Tag Archives: wasps

2018 in retrospect

How was 2018 for you?

It was a good year here in Fife, with more of everything; more snow, more colonies, more honey (much more honey ūüôā ), more sheds, more wasps, more swarms and more¬†dead¬†Varroa.

Actually, the ‘more dead mites’¬†isn’t quite correct¬†but I’ll return to that later.

The Beast from the East

There’s not much to say about the winter, but as we moved from February into March Storm Emma (also called the Beast from the East) arrived. The wind whipped the snow across the Howe of Fife (the largely flat centre of the county), dumping large drifts whenever it eddied over hedges or buildings. I had to dig us out of the house and the road from the village was impassable for 2-3 days.

The Beast from the East ...

The Beast from the East …

The colonies were all snug, if not warm, and weathered the storm without mishap. The reality is that if colonies are properly prepared for winter there’s almost nothing to do – or nothing you can do – until the weather picks up again in the Spring.

During the early part of the year I finished preparing our new bee shed. The bees were installed at the very end of March, soon followed by installation of a solar lighting system.

As I write this (early December 2018) the old apiary site has recently been bulldozed flat to make way for a new road. The contractors felled most of the beautiful trees in the well-established arboretum that surrounded the apiary.

All that’s left now is a muddy, ugly scar across the landscape waiting to be tarmac’d.¬†Every time I drive past the line from¬†The Last Resort by The Eagles, Some rich men¬†come and raped the land”, comes to mind.

That’s progress ūüôĀ

On a slightly brighter note, we did save the original shed and it’s recently been reassembled on the new apiary site. This will provide some much needed storage space. The new shed is bigger, but still a bit cramped when used for storage, work and bees.

In like a lion, out like a lamb

Well, almost. March continued cold but the weather had picked up by mid-April. I’d lost just two colonies in the winter, both due to failed queens. By the third week of April I’d started inspections 1 and colonies were all looking pretty good.

The weather got better and better, the oil seed rape (OSR) flowered and the bees started hammering it. Only one of my apiaries had OSR in range and they did really well.

Capped honey super frame ...

Capped honey super frame …

By the middle of June the OSR was over and the honey was all extracted.¬†The high glucose content of OSR nectar means it crystallises fast and very hard. It needs to be extracted before this happens in the frames. Some find OSR honey¬†rather bland¬†or¬†an acquired taste. However, I’ve just processed the first couple of buckets into soft set honey and it’s excellent on toast.

The June gap

In terms of beekeeping it was non-stop. June was frantically busy. Even before the the Spring honey was off the crowded colonies had started to make preparations for swarming.

Just as the bees were preparing to move house I was also busy moving into a new house. It was manic. As fast as I put split boards into colonies more queen cells would appear. I started to run out of frames and brood boxes. I managed to hold some colonies back by slicing out great slabs of drone comb. This takes just a few seconds using foundationless frames and gives the bees something to do rather than make swarm preparations.

And in between all this I was interminably packing, driving and unpacking rental vans doing my own move.

I know I lost a couple of swarms – from about 20 colonies in total 2 – which left me feeling a bit guilty. At least they left with very low¬†Varroa levels so, for a time at least, they would not contribute to the mite levels in the local environment. To ‘compensate’ for colonies that might establish themselves somewhere unwanted I donned my beesuit and destroyed a huge wasps nest in a neighbours roof space.

I also gratefully received a good-sized swarm in a bait hive.

The ‘June gap’ refers to the dearth of nectar that often occurs at this time of year. This year – despite excellent weather – was no exception. I didn’t feed colonies but many around me did. A few were a bit light but were OK until the summer flow started … which it did in late June or early July.

The flow must go on

Lime, blackberry, clover, rosebay willow herb and goodness knows what else. It was excellent. Coupled with continued good weather, hives got taller and taller as more supers were added. I ran out of supers altogether.

With lots of nectar and great weather for inspections it was my best beekeeping year since I moved back to Scotland.

Laden foragers returning ...

