June arrives in a blaze of sunshine and enough heat to raise the thermometer above 20 degrees C. The nuclei made up as swarm control with the old queens and 2-3 frames of brood sit in the shade shut up for three days to prevent the flying bees from returning to their parent colonies. They will eventually be reunited with the parent colonies to strengthen them for the last honey flow of the season and the old queens will be removed. I spray them with a little misted water every day. After 3 days I site them near the parent colonies in readiness for uniting back when the new queen is laying well.
Some colonies are flying at 03:30 on clear mornings but today there is a thick haar (sea fog) blanketing the land and not much activity to be seen at 08:00. It will warm up as soon as the haar lifts and the sun gets through.
The swarm that flew into Connie’s garden from the OSR field is doing well. Next morning after hiving them 12 hours previously, when I removed the shallow box that I’d used as a funnel to shake bees in from my skep, I found the swarm clustered on the crown board/cover board and starting to build comb there rather than moving down to the brood box. So, I shook them down and noticed a virgin queen with a small group of bees still clinging to the crown board. This is good news for the colony has a new queen that should do well over winter unlike many swarms with old failing queens that do not survive. I will not need to re queen this swarm before this winter. However, I need to get that queen excluder off the floor to let the queen out to mate but it is still too early; they might still not have settled and decide to leave. 24 hours later I see pollen loads going in and the queen excluder is removed because I know that they have settled into their new home.
Having a virgin queen in a swarm can mean one of two things; either the old queen left with the primary swarm and the first virigin queen to emerge left with another secondary swarm or cast a few days later, or the parent colony queen had a clipped wing and couldn’t fly so she is lost and the colony returns to the hive only to swarm again when the first virgin queen emerges. This is why swarm management involves the beekeeper being in control and taking action when the first charged (royal jelly and larva) queen cell is seen. Or, if the swarm has already left the beekeeper needs to go in and find an open cell with a nice plump white larva on a bed of royal jelly and leave that cell while knocking down all sealed cells. If the frame with the chosen larva is marked with a coloured pin in 7 days time it can be inspected to make sure it is deleveloping and sealed. All the emergency and swarm cells that have been created since the queen’s departure are knocked down so that one queen cell remains and the colony now cannot make any more viable queen cells. The beekeeper can make a note and leave this colony alone for 3 weeks while the new queen develops and mates.
Leave Two cells or One?
Don’t be tempted to leave an heir and a spare. Some books and beekeepers advise leaving two queen cells but it usually ends in tears with a secondary swarm taking off into the sunset as soon as the first virgin emerges. This happened to someone I know just this week. One of the reasons that I like the nucleus method of swarm control is that I can easily reunite the nuc, with old mated queen, back to the parent colony if they fail to produce a new mated queen or she is lost on a mating flight.
I count only 4 varroa on the floor insert but I make a note to sublimate 2g oxalic acid crystals (Apiboxal) soon before the queen starts laying and the first cell is sealed. The varroa kill in the first 24 hours is only 32 which bodes well.
They will soon use up all the honey taken from the parent colony, for the journey and setting up the new brood nest, so I also make a note to feed them sugar syrup in the evenings to boost them and help them get some stores laid down. I could have moved them to the quarantine out apiary until I’ve discovered if they are healthy but I’ve taken the risk and will check thoroughly for foulbrood as soon as possible after the brood is produced. The adult bees are certainly looking good as I watch them fly home from foraging flights and they are very dark like last year’s swarm so I wonder if they are from the same apiary. I’ll be happy if they are because they are currently our best stock. They fly in the rain and at low temperatures and got through the winter on a shallow super of their own honey stores with only a little bit of fondant in early spring.
Observing at The Hive Entrance.
The weather since last season has been too poor for Connie to get much hands on experience inside the hive but we make the most of every chance to look at things outside it. You can learn so much from just watching and observing and for the next few weeks I am going to feature some aspects of what can be discovered without disturbing a colony. Sometimes management can be altered by these observations and it is a very useful way of reading a colony. When we open a hive and smoke the bees it probably interferes with their pheromonal communication system to a certain degree. It takes over 12 hours for them to settle down, and thermoregulation is affected. If they cool during the inspection they use more energy getting the brood nest temperature back to normal.
We break their propolis seals and move their furniture around. Even if we place it back where it came from it still disturbs them and often you can see them exposing their Nasonov glands and wafting the geranium scented pheromone about in an effort to reorientate and regroup in the hive.
Having said that, we need to inspect a colony weekly during swarm season and even if we don’t use much smoke it is an efficient means of controlling a colony and getting them away from the frames as you replace them. I always have a well lit smoker and use it mostly to prevent the bees from bubbling up around the tops of the frames where they are easily squashed when replacing frames into the box.
Here we are in the photo watching drones being evicted at the end of last summer and we talk about why this happens. Connie understands that drones have a life span of only around 4 weeks and that their main purpose is to be the queen’s “boyfriend” in the drone congregation areas. She accepts that they cannot stay over winter and that the colony need all the food stores to keep the workers and queen alive.
