If at first you don’t succeed …

Top left: the state of play in our five hives: brood or no brood; queens spotted; varroa drop; amount of honey to be harvested.
Top right: our two new queens waiting to be inserted into the hives.
Bottom right: it looked like the worker bees were pretty keen on the new queen.

19 August 2017

Our B- and C-hive were both queenless. We tried to insert a new queen (bought from LP Biodling) in the C-hive on 22 July but it quickly turned out she didn’t live long. During an inspection on 12 August, the B-hive too was without a queen. We had found a few queen cells in this hive during previous inspections and removed them plus a few frames of worker bees to a small 6-frame hive (nuc) in the hope they would draw up a new queen. No such luck. We should have left them in – the time for swarming has passed, so perhaps they were in the process of changing the queen silently. You live and learn.

I asked around to see if anyone had a fertilised queen and we ended up buying two from a seasoned beekeeper called Ingemar Åberg, based in Sigtuna at 400 SEK each. We collected and installed them on Thursday night and by Saturday both colonies had released the queens. Here’s hoping they will accept her, that there is no non-fertilised queen left in either hive who will kill her and that the colony will grow strong enough in time to survive the winter.

On the way way from Sigtuna, one of Ingemar’s bees got me in my armpit. Not too bad a sting thank goodness but I’m glad it was me (and that I didn’t drop the two boxes containing the queens) and not Thomas, who was driving.

We seem to be pretty bad at making splits that result in two healthy colonies … This year only one worked – the A-hive is pretty healthy! We’re going to harvest honey tomorrow, but I doubt we’ll get more than 30 kgs. Ah well, better than nothing! After the cold spring, we had very little rain and this seems to affect the honey flow. We have NO apples, cherries or plums this year – also as a result of the night frost in May and lack of pollination.

Varroa drop in the hives varies wildly as well:
A-hive: 18
C-hive: not checked
B-hive: 5
F-hive: 16
E-hive: 28

Our surviving queen from the first year is still laying plenty of eggs – she’s amazing. We’ll have to retire her next year I guess (her 5th year).

 

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Still can’t find that unmated queen? Tip them all out and see what happens …

22 July 2017

 

Left: We split two colonies on 28 May and found five capped queen cells in one of them (the C-hive) on 10 June; on 18 June all had been opened.
Top right: After establishing the queen had not been mated (no signs of brood for weeks on end), we tried to find her without any success. Today we took the rather extreme measure of moving the hive away from its spot in order to brush all the bees off the frames.
Bottom right, right: A good shake and then a brush, making sure not a single bee is left behind.

 

Top left: While we were working, they rather took to the wooden box we had standing next to the sheet. They started moving into it!
Top right: We put the empty boxes back in their original position. Some bees started flying back  immediately.
Bottom left: Then we shook all the bees from the sheet onto the grass. After a few minutes, they were all gone. If the queen was there, she would not survive as she can’t fly back to the hive.
Borrom right: We took the new queen we bought 2 weeks ago (today was the first time we saw new brood from her, so she must have started laying almost immediately after we put her into the 6-frame box after she arrived in the mail) and put her in the top box, separated from the other bees by a layer on newspaper.

Our beekeeping year has been full of ‘there’s a first time for everything’ and today was no exception. It was all about solving the problem of a colony with an unfertilized queen.

On 28 May we split two of our hives to prevent them from swarming. Both hives had queen cells on the go, one even had five! Pretty safe to assume they will raise a new queen we thought. And so they did. But the weather was not great in June, so only one of those new queens was mated (we discovered new brood in that colony only last week, we had nearly giving up on her).