Laden foragers returning …

The good weather also aided queen mating which helped with requeening and preparing nucs for overwintering. About 75% of my colonies were requeened this year, almost all through splits of one type of another.

And then it was all over

The flow eventually stopped and the extraction was interminable. Not that I’m complaining. Super after super after super looked like this:

Ready to extract

Ready to extract …

Wasps were a big problem in late summer. I lost a queenless colony and a nuc to the stripey blighters. Amazingly I managed to save the queen from the nuc 3 and she’s now heading a strong colony through the winter.

After a fortnight or so tidying, stock-taking¬†(uniting colonies, cleaning cleared supers, making up a few additional nucs) and ‘final’ inspections it was time to start¬†Varroa treatment and feeding colonies up for winter.

I’ve deliberately finished the season with fewer colonies than I started, but with more overwintering nucleus colonies for sale or making up losses. The absence of a work/life balance means I want to reduce my personal colony numbers by about a third for the next couple of years (to ~10), with another 6-8 overwintering for work. I’ll still be busy ūüôĀ

Mite news

Mite levels have been extraordinarily low this season. For work we uncapped many hundreds to low thousands of individual pupae 4¬†and found no more than half a dozen mites all season. We’ve seen no evidence of DWV symptoms and irregular mite counts on the¬†Varroa trays have yielded very low numbers.

All colonies were treated by sublimation with an oxalic acid-containing treatment in early September, with three applications at five day intervals. The mite drop was so low (<200 from eight colonies in total in one apiary) that I was concerned that the treatment had failed. I therefore followed it up with Apivar strips in half the colonies. One or two additional dead mites appeared, but that was all.

So, not more dead Varroa, but probably a much greater proportion of the mite population were killed.

The Apiarist in 2018

This is the 300th post over the last five years. Yes, I’m surprised as well. I missed only one Friday when my hosting service was either not hosting or not providing a service ūüôĀ

A few weeks ago I moved the site to a cloud-based virtual server (Amazon LightSail) which, to me at least 5 appears faster and more stable. Processor load is 10% what it was and page response times seem much better. Tell me if it isn’t.

Unique visitor numbers and page reads continue to increase year on year with both up ~33% on last year. What is particularly reassuring is that articles I’ve written on disease management now feature as the most read over the course of the year (though several were written in previous years). The ‘top five’ are:

  1. When to treat? Рthe importance of correctly timing the early autumn Varroa treatment.
  2. Feeding fondant – quicker, easier and possibly better for the bees.
  3. Oxalic acid preparation – making Api-Bioxal solution properly for trickle treating.
  4. Vertical splits and making increase – manipulations for swarm control and expansion.
  5. Making soft set honey – making all that OSR honey look good and sell well.
"When to treat" monthly page views

“When to treat” monthly page views (5/2/16 to 13/12/18)

The composite page on ‘Equipment‘ also featured amongst this top five, but takes visitors off to all sorts of articles on bee sheds, DIY and hive reviews.

And the future …

This post is already too long. I’ve just checked and see I have 55 posts with working titles and scrawled notes in my drafts folder 6. That suggests there’s likely to be¬†something written next year.

Until then …¬†Happy New Year¬†


 

What was that?

Zoom. Having moved back to Scotland in mid-2015¬†this is my first full season keeping bees here. The season has been¬†very short. Some colonies weren’t inspected until the end of April and now, about 14¬†weeks later, it’s turned distinctly autumnal over the last week or so in Fife. Nectar flows have pretty much dried up, nights are much cooler and thoughts turn to preparing colonies for the winter.¬†However, good winter preparation with strong, disease-free colonies and low¬†Varroa levels means that, should Spring 2017 be early, the bees will be ready to take advantage of it.

The immediate priorities are to:

  • protect colonies from¬†robbing
  • ensure colonies have enough stores
  • remove any honey for extraction before the bees use it

Robbing b’stards

Entrance reducer ...

