30 June 2013

Fishing line and brood frames

There's a popular trend to try to return to more natural, and less industry-dependent, ways of doing things - if we can. In beekeeping one of the ways of achieving this is to let the bees draw their own comb with less interference from the beekeeper. It takes quite a leap of faith to move away from the apparent security, ease and speed of construction, of using complete sheets of commercially pre-wired, cell-imprinted, pressed foundation that is available from all 'big' beekeeping suppliers, but I think almost all beekeepers who try it will never completely return to the 'old ways' - more especially if they buy beautiful foundation from specialists suck as Peter Kemble.

Unwired frames are fine for shallows, especially if used for cut comb, but large (deep) brood frames such as Dadant, Langstroth Jumbo, 14x12 National and 'Commercial' are a different matter. A lapse of concentration during an inspection can lead to new comb slumping from the frame, taking eggs and developing larvae with it - a disaster and a mess for both bees and beekeeper. So brood frames need to be strengthened, usually by wiring.

27 June 2013

ISP safety filters and beekeeping porn

Our internet service provider has automatically switched on some handy new features including 'HomeSafe', which they reckon will, "[Help] our customers keep their families safer online". Kind of them, don't you think, to make sure that nobody in this household can visit dodgy websites that could transmit a nasty virus or show us unexpectedly rude pictures.

Our first experience of this safety filter was when we tried to follow up an offer of some bin end wine on a supermarket site. Not a chance! The on-screen message tells us we are unable to access the site because it will let us see pictures of alcohol.

Later on I decided to read the most recent updates on Rusty's Honey Bee Suite blog. Nope, it won't let me! The warning tells me:
"The site you tried to access was detected to contain content that falls into the category Pornography, which your HomeSafe settings won't allow."
So there you have it, me and my family need to be protected from beekeeping porn. It made me chuckle when I realised just how often beekeepers talk about unmated virgins, mating flights and so on, but I'd never once thought that these discussions could be thought worthy of being hidden behind an internet filter.

So, Rusty, if you're reading this you'll know why at least one of your UK visitors has disappeared for a while, whilst they work out how to fix their ISP's automatic filter.


20 June 2013

Two beekeepers try to transfer a cast swarm

Another member of my BKA needed a new queen, and if possible some fresh bees to go with her, to repopulate a queenless colony. I offered him a little cast swarm that had arrived in an unoccupied nuc box the day before. He came to the small apiary to collect the colony before they'd had a chance to get themselves too settled.

It seemed a straightforward thing to do, but the only problem was that the other beekeeper uses National hives, and I use Jumbo Langstroths - the frames aren't compatible. He thought the easiest way to move the bees would be to shake them into their new box, which was a clean but well-used wooden 5-frame nucleus, complete with a frame feeder and some lovely new foundation.


19 June 2013

Taranov Split

The idea behind any form of swarm control is to mimic what happens in nature, but it's the beekeeper who makes the decisions, not the workers.

Almost all new beekeepers will be shown how to do one method of swarm control, in Britain it's the Pagden - usually known as an artificial swarm. It's easy enough once you get your head round it, but done properly it involves moving large boxes of bees several times - and the beekeeper has to be able to isolate the queen.

The thing is that I'm absolutely rubbish at finding queens. I can do it, but it's time consuming and disruptive to the colony to either go through the brood box several times looking for her or to split and separate the combs into two boxes so the queen is isolated between two frames. I decided I needed a way of controlling swarming behaviour that would be quick and relatively simple, and that didn't involved a lot of heavy lifting. I settled on using a method designed by G.F. Taranov, which is outlined on Dave Cushman's site. I then got cold feet, mainly because some more experienced beekeepers told me it was far too disruptive.

I recently read more about this Taranov method on Honey Bee Suite, including a guest post, and decided that if it worked for them it should work for me. I also thought I should make up my own mind up about the disruption, and how quickly they settled afterwards.

13 June 2013

Wax foundation

I had only ever seen one new frame being made up during my beginners' classes, and my ignorance and lack of experience (and vanishing 'mentor') meant I didn't realise that the 'new' wax I'd bought from a 'big' beekeeping equipment supplier was actually not as new as it should have been - the surface had developed a bloom.

In my enthusiasm I made up every single frame I'd bought, and carefully waxed each one - to be prepared, although I wasn't entirely sure what I was 'being prepared' for. I also used wired foundation throughout. Nobody had suggested that none of this was a good idea, and nobody suggested that new wax should not have the whiteish, slightly grainy, surface mine had from 'new'. (I buy all my wax foundation from Peter Kemble at Kemble Bee Supplies (KBS). - Do the same, your bees will love you for it.)

I didn't need all the frames immediately and stored them in spare boxes - outside, of course.

10 June 2013

A bad beekeeper delays a swarm

Bees are precious this year because too many colonies were lost during last winter and the cold, late, spring. Colonies that made it through aren't without problems.

Many local beekeepers are reporting that their 'last year's queen' has been superseded or has simply vanished - you will recall that last year was so wet that mating flights were few and far between, so mating was poor.

What have previously been easily-contained colonies of 'local bees' have been swarming. I have caught one swarm in my garden, have been called to collect a swarm in a garden adjacent to another local beekeeper - who is on holiday - but the swarm took off just before I arrived. That beekeeper had caught an earlier swarm just before going away.

This is mirrored within my small apiary. On the first inspection after I fortnight of cold weather I found one colony had lost their queen - there was no sign of either fresh brood or queen cells. One has been split, which I'll describe in another post. One of the colonies is currently superseding, but is continuing to build up rapidly so I need to keep a careful eye on it.

9 June 2013

Propolised, mummified, bumble bee

I found this dead insect on the floor of one of my hives a couple of weeks ago. I think it's a de-haired (except for the punk topknot) and heavily propolised bumble bee.

I think it's likely to be a female - they're the ones that overwinter and search for suitable nesting sites in the Spring.

4 June 2013

Making Dadant shallow Hoffman frames

Every new beekeeper learns how to make frames. Some will learn from youtube, others will learn from their local BKA and may be tested on 'the process' when they do their Basic Assessment. Each beekeeper will, in time, develop their own way of putting frames together.

This is my way, it isn't perfect but it works for me.

Your frames order will probably be packed in a large, heavy, box containing separate bundles of each part - top bars, side bars and bottom bars. If you aren't going to use them straight away you should store them flat, otherwise they can twist or warp with changes in temperature and

2 June 2013

Nasanov Gland and pheromones

I took this picture the other day, just after I'd done a Taranov split. The bees pointing their abdomens in the air are sending a scent message to any bee from the colony that might be slightly lost, and are guiding them home.

Worker bees fanning Nasanov pheromone.
Almost at the end of the abdomen, on the segment before the sting, is a scent gland that produces attractant pheromones. It's called the Nasanov Gland.

To make sure the scent is widely distributed the bee will point its' abdomen upwards and fan its' wings - this moves the pheromone into the surrounding air, it's picked up by other bees' scent receptors on their antennae and mouthparts.

When a lot of bees are fanning this pheromone the scent can be strong enough for us to smell it too. It's lemony, not unlike Lemongrass*, Lemon Balm or Lemon Verbena. We capitalise on this by using a lemony scent in bait hives, hoping we will attract a swarm by persuading scout bees that others have already marked it as good place to live.