Waiting

Beekeepers will be familiar with the strange distortion of time that occurs during the season. The months with the shortest days appear to drag on interminably. In contrast, the long days of summer whizz by in a flurry of activity 1.

Beekeepers timewarp – perceived month length in blue and actual day length in red.

This is due to the indirect influence of latitude on our bees.

In winter, they’re largely inactive … and so are we, and time drags.

In summer, they’re busy foraging and breeding and reproducing (swarming) and foraging more and robbing … and we’re running around like headless chickens 2 trying to keep up. 

A spring swarm in a skep

Not always successfully 🙁

Latitude

The UK is a small country. The distance between the extremities – Jersey 3 and the Shetlands (both islands, some distance from the mainland 4 ) – is only about 800 miles, or a bit less than the long diagonal across California.

Nevertheless, this has a profound effect on daylength and temperature … and therefore on the bees.

On the winter solstice the day length in Jersey is about 8 hr 11 min. On the Shetlands it’s less than 5 hr 50 min. But that is reversed by the summer solstice. The longest day on the Shetlands is over 2.5 hours longer than the 16 hr 14 min that the poor crepuscular folk in Jersey enjoy 5.

For convenience, let’s assume that bees need an average maximum temperature of 10°C to fly freely 6. That being the case, bees in St Helier, Jersey, might fly for 9 months of the year, whereas those in Lerwick, Shetland, fly for less than 6 months of the year 7

Think back to those headless chickens. All of that “foraging and breeding and reproducing (swarming) and foraging more and robbing is being squeezed into about one third less time in Lerwick than in St Helier.

The winters are not fundamentally different. But the transition to spring happens much earlier in the south.

All of which makes this time of the year hard going for those of us living at northern latitudes … which, in a roundabout way, was what I was pondering while I stared at a depressingly inactive entrance to one of my colonies a fortnight or so ago. 

Ignore Twitter

For a few days Twitter had been littered with short videos of bees piling into hive entrances laden with pollen.

Helpful comments like “Girls are very busy today” or “15°C today and all colonies flying well” accompanied the videos.

I was ankle deep in snow and we’d recently had overnight temperatures below -14°C.

No flying today

Bees from one of my colonies on the west coast had been out on cleansing flights 8 but the other was suspiciously quiet. 

Obviously it was quiet when there was snow on the ground, but this situation continued as the weather warmed and the snow disappeared.

Despite a reasonable amount of experience in keeping bees in Scotland, and an awareness that the Twitter posts might have been from a beekeeper in St Helier, I was starting to get concerned about this second colony 9.

I knew there were live bees in the box as it has a clear crownboard. I could remove the roof and block of insulation and see the bees. However, the bees appeared to still be clustered and, having added a tray under the open mesh floor, there was little evidence of brood emerging.

In contrast, the other colony was flying well, collecting pollen and the cluster was largely dispersed.

Worrying times.

Fretting

Perhaps they’ve gone queenless?

Do queenless colonies tend not to break cluster as early in the season?

Do they not have any need to collect pollen because there’s no brood to be reared?

That’s scuppered my queen rearing plans for the season ahead … is it too late to order a couple more nucs?

Is it too early in the season to unite them and at least use the surviving bees?

Should I have a quick look in the centre of the cluster?

Should I wait until tomorrow when the weather is looking a little better? 10

Waiting

This went on for the better part of a week. The weather was not great, but was steadily improving. I was working outside much of the day.

The flying colony continued to fly. There was ample evidence they were rearing brood. 

The non-flying colony just sat there and sulked 🙁

And then, on the penultimate day of February, out they came …

What a relief …

The day was no warmer than the preceding one, it was certainly no sunnier. If anything it was actually a bit worse. 

But the bees came out as though someone had uncorked a bottle 🙂

First a couple around midday, then a dozen or two by 1pm and finally reaching a few hundred by 2pm (just after the picture above was taken 11 ).

Almost all the flying bees appeared to be taking orientation flights. Only a very few were collecting pollen.

And from that point on it’s been a case of ‘normal service is resumed’.

The colonies have continued to fly on the good less bad days. Both colonies are busy with the gorse pollen. Both – by the look of the trays under the OMF 12 – are rearing reasonable amounts of brood. 

Why the sulking?

Both my west coast colonies were obtained from the same source, though I know the queens are from different lineages. I suspect the fact that one was flying well before the other simply reflects differences in their genetics.