Entrance reducer …

The very best way to protect colonies from robbing Рeither by other bees or wasps Рis to keep them as strong as possible. Wasps can be very troublesome in the autumn. Smaller colonies and nucs are particularly susceptible to attack and can be devastated in just a day or so if not properly looked after. A block of foam or wood can easily be pushed into place on a full hive, reducing the space the bees need to defend. The underfloor entrance of kewl floors (right) have the added advantage of a narrow L-shaped tunnel that can be defended on the landing board and/or immediately below the frames.

It’s not unusual to have 2-4 frame nucs in mid-August, either being prepared for overwintering or with ‘backup’ queens while re-queening other colonies. If the colonies aren’t really strong enough to defend themselves they need to be given all the help they can. Reducing the entrance space¬†to a single bee width helps a lot, particularly when the entrance is as cavernous as the design on the Thorne’s Everynucs that I use.

Reduced entrance ...

Reduced entrance …

Stores

There’s still sufficient time for strong nucs to be built up to occupy a full hive, but they need to be given sufficient space for the queen to lay and will probably require feeding unless there’s a good late-season nectar flow. This nuc (below) started the first week of July on just a frame of emerging brood, a frame of stores and a new queen and is just about ready for a full hive. Although not obvious from the picture, the feeder on the left contains¬†a large block of fondant which the bees are busy with. This was added as soon as the flow stopped and before the nuc got dangerously light. The bees might have survived but the queen would have slowed or stopped laying eggs and development of the colony would have been retarded. This nuc is fast running out of space and will be moved into a full hive in the next day or two.

5 frame nuc ...

5 frame nuc …

The ¬†integral feeder on these Everynucs has space for about a kilo of fondant. Here’s another nuc¬†started a fortnight ago¬†with a ‘backup’ queen that¬†was¬†also light on stores. The parent colony were showing signs of replacing the queen so I removed her and a couple of frames of emerging brood and left them in the corner of the apiary with the entrance stuffed with grass (to deter the flying bees from returning to the original colony). After a couple of days I removed the dried grass and they’re now ticking along nicely. As they’re a smaller¬†colony and contain predominantly young bees they lack a strong force of foragers and so need regular feeding. If the original colony successfully rears a new queen I’ll have a spare for overwintering.¬†If not I’ll unite them back together at the end of the month.

Nuc with fondant ...

Nuc with fondant …

This is the same nuc as shown in the top image with the reduced width entrance. One of the advantages of feeding fondant is there’s no chance of slopping it about and leaving spills to attract wasps to the apiary.

The image above also shows a ‘crossbar’ I add to the Everynuc feeders; this prevents the frames sliding backwards when the nucs are in transit between apiaries. The integral feeder is useful, but it means there’s no ‘stop’ against which the end of the frame topbar can rest. There¬†is a stop fitted across the bottom of the face of the feeder (shown in a previous post) but my experience is that the inevitable jolting of a car journey means the frames lift above this and then can slide about too much with the risk of crushing bees.

Supers off

I’m resigned to it being a poor summer for honey this season – a combination of a late spring and consequent slow colony development, variable weather during the summer and an extended queenless period for many colonies due (again) to lousy weather for queen mating. Clearers are now on the majority of colonies with filled supers.¬†I’ll retrieve all the filled frames for extraction and make up new supers with the leftovers (incompletely filled or too high water content). The latter will go back onto strong colonies, either in the hope of a late season top-up from the himalayan balsam or for winter stores.

Clearers on ...

Clearers on …


The opening video clip was from the second series of Fawlty Towers¬†first shown in 1979. Immediately before it Basil and Sybil are discussing their early married life …

Basil Fawlty … “Seriously, Sybil, do you remember, when we were first manacled together, we used to laugh quite a lot?”

Sybil Fawlty …¬†“Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.”

Just retrieving the clip from YouTube means I’ll now be spending half the evening chuckling over other bits of this classic series.

Basil Fawlty …¬†“Well… may I ask what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeeste sweeping majestically…”

Save the bees, save humanity

I’ve used this poster in talks a couple of times to make a distinction between colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the US and colony losses due to disease in the UK.

Save the bees ...

