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Spring is here and the bees are out flying
The days are growing longer and the crocuses are already out and daffodils are just about there now. So, with a mild weekend, I have checked my hives.
I didn't do much, that is I didn't open the hives completely, just removed the lid and checked they had enough food to keep them going. Actually, they didn't , so I have feed them them the last of the winter fondant I bought them at the start of last winter. This should keep them going for a few weeks and then I will probably still feed them a Spring sugar mix, till they really get going again.
I did find that one of my three colonies didn't make it through the winter. It was the weakest and I wasn't surprised, as it really didn't have enough bees to make it viable. Even it had made it, I was planning to combine it with a stronger colony as I didn't want the prospect of three colonies swarming over the Spring and Summer.
Roll on the really warm weather and good healh to the bees
yes, I saw a bee on the crocuses the other day.
Quite a lot of Bumble Bees about, I saw a couple of more 'the norm' ones the other day but didn't note what type.
The holes my Leafcutters were in (bug house) are now empty so assume they're out?
Bees need water!
Actually, bees need quite a lot of water. They use it in the hive to dilute down their stored honey before they can feed it to the young larvae or consume it themselves. They actively go out and forage for water, which they store in their honey stomachs to take back to the hive. It seems to be a pretty dangerous task for the workers, they often end up drowning. So, if you see a few dead bees in your garden bird bath, you'll know what they have been up to.
Here's a picture of some of my bees collecting water from the edge of our garden pond.
Good to hear of your beekeeping experiences although I'm sorry about your winter loss. My one colony seems to have come through the winter well and still has about 4 bars of honey. The brood nest is really large and I see lots of orientation flights to I am assuming the queen is laying well. My varroa count was tiny too so I can relax a bit on that front. I haven't seen any drones yet so hopefully they're not going to swarm in the immediate future. There are lots of tall trees near the hive so no doubt they'll head off to the heights when the time comes.
I have also been given a cast swarm by the local community farm. They seem to have settled in well and have drawn one full comb in less than a week. I hope the queen is able to find some drones though - I certainly don't have any.
I still have one empty hive - do I keep it in case my original colony swarms or do I accept a swarm from a friend? I don't want it to all get out of hand and I'm not really in it for the honey although I will take some if I think they really do have a surplus.
From talking to other, more experienced beekeepers, it seems that everyone has either too many or too few bees. Hey ho.
Capturing a swarm
Bees, like all animals, want to reproduce and set up new colonies.There are all sorts of methods that bees keeper use to suppress or prevent swarming but sometimes these don't work and the bees swarm. Yesterday, one of my colonies swarmed but fortunately they just stayed in my garden and were low down.
I wasn't really prepared to film this, so apologies for the rather poor sound quality and heavy breathing in places. It does give an idea though of how easy it is to work with a swarm of ten thousand or so bees. I moved them late at night back to where my other hives are situated. I had a look at them today and they seem very happy, out flying and collecting pollen and nectar.
I remember my dad puffing a "smoker" to calm the bees, I cant remember what it was used for but I would imagine it was collecting swarms. Are these still used? or is that a very outdated idea?
"He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."
No, smoking is not an outed idea, it is still very much used. Beekeepers always gently smoke a hive they are inspecting. Bees can quite aggressive when in effect you are dismantling their home and robbing their honey, hence the need to smoke them. A swarm however is generally quite placid, they have nothing to defend really and their concern finding a new home and so don't need smoking. I probably could have captured that swarm without putting on the bee suit but at the same time didn't want risk getting stung on face.
The smoker makes them think there might be a fire and since wild bees nest in trees a forest fire means they might have to move home in a hurry. So they fill themselves with honey. Swarms are also looking for a new home and are full of honey.
I think I was told that it's not easy for them to sting when full.
Some bees have taken up residence inside my cavity wall. It has insulation in there. There is a little hole next to an air vent and they come and go quite regularly. No access to inside the house. I will leave them alone, will probably go away eventually.
Just noticed that it has been just over five years that we have had bees in the garden, and it has been over a year since I posted an update.
With working and living abroad for nearly two years now, I only get round to inspecting the bees about twice a year. The good news is that they seem to be doing fine without much intervention. After all, even though we humans have a long history of association with bees, they are essentially wild animals; they are quite capable of looking after themselves.
As a result of the fact we are not around a lot, I haven't been treating the bees for varroa. The varroa mite, as you may already know, has been responsible for decimating bee colonies across most of the world, apart from Australia (and New Zealand?). Of course the argument for treating them is obvious, it helps the colony survive and potentially stops an infected hive infecting other hives. The counter argument is what we really want is for bees to evolve their own resistance. That's nature's way. Treating helps genetically weaker, less resistant colonies survive.
Slightly off topic of beekeeping, I have noticed the bumblebees in the garden seem to be doing really well. I disturbed a bumblebee nest in the ground today. But true to their reputation of being 'busy', they repaired the entrance in less than 15 minutes, covering it with a new layer of moss.
I am so fascinated by these little creatures. If you are interested in bees, I would thoroughly recommend listening to a recent BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week'; Buzz (Google BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week Buzz). I think you would need to be quick though as I think there are only a few more days left to listen.
The weather up here in the North East over the weekend has been pretty warm but at the same time with a bit of rain and it has been quite blowy on occasions. As summer is slowly turning into autumn, the bees in our garden are working hard. All the bee analogies are being intensley acted out; busy bees, a hive of activity.
Of course at this time of the year, the aim of the hive is not to swarm and establish new colonies, it is too late and too risk to do this this late on, but rather to accumulate plenty stores for the long flowerless winter ahead. So, the colony is frantically foraging for the last of the pollen and nectar.
Love it or loathe it - Himalayan Balsam
I must admit that in my opinion, Himalayan Balsam is pest. It is not native to the British Isles but has over recent years become so invasive along our river banks and anywhere slightly damp. On the other hand it is a god-send for bees in late summer. They absolutely love it. Find anywhere with Himalayan Balsam, and you are likely to find an abundance of honey bees. Whenever I see the honey bees on it, I wonder just where they have come from. A kept colony like mine or perhaps a feral wild colony nestled away in a wood somewhere? Our garden kept bees are coming back laden with the pollen they have collected. Some of the poor workers are so weighed down that they appear to be absolutely worn out and exhausted under the weight of the stores they have collected. The poor worker bees will literally work themselves to death over the next few weeks.
Been such a long time since I posted anything here! So here is a quick update.
For the past 4 years or so now, Wendy and I haven't been in UK that much and certainly not over winter when hives that have been harvested for honey need feeding sugar syrup. However, as I haven't taken honey from them one of my hives is still doing well. After all bees are wild animals and they make honey as a source of energy for themselves not for the benefit of us humans.
It is good to know they are thriving. Varroa mite has blighted so many colonies, not just in UK but throughout the world, but nature does bounce back, and so perhaps my hives have at least some resistance to Varroa.
I am happy to leave them as they are. Bees are one of the most important pollinators we have. I watched BBC's program, 'Extinction', on Sunday night. It was pretty scary to say the least. We all need to do our bit and a few thousand more bees in our area is at least a start.
Will you just leave them to do their own thing? Or get someone else to manage them while you are away.
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