It’s notable that after the first day or two of strong flying activity, both colonies have quietened down significantly. The proportion of bees taking orientation flights compared with foragers has decreased significantly.

I interpret that burst of flying activity as a mix of new bees taking their first flights and older bees reorienting after a long period confined to the hive.

I’m no longer worried that the queen failed in midwinter 🙂

Patience, young grasshopper

This trivial example is just one of many where the beekeeper has to wait for the bees.

You can’t rush them.

They will go at their own pace and, usually (or possibly even, almost always) it will work out OK.

I was concerned about that apparently inactive colony. Had I intervened I would have done more harm than good. 

Since there was little I could do that would constructively help the situation I simply had to wait.

Which made me think about other examples where waiting is usually the best policy in beekeeping.

Queen rearing

I’ve given a couple of talks recently on queen rearing and am already well-advanced with my own plans for the season.

Queen rearing involves several key events, all of which must more or less coincide. The colony (and other colonies in the region) must have sexually mature drones present. There really needs to be a good nectar flow to ensure the developing queens are well nourished. Finally, the weather must be suitable for queen mating.

Again, you can’t rush these things. You might have no influence on them at all …

The swarm in the skep (above) was captured on the last day of April 2019. It was an unusually early spring in Scotland and the earliest swarm I’ve seen since 2015. 

The bees had judged that conditions were right. There were reasonable numbers of drones about and the weather remained pretty good for at least the first half of May. The swarm was a prime swarm, and I fully expect that the virgin queen that emerged in the originating colony got successfully mated 13.

OSR ... can you believe it?!

Late April 2016 … OSR and snow

In contrast, three years earlier the conditions at the end of April are shown above. Colonies contained few drones and swarming first occurred in late May.

Under these conditions, starting queen rearing is a pointless exercise. The colonies aren’t ready, the environment is hostile and there is probably insufficient nectar being collected. 

It pays to wait.

Queen mating

Anyone who has kept bees for a year or two will be familiar with the often interminable wait while a virgin queen gets mated.

Assuming a colony swarms on the day that the developing queen cell(s) is capped 14, the queen that follows her must emerge, mature, go on her mating flight(s) and then start laying.

My calculations are that this takes an absolute minimum of 14 days.

For the first seven days the new queen is pupating, she then emerges and matures for 5-6 days before going on one (or more) mating flights. After mating it then takes a further 2-3 days before she starts laying.

I’ve not looked through my records but cannot remember it ever taking 14 days. In reality, even with ideal conditions, at least 17-18 days is more usual and 21 days is not at all uncommon.

Returning a marked and clipped queen to a nuc

It’s worth remembering that there’s a time window within which the queen must mate. This opens 5-6 days after emergence (when she becomes sexually mature) and closes at 26-33 days after emergence, after which time she’s too old to dependably mate well.

A variety of factors can influence the speed with which the queen gets mated. 

Bad weather is the most obvious. If the weather is poor (rain, cool, very windy etc.) she won’t venture forth. For Scottish beekeepers, there’s a nice study by Gavin Ramsay 15 of the total number of ‘good’ queen mating days we enjoy in our brief summers … it can be very few indeed.

Queens mate faster from smaller hives. Queens in mini-nucs mate faster than those in 5-frame nucs which, in turn, mate faster than those in full hives. 

And, as far as the beekeeper is concerned, these few days drag by very slowly 16

There’s nothing to be gained by checking and re-checking. There’s potentially a lot to be lost if you get in the way of a queen returning from a mating flight.

Just wait … and more often than not it will all be just fine.

Enthusiastic beginners

The final example where there’s a benefit from waiting is for the beginner beekeeper getting their very first colony 17.

They’ve attended a winter ‘Introduction to beekeeping’ course, they’ve read and re-read the Thorne’s catalogue (and ordered loads of stuff they don’t need) and they are desperate to start keeping bees.

I know the feeling, I was exactly the same when I started.

Every year I get requests for nucs in March, or “as soon as possible” or “so I can install them in the hive at Easter”.

The commercial suppliers offer bees early in the season, often from April onwards. 

Or did, before the ban on imports, though some still do.

But in my opinion I think there are real benefits from waiting until a little later in the season.

In the absence of imported packages or nucs, there are only two sources of nuc colonies early in the season:

  • Overwintered nucs. These are usually in very short supply and therefore command a significant price premium. The queen will be from the previous year … not in itself a major problem, though they are probably more likely to swarm than a nuc headed by a current year queen.
  • Bees in a box headed by a queen that was imported. The proportion of bees in the box related to the queen depends upon the time that has elapsed since the queen was added to the box. Think about the timing of brood development … it takes three weeks from adding the queen to have any adult bees related to her. It takes six weeks or more to re-populate the box.