Save the bees …

It’s a rather striking poster … although it carries¬†the website address www.nrdc.com (which appears to belong to the National Realty and Development Corp.), the logo and the subject are much more likely to be associated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org). Whatever … the message is clear, without bees there will be pollination shortages for many important and valuable fruit and vegetable crops. The term¬†CCD, a still incompletely understood phenomenon where hives are abandoned by workers, was first used¬†in 2006 in the USA and similar types of¬†colony losses¬†have been reported in a number of European countries, though not in the UK. Prior to 2006 there were a range of other names given to apparently similar phenomena – spring dwindle, May disease, fall dwindle disease¬†[PDF]¬†etc.

The¬†‘Save humanity’¬†statement possibly refers to the the apocryphal quote¬†attributed to Albert Einstein “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live”¬†… though it’s highly unlikely Einstein ever actually said this. It’s also a rather questionable statement. Certainly honey bees provide important pollination services, but so do many other insects (and not just insects). There are certain crops for which honey bees are important¬†– such as almonds – at least on the scale they grow them¬†in California. However, on a visit-by-visit basis,¬†honey bees can be¬†relatively poor pollinators. For examples, solitary bees such as¬†Osmia¬†sp. are much more efficient pollinators of apples. The inefficiency of honey bees is more than compensated though by their numbers¬†and our¬†ability to move¬†hives to crops that need pollinating.

So, if honey bees are so important, why does the picture¬†above show a wasp?¬†¬†ūüėČ

 

 

Swarm care and treatment

As I left my out apiary last Friday evening I gently tapped a bait hive buried in the grass and nettles and was met with a healthy buzz and a few inquisitive worker bees … it had obviously been occupied by a swarm in the last day or two, despite me not having seen any scout bees investigating it.

Super poly bait hive

Super poly bait hive …

I checked the hive on Sunday and found a small swarm covering about 3-4 frames with a dark, unmarked laying queen. She’s definitely not from my colonies as all mine in that apiary are marked and accounted for. At the back of the hive was an unoccupied wasps nest, beautifully constructed from paper-thin chewed wood pulp. This is the second bait hive with squatters this year.

Waspkeeping

Waspkeeping …

Although there’s a reasonable flow from something at the moment (early blackberry?) I gave them a couple of pints of syrup on Monday and Wednesday¬†evening to help them draw comb on the foundationless frames that fill the box. It’s not advisable to feed syrup immediately in case the honey stores brought with the swarm are contaminated with foul broods – by delaying feeding (or not feeding at all) the bees use their stores to draw wax. I also treated the colony – which has no sealed brood yet of course – with oxalic acid vapour from a Sublimox vaporiser (shown below being used early in the season on a full colony) bought a few months ago from Icko Apiculture.

Sublimox vaporiser

Sublimox vaporiser …

The phoretic mites on a swarm¬†carry an unpleasant payload of viruses including deformed wing virus.¬†It’s therefore good practice to keep the swarm in isolation until it’s known to be healthy, and to treat appropriately for mites as soon as possible. I also treated the churchyard swarm caught last Thursday with OA vapour despite not yet being sure whether the queen is mated or not – if she is then it’s best to treat before the colony have sealed brood, if she isn’t then OA vaporisation is sufficiently ‘gentle’ that I don’t expect the treatment to interrupt her from getting out and mated in the current good weather. By treating with OA vapour late in the evening I wouldn’t interrupt a mating flight and could be pretty sure that most of the bees – and therefore most of the mites – were ‘at home’.

Poly Varroa tray from Thorne's Everynuc with visible mites.

Gotcha! …

It’s good practice to keep records on where swarms were found, hived and how they were subsequently treated.

 

Bait hive – fail

The year¬†continues to be unseasonably cool, with daytime maximum temperatures being¬†at least a couple of degrees (¬ļC)¬†below the thirty year average for this region. Nevertheless, colonies are building up reasonably well and some are starting to make preparations to swarm – drone brood levels are rising, the number of ‘play cups’ are increasing and one or two had queen cells at the last inspection.

