Friday, April 4th, 2008- Battersea Bees – London

It was a lovely day today so we took the opportunity to do some spring cleaning on the Battersea hive.
We had wintered this hive with a brood and a half and I wanted to give this hive a new set of brood frames to give the bees the cleanest start to this year) so the bees would have some energy food to start drawing out the foundation ready for the laying queen to get on with her laying.
Opened the hive and found that everything was looking great. Lovely calm bees and that distinctive smell of a fresh honey bee hive.
I wanted to find the queen and temporarily separate her from the colony so that I could work on the colony without risk of harming the important queen. Found her quickly, caged her and dropped her into my pocket to keep her dark and warm.
Split the super from the brood and had a quick look through to see that all was in order. It was pleasing to see everything in ship shape. Lovely spread of brood, pollen and honey stores
I left the old brood at the bottom and on top of that put the new brood box with some frames of new foundation. These boxes were separated by a queen excluder. I then shook of the bees from the super into this new brood box and replaced the queen into the mix. On top of all that I put another queen excluder and a super box with some frames of their honey.
I wonder what she must be thinking since before I arrived today she had loads of places to lay and suddenly I come along and place her in a new home with no wax cells available.
Can she stop herself laying at such short notice?
Any answers welcome.
Once the hive was all closed up I cleaned up the garden and sliced off some of the chunk honey from the frames I had stolen from the super. As usual it was totally lovely.
The first of the Battersea honey for 2008. Not enough to jar just yet but I think this year will be a good crop.
Didn’t have the chance to take photos today. Shame.

Saturday, March 15, 2008 – Shaking the bees

The temperature was steadily climbing all week and by the time Saturday came around it was peaking at 17 degrees so I decided to take the opportunity to do some Varroa control on the Queen’s Park hive.

I prepared a new floor, brood box, new brood foundation, a new cover board and some feed (sugar water). Once I had moved the hive away from its spot I put the new hive in its place and let the returning bees find their way into the new home.

Looking through the older hive I found the queen and caged her while I shook off all the bees from the old frames into the new hive. When that was done I closed up the new hive, marked the queen and let her find her way into her new home via the hole in the cover board.

Of course this drastic action kills off the brood that was in the old hive but what we gain in losses to the colony can be outweighed by the advantages of Varroa control, new clean comb and possible reduction of the swarming instinct.

I’ll see how this method compares with the other methods I plan to try out on the other hives.

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Californian Trip – Feb 08

Friday, Feb 22, 2008
Californian Trip
Alison and I took a trip out to Bakersfield, California to get first hand experience of large scale beekeeping and pollination.
1.2 million hives are needed to pollinate 600,000 acres of almond trees in California. We wanted to see what this looked liked and talk to the beekeepers involved.
We saw the massive operation first hand and we talked to the beekeepers who were struggling with the effects of colony collapse disorder.
It was sad and fascinating.
Will write more shortly.
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Urban honey in jars

After a rainy summer and the fun of the hives swarming we were surprised to find a full super of honey in our no 1. Battersea hive.
This year we had invested in the extractor and large food safe containers.
Using the capping fork rather than knife we harvested the super in less than an hour.
We got 9.2 kilos or 20lbs of the glorious honey.

The honey is light, runny and we are convinced it is made from elderflowers.

If anyone in Battersea wants some local honey for their hay fever let us know.

virgin queen piping

This is a not-so-great video of one of the virgin queens (see text below) piping. This is the sound she makes when she is calling to other virgins. It must be a fighting call since that’s what they would do if they met.

Swarms, virgins and queens

A queen cell that has been opened by the emerging queen.
The new queen.