I think the price premium of an overwintered nuc is justified because they have already successfully overwintered. However, a similar box of bees would be perhaps half the price two months later 18.

It’s an expensive way to start if things go wrong.

What could possibly go wrong?

An overwintered nuc will probably build up very fast, perhaps outstripping the skills (or confidence) of the tyro beekeeper. 

If the weather is bad the new beekeeper potentially has a large, poorly-tempered, colony to manage. It’s daunting enough for some beginners doing their first few inspections, but if they’re struggling with a fast-expanding colony – potentially already making swarm preparations – on cool or wet days, then it can become a bit of a chore.

Or worse.

A few stings, a bee or two in the veil and the beekeeper gets a bad fright. The next inspection is missed or delayed. The colony inevitably swarms as the weather picks up.

Suddenly 75% of their £300 investment has disappeared over the fence 19 and they’re left with a hive full of queen cells.

In contrast, the beginner who starts with a nuc later in the season, headed by a ‘this years’ queen, avoids all those problems. 

The new queen is pumping out the pheromones and there’s very little chance the colony will swarm. They’ve arrived in late May or early June, the weather is perfect and the bees are wonderfully calm. 

They still build up at quite a pace, surprising the beginner. They’ve drawn out all the comb in a full brood box within a fortnight and will need a super just about in time for the summer nectar flow.

Beginners often open their colonies too frequently. They dabble, they fuss, they make little tweaks and adjustments. 

My first ever colony – late May. I still feel guilty about that first queen 🙁

Sometimes – like I did with my first colony – they inadvertently crush the queen during a particularly cack handed colony inspection.

D’oh!

It’s still early in the season so mated queens are difficult to get. Pinching a frame of young brood from another colony weakens it at a critical time in its build up, and leaves the beekeeper reliant on excellent weather to get a new queen mated 20.

Altogether not ideal.

So beginners should wait. By all means attend the apiary sessions or tag along with an experienced beekeeper during April and May. You’ll learn a lot.

The wait will do you and, indirectly, the bees good.

At the very least it’s great preparation for the waiting you’ll do for queens to get mated, or for a colonies to start flying well next spring 😉


 

Footnotes

  1. The graph is drawn for northern latitudes … readers in Australia and New Zealand will be familiar with the effect, though the line will have a trough in the middle where the bars will be tallest.
  2. An idiom that dates back to at least 1570 but that didn’t apply to Mike, the headless chicken.
  3. Please note the ‘boringly pedantic’ correction made Ron Hayes in the comments about Jersey being a Crown Dependency. Thanks Ron.
  4. On the mainland, Land’s End to John o’ Groats, as the bee flies, is 600 miles.
  5. All data from https://www.timeanddate.com/
  6. Please note that this is a rough approximation that makes my life easier, rather than a scientifically accurate guide to the thermodynamics of honey bee flight. In reality they’ll often fly on days when the temperature reaches high single figures (Centigrade), particularly if the sun is shining on the hive entrance. And, yes, I know that thermodynamics isn’t the right word to use in this context.
  7. Data for St Helier and Lerwick.
  8. A very genteel way to describe what the trip is actually for.
  9. I’ve only currently got a couple of colonies on the west coast, the rest are remaining in Fife. All of my east coast bees had been flying earlier in the month.
  10. And the correct answers to those 7 questions are: Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know, don’t know, probably, no and yes. In that order.
  11. I’m enthusiastic about bees, but not so fanatical that I’ll sit and watch them for 2 hours on a February afternoon … the hive is just a few metres from my door.
  12. Normally I’d term these Varroa trays, but these colonies are Varroa-free so it’s not an appropriate term. I leave the tray in for 24-72 hours and monitor the appearance of wax cappings that fall through the OMF.
  13. It wasn’t my colony that had swarmed … it never is :-)
  14. A reasonable assumption, though it’s not invariable.
  15. Review into options for restocking honey bee colonies in Scotland, The Scottish Government, 2016 (PDF).
  16. Despite the fact they occur during the months which ‘appear’ to be the shortest in the year – another example of ‘beekeeping timewarp’.
  17. Or, ideally, colonies … as it’s always better to start with two.
  18. And should be available from a local beekeeper.
  19. Up to 75% of the flying workers in the colony leave with the prime swarm.
  20. I got my first bees in late May, inadvertently did away with the queen and cadged a frame of eggs in mid-June … when there was ample to spare.