Bait hives deployed

A small swarm

Swarm

In the hope that the temperature will increase and that swarming will occur I always put a few bait hives out in likely locations, including odd corners of my apiaries. Although my queens are all clipped and marked (I think) there’s one I’ve yet to spot this year and she just might have been superseded late last season. Clipping doesn’t stop swarming, but it stops the queen and the prime swarm disappearing over the fence to someone else’s bait hive or, worse, chimney. However, there’s a high density of beekeepers in this area and – going by the number of swarms and successful bait hives in previous seasons – some¬†don’t practise effective swarm control. Last season I caught four swarms, though one was little more than a tiny cast, in bait hives.

Swarmtastic

I always have a bait hive in my garden. The sight of a swarm arriving is one of the truly great experiences in beekeeping and I’m far more likely to witness it there¬†than the corner of a field. A day or two in advance the scout bees check the hive, repeatedly visiting in increasing numbers. They fly around the entrance, going in and out to determine the size of the cavity, then flying round and round the hive checking suitability. Many dozens can appear, standing around on the landing board (if there is one) seemingly discussing whether it is a ‘des res‘. They then disappear altogether. This is either because they’ve chosen a different site (other scout bees have been checking different¬†locations and, as Tom Seeley describes in¬†Honeybee democracy,¬†they reach a consensus for the swarm)¬†or because they’re busy leading the swarm to your bait hive.

Suddenly the sky fills with a whirling mass of bees that descend in a seemingly chaotic yet organised manner to the bait hive, ‘bearding’ at the entrance and gradually entering. This can take an hour or two and is a fantastic sight.

Epic fail

Although I’d seen no scout bees I periodically check all of my bait hives. I also top up the lemongrass oil, adding a couple of drops to the top bar of a frame.¬†The bait hive in the corner of the garden was occupied ‚Ķ by a wasps nest attached to the starter strip in a foundationless frame.

Despite the beautiful architecture and the presence of a dozen or so wriggling larvae, they had to go. In late August this lot, or their progeny, would be terrorising my mini-nucs containing late-mating queens, robbing out weak colonies and causing a general nuisance during the honey harvest.

And the hawthorn is flowering …

Hawthorn

Hawthorn

Apiguard treatment

Last of the supers

Last of the supers …

In mid- to late-August the forage here is pretty-much finished, with the exception of himalayan balsam in some of the damper areas and along streams. In my main out-apiary stores are running really low in the hives now that the honey supers have been removed. During a recent check by the regional bee inspector (clean bill of health, other than a little chalkbrood) most colonies appeared to have undergone a natural break in brood rearing, with little or no capped brood but clear signs that the queen was laying again. This is a good opportunity to start Apiguard treatment and winter feeding.

Preparing Apiguard

Preparing Apiguard …

I use Apiguard for autumn¬†Varroa treatment, either the individual trays which are convenient and easy to handle, or the stuff bought in bulk and spread on bits of card. The 3kg tubs contain sufficient to treat 30 colonies – more than I have, but it has a reasonable¬†shelf-life – and is much more economical. Through my association co-operative purchasing scheme an annual treatment with Apiguard trays costs ¬£3.70/colony, whereas it’s only ¬£2.50/colony¬†a year for the stuff bought in tubs ‚Ķ a big enough saving to justify juggling with the messy spatula and scoop while ladling it out onto the cards.

The almost total absence of sealed brood in most of my colonies at the moment means that any mites present are likely to be phoretic, so they should be more susceptible to these thymol-based treatments.¬†Apiguard treatment requires two successive two-week treatments and needs temperatures of over 15oC to work properly. Therefore, treat as early as possible ‚Ķ not only does this ensure the temperature will be higher but it also leaves more of the autumn for raising brood to overwinter. Many queens stop laying when the Apiguard is added, so the earlier it is finished the greater the chance that it will still be warm enough to rear those all-important ‘winter bees’ that will get the colony through to the following spring.

