Walking Bees!

  • by Thirteen Bees
  • 19 Apr, 2017

How to break a behaviour pattern...

During the last fortnight, when carrying out our hive inspections, we noticed that one of our colonies had a large propensity of drone brood and not much else. This usually means that instead of a queen laying the eggs, the majority of which would turn into flat sealed worker brood in an even pattern, there were laying worker bees in the colony. Worker bees are able to lay eggs as they are female and have ovaries, but as they cannot mate they can only produce drone bees, males, and therefore the colony is doomed. They lay in an inconsistent pattern, and the sealed brood looks  distorted as the cells expand to accommodate the drone larvae. We couldn't find the queen, or any flat sealed brood, so drew the conclusion that the colony was queenless.

The last time we had a queenless colony we were able to correct this by uniting them with another colony given to us by a Bee Club colleague, but this time round the 'proximity rule' means we are unable to unite our own colonies. This rule is about moving bees - you can move them three metres or three miles, either just next door to where they were or a long way away. Anything in between, e.g. 100 metres, and the bees will become disoriented and lose their way home. So, that option isn't open to us. The next way to requeen a colony is to persuade them to raise a queen from some donor eggs, and this is a tried and trusted method. The only issue we had was a bunch of laying worker bees who believed they were little princesses - why would they want to raise a queen when they were quite happy laying themselves, thank you very much?!

The harsh reality is that we had to remove the laying workers before putting in the frames of donor eggs, and so we spread a white sheet over a ramp in front of the hive then shook out all the bees onto this sheet. Bees will naturally walk upwards and towards the dark, so the majority of the bees set off up the sheet back into the hive, leaving the disoriented laying workers behind. It seemed cruel but...in the meantime we removed a couple of frames of unwanted drone brood and replaced them with donor frames from a thriving colony. Now is the waiting time - with a bit of luck the bees' behaviour pattern has been broken and they are back on track to raise a new queen from the eggs they've been given. In a couple of weeks we'll know if our therapy has worked!

13 Bees Blog

by Thirteen Bees 12 Nov, 2017
Please forgive the self-indulgent nature of our blog today as we're pretty pleased to have been picked out for France Magazine's feature on learning and experience holidays in France.  Read it here... 

It's great that experiences beyond the 'parachutes and bungee jumps' traditional things to do are being included and in particular that lots of the places featured are centered around the environment and de-stressing - key drivers for us, anyway.  For us, experiences and related breaks away are about creating amazing and unique memories so who fancies being surrounded by 50,000 bees and having their photo taken?

The feature got us to thinking about what our ideal experience breaks would be and we couldn't come up with a short list of less than about 20 so I think we'll need a time machine to make our bucket list... what about you?  What would be on your bucket list of experience breaks?  It's great there is so much choice beyond sitting on one's bum all day on a beach!