37 thoughts on “Waiting

  1. George

    In the third paragraph of “Latitude” I think you are comparing hours and minutes of daylight at various places. However, I think the symbols you have used indicate minutes and seconds (or maybe feet & inches??).😆

    Reply
  2. David Parker

    I must admit to being slightly confused by the statement that – the day length in Jersey is about 8′ 11″ – 8 foot 11 inches? Then I remembered that was the way we used to abbreviate hours and minutes when I was at school.

    Now, I admit that WAS along time ago but wasn’t it ‘ for minutes and ” for seconds?

    The length of the season for bees in different locations is probably unknown to them. We know when the seasons are short (or late) because we have a calendar to count the days (and months). Bees have the solstices and equinoxes, daylight and night, weather and their genetics. They also don’t seem to have access to BBC Weather Forecast – the one on Countryfile being a particular favourite of mine (though it never seems we’re due any weather on Saturdays!) Many a time I’ve seen colonies fired up and swarming just as we enter a bad patch and they all perish because they hadn’t seen the Countryfile forecast (or maybe it was a Saturday?)

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello David

      I’m showing my age 😉 … and I think you might be right, so will correct the text. In the lab I often used ‘ and ” to indicate hours and minutes when writing up my notes, so perhaps I’m thinking back to that. Or perhaps my confusion with hr/min vs min/sec explains why none of my experiments worked.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Paul Lindstrom

    Fun and interesting as usual. I smiled reading the passage about the beginner “wanting the bees delivered asap”. That was me 3-4 years ago. I’d like to thank you also for the excellent lecture earlier in the week on bait hives – I learned so much. I’ve ordered lemon grass essential oil, and decided to make solid floors for this season’s bait hives.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Paul

      Many thanks. Delighted you enjoyed the talk. I think it was the biggest audience of the winter. Usually I get a chance to scroll through attendees names at some point in proceedings, seeing if I can spot any I recognise and say ‘hello’ to. Didn’t happen that night as the list was so long … and because I was so busy answering the Q&A’s.

      If you’ve got spare OMF floors just cover the mesh with a sheet of cardboard or Correx. There’s no need to have floors dedicated to the bait hives unless you want them. My “stacked super” bait hives do have dedicated floors, but that’s only because of the ‘lip’ on the Paradise hives.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Paul Lindstrom

        Thanks David. I have actually built new hive stands on my hives, for two reasons. I have made a much deeper space under the hive, in order to reduce the draft into the hive on windy days. When doing this, I also made grooves inside the base to allow a removable frame, holding the mesh floor. The idea with this was to allow to clean out the base without opening the hive. You just slide out the floor, clean it and slot it in again. Because of this I can now change this mesh floor easily with a solid floor, when using the old hive as a bait hive. I think that will work fine. But I see what you mean. I’m really looking forward to place these spare hives as bait hives, and see if I can persuade one or two swarms to move in to us. We seems to be along a popular line for swarms to travel, so the chances should be good.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Paul

          Sounds to me like you’ve got it sorted 🙂

          It’s always worth remembering that swarms need a little more attention after they arrive than your own bees – you know nothing of their provenance and if you live in an area with foulbroods they just might be infected. Keep an eye on the brood before placing the swarm into an apiary with your current production colonies.

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  4. Chris Dudley

    Dear David
    I really enjoyed your talk last night to the Cambridgeshire BKA on bait hives and of course I am a great fan of your website/blog so it was a thrill to see/hear you in virtual person. I hope that your move to your new home has gone well.
    I asked the question at your zoom talk about the behaviour of a swarm with a clipped queen after they had bivouacked and you said that this wouldn’t happen so I wonder if I could ask your opinion and what you think happened to me when my colony swarmed last May (I am new to bee keeping). I had a queen that had been clipped & marked by an experienced bee keeper who gave me the colony in July the previous year. They swarmed about 10 metres to a tree in our neighbours front garden from where I retrieved them in a cardboard box which I left for a few hours in the garden shed to allow them to cool down, although they all disappeared from here and I presume returned to the hive as the bee population was unchanged to my eye. I checked carefully for a dropped queen under the hive and along the flight path they took but found nothing, When inspected the next day they were queenless and they then went through the process of re-queening themselves successfully I am pleased to report. The new queen which has been marked and clipped has done well. I am trying to understand what might have happened and I would be really grateful for your opinion. Apologies for using the blog to contact you but I can’t find another email address and this problem has been bugging me. Could the swarm “carry” the clipped queen?
    Best wishes
    Chris

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Chris

      I’ve never seen a clipped queen travel 10 metres (other than in a queen cage in my pocket to an out apiary 😉 ). If one wing is clipped she rarely gets more than a couple of feet from the hive entrance before spiralling to the ground. She often then climbs back up the hive stand leg and the bees join her under the floor of the original (or neighbouring) hive.

