Thursday, 30 July 2015

Apiary Diary: Lumo Cycling Jersey

Diary Entry:
4:30pm, 19C, a bit windy and overcast.

I've just been down to the apiary and the guys were pretty active.
Lots of comings and goings.
Unusually though, they seemed bothered by my presence.
I got buzzed and made to feel pretty unwelcome.
This wasn't at all normal so I decided to let them get on with it and moved away.

I wasn't sure why they were behaving like this; they weren't usually this defensive.
Then I looked at myself.
I was wearing lumo cycling gear and, having just cycled 20 miles, wasn't smelling particularly neutral.

Sweaty lumo-clad cyclists probably shouldn't wander into the Apiary and stand in the bees' flightpath

So I replaced the shirt with something bland and got a bit clean.
Unsurprisingly, when I then went into the apiary the guys totally ignored me.
I was no longer a sweaty, CO2-emitting lumo predator but had morphed back into a friendly bee-neutral beekeeper.

It's always good to be reminded of basic principles and to not take your bees for granted.

Apiary Diary: Encouraging Bees into the New Super

Diary Entry:
29 July, 4pm, 19.4C, a bit overcast, rain forecast but 2 hours later it's still dry.

Smoker fired up first time using egg-box pyramid technique.
Entrance smoked, lid popped and given a puff.
Lid lifted, bees calm and occupied. 
Set up of hive at time of inspection

Super 4 has been in for a couple of weeks but has seen no action at all. It is still just 10 frames of foundation.
Super 3 is approaching completion. F10 is empty and not yet drawn but F9 has construction on the inner side.
The photos below show F6 from super 3. It is a mix of capped and uncapped honey.

Frame 6, Super 3

Frame 6, Super 3 (detail)
Supers 4 & 3 are removed and placed carefully aside. Super 3 is heavy.
Super 2 is a deep and is extremely heavy with honey and bees. I decided to leave it in place as all indications imply that below it, all is well.

I'd quite like the bees to start drawing out comb on super 4. I'm not particularly impatient; I'm just a bit excited about wanting to see it happen.
There are several schools of thought about whether to and how to encourage bees into a new super.
I suspect that the best course of action is to let the bees decide to move up when they're good and ready, forcing them up by various methods may just mean that you get a pyramidal laying down of honey with the outer frames not being used.
However, because I've never tried this before, I thought I'd do it and see what happens.
I took F4 & F7 from the well-under-way super 3 and placed them in their same positions in super 4.
The equivalent blank foundation frames  F4 & F7 from super 4 I placed into the now free spaces in super 3. It's sorta like checkerboarding.
So super 3 now has 2 new frames of untouched foundation at positions F4 & F7 and the previously untouched super 4 now has frames F4 & F7 fully drawn out and replete with honey.

Switching Frames between Supers

In this way the bees might start drawing out the blanks F4 & F7 in S3.
Similarly, with a viable F4 & F7 now in S4, this may encourage them to expand that work to the neighbouring blank frames in S4. 
That's the theory anyway. 
We'll see if it's worked when next we inspect.

The amended supers 3 & 4 and the lid are replaced and secured with the hive strap.

I've also re-inserted a varroa tray. I took it out to help with air circulation when it was really hot a few weeks ago, and as there weren't any issues in the hive, I've been a bit slack in getting re-inserted.

Varroa Tray Re-inserted

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Wasp Observations: Harvesting Wood Pulp and Hive Incursions

It's a little early in the year to be talking about wasps.
However in the last few days I've had a couple of reminders that during the summer the wasp colonies are already with us and are growing steadily.

In the spring hibernating queen wasps wake from their winter slumbers and set about building tiny wasp starter homes out of sculpted wood pulp with a few cells to lay their eggs in.
These do look quite cute but, actually, they are not cute at all.

Tiny wasp starter homes built in the spring by the queen wasp

Once this initial build has grown to a reasonable size she stops foraging and constructing and leaves those menial tasks to her workers so that she can concentrate on the egg laying.
To build the nests the wasps have to gather wood, pulp it down and stick it together into those familiar papery ball-shaped nests which hang menacingly from trees or appear in your attic seemingly from nowhere.

