As we have moved into a new year and 2016 has just started it’s a good time to reflect back on the past season and take a walk through the memories of each apiary.
With new hive stands constructed this apiary expanded from two to four hives although it actually had three full sized hives and a number of nucs moved in and out throughout the year. With the permission of Cultivate London whose site it belongs to I plan to create space for two extra hives or nucs that I can use for short term use.
The bees performed well again and produced a good crop of honey. They also provided my cell raising colony for my queen rearing as a convenient hive started to think about swarming and a good opportunity to have a queenless hive all ready and keen to build queen cells and as a result of the queen rearing this hive and the nuc I am overwintering both have queens from the successful queen rearing and very much looking forward to seeing how they and the other queens perform this coming season.
One problem was with the hive furthest in the photo became progressively aggressive during spring and early summer. The hive had superseded late the previous year and during build up of 2015 they became more difficult to deal with and once the decision to requeen was made they were becoming quite difficult. In the end I combined this colony with the swarm I collected in my bait hive after they proved healthy nice bees and once combined soon settled down to a nice gentle colony. I have a very low tolerance to aggressive behaviour in my bees following a bad experience in my 2nd year. Although I am now more experienced and confident around aggressive bees it’s no fun and would recommend any new beekeepers to seek advice if their bees start to get grumpy as things can go from bad to dangerous if not careful especially bad if innocent members of the public are close by.
This apiary started 2015 in a bad way with two winter losses and a DLQ but after moving a few hives around it was soon back up to full strength with five hives and went on to perform extremely well and had its best year out of the previouse five years. The only problem came from a very early supersedure that the queen became a victim of the poor May weather and disappeared and the bees turned to laying workers very fast but a strong nuc with good queen ready to move into a full hive was used to combine and the hive never looked back. The nectar just kept coming nice and steady at this apiary and along with no swarm intentions the result was some very strong hives and very good numbers regarding honey. This apiary also provided the queen that I grafted from for my queen rearing and a lovely queen she is and the bees are a dream to work with. This queen was a result of another supersedure towards the end of 2014 and unlike the queen from Brentford she is a lovely queen and if the queens she produces are half as good of her then I may consider using her again.
A mixed bag this year and these days not my best apiary despite it been my longest running site of ten years. It’s now shared with three other beekeepers and seems to add more complications, worry and questions than straightforward beekeeping. This was the site where I had my TBH and this season decided to convert it back into a national hive but not before missing an inspection and yes it swarmed and one of my best queens to. However it sorted itself out and produced a lovely queen and for the first time I named a queen, Dianna Dors, as she was so blond, obviously a few Italian drones in the area, although the swarm delayed my plans to convert it back into a national it is now happily in a national with only a couple of manipulations come the spring to finish the job. My other hive on site produced a couple of supers despite me removing the queen and a good few frames of bees to populate an observation hive in a local park. I am hoping that next year with two good established hives both with young queens the site will produce a good honey crop as I know from previous years with this site there is one out there.
Established midway through 2014 I finally moved two hives on site early 2015, a reasonably strong hive headed by a lovely expensive buckfast queen and a smaller building up colony with a local queen. The buckfast queen did what they generally do and produced a strong hive full of lovely bees and for the size of colony produced an impressive honey crop. When you see colonies perform this way it does make you think bought in queens from good breeders can be a good way to go but then is it a form of lazy beekeeping or good economic common sense? I guess the answer for me is, for the keen hobby beekeeper as I am you develop an interest to try and master the queen rearing techniques and hopefully produce excellent queens that rival or outperform the queens from breeders, but if your interest in beekeeping is more towards max honey yields then you are steered towards the £30-40 queens available. The other hive also performed well although showed signs of swarm preparations and I resolved this by simply removing the queen to a nuc and leaving a queen cell. This seemed to be the best solution as I was struggling for spare kit at the time and would have been fine but I missed a queen cell and a call came saying a swarm sitting in an apple tree. Woops but no harm done and the people concerned were more interested than alarmed and the large cast swarm safely collected.