Now the problem with an unmated queen – apart from the fact that the colony will die out, because there is no regeneration with no new eggs being laid – is that the bees completely accept the queen as theirs, whether she is laying or not. They are calm, they get on with gathering pollen and nectar. They don’t attempt to raise a new queen (hard to do without fresh brood anyway). So if you were to introduce a new queen into this colony, one you had bought and were sure had been mated, the non-laying queen would kill the fertilised queen in a heartbeat. So, it’s crucial to find the unmated queen. And here’s the catch: she’s incredibly hard to spot because she’s smaller than a mated queen, she moves around much faster, she’s hardly distinguishable from the other bees. We tried a visual check without success. We filtered all the frames through the queen excluder, no luck. I did another visual check in the middle of the week, de nada. Today, we decided to take another route (after talking to Rolf, our teacher). We carried all the boxes about 20 metres away from their usual spot, brushed all the bees down onto a sheet. Put the boxes back, and let them fly back. Which they did. In theory, the queen would be left behind because she cannot fly. We didn’t see her, but we are pretty confident she’s no longer in the hive.

We then checked up on the queen we bought 2 weeks ago, who’d been living in a small 6-frame box with a few worker bees. We couldn’t spot her (she has the tiniest yellow mark on her back, I’ve spotted her just once out of four tries) but she had started laying, so we assume she’s on one of the frames. We put a layer of newspapers on top of the first two boxes, and put the queen in a third box on top. In theory, they will unite. (I took a quick peek about 4 hours afterwards and saw that there were already far more bees in the top box than we had left there, so they’ve already eaten through some of the newspaper.)

The bees stayed incredibly calm during this process. They happily sat on the sheet and even started crawling into a wooden box that we use to offload frames into during inspections. Here’s hoping this worked! All other hives are doing well, lots of fresh brood, a little honey.

Welcome to beekeeping, the Stockholm way!

Is that a swarm I see before me?

Top left: the swarm had taken up residence in our old apple tree
Top right: after cutting down the branch, we shook the bees down, into an empty box
Bottom right: a frame with FIVE queen cells found in Hive C last weekend.

15 June 2017

I was all set to write a blog about pretty flowers earlier today, the kind that attract pollinators. But instead, I have other business: we were having lunch outside, when a lady came up the drive to ask what that big clump of bees was doing in our old apple tree by the side of the road. Oh dear, contrary to all our expectations we had a swarm! We always thought you could hear it when a hive swarms but neither of us had heard a thing. We also thought, naively as it will probably turn out to be, that if you don’t find queen cells in a particularly colony they won’t swarm. Maybe we overlooked one during the last inspection … We will be checking all our colonies tonight, including the caught swarm, to see what the score is.

Thomas ran into the garage to get an empty hive. I got the suits and everything else ready, including a saw: the swarm was well within our reach so our plan was to saw down the branch and shake them into the box. We had two LN boxes, one empty (the bottom one) and one with 10 frames, topped and tailed by a lid and bottom and put the queen excluder between the bottom entrance and the bottom box. The theory is that the queen slims down before swarming so she can fly (she’s normally too heavy). The queen excluder will stop her from flying off again – she’s too large to get through that. Tonight, we will inspect if it’s really one of our own colonies that decided to split.

We were so grateful it happened while we were at home! If they had been on the tree branch for much longer, the scout bees might have found a new home, like a hollow tree, or – worse case scenario – a chimney or under the eaves of a house. They might have gone undetected for weeks and then it’s so much harder to catch them.

Our plan worked: we sawed down the branch, shook them down into the box and they all stayed put. We closed them up, carried them to a shady spot and left them to it. Tonight we will move it to a better place and see if it’s one of our own queens. But we are quite puzzled why this happened. Last weekend, we checked all our hives pretty thoroughly:

Hive A had been split two weeks before, the existing queen moved to another hive (F). Hive A had 2 queenc ells on the go in the drone frame. Hive A was therefore not capable of swarming as they had no queen.

Hive C had also been split two weeks before, the existing queen moved to another hive (E). Hive C had 5 queen cells on the go, all closed. Hive C was therefore not capable of swarming as they had no queen.

Hive B is a sluggish one, the queen is laying, but very little honey is being gathered. There were no queen cells in this colony. We think. This is the only hive that could have swarmed. We think.

Hive F is a 2 week old split from Hive A; it contains the colony’s queen, it’s a small colony, no reason to swarm as the artificial split would have made them think they swarmed.

Hive E is a 2 week old split from Hive C; it contains the colony’s queen, it’s a small colony, no reason to swarm as the artificial split would have made them think they swarmed. This colony was very agitated though when we inspected them last week. Unusually so. This split contains our very original queen, bought 3 summers ago. She is due for replacement but she would not have had any reason to swarm. We think.