It's also great to see our good friends at Astrofarm included for their stargazing experiences which are amazing.  And to see our neighbour Fred front and centre in the headline photo... he knows which one he is underneath that suit :-)
by Thirteen Bees 09 Oct, 2017
We are often asked about stings - do we ever get stung and does it hurt? The simple answer is that if you keep bees you will get stung at some point, so yes, we get stung every now and again (usually I am stung when I am not actually working with the bees, I'm just doing something like hanging out the washing!) . Yes, it hurts, but not too much and not for very long. We wear tried-and-tested suits that keep out 99.9% of stings, so most of our stings are received when we're not wearing all the protective clothing. Given that we are often surrounded by up to 30,000 bees at any one time, one or two stings isn't too bad!
On the whole our bees are fairly docile and good-tempered, but every now and again they turn a little more defensive than usual. This can be if we are stealing their honey, or if the weather is turning stormy, or if they are just fed-up of being bothered by us once again....this is what happened with one of our colonies last week. They were especially grumpy and let us know that they weren't overjoyed to see us - the picture above shows just some of the stings that Kevin received on the edge of his veil. Thankfully none of them got through the mesh and he was fine, but it was definitely a case of 'suffering the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune' (apologies to William Shakespeare!).  Bees don't sting lightly - it's a big decision for them as they lose part of their abdomen when they sting, which means they die. It's always sad to see this many stings in our suits or gloves because it means that number of bees have died. With this colony we realised that they were not in the mood and so we beat a hasty retreat, thereby saving us and them!
by Thirteen Bees 09 Oct, 2017
Weather-wise it's been a tricky year for the bees, who have struggled to gather enough nectar to cap over as honey to see them through the winter. At the end of July things seemed to be going well with the super boxes filling up nicely. Then we had a cold spell and a lot of rain in August and the bees couldn't get out to forage. Of course the queens were still laying and so the colonies had lots of hungry new mouths to feed, which meant they turned to their stores. When we looked at the beginning of September almost all the nectar had gone, eaten by the hivebound bees! It was a bit disappointing for us as we were looking forward to a good harvest but, to be fair, the honey DID belong to the bees so it was theirs to eat...
We were joined by some keen new beekeepers and put them to work checking our colonies to ensure they are in a fit state to go into winter. The picture above shows a healthy frame full of bees, stores and brood, so all seems well in this particular hive. We carried out mite counts and decided to treat some of the colonies for varroa with Apiguard, trays of thymol which will kill a large proportion of the mites that are on the adult bees. Our apiaries now have a strong smell of thyme around them!
As we did take some honey from a couple of the hives, we also had to check that we'd left enough for them to eat over the next few months. Typically a colony needs around 20kg of stores to see it through the winter. Checking the frames we could see that a lot of them are full of honey and nectar, but a couple of the colonies were quite light when we hefted them, so we will need to feed them with sugar syrup in a round feeder. Hive hefting is just that - you lift the hive with one hand and if it feels nailed to the ground then they probably have enough food. Anything less than that then it's best to give them a top-up.
Our final checks are also to ascertain that each colony has a queen to see it through to the spring. We spotted queens and/or evidence of a queen (eggs!) in all but one of our hives, so we are going to check once more and if we can't find her we will have to unite the queenless colony with a queen right one close by. Hopefully we can do this soon to give the bees a chance of surviving.
by Thirteen Bees 07 Aug, 2017
We've joked about it, written about it and shared a few photos but here is a video of the bees actually doing it!  Marching themselves into a new home... and by the way, when will the bees start reading the same books as the rest of us?  Don't they know that the end of July is not the time they should be swarming?!? :-)

Click on the photo or the link to watch and enjoy - and do tell us what you think.
by Thirteen Bees 20 Jul, 2017
Our afternoon beekeeping taster sessions incorporate a short break for tea and cake, which seems to go down so well that I have decided to share the recipes here (I serve either the cake shown in the picture above, or small beehive cakes). The cake in the picture is a Honey Lemon Cake made in a Nordicware Honeycomb Pull Apart Cake Pan - yes, it's American...The tin can be bought on Amazon or from Lakeland, which seems to be cheaper than going to Nordicware direct - or you can just use a large cake tin of your own! The beehive tins are also from Nordicware, but you can use bun trays with silicone or paper cases.

Honey Lemon Pull Apart Cake
Ingredients:
375g self-raising flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
0.25 tsp salt
250g softened butter
300g caster sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
190g sour cream or natural yogurt

Glaze:
3 tbsp honey
50g icing sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

Method: Heat the oven to 175c, and grease and flour the cake tin. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl beat the sugar and butter together until blended then beat the eggs and add these, mix well. Add the flour mixture, sour cream/yogurt and lemon rind and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Meanwhile, make the glaze - combine all the ingredients in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves and the glaze is warm. Brush the cake with the honey glaze.