The other hive on site, the one on the right, was a completely different story. This hive at the time belonged to my good beekeeping friend Emily as we share the site but both of us had no idea what was going on and in the end I think it went through about 4-5 queens with queens appearing and then disappearing and definitely lost count towards the end. Following weeks of trying to get to the bottom of what was going on we finally sorted it by combining one of my other colonies from another apiary and everything settled down. Emily gave me the colony towards the end of the year as she is taking a back seat on the beekeeping on this site and instead will be popping round from time to time to sit and watch the bees and look at the fabulous wild flowers we planted this year along with her soon to be newborn baby boy and wishing her and Drew all the best with the baby boy.
I have two hives in the shed along with two others managed by to other beekeepers. The two hives performed well although not without a bit of worry during the start of the year but picked up only to cause more worry towards the end of the year. The first hive closest to the door started the year in reasonable shape and steadily built up and performed as expected and produced a reasonable crop of honey although I was expecting a bit more from this hive given its strength. The 2nd hive however was slow to build up but once the warm weather picked up and May was out of the way it improved dramatically and soon started to fill supers and move into a 2nd brood box. But come the end of summer it started to reduce in size at a rate that made me concerned. As I had started to treat for varroa I suspected this but although the drop was reasonable it was not so great to be the cause. The hive continued to reduce in size and came to the conclusion it’s the queen so took the decision to remove her and combine with the other hive to form a strong hive and bring in another colony. Following the combining I tested for nosema as to see if this could be an issue with the sudden reduction and less than perfect performance of both hives and it tested positive although seemed to be reasonably low level. So back to my beekeeping shed and I mixed my thymol formula given to me by a very experienced beefarmer to treat for nosema that worked on a number of hives some years ago heavily infested with nosema. So over the next few weeks I was able to treat the bees a few times and time will tell if successful or not but it was possible to see an improvement in the bees towards the end of the treatments in their activity and the increasing amount of brood so I am reasonably confident but with fingers crossed all the same. Should I have tested before combining? perhaps but then both colonies did not seem right to me with one in not great shape and both could have also been infected.
My last mention of Kew Gardens and the two hives myself and two other beekeepers volunteered to look after. The reason for this is after two and a half years managing the bees I was simply finding it hard to find the time to inspect every week so after extracting this year’s honey crop from the bees and giving it to Kew I said sorry but I will have to stop volunteering. It’s a shame as it had its moments and the people you deal with are very nice but simply taking too much time for little reward. The bees will be fine as there are still two beekeepers still left to look after the bees.
New apiary in Perivale
Exciting times ahead a new apiary for 2016 and a shared site with another good beekeeping friend Elsa and Ealing member. Its another allotment site although this one requires a bit of work as it has been neglected, trust me there is an apiary in there but does needs a bit of imagination and it’s how it looked when we first took it over but will be fully up and running come the spring.
It comes with its own partly abandoned hive who the owner is contactable but somewhat distant at the same time and in time the hive will be sorted but for now has been removed off site. Allotment sites are becoming a bit of a thing with me as this will be my fourth. I think I work well on allotments because I have this low tolerance of slightly aggressive bees and handy with plenty of people on site, as a joiner and woodworker I can easily construct fencing, gates ect to screen the bees and make it safe for people to stand and watch the bees, I don’t like to overpopulate sites and allotments like low hive numbers also and most importantly I love allotments and I make sure all the immediate neighbouring plots, everyone who shows an interest or is inconvenienced in some way with bees, drinking from water butts or puddles ect gets a complimentary jar of honey from the bees. Actually I find most people on allotments are fascinated by the bees and enjoy it when you tell them just how special these small insects are as they all work together as a team.
Well that’s it and good memories with the ups and a few downs and just thoughts of what 2016 has in store for the bees and us beekeepers trying to keep up.
Wishing everyone a wonderful beekeeping 2016 season.