rather easier in practice than it sounds.

Pinching some comb between your fingers and stretching a small portion towards the frame edges breaks bee space and encourages the bees to fix the comb to the frame.

I use British Standard frames and this method works well with these. If however you use 14x12 or other larger format frames then extra support will be required due to the extra area and hence weight of the comb. This is usually given by fixing two lengths of steel wire or fishing line between the side bars. This becomes incorporated into the comb adding strength.

I have used this method on super frames and found them to be just as robust when the honey has been extracted.

This is what you will end up with, natural, pure bees wax comb that queens just love to lay into.

Find the queen

By the way, can you see the queen on this frame? She is there.

So why not give it a go? Positively influence your local gene pool by breeding drone from your best stock or keep your varroa levels in check without using chemicals!

Foundationless drone comb frames
Drone Comb