Small entrances and Apiguard

Small entrances and Apiguard

There are lots of wasps about at the moment so the entrances on my colonies are restricted to 1-2 cm wide ‚Ķ the kewl floors I use provide better protection against wasps, but a simple strip¬†of 9 mm softwood gives even less area for the guards to defend (as an aside, I predicted those DPM ‘skirts’ would still be present at the end of the season back in April). Bees sometimes ‘beard’ outside the entrance of hives with Apiguard on in¬†hot weather¬†– the thymol vapour can get a bit overpowering and can be smelt downwind of the apiary. Being a bank holiday weekend the weather here isn’t warm enough to cause this bearding ‚Ķ the bees in the hive on the left are simply queueing to get in.

Since I combine Apiguard treatment with the start of autumn feeding I’ll show how Perspex insulated crownboards can be used for¬†both together in a second¬†post in a few days.

Overwintering nucs

Rosebay willowherb

Rosebay willowherb …

And suddenly the season is almost over. The lime and bramble are finished, the rosebay willowherb (fireweed for those from the USA) is nearly over, honey has been harvested (but in my case not yet extracted) and queens are starting to slow down their laying rate. There’s almost nothing to do in the apiary. Colonies are unlikely to swarm this late and so inspections can be reduced in frequency. Drones are getting chucked out of the hives and queen rearing becomes a bit hit and miss, with poorer weather, cooler temperatures and the real probability that they won’t get mated properly.

This is when I prepare nucs for overwintering and rationalise my colonies to keep the stocks I want to feed up for winter. I split up my weaker colonies, using the brood and bees to populate 5 frame poly nucs to which I introduce a recently mated queen. Although established queens heading big colonies may well be slowing down, queens mated in the last few weeks will probably be laying really well. It’s therefore possible to start the nuc with just a frame of sealed brood, a frame of stores, a frame of drawn comb together with¬†another frame of bees shaken on top. I use a dummy board to restrict the space the bees have to the three frames and introduce a mated queen in a sealed JzBz introduction cage, hanging from the top bars on a cocktail stick carefully (to avoid impaling the queen!) pushed through the JzBz cage.

Stuffed

Stuffed …

I either move the nuc to another apiary (>3 miles away) or stuff the entrance with grass to stop too many of the flying bees from returning to the colony they were harvested from … the reality being that the colony has almost certainly been split up completely and no longer exists. If you put the nuc boxes back on the original stand one usually ends up being much stronger as the flying bees preferentially return to it. A day or two later I return and remove the cap from the JzBz cage, allowing the workers to release the queen by chewing through the queen candy the cage neck is packed with. By this time the bees will probably have found a way out and will be busy foraging … if they have to struggle through the grass for too long they lose lots of pollen at the colony entrance.

Pollen

Loads of pollen

A week or so later I check the queen is out and laying well, adding two further frames  Рusually one of stores and one of drawn comb, depending on the weather. This is the five frame colony that will be overwintered.

5 frame Everynuc

5 frame colony in an Everynuc …

Through late August and early September these nucs need to be monitored reasonably carefully. If there’s no forage they will almost certainly need feeding. They will also need protection from wasps. Finally, once the colony is strong with good numbers of bees for overwintering they need to be fed with syrup. This year I’m using the recently introduced Thorne’s Everynuc with an integral feeder (see the picture above). I’ll use this to feed Ambrosia and work out a way to provide additional fondant in mid-winter if needed.

Here's three I prepared earlier ...

Here’s three I prepared earlier

The beautiful and the damned

Wasp nest …

Wasp nest …

There was a thread on SBAi a year or so ago in which “Kieth” asked for advice on keeping wasps. Kieth never returned to the thread, but there were a number of increasingly¬†surreal contributions on waspkeeping. I was searching through a pile of equipment stacked in a corner and discovered this wasps nest attached to an old Perspex crownboard. The nest is paper-thin, made out of wood pulp (and presumably wasp saliva), beautifully crafted with a double layered entrance and¬†a cluster of larvae in the ‘roof’ (the picture shows the nest upside down).

If you look carefully in the image below you can see the developing larvae. There were perhaps 15 or 20 of them, each occupying a small hexagonal cell … but remember these will return later in the season to wreak havoc with weaker nucs or late season mating nucs.

Developing larvae …

Developing larvae …