      If the queen did get 10 metres I don’t think her flight had been fully incapacitated – perhaps both wings were only slightly truncated? The swarm would not cluster if there wasn’t a queen present. So since you saw this cluster let’s assume the Q was present. If they then returned to the hive it’s possible that the queen failed to make the return journey … leaving them queenless.

      I said in the talk that swarms have amnesia. That isn’t entirely true. It would account for the return of the swarm, even in the absence of the queen.

      An informed guess, there may be other explanations … but I don’t think the bees will have carried the queen.

      Pleased you enjoyed the talk. It’s a fun topic and – as we gear up for a new season – something to get enthusiastic about.

      Cheers
      David

      PS There should be an email link in the far bottom right hand corner of every page (or, more accurately, at the bottom of the right hand sidebar).

      Reply
  5. Grace Murray

    Great article and as a newbie, great guidance in terms of timing to get my first colony.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thanks Grace … don’t rush. I know it’s tempting, but you’ve got the whole year ahead of you and a week or three ‘lost’ now (when the conditions might be ‘iffy’) is insignificant in the long run.

      Enjoy your bees
      David

      Reply
  6. andrew brough

    I think day length has little influence on bee activity. Temperature and flying conditions are the biggest factors two years ago we had 30 deg temperatures in February the queens responded and went into full lay.
    My apiary’s are all within 6 miles one has a wonderful micro climate and early forage and is always 3 weeks ahead of the others.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Andrew

      I agree in terms of out and out flying/foraging, but I do think daylength probably influences laying by the queen in the winter. It’s not unusual to see a broodless period in the weeks before the shortest days, but brood in early January. Since the temperature can vary during this period I think the increasing daylength is a likely trigger of increased laying activity.

      You often here about adverse microclimates – frost pockets for example – so good to know that adventitious ones exist as well.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Roy Haynes

    Hello David
    I’ve enjoyed your post as always, but can I be boringly pedantic and point out that Jersey is a British Crown Dependency but not actually part of the UK.

    Best wishes
    Roy

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Ron

      I’m a scientist … nothing wrong with pedantry. Particularly of the boring type. Many thanks, I’ll edit the page and include a link to this correction in due course.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  8. fred

    Hi David,

    I seem to remember you calling this part of the season ‘the phoney war’ which is spot on.

    Can I add to unhelpful Twitter comments, usually mid May from the south coast of England
    ‘ just popped 3rd super on and girls filled in 5 days’
    this at a time over in Ireland I’ve just put first super on/the weather has dipped again and I am worried about that big cold void above the brood chamber.

    love the picture of your first hive, you never forget the first one! Can I ask what’s written in chalk below it? It looks like Evans Level but I just know there’s some scientific explanation…

    as always, really enjoy the post, thanks so much

    Fred

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Fred

      Yes, living in Scotland (or Ireland) means that Twitter can be a depressing place sometimes. I can recommend following @M25Info or @HighwaysSEAST as the perfect antidote … you’ll very quickly be reminded why our parts of the world are so much more enjoyable. There’ll be an equivalent in Ireland.

      Yes, I think the slab says ‘Evans Level’. It was a new shared apiary on the University of Warwick grounds. If I remember the Estates staff had fenced the site and simply dropped slabs around the periphery. I then went round levelling them and labelled the ones I’d done and/or labelled the ones I was going to occupy. It was a long time ago 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  9. vince poulin