Didn’t want it to happen but it did.
Looked into the hive at Wallington and found that the super was untouched. 10 frames of foundation and not a bee on them.
The super had been there for 3 weeks so I suspected something was amiss.
On further inspection at the 2 deep boxes I was using for brood I found no queen and 12 capped queen cells!
This meant that they had swarmed. They had run out of room and should have gone upstairs to the super but for some reason the workers hadn’t gone through the queen excluder. I had heard this could happen but hadn’t seen it before. They had then started to raise new queens and when they were capped over the old queen took half the colony to find a new place. This explained why there wasn’t many flying bees and the not so crowded colony.
I wasn’t sure what to do so left them as they were and went home to do some research.
Decided that the best thing to do was to split the hive. I had 2 deeps and 2 shallow in the one hive which meant I could split them into two quite easily.
I built the floor and roof for the WBC (which I had had lying around fortunately) and took it down to the site the next day.
My plan was to leave each of the hives with one good queen cell so there would be no chance of a cast swarm.
Opened the hive and took off the queen cells and placed them in a box until I was sure they were none left in the hive. So far so good.
Too my surprise when I looked into the box at the capped queen cells I saw a queen wandering around. I picked her up and put her in a queen cage. When I looked in the box again 3 more came out. I caged them and quickly split the hive. One deep and shallow for each. This meant that I was just in time. If I had left it any longer to visit the hive a virgin would have emerged and swarmed again with half of the remaining bees. This would have depleted the colony to a state of possible failure.
Since I was sure the hives were now queen cell-less I put one virgin into each of the hives, waited for a minute, and put the second virgin in too. Figured I would let them fight it out – survival of the fittest and all that.
2 more queens emerged in the process but I had to cull them since I didn’t have any nucs or mini nucs for them. (Would have been nice to have a mini nuc to take off site to get her to mate)
This was on Wed 20th and since then the weather has been cold and wet. This reduces her mating chances. Fingers crossed that she does mate.
If anyone has a suggestion on when I should check the hive for eggs let me know. I have been told to wait 14 days and 20 days.
It was all quite exciting but I should not have let it happen in the first place.

The queen about to come out
An opened cell showing a not quite ready queen.
A cell with the larvae of a queen

First sting!

Can you believe it more than a year after I started this beekeeping malarkey I got my first bee sting right in the head. Luckily Brian – who must have had a least a dozen stings by now as he’s far too macho to wear gloves or socks when opening the hives- didn’t have the video camera to hand because I didn’t handle it very well. In fact, I screamed and screamed. I’m sure you would have done if a bee had got caught in your very thick, long, curly hair. The reason I wasn’t wearing my bee suit was because I was just standing in our small garden in Battersea at the time. Unfortunately, however, I was in the bees’ flightpath. I could hear the bee buzzing but there was nothing I could do to get her out of my hair. No amount of shaking would work; probably just made her dizzy and angry. While Brian was trying to find her amongst my locks, I felt a piercing sensation, like a sharp pin prick. A few seconds later he pulled her out. If you thought I had it bad, she was dismembered. Half her abdomen was still attached to the sting she’d deposited in my head. She would die very soon afterwards, whereas I took an antihistamine and just had a wee bump the following day. Thankfully, no anaphylactic shock to report. It wasn’t so bad. I have been told that rubbing an onion onto a bee sting reduces the swelling but in this case not ideal for the hair. Weather’s perked up last few days. Hoping for some honey by the end of month.
You’ll see that this entry is officially posted by myself. Although I’ve posted at least half the entries on this site (remember Brian was away when I first got the bees last June) we’ve been doing it all under one name. Though it was time I had my own log on…

Queens Park bees – adding supers

As we mentioned back in April, Urban Bees expanded and with that came a bit more work, so we haven’t had a lot of time to update the blog with the details of what’s been going on at the three hive sites.
Yesterday we were at Queen Park to add a super to the colony and sort out the double brood box situation.
Back in April when we did the spring clean we found that the colony had come out of the winter fine but the hive was a bit damp leaving some of the comb black and mouldy. We thought that it would be a good idea to clean out that comb. So we put a new clean brood box on top of the old one with a queen excluder between them. Took the queen on a frame of brood and put that into the upper brood box. We also left a super on top of this
We figured that after three weeks all the brood below would have hatched and we could go back and take away the old brood box leaving the colony with nice new frames to lay.
When we did eventually get back we found that the bottom brood box was full of pollen and honey which we were worried about taking away from the brood and queen.
So what we have ended up doing is stacking the hive with the new brood box on the bottom (which by this time was had six frames of sealed brood and two frames of larvae) on top of that we put the super – which had drawn out comb full of incoming -nothing sealed and no brood, possibly because there were only nine frames which were not aligned with the brood frames.
Then we put on the queen excluder, a new super of foundation and on top of this we put the old brood box with the rationale that the bees will take the pollen from there down to the brood, clean up the frames and leave us with drawn out brood frames. (We also scored the sealed honey to let them know that something new was happening upstairs.
We will check this out in a few days just to see that they are doing something with the top brood box.

Here’s Alison playing with the queen excluder.

Hoovering a swarm

Here is a clip of hoovering up a swarm of bees that landed on a fence post.

A swarm on a fence post
Tightly packed waiting for the scouts to find their new home.
Getting sucked up by a hoover to their new home. Just as nature intended it.

Urban bees expand

Blackhorse Apiary’s octagonal bee house

Alison collecting our new nuc
Our nuc with travelling screen
The nuc in its new home waiting to be transferred

It was a hot Sunday when we drove down to Blackhorse Apiaries to collect our two nucs.