Honey Beehive Cakes
Ingredients
125g polenta or cornmeal (maize flour)
125g plain flour
0.5 tbsp baking powder
85g sugar
0.5 tsp salt
120g milk
2 small eggs
2 tbsp melted butter
25g honey

Glaze:
25g icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp honey

Method: Heat the oven to 180c. Grease and flour the beehive moulds or put paper/silicone cases in 12 bun tray.
In a medium bowl mix all the cake ingredients together. Pour the resulting batter into the moulds or cases and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool and turn out onto a plate. For the glaze, warm the ingredients together in a small pan until the sugar dissolves, then brush over the cakes.

Bon appetit!


by Thirteen Bees 13 Jul, 2017
After all the fun and games we've had this year with queenless colonies and trying to encourage our bees to raise new queens, imagine our surprise when we found a supersedure cell in one of our hives. This is a special cell containing the pupa of a new queen bee, and is different to when the bees make swarm cells. For one thing, it is usually found on the face of a frame rather than along the sides and bottom of the frame, and there is usually only one rather than lots.

Supersedure is when the colony makes the decision to replace its existing queen, and it raises a new one to take her place. The reason is usually because the bees have detected that the queen is getting too old, running out of viable eggs and/or sperm, or is weak in some way. Quite often scrub queens or emergency queens are replaced once they have done the job of getting the colony through whatever sticky situation they found themselves in. Some gratitude, eh?! The existing queen in this particular colony is quite small and so is probably an emergency queen. Little does she know that her work is almost done....

An existing old queen will quite often live alongside the new queen for a short while until she has mated and has started to lay.  As this supersedure cell is not yet sealed we have a few more days to wait until we meet the new queen, and it will be interesting to see what she's like. Watch this space!
by Thirteen Bees 03 Jun, 2017
It's been an exciting week as our new 'Frère Adam' queen bee was delivered in the post - the poor postie must have wondered what on earth was going on when the small cardboard box she put in our letter box started buzzing! We'd decided to buy a new fertilised queen to re-queen one of our hives rather than try to persuade the bees to raise a queen from donor brood, mainly because we want to change the temperament of this hive. It's become decidedly grumpy in recent weeks, so the best way of changing this is to introduce some new genetic characteristics. Frère Adam, or Brother Adam/Buckfast bees are supposedly calm and good-natured, so we're hoping our new queen will produce lots of new bees with a similar outlook on life.

We searched online for a French bee-rearing company, found one and then, in a typically French way, had to download a form and send it together with a cheque in the post....our queen then promptly turned up a few days later! She was in a small plastic cage, accompanied by a few worker bees who were taking care of her.  She's not very big, more orange than we expected, and marked with a yellow dot to indicate that she's a 2017 queen. She'll be easy to spot!

The cage had slots in it, and was plugged with a lump of candy. All the books we have say 'put the queen in the hive'...er, yes, but how? Good old YouTube....one suggestion was to put an elastic band around a frame and wedge the cage under it. It seemed to be the most workable solution, so that's what we decided to do. However, having searched high and low for a big-enough elastic band to no avail, we used some frame wire. We wrapped this around one of the frames in the hive, wiring the cage in next to some sealed brood, and gently lowered the frame back in. The theory is that the candy plug will be chewed through by the bees in the hive, eventually releasing the queen; during the time it takes to do this they will have tasted and smelled the queen and hopefully accepted her. If we just dropped a queen into the hive then the bees would kill her as an unknown intruder.

We will leave the hive alone for 48 hours, then remove the cage (provided they haven't already built wax around it or propolised it into place!), and will check in a few more days to see if the queen is alive. With a bit of luck we'll see some eggs and larvae and know that she has started work. Watch this space for an update...
by Thirteen Bees 27 May, 2017
What a busy month May has been! Even the weather hasn't rested on its laurels, keeping us guessing as to what mood it will be in each day, but after several days of cold drizzle, summer appears to have arrived with a bang. The bees haven't been idle either; they've not been making hay while the sun shines but instead have been out foraging for pollen to feed the thousands of new bees that are emerging in the hives.