Wasp Observation #1
Last week, whilst holidaying in the Baltic (oh yes indeed!), we were presented with an excellent example of wasps harvesting wood pulp to use to build their nests.
I spotted three wooden benches on the seafront which had a lot of wasp activity around them even though there was no obvious prey, no sugary drinks and no ice creams anywhere nearby.
I decided to sit down and observe what the wasps were up to. Sure enough, they were landing on the benches, chewing off a thin layer from the surface of the wood and flying off with it.
The pattern of the chewing seemed to be always the same: a straight line about an inch long furrowed into the surface of the wood.

wasps bite into wooden bench
Wooden bench with evidence of wasps harvesting pulp for nest building

The nest grows as the colony grows until by the end of the summer it's a full blown papery nest full of critters and the stripy villains then start to become a problem for picnickers and beekeepers alike.
So, I guess, in about a month's time there's going to be a pretty big wasps' nest in the vicinity of Travemunde seafront.
Incidentally, a few years ago, I observed wasps harvesting pulp from a length of 12mm balsa in my garden and the crunching sound that they made was significantly loud. By the end of the summer they'd managed to bite right the way through it.

The wasps don't usually become a major problem for the hives until the end of the summer when their colony has reached maximum size, the honeydew-secreting larvae have all grown into adults and the flyers need an alternative sugar fix.
If your hives are in the vicinity of bins full of food waste, areas with lots of wood chip or orchards with rotting fruit the wasps will already be attracted to that area.
They will persistently search for weak points to gain access to the hive.
However, if your colonies are weak, you can have problems with wasp incursions much earlier in the season...

Wasp Observation #2
Today we were working on the hives in Apiary Central in the park opposite Spike Acres.
There are two colonies there at the moment: one is strong, the second is weak.
I observed the comings and goings at the entrances for a while and noticed that wasps were trying to gain entry to both hives.
They were constantly repelled from the strong hive but gained access several times to the weaker hive.

Wasp incursion into a weak colony: Apiary Central in the local park

On opening the second hive there was evidence of honey robbing.
It's a free feed for persistent wasps with the weaker colony unable to resist them.
There is a frame feeder in this hive which also is a major attraction for wasps.
We have just re-queened this hive and tomorrow we will be reducing the entrance to 3 holes to give the bees a greater chance of making a defence against further incursions, much like Horatius on the bridge across the Tiber...
We will also set some wasp traps.

It might be a long war of attrition against the wasps for this hive this summer.

If this leaves you thirsting for more wasp information, rest assured, the LandofBees blog will be revisiting the subject of wasps in the near future.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Up on the roof: Nighttime Visits to the BeesofSpike Apiary

I've been in the habit recently of popping down to the Apiary to check on what the bees are getting up to after dark.
There's usually a bit of a congregation on the landing board, especially when it's hot. 
And if you put your ear to the side of the hive there's a lovely deep resonant sound of 1000s of pairs of wings all abuzz.

The days are not quite as long as they were this time last month but it was still not particularly dark at just after 9pm when I ambled down to the hives to read the bees their bedtime story.
The apiary thermometer was showing 19.9C and it was drizzling with summer rain; it was, in fact, a lovely evening.

All was as expected: the familiar bee party on the landing board was in full swing and there was a sparse but steady stream of late flyers returning back home.

But in addition to that, there was Bella, the cat from next door, perched on top of hive 2, doing a passable impersonation of stout Cortez... silent upon a peak in Darien.

like stout Cortez...

She initially looked a bit surprised to see me but pretended, as cats do, that there was nothing out of the ordinary in being perched on top of a pile of boxes containing 40,000 bees and decided that she was quite happy to stay exactly where she was.

Unfortunately, the only camera I had on me was the one on my mobile phone and, as you can see, it struggles a bit in low light. So this lamentably poor photo is the best I could manage.
But at least, albeit incompetently, the moment is preserved on the internet, which, as we all know, is the only thing that counts nowadays.

On reflection though, perhaps Bella's crepuscular hive-sitting behaviour isn't that odd after all.
I considered why she might choose to be up there:
It's nice and high; cats like that.
From the top of that hive (which is currently 2 deeps, 3 shallows, a base, a roof and a hive stand tall) she can see over the apiary's perimeter fence and monitor the activity in her very own 1st floor flat, right next door to Spike Towers.
This allows her to accurately gauge just how distressed her owners are getting when she ignores their attempts to call her in for the night. Cats love doing this.
Hive 2 is situated under a lime tree so that spot is nicely protected from the rain.
40,000 bees in a box will generate some heat; it might be warm up there on the lid, which is something else cats really like.
If she's quiet and respectful on top of that box she won't be seen as a threat. At this time of night the bees are preoccupied with their standard bedtime routine and were probably totally unaware of their crepuscular visitor anyway. So on top of a friendly beebox would be a safe place for a cat to be, the threat of bees deterring any potential enemies.

However, if Bella wants to visit at a time of day when the bees are more active, I suspect that she may want to tread carefully. I know she's taken at least one sting on the mouth in the last couple of weeks.