When you see drones flying around April it should alert you to the fact that the colony is developing well and could potentially swarm in a few weeks. Drones always appear before queen cell production but it helps you plan for swarm control. On the other hand, if you see drones around in late winter and very early spring you probably have laying workers or a drone laying queen which is not a good thing and the colony is usually doomed. The drones are produced in worker cells and are usually small and stunted and not fit for purpose.
Sometimes you find drone pupae thrown out the hive entrance and if you look closely they may have deformed wings and looked chewed up. This is due to heavy varroa infestation and raised level of deformed wing virus. The bees have removed the pupae and thrown them out in an attempt to reduce infection. Recent research shows that it takes at least 2 months after varroa treatment for the virus levels to fall again.
If the drone pupae look normal but there has been a cold spell and lack of nectar income, the colony may be short of stores and drones will be the first to be evicted. If the problem is more serious and starvation is threatening worker pupae will be found outside and the colony needs immediate rescuing with sugar syrup. If you ever open a hive and find listless bees looking dead with heads inside empty cells try rescuing them by spraying sugar syrup over them. It may give them enough energy to move about and take down more feed.
Supporting Children to Engage with Nature.
I’m excited by the current interest in the environment and new government agricultural policies published recently which strongly emphasis land use change to benefit both the environment and the public. I listened to Professor Dasgupta’s presentation on the economic value of nature and recent interview with the Wildlife Trust with great interest. Among many of his recommendations to the UK Government he advocates bringing nature study back into formal education which is heartening.
Schools already do a lot to raise awareness of environmental issues and connect children more closely to the land where their food is produced. For the last three years I’ve been teaching a little girl called Connie how to care for bees. Connie wrote to me when she was six asking if she could come and see my bees because her teacher told the class about how important they are.
I think that giving children an opportunity to explore aspects of nature is really important and beekeeping incorporates so many other skills including biology, mathematics, basic woodwork and caring for livestock.
During the winter months, Connie and I explore bee parts under a microscope, and make pollen slides while learning about plants and food for honey bees.
I’ve recently come across a company called Twinkl who provides support and materials for people involved with helping children learn and this might be useful for some readers.
Twinkl was founded in 2010, with a mission to ‘help those who teach’. The company provides high quality, trusted educational materials, which are all teacher-created and checked. This ranges from schemes of work and assessments to augmented reality games and much more. Twinkl offers over nearly 700,000 resources, with new content added daily. Twinkl is now used by schools and educators in over 100 countries, including primary and secondary school teachers, nursery workers and parents.
The idea for Twinkl came to Jonathan and Susie Seaton when Susie was working as an Early Years teacher and couldn’t find the materials she needed to carry out her lessons. As a result, Susie was working evenings and weekends to make resources from scratch.
Speaking to colleagues and friends, the couple found that Susie was not alone in her situation. So, to help other teachers, they began creating and publishing educational resources online from their spare bedroom.
The business grew quickly and organically as educators embraced the high-quality materials. The team grew quickly, too, with current and former teachers, as well as experts in content and design soon joining Jonathan and Susie in their mission ‘to help those who teach.’
Jonathan and Susie are delighted that Twinkl is now taking this mission across the world, returning time and energy to educators that is better spent in the classroom with their pupils or on themselves at home.
Environment – Twinkl is committed to reducing its impact on the environment through careful management of its activities, products and services, ‘ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns’ (UN Sustainability Goal 12). The company recycles all its office paper and toners and the office power supply is completely from renewable sources.
Twinkl has an Eco ambassador team who review our carbon output and create small sustainable changes. This includes reviewing our suppliers and exploring how the company can reduce waste. We can evidence that we have half the carbon footprint of the average UK company.
Twinkl is passionate about giving our children a sustainable future, which is why Twinkl printed books and any printing done at Twinkl only uses Forest Stewardship Council® certified paper. The company is also proud that all Twinkl books are printed in the UK, keeping its carbon footprint low.
Twinkl is continuously looking for ways to help its customers reduce their impact on the environment too and to empower teachers to raise awareness of environmental issues. The company provides a wide range of teaching materials about topics including recycling and pollution.
There is also the eco-initiative called ‘Twinkl Green’. As part of this, Twinkl has created super-eco alternative resources, which when printed use significantly less ink. The Twinkl Green User Guide gives customers advice and ideas about how to be as environmentally friendly as possible when using Twinkl products. One of these ideas is to use the digital Twinkl Go! products, which require no printing and includes products such as self-marking activities and games.
Twinkl and Beekeeping.
Twinkl caters also for bee related topics which might be useful in introducing children to beekeeping.
Innovative Bee Bar.
I was visiting neighbours along the road yesterday and admiring their garden when this water feature caught my attention. The water tumbles out of a posh gin bottle and Brenda reports 10 locals in for a drink today when she sends me this picture.