The Keeping it Simple Silly, beekeeping over view. Or KISS.
If you consider the bee colony as an entity, and you should, disturbing it for no good reason is a bad idea.
Now lets have a think about “no good reason”. It is all so very easy to justify to yourself, that “quick peep”and that is “canna do any harm” but it can and does. It disturbs and lets out heat so try and resist the temptation. Please.
Having spent many years now assisting novices their cry is constantly I want to see the queen but cannot find her: and it can become an obsession to see her.
THERE IS NO NEED TO SEE THE QUEEN. It is in fact quite possible to work a colony during swarming time and never find the queen. Which in turn really means all year. And further, successfully guide the colony in the direction you want to satisfy their urges, and your hopes for honey. Not bad for the cost of a spare brood box and queen excluder?
Why do people get so worked up about finding the queen? Partly of course its bragging rights. “Oh yes I see my queens every inspection.” Uh huh fibber. Mainly it’s reassurance that she is there. Well there are other ways of establishing that.
One is the knock method. A hard rap of the knuckles against the brood chamber and there will be a brief roar, which rapidly subsides to a muted hum. Most likely queen+. If the noise takes a time to subside say five minutes or so the most likely q-. Not happy with that?
Well before going further I am going to make you use your little grey cells. A memory test, or rather some information you need to have in your heads before working a colony. Without this information you are groping in the dark and worse still is guessing. Let’s leave that for the fools.
This is the table of development stripped to the basics.
Q… 3 days an egg, 5 a larvae, hatch at 16 days
W… 3 days an egg, 5 a larvae, hatch at 21 days
D…3 days an egg, 6 1/2 a larvae, hatch at 24 days
The above table is what you need to have in your memory bank. Forget messing with phones and gadgets during an inspection they are merely distractions. We are beekeeping here and need to keep a focus, or be in the zone mentally. When working bees I know nothing other than the bees, which for me is one of the benefits, nothing else exists at that time, just the colony open and the frame I am studying.
If you can see eggs you know you were at worst Q+ three days ago. Learn to see eggs by having the sun behind your shoulder as you look into the cells. *top tip*
However I am getting ahead of matters. Let’s start with Winter.
The target of every bee-keeper, large, huge or a small operation is to get the bees through winter. There are arguably two principle obstacles to achieving this. One is varroasis, the other is feeding.
Varroa needs controlling, and over all, the method used mostly in the UK is Integrated Pest Management. Open mesh floors are but one leg of that system.
By Autumn colonies should have had a Varroa treatment if mite numbers are larger than optimum figures.
Please read here: https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/index.cfm?pageid=167
and read the 11th one down, “Estimating Varroa Populations” so you know where you are.
Knowledge is power remember.
Using a suitable treatment, and I am not recommending anything in particular as things change so fast, and some have resistant bees and others do not, so… investigate via the on line forums or your local Assoc, and use something proven to be effective. If you want to go the natural route then this info is not for you sorry to say.
What has to be remembered about Autumn treatments is they, to be successful, have somehow to reach the mites under the brood capping’s and this is not so easy.
Which is why I suggest you treat again in mid winter with oxalic Acid. See the appropriate page on the site for more information.
So we have dealt with Varroa, and the next issue is feeding the bees.
In autumn one can feed with syrup made up from bought sugar or increasing in popularity is one of the proprietary syrups made with inverted sugars. If you can get it at a sensible price then that is my preference as if spilt it seems not to excite robbing. And robbing is an ever present risk at feeding time. Or… you can feed fondant which is nice and easy to do. I source mine via a local Baker.
I have views on some feeders from bitter experience so why go through traumas that are avoidable?
In my thoughts crown boards are there to seal the top box in use, and to hold the record card. Or in other words they are not perforated for feed holes or clearer units, they are purely crown boards. We will reach the other parts in time nivir fear….:)
If you think about the hole in a perforated CB it’s not very big is it? Now if you put on a proper feeder, which is to say one that covers the whole of the hive it will offer considerably more access space for the bees, which in turn means the colony can shift a lot more, faster. Just as a heads up a decent colony with plenty of space can move four gallons of 2:1 syrup in under 24 hours. And yes I am serious. They cannot do that with a toy feeder on top of a CB which only holds 2 pints. There is feeding and playing.