John was waiting for us and we had a tea by the side of his octagonal bee shed before looking through our nucs. Both were healthy with marked queen, lots of bees and brood in all stages.

After discussion about colony collapse disorder and nosema we took our nucs away to their new homes. One in Wallington and one in Battersea.

Though WBCs are going out of favour with the professionals we decided they looked to good in the gardens so both our nucs are living in WBCs.

More urban bees coming to town

How exciting is this.

We have just put an order in for two nucs and a queen.

We are getting the nucs on Sunday and we will set one up in Alison’s parents garden and the other in my garden.

Then next week we will split the hive we have now and give the new queen to my parent’s.

hive at my place in Battersea

Busy few weeks ahead.

hive at Jenny’s

Dreaded lurgy?

It’s been a worrying week. Colony collapse disorder is in the news again. Looks like it could have reached the UK.
Brian thought he found evidence in the photos he took of our spring clean, of what looked liked two of the most dreaded diseases known to bee; American foul brood and European foul brood. They are the BSE of the bee world and anyone found with contaminated bees has to have all their bees, hives and equipment burned. I thought Brian was overreacting until he showed me the photos and I reluctantly agreed they did look like the ones in the book. I was devastated. They say it has nothing to do with the beekeeper, but you can’t help thinking you must have done something very wrong. Moreover, you feel really bad that you couldn’t protect your bees from danger. Brian sent the photos to our regional bee inspector to confirm our worst fears. However, a three day bee conference delayed any response, so we were on tenterhooks fearing the worse. I rang the chair of my beekeepers’ association who told me that the first sign of either of these diseases was a strong smell. As neither of us smelled anything other than honey, we shouldn’t worry, he advised. But we did. It wasn’t until Friday when Brian was able to show an experienced bee keeper at his weekly bee keepers’ association meeting that we finally had confirmation that all was in fact well. There was no disease. We were so relieved. I think we’d got a bit carried away with all the scares about bee diseases.

Urban Bees, London, Spring Clean

A video of us spring cleaning the hive…individually inspecting each frame.

Finally warm enough to do the hive spring clean. This is where we open up the bees’ home after the winter and see how they’re doing. With colony collapse disorder in the news – a strange new disease which has seen bees across the US mysteriously flee their hives to die – we’re a little worried that they may have left home. But we had a peek a few weeks ago and they were still there, so it seems unlikely. There are, however, a long list of diseases that they could have picked up over the cold winter months. The most likely include: verroa, tiny brown mites that kill the bees; chilled brood – when the bee larvae has died of cold – and chalkbrood, a fungus that kills the larvae. Bees are pretty susceptible to disease these days, so we’re looking out for signs of any problems. We’ve got a book from the Defra, the government department with responsibility for bees – yes, there is one – containing graphic photos of common diseases to help us identify them.
We also urgently need to find our queen and mark her. It’s a good idea to know where she is as the working of the hive revolves around her. Even though she has a much longer body than her worker bees, at the height of the summer with 50,000 bees in the hive it’s really difficult to see her without a mark. Now with only some 10,000 bees we’ve got a better chance of spotting her. When we do, we have to trap her in a little cage and put a blob of Typex-like fluid on her back. The marker colour is white because she’s last year’s queen and they get white. This year’s get a yellow blob. Queens usually live for three years, then the workers create a new one by feeding royal jelly to a larvae.
After queen marking, we’ll give the hive an extension so the queen has more room to lay her eggs. Brian’s been told that adding a second brood box on top of the existing one is the best extension as the bees will move to the frames upstairs in a few weeks so we can take away the downstairs and clean it. We kit ourselves up in our bee suits, light the smoker in case the bees get agitated and open the hive. To our horror, the first frame is a bit mouldy due to some damp at the front of the hive. The next two are similarly blackened, but there are still stores of honey. To our relief, towards the centre of the hive we find the expected brood (babies) which is pearly white coloured larvae in all stages of development, surrounded by multi-coloured pollen. Finally, to our excitement on the eighth frame we catch sight of the queen. She is huge. Much bigger than we expect. Bit scary. She tried to run away. We quickly trap her, and blob her, nearly squashing her in the process, then let her go. The last three frames hold more honey.
The verdict is that the things look OK, yippee, apart from the damp. Brian takes photos of all the frames for a visual record.
We can’t believe how well behaved our bees are during the inspection. There’s hardly a buzz out of them. I wonder if there are any cannabis plants nearby. Brian didn’t wear gloves and didn’t get one sting.
We add the extension, and give them another storey half full of honey that we never harvested last year because it wasn’t ready to eat. Although they haven’t got through all their winter stores of honey we figure they could do with some more to give them energy for the coming months ahead.