    David – great post, if “waiting” is anything, at least it gives us time to read your commentaries and re-read those most relevant to us. For some this year’s “wait” is an anxious time sadly due to serious hive losses. My loss is now at 100% – 7 out of 7 hives – all very strong August colonies given the utmost care. It included extensive in-season attempts at reducing mite loads by trapping, drone uncapping and early intervention. FA disappointingly did not work for me no did it for many other local bee keepers. A last ditch effort with OA failed to save my 7th hive. Just far too many mites. My treatments began in early August but it is clear too mites got through those treatments. I couldn’t kill them fast enough. Sadly many other long-standing bee keepers were hit just as hard. Our regional bee inspector commented recently that hive losses are in the 70% range and counting. He lost his colonies as well. Without question topic of conversation is on mites and why so many good keepers lost hives despite a wide range of well recognized and applied treatment methods. I don’t know but my guess is several factors were in play – 1. a flat-out fantastic year for bee and honey production. 2. early swarming due to a good spring. 3. near 100% survival of hives the previous winter and those leading to 4. equally good if not huge mite productivity. If those are in fact partially or wholly the reason maybe the reverse will happen this year. That 70% hive losses will give us lower early season mite loads and a reprieve of sorts resulting in more manageable mite levels throughout the coming season. I’m determined to beat the them – live and learn. It all starts in just over a week. Our “waiting” comes to an end as packages from NZ and Australia arrive.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      Sorry to hear that all the colonies have now perished. An average loss of 70% being reported by the regional bee inspector is sobering. I seem to remember your formic acid was a DIY recipe? If that, or similar, was also used by the local beekeepers then it might be worth working out if beekeepers that used commercial preparations also lost colonies due to mites ‘escaping’ treatment. One reason that commercial treatments are relatively expensive is that they’ve been tested and have QC applied during their production. It always hurts my wallet when I go to buy my Amitraz but I know that, per hive, it’s costing me the same as about 1 jar of honey per year.

      Once the winter bees are exposed to high virus levels there’s nothing that can be done to save them. The laying rate of the queen will have dropped significantly as the temperature drops. As the winter bees die off prematurely the remaining cluster gets too small to a) rear any new brood and eventually, b) protect the queen.

      At that point of the season it almost makes no difference whether the mites are there or not … it’s the winter bees that must be protected.

      You’ll hear lots of beekeepers bragging about how their midwinter treatment resulted in zero mite drop. One possibility many don’t consider is that this is because the late summer treatment was added far too late in the season (to protect the winter bees). As a consequence, the mite levels were hammered down and – with no or little brood remaining – the few that survived had not chance of reproducing much before the midwinter mite treatment was applied. Sure, there are very few mites in the colony … but the winter bees were exposed to high levels of mites.

      Treat those packages well and keep an eagle-eye on the mite levels throughout the season.

      Good luck
      David

      Reply
  10. vince poulin

    Will do for sure David on those packages and without question will see how others faired using FA including the commercial liquid applications and Formic Pro. I’ll keep you posted. Sitting at the table is a borrowed microsope with a better one coming later this week. I’ve been searching for Nosema from my last hive without success (all I see is pollen and tracheal bits) but school kids counted 1.5 – 10 million/bee in samples we gave them a few weeks ago. Pretty sure a scope issue. Along with a persistent vendetta on mites will come a scheduled examination of gut content for presence of Nosema. More out of personal interest but would like to see if and when it shows given we found lots in the last hive. Hopefully a good spring. with some early splits. Looking to create some additional mini-colonies. Those being used later in summer to establish hopefully two “mite-free” brood-less August colonies. Then treat for eposodic mites before any new larva are capped. Should be an interesting summer. Honey is not this year’s objective but rather healthy strong winter colonies.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      I know several people over here are going to be experimenting with queen trapping this season. Essentially you cage the Q for 3 weeks – usually before the main summer nectar flow – at the end of that period the colony is broodless and you can treat easily as all the mites are phoretic. With no brood to feed the bees collect lots of nectar … at least, that’s the theory. There’s a video of Ralph Buchler available online describing it. Discussion on the Bee-L group suggested that the timing was critical. I’ve got the necessary queen cages (they’re bigger than usual queen introduction cages) but am unlikely to have time to investigate this method … and hope not to need to as I can almost always get away with just a late summer and a winter treatment.

      I’m not suggesting you try this, just be aware that there are other methods out there and if mites build up a lot well before the end of the season there might be other strategies to try.