UPDATE: Saturday 17 June

So we inspected all colonies today, including the caught swarm. Mmm. Surprise surprise: it’s not from one of our hives! It’s nice to know we didn’t overlook anything last week but it’s a mystery where they did come from. We’ve checked with Magnus, to whom we sold 2 colonies in April. Nope. And with two other beekeepers in the area who haven’t reacted just yet. We put the swarm at the back of the house and inspected it very thoroughly today: couldn’t find the queen.

We think both Hive A and C (which we split 3 weeks ago) have a new queen as all queen cells were open. But no sign of new brood just yet.

Hive B, the only one that could have swarmed, was safe and sound – the queen was still in there, and laying plenty of eggs.

Hives F and E, split from A and C respectively, were doing well.

One theory is they could have come from the vandalised hives that I rescued in March down by the water. I only found 1 queen in them. The other one could have found a temporary home. But it’s unlikely. It was really cold in April. The swarm more likely comes from a nearby beekeeper. Watch this space!

UPDATE: Thursday 22 June

Exactly one week later I got a text message from beekeeper Mats on the other side of the village (who sold us our original hives two years ago). Oops, they were his! We assured him we hadn’t sold them and he was welcome to come and get them. In fact, I was happy to get rid of them – I had tried to inspect in the morning and they simply wouldn’t let me. They were crowding onto every frame I wanted to lift and buzzed my veil. I suspected the queen had gone missing in action. Mats collected them in the evening and messaged me the next day that he too couldn’t find a queen but was happy to have his bees back. All’s well that ends well!

 

From seven hives to five …

Top left: containers with mossy water, very popular in early May
Top right: frame with healthy brood, early May
Bottom left: some blue pollen, from the Siberian squill bulbs
Bottom right: our bees supplies stored in the new garage

Top left: How shall we tackle this split?
Top right: Our three year old queen, still going strong
Bottom left: A newly marked queen, bought last year but never seen
Bottom right: Five hives, post split

1 June 2017

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog post: much has happened since the beginning of “spring” which was exceptionally cold this year. Even though all our colonies survived the winter one – admittedly fairly weak – colony died in April, and another one did not thrive at all in its new location after we sold it; we had to replace it. So we lost one, sold two, replaced one of those with one of our own, which meant that up until last Sunday, 28 May, we had just 3 hives in the front yard.

We sold two colonies to a local beekeeper. He was interested in the wooden hives (which we have found a little harder to work with, as they are so much heavier than the styrofoam ones). The colonies in these wooden hives (bought from Cecilia last year) were less than a pleasure to work with, which he said he didn’t mind. One of them was downright aggressive so I was pretty pleased to see it go. The aggressive one survived the move and is thriving, the other one didn’t really get back to strength after the winter and we gave the buyer another 10 frames and queen to replace it.

We were then left with:

  • Hive A (bought from Laila last year and a really productive hive, both from a bee and a honey point of view). This year again, it’s just rearing to go, even though we lost the queen last year and replaced it with a new one. We split this hive last Sunday because it was so lively and seemed ready for a split.
  • Hive C, containing our original colony bought 2 years ago, with the original queen. She’s still going strong but we did find one fairly developed queen cell, so we split this colony as well last Sunday.
  • Hive B (bought from Cecilia last year; fairly productive colony). We finally spotted the queen in this hive and marked it!

We decided to use the same method for making the splits as we did two years ago: move the old queen to a new location and leave the bulk of the colony behind in the old location. Last year, we moved a few splits (with queen cells) to new locations behind the house and on the balconies, but it was never really successful except with one colony in a nuc – but that was also the one that died in April. So we went back to Plan A.

It is always such a pleasure to see the colonies come back to life. In the beginning of May, they were incredibly keen to find water; even though I put out 3 containers with moss which I fill up with water, they were all over exposed soil in the garden. (I have prepared a few areas for sowing wild flower seeds, but had to wait until well into May to sow the seeds because we had night frost until mid-May). I spotted some blue pollen in the frames, which is from the Siberian squill flowering all around us in May, apparently.