Generally though at Spike Acres, the cats and bees seem to be cohabiting quite nicely.
It looks as if the cats are pretty respectful and the bees, unless seriously provoked, just get on with their beestuff.

The LandofSpike cats, Biscuit and Freddie, will both occasionally come into the apiary when I'm there but will sensibly keep out of the way of flightpaths and hive entrances.
Bizarrely, WVF (the previous LandofSpike cat) used to enjoy catching and eating bees, which sometimes made her froth at the mouth in rather an alarming fashion.
This frothing didn't deter her in the slightest and she continued to catch, chomp and froth quite regularly.

That concludes the cat anecdotes for the time being; it's 1am and time for bed.
I hope Next Door have managed to persuade Bella to come in by now...

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Pupa Overboard

During yesterday's midday check of the Apiary I noticed a couple of bees on the ground just off to the side of Hive 2. They were struggling with something which looked unusually white.
On closer inspection it turned out to be a honeybee pupa.

The Mysterious Ejected Pupa
It was the only one that I could see and it just seemed a bit odd.
I was a bit perplexed.
The only way the pupa could have got there is by being physically dragged out of its cell by the workers and ejected off the edge of the landing board.
I'm not sure why though.

I had a quick trawl through the internet forums and the strongest suggestion seems to be that the colony is exhibiting 'hygienic qualities' which, apparently, is a good quality for them to exhibit.
It means that they are monitoring the brood for signs of things being not quite right, chewing open any dodgy cells and discarding the imperfect incumbents.
So the discarded pupa may imply that they've detected mites or it may imply that there's wax worm present in the hive.
However, on my regular checks there's been no sign of varroa whatsoever and there doesn't seem to be evidence of waxmoth either.
In fact, the colony seems exceedingly healthy and robust.

In addition, the pupa was quite big which implies that it was possibly a drone pupa. The ejection could be part of a general drone ejection due to a summer dearth of nectar flow. It's possible, but I must admit, I've not noticed much of a dearth recently, quite the opposite, in fact.

It's been 3 days since my last inspection so I suppose it could have been a pupa that I perhaps had inadvertently damaged. This is also a possibility but not, by any means, a certainty.

Consequently, I'm still not particularly sure what's going on.
It may be nothing serious but it'd be nice to know all the same.

It looks like it's time for some detective work down at the Apiary.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Privet Hedges in Bloom

This week the privet hedges which border the eastern frontier of Spike Acres have been in bloom. The hedges continue in front of Number 3, resume across the road at Number 5 and persevere intermittently along the road on both sides. There's a lot of it. And just about all of it is currently untrimmed leaving a feast of blossom for our bees.

A very short journey to the privet hedge at Number 5

The BeesofSpike flyers are doing a steadfast job on it at the moment.
It is certainly one of the shortest journeys of their foraging year and the lovely smell of privet is now emanating from a very busy Hive Number 2.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

34.9*C in the shade

It was the hottest day of the year yesterday.
By quite a distance.
On my first visit to the apiary at 9am the temperature had already climbed to 26.5*C and the beelines had been supporting heavy traffic for hours.
The privet that they were returning with has been out for a few days now and the hive is starting to smell of it.
There's an inspection due for tomorrow so we can see whether they've started stashing it in that top box yet.

As the morning wore on it very quickly became Abroad Hot.
So after a quick look at the varroa tray, which looked very healthy (zero varroa and zero evidence of wax moth), I decided to leave the tray out for a while to help the flow of air in the hive.
Also, I realised that I still had a half entrance reducer in place covering the RHS of their entrance.
Quickly I suited up, removed the tape holding the reducer in place, prised it out of the grooves and away from the hive.
It looked like there must have been a pretty sizeable proportion of bees leaning against it because a big bloom of the little fellers hoofed out through the now empty space and got interested in me for a while before quickly realising that, actually, having a bigger front doorway was, in this heat, a vast improvement and got straight back to business.

Apart from the heat, for the colony it was pretty much business as usual all day.
At 8pm it was still 32*C and there were still flyers returning. There was also quite a gathering out on the landing board; it was a bit like a bee beach party.

8pm, still 32*C, out on the deck

By 10.30pm the temperature had dropped only to 28.8*C and it was dark. The foragers had stopped flying but the hive was still active. A large group of bees were still out on the landing board and the noise of 1000s of tiny wings beating inside the hive to try and bring the temperature down was significantly loud.

All Night Party

Hopefully it won't be quite so hot tomorrow and perhaps they'll find the newly filled water source at the back of Spike Acres soon. If they do, that should help them keep the temperature down.