The colour of pollen is purely down to the plant that provided it and recently we've seen cells full of bright orange pollen from dandelions. However, we had a bit of a surprise when we inspected our newest hive the other day; it's in a different part of the garden and clearly the bees have decided to ignore the hawthorn and gorse that the other colonies are currently visiting. The pollen being stored in this hive (see the picture above) is a strange purplish/dark-grey colour which sent us straight to the Pollen Identification cards (available from IBRA, the International Bee Research Association) where we were reliably informed it is probably  'phacelia'. This is none other than the wild tansy that we have growing in the meadow, so maybe the pollen is from there....or is it from the field beans being grown in the allotments on the other side of the river, which also provides grey/mauve pollen? We can only be sure by tagging our bees and we weren't that keen on getting that involved...! We're just happy that the baby bees will have something to eat this month.
by Thirteen Bees 19 Apr, 2017
During the last fortnight, when carrying out our hive inspections, we noticed that one of our colonies had a large propensity of drone brood and not much else. This usually means that instead of a queen laying the eggs, the majority of which would turn into flat sealed worker brood in an even pattern, there were laying worker bees in the colony. Worker bees are able to lay eggs as they are female and have ovaries, but as they cannot mate they can only produce drone bees, males, and therefore the colony is doomed. They lay in an inconsistent pattern, and the sealed brood looks  distorted as the cells expand to accommodate the drone larvae. We couldn't find the queen, or any flat sealed brood, so drew the conclusion that the colony was queenless.

The last time we had a queenless colony we were able to correct this by uniting them with another colony given to us by a Bee Club colleague, but this time round the 'proximity rule' means we are unable to unite our own colonies. This rule is about moving bees - you can move them three metres or three miles, either just next door to where they were or a long way away. Anything in between, e.g. 100 metres, and the bees will become disoriented and lose their way home. So, that option isn't open to us. The next way to requeen a colony is to persuade them to raise a queen from some donor eggs, and this is a tried and trusted method. The only issue we had was a bunch of laying worker bees who believed they were little princesses - why would they want to raise a queen when they were quite happy laying themselves, thank you very much?!

The harsh reality is that we had to remove the laying workers before putting in the frames of donor eggs, and so we spread a white sheet over a ramp in front of the hive then shook out all the bees onto this sheet. Bees will naturally walk upwards and towards the dark, so the majority of the bees set off up the sheet back into the hive, leaving the disoriented laying workers behind. It seemed cruel but...in the meantime we removed a couple of frames of unwanted drone brood and replaced them with donor frames from a thriving colony. Now is the waiting time - with a bit of luck the bees' behaviour pattern has been broken and they are back on track to raise a new queen from the eggs they've been given. In a couple of weeks we'll know if our therapy has worked!
by Thirteen Bees 05 Apr, 2017
Last week's sunshine and warm temperatures meant that we were busier than usual with our bees. The first inspections of the year revealed that one colony had not survived the winter; it was the weakest one, so it was sad but not a surprise to lose it. We cleaned the hive by blow-torching the wooden brood box, burning the frames and washing the plastic floor, and will filter the wax for candle-making later in the year.

The other colonies however are thriving, so much so that we took the decision to split one of them, moving the queen and three frames of brood, food and bees with her into another hive. Those left in the original hive had already started to make a new queen, evidenced by cells containing royal jelly.  We left them with one cell, breaking down the others, and will leave that colony alone for a couple of weeks to allow the virgin queen to emerge, mate and begin to lay.

We also decided to put out some bait boxes - small hives with just a few frames of foundation in them, liberally sprayed with 'bee charm', designed to attract any swarms that happen to be in the neighbourhood. Bait boxes are also a safety net of sorts - we may catch our own swarms if we've missed any queen cells in our hives! A friend from Bee Club, Tony Dixon, made us two superb bait boxes, which we then hoisted up into a couple of trees at the top of our garden. (When I say 'we' I mean Kevin aided by my dad, Alan, while I looked on and mum, Vera, took photos..!) We'll check these regularly and hopefully will add some more bees to our collection. Luckily the new hives we bought last week are now painted and ready to receive their first inhabitants.
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