      I’ve just added the link to the video … I think it’s the right one, but don’t have time to rewatch it and make sure right now.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  11. vince poulin

    Interesting David! thank you again! I will watch Ralph’s presentation many more times. The take-away is somewhat similar to what I had in mind – at least with respect to reducing mite loads post peak brood season but before the onset of winter bee production. I was thinking of achieving that by moving two NUC colonies to a new brood-less hive (late July), treat the bees for eposodic mites so as to enable the queen to produce winter bees in a near mite-less hive. I like what I heard and need to study the presentation. Both strategies are worth considering – trapping and caging. I can build rapping frames but will have to search out the small Italian cages. Interesting that is possible to employ both techniques after the main honey flow – you don’t needlessly have to miss honey production or at least – all of it.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      Be careful with the timings … or perhaps be aware that the timings can be critical. The correspondence I’ve seen on the method ranges from glowing praise to outright condemnation! I suspect most of the opprobrium is due to a reduction in honey yield … if you successfully cage the queen for three weeks or so all the mites will be phorectic, so you should be able to hammer their numbers down.

      I’ve just bought some of the queen cages. They’re appreciably larger than a standard cage. I seem to remember the ‘mesh’ size is smaller than normal to prevent workers having access, but still allowing the queen to be fed and watered. They’re not cheap!

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  12. vince poulin

    Of course with caging the queen is not able to lay – she goes “dormant” for a bit – ha, call it an “early-un-sustained winter”. I rather like the trapping idea – provided I can build one that works. Somehow sucking mites to those frames and killing them off is immensely appealing. A residual number of mites would be retained but a small amount. There is always the option to hit them just before queen release with OA. Here – May and June are very good honey months. April is also good but I will miss it. But, not being commercial – what honey I sell to friends is just to cover bee expenses and bits. Our very early honey is excellent – strongly floral tasting and light. We all prefer it. But honey is #2, #1 are healthy winter bees. If anything to prove I can prevent what happened this year.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      You’re probably aware there are (broadly) two queen trapping/caging methods. In one you cage her on a frame, ideally of drawn drone comb. For this you need a frame encased in a queen excluder, like this:

      Queen caging on the frame

      She lays it up, all the mites are attracted to the late-stage drone larvae and you remove the comb and destroy it once capped (and release the queen). The usual strategy is two sequential frames, caging the queen for a week on each. The overall treatment takes ~18 days. In the second method you cage the queen and prevent her from laying for up to about 24 days (drone brood development time), leaving all the mites in the hive phoretic when they can then be treated with a ‘one shot’ miticide like vaporised oxalic acid.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  13. vince poulin

    Thanks for the image David – I was rationalizing in my brain just how to cut up a queen excluder and attache it to a frame so that the comb can be removed and process repeated. An obvious issue is the amount of space between a vertical frame support and the inside walls of the hive. I quickly came to thinking of using metal which is thin enough x2 to allow me to use a standard frame. I see in the image that is how it was constructed. Looks like only one side of the frame is being used in this case. The metal sides look to extend outward so as to allow the face of the queen excluder to fit snuggly inside the metal sides. Looks like filler wood strips for top and bottom. I’ll have to work on it. But as you said – Option 2 works as well. That one simply excludes the queen for the required number of day and then a blast of OA. That would hit the majority of the mites in much the same manner as “cleaning” a newly arrived package. One or both of these methods will be employed – no question. I have to be satisfied this year’s mite epidemic never happens again. Just hived two new packages yesterday. As soon as I can those will be split and split again. Clawing back. These are Tasmanian bees – from a “mite-free” country. But they do come with potential for Bruala fly. In a few days – both hives will get a one-shot OA treatment for that fly.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      Those queen traps use both sides of the frame. I think they’re exactly two frames wide once installed. They’re in the shed – I’ll try and measure them when I’m next there.

      Don’t worry about Braula. I don’t think it does any harm. My bees here (a mite free area) probably have it as I know the area I sourced them from has it. Braula doesn’t parasitise bees or transmit diseases to my knowledge. It’s also susceptible to many miticides, so your first Varroa treatment will get it. Most beekeepers here will have never seen Braula and I’ve been meaning to write about it sometime … thanks for the unintended (!) reminder.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. vince poulin