The other issue with feeding is that its best to have a couple of empty combs for the bees to use as clustering room. These can be added after feeding is finished or by feeding heavily with a dummy frame at one or both ends to take up the two comb space, then add them into the middle for the bees to utilise. Or use frame feeders, two of one at each side of the brood box and take them out to create the space for the empty combs.
In January treat with Oxalic acid which is a very easy matter to do, and I then add a good chunk of fondant as my hives are on single broods for wintering, and by good I mean 3-4 kgs not a couple of ounces, again I am not playing at it, I am insuring success, hopefully.
And suddenly the winds soften the buds appear and the beeperson begins to dream of full supers again. It’s near Spring.
I take a bucket with me and remove the surplus fondant and the feeders and supers that have been used to hold it. They are now surplus and return to storage. I then turn the left over fondant into syrup for Spring feeding: one pound to a pint.
I keep my combs in the greenhouse over winter so the frost can get at them and any nasties get very cold indeed, and its a cheap way of “fumigating”
In Spring I worked the brood boxes, and there will be a video on the site by June 2013 covering how to do this.
For the active season it is necessary to have extra kit. A minimum of three supers per colony. A spare brood box per colony, and two excluders per colony. If you have never met sods law in full swing without this kit I can categorically assure you that you will. Some extra floors and roofs come in handy too. As sure as eggs that lovely swarm call will come and you have nothing to put it in…. top tip
Why three supers? Well if two are full and you are clearing them off then the bees have to go somewhere aye? So you need one on the hive and two in the “honey house” until they are extracted. Nothing really pushes bees into swarming mode faster than not enough room and many many many a beekeeper has been caught out with a super shortage, and the consequent surge of swarming. I hate the unplanned. It is so much easier to keep control.
Talking of supering I super on 8 frames of brood as a rule of thumb. I am discussing both Langstroth and National frames here by the way, and over the years that has proven to be an accurate indicator. Please note frames of brood NOT frames covered by bees as at night that “full brood box with bees everywhere” looks very different. I assure you.
When I get the brood boxes up to ten frames of brood I add a 2nd brood box under the first one and leave the queen to use it as she can, usually getting to some 18 or 19 frames of brood, and next season if the weather is better I am gong to try a third and see just what one can manage for me.
Inevitable I will find some queen cells and it’s suddenly that time again…. SWARMING!!!!!!!!
Yawn. I find it very boring to deal with so here is the simple way to do it.
The first thing is where is the queen. If you can find her well and good but if not dinna panic there is actually no need to.
Remove the supers. If you are working a double brood then put the supers over an excluder back on the bottom brood and put the other brood on top of a 2nd excluder over the supers. In a few days time if there are eggs below and none above then guess where your queen is?
If working a single brood box then split the brood and organise as above.
Now you know where your queen is.
What I do is to take off three or four nucs form each swarmy colony but give them cells from a non swarmy strain. There is no need or sense in my book to propagate swarmy bees.
So how to proceed? I remove the brood box with the queen, and ensuring she has plenty of space to lay move her to another site in the apiary to allow the bees to fly back to the parent stock.
The stock with cells, I remove all the sealed cells and leave one, note one, OPEN cell to slow them down a few days, and allow the swarming fever to diminish. They will feed that cell very well, and I mark the frame with a drawing pin, and in a few days again I go through them to make sure there is not a missed cell, and that they do just have the one. Always check down the sides of the side bars as they all seem to know how to tuck a cell away in there.
By the time the virgin flies and mates, the colony will be reducing in numbers so when she is mated and laying, which may take as long as a month, you may want to consider uniting the two units together again to be strong enough to take advantage of the later summer flows and or the heather.
There are numerous variations you can play with. You could take out the old queen and keep her as a spare nuc to take through winter to be an insurance for a Drone layer in spring for instance, or just as a spare colony.
It is a good policy when one stock shows signs of swarming to then treat the whole apiary the same. Provided of course you have enough equipment. But you will of course as you paid attention….
There after it’s a matter of keeping an eye on things, and getting ready for winter again.
Beekeeping is not difficult, it is certainly fascinating, and if you have the basic knowledge in your head then getting flummoxed in the field is unlikely. If you are a bit lost close up and consult on a good forum, you will get answers probalby pretty quickly but learn to judge the quality of the respondents, some know, some just think they do. 😉