We added our first honey super on Hive A on 19 May and added one more to that colony and Hive C and B on 28 May.

We had a new garage built over the winter and now we can store all our bee supplies in there, instead of the cellar of the house, which is a huge improvement during inspections.

Let’s hope the rest of the spring and the coming summer will be kind to our bees. We’re looking for a new group of Syrian new arrivals as all our NewBees from last year have moved away from Stockholm. Watch this space!

To the rescue!

Top left: The main scene of the crime; frames exposed and scattered around.
Top right: One of the hard to reach boxes and frames.
Bottom left: Hive number one re-assembled; this one has a queen!
Bottom centre: Both hives re-assembled. Frames for which there was no room stacked to the side, under the red cloth.
Bottom right: Photo from February, showing the set-up then. The chair has gone missing.

29 March 2017

I’ve done some weird and wonderful things in my life, but putting together a vandalised beehive, well … that was a first!

Two days ago, I got a call from the local beekeeping association that someone had reported a vandalised hive near a small stream, close to where we live. Would I please go over and investigate?

I found the remains of what I initially thought was one hive, but when I looked around me and futher up the stream, there seemed to be too many frames for just one colony. I ran back to get booted and suited and started gathering all the pieces. Getting to the second hive – which had been dumped about 20 meters away – was pretty hard: the local beaver population has made a veritable obstacle course of this area. I also had to fish a lid and some frames from the water.

It looked as if some of the bees had died on the frame from the cold, so I guess they must have been exposed for at least one night if not more (we still get night frost around this time in Stockholm).

When I assembled all the pieces I found, it turned out there were in fact two hives. To my utter delight, I spotted a queen in one of the frames. It took a while to puzzle it all back together: the bees were of course very disturbed and not in the least bit grateful I was putting them back in their hives.

In order to find the owner, I posted some pictures on a local Facebook group. Someone who often walks along the stream sent me photo she had taken in February to show what the set-up was then. As I suspected, one of the hives had a second box but I could not find the pieces for it.

The beekeeping association has now found the owner, who will remove the hives to a safer place.

Whoever it was who vandalised these (perhaps thinking there would be honey in them, which there ain’t at this time of year), I hope they got a few stings in the process. What an utterly pointless thing to do.

Clearing out the nuc

Left: the nuc contains six frames. The colony has just about survived the winter (we spotted the queen)
Top right: A lot of liquid gathered in the small area to the left of the frames
Bottom right: Dead bees on the bottom – one disadvantage of the nuc is that you can’t remove dead bees during the winter, as we do with our other hives.

21 March 2017

Last weekend we moved a colony from a mucky looking nuc to a normal box with LN frames. We ‘borrowed’ some honey from the hives in the front garden, and also gave it some extra sugar water. Time will tell if this colony survives, there were very few bees left and some of the frames were mouldy. Fingers crossed! I don’t think nuc boxes are ideal for overwintering.

I also did a varroa check:

A-hive = 13 (we will treat this with Apiguard as soon as the weather is above 15°C)
B-hive = 5
C-hive = 0
D-hive = 3
E-hive = 3

Alive and kicking!

15 March 2017

Today, we got donned our suits for the first time this year and even though the temperature was just 10°C, we opened up all the hives to check if they had enough food and were alive. For the D and E wooden hives, it was also the first time we could clear the bees that died during the winter when the colony naturally decreases in size from 80 000 to about 20 000.

We were delighted to see all seven colonies showed signs of life. The five in the front garden were all basking in the sun and looked really healthy. The nuc at the back needs to be shifted to a normal LN box and could do with some extra food. The nuc has lots of bees gathered at the bottom and the small openings are smeared with poo, so we’re not 100% it will survive but we’ll give it a try. The F hive looked short on food too, so put a feeder tray on today with 2 kgs of sugar water to boost their supplies and gave them a frame with honey from one of the hives in the front.

All in all, a great relief to find life in all hives. All we need to do now is to make sure they survive on their honey supplies until there is pollen and nectar to gather. The only thing flowering right now is the yellow winter aconite.