        For sure do a post if not to ease our fears. Most argue Bruala is not a “problem” given it doesn’t parasitise a bee nor as you say, pass on destructive bee diseases. My issue with the fly was mostly out of a personal conviction for not wanting to import any “invasive” critter or plant of any sort into the Province. Hence – I went forward with OA1 and just completed OA2. My fly “drops” are minimal – nothing remotely varroa-like. A maximum of 4 in one day with most days none or 1-2 but even then not equally shared between two hives. I’m satisfied they will not be an issue but a great topic for you to consider. Packages are now just a day under 2-weeks old – I added a second brood box to each hive after the first week. Those boxes are filled nicely with eggs, larva with one showing a 5″ area of capped brood. Should be lots of capped brood in the lower box 1 of each colony. The plan is to split the colonies soon using purchased queens. Be nice to have 6-hives for working with varroa trapping and exclusion methods (come July). If you have time – please do post a few images of your trapping frame. I lost several nice – very suitable drone combs from the dead-outs that would have been useful. They were especially fragile and heavy with uncapped honey. I’ll use worker comb if I don’t come up with suitable drone comb frames. I did construct a number of your “skewer” type frames last year. I placed foundation between the skewers leaving the outside segments for the bees to develop and as that same as in your photo they build each outside panel in drone comb. I may well try to re-create a few of those for the trapping project. FYI – your “Notify me follow-up comments by email” still does not work on my end. Your “Notify me of new posts” does.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Vince

          I’ll have to have a rummage in the shed for the trapping frame … Here you go …

          Queen trapping 1

          Queen trapping 2

          Queen trapping 3

          Queen trapping 4

          Braula will have to wait, there are queens to be reared 🙂 It’s a good topic for the autumn/winter perhaps. Interesting you wanted to avoid importing a ‘foreign invasive’. I used the same argument – the avoidance of importing Varroa in that case – when writing a letter of support for the establishment (by the Scottish government) of a black bee reserve on the island of Colonsay.

          The notification of comments by email works on a per post basis I think (I’m not entirely sure … it’s a bit of a ‘black box’) rathe than for the entire site. Send me a direct email with your email address that you subscribed with and I’ll see if I can find it. It’s interesting … there are about 10 fold more subscribers to the site than subscribe to follow comments, and the weekly readership is about 5 times the number of subscribers. Not sure what that tells me 😉

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  14. vince poulin

    David – just got back to this – GREAT! So appreciated really. I’m into “Version 2″ of my DIY model. Same in concept but different due to materials. This is very nice. The photos you have included are extremely helpful. Lovely design here from start to finish. Excluder screening back and front as well as bottom. My Version 2 uses plastic excluder material (which I dislike immensely). I’ll be buying several steel excluders that I can cut up to make the traps. The screening looks to be made from a rectangular piece of excluder that is in one piece but I can see now from the pictures the bottom is in several pieces held together by plastic clips. Not sure what they did at the 90 degree side bend. Maybe notched the vertical bars to allow it to bend. Very innovative. Looks like sides are plastic or sheet metal but thin material that does not reduce bee space greatly. I was considering using flashing for the same purpose. Riviting is practical way to fasten I’ve been using copper plumbers nails cut down to 1/2”. Nce tight fit for your frame. I’ll send you an email with my address. I understand the “black box” comment. I think easy for these things to go arai without even you knowing. The plan will be to make 4 of the excluders.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      You appreciate that’s a commercial product, not something I’ve knocked together? It’s way beyond my capabilities. Their earlier versions used plastic queen excluder and they were pretty awful.

      These cost about £70 🙁 The sides are a semi-rigid plastic. Flashing would probably be suitable.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  15. vince poulin

    I’ll keep you posted David – yesterday was a number of hours modifying 4-metal queen excluders so they fit my Warre sized boxes. I needed to get the grinder out to cut the screens down and then frame them in wood. This means I ended up with 4 – quite nice chunks of “waste” metal excluder screen and one other odd bit. My plastic DIY Version 2 is really clunky. I’m looking forward to seeing how well I can frame up the metal. Once done I’ll fire off a photo to see what you think. Again – I’m grateful for you all the ideas and photos.

    Reply
  16. vince poulin

    David – keep an eye out for an email. I finished the prototype. A fully DIY model but – should work fine. I need a few more and for those I will use less “scrape shop-bits”. I will work more with queen excluder screening cut to the size which will result in a unit more like the commercial product you have. Hinging the front screen will be challenging – got to think how to do that. The first build opens using a small brass hinge screwed to its wooden base. Also by using wood my unit takes up more space in the brood box – especially in length which is a problem because not all brood boxes have the same inside dimensions (haha – due to an evolving evolution in bee keeping equipment – one of my DIY limitations).

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince … looks good.
      No reason that shouldn’t work.
      I’ll reply by email soon … just back from two days of not-stop bee work including more inspections in the rain 🙁
      But at least the sun came out for my first attempt at grafting this season, which seems to have gone OK 🙂
      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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