Simon's beekeeping blog

In June 2017, my friend Rick invited me to go and visit him in Yorkshire to attend an intensive introductory weekend course at Leeds Beekeepers' Association. The next summer, when I had moved to London, I started going along to the nearby Walworth Garden apiary after another course there to learn and volunteer. In those six months, I learned a lot from the apiary manager Tristram Sutton and the other volunteers.

When I moved back to Somerset in January 2019, I became interested in keeping my own bees. I joined the local beekeepers' association and have been going along to their meetings. My nephew B, as well my friend Dave (pictured left) and D, his daughter, are all joining in too. Here I try to document in the form of a blog with photos how we're getting on with setting up our nascent apiary, with the successes and the mistakes. This blog is mainly a learning exercise for me as a beginner beekeeper so comments, corrections and opinions from anyone out there reading this are always welcome.


The most recent updates follow in reverse chronological order. Older updates are archived for the year 2019. Comments are welcome via email.

With the abundance of updates about feeding getting a bit samey, I've adopted a bit of a newsroom slant for September.

With this in mind, there's another bit of news that I'm over a week late in reporting. That is, Germany is to ban glyphosate weedkiller by 2023, when the EU's approval period for it expires. A first phase will ban its use in parks and private gardens from next year. This follows a petition in Bavaria urging for the promotion of species diversity, which ten percent of the state's voters signed, prompting the local government to pass the law without the referendum it demanded. It's not just Germany banning it either — individual use is, or will be, prohibited in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and elsewhere.

Glyphosate is the main ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. It is the world's most used agricultural chemical, so the change is going to be unpopular among farmers, even if bees' pollination is vital to three-quarters of food crops. Glyphosate was thought to be less harmful to bees than the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides since they target an enzyme only found in plants and bacteria. However, recent research suggests that glyphosate harms larval growth, impedes navigation and perturbs the bees' gut microbiota, since most bees' guts have the enzyme that glyphosate targets.

On a much more local level, I can report that given all these discoveries and what appears to be a growing fondness for the bees, my dad has decided to forgo the use of Roundup on the big area adjacent to the apiary, instead using the old-fashioned spade and less old-fashioned mower.

And about the feeding, this was the first day that I noticed any syrup left in the feeder. In forty hours only a litre of syrup had been taken, leaving about 300ml, suggesting that topping them up every other day is about right.

Feed givenWeather
C11.3l 2:119°C ☁

We met this visitor to our apiary this morning calmly sitting on the gate. It looked bigger than the honey bees, and, not knowing much about insects, I thought it might be a hornet. Checking a few pictures, I was unsure whether it was an Asian or boring old European hornet. I would have been wrong in both cases. Consulting a friendly expert — probably needlessly — I'm told the visitor was a hoverfly, 'many of which are extremely good wasp and bee mimics'.

Specifically, this looks like a Hornet (mimic) hoverfly (Volucella zonaria), which resemble worker hornets. But, being flies, they only have one pair of wings (hornets and wasps have two pairs). They also have more yellow stripes, rather than one fine yellow band, and much darker legs than the Asian hornet, which is also called the yellow-legged hornet, arguably a more useful name for those, like me, who don't know a hornet from a fly.

On the walk back from the apiary, I realised that I'm a day late in reporting, gentle reader (no, I only have one reader), that it's Asian Hornet Week. This non-native species is bad news not only for bees, but for other pollinators, and the BBKA are keen that everyone keeps an eye out for it, even suggesting that we put aside an hour each day to watch for hornets going for nectar. This is particularly important because not only was there a sighting near Tamworth, about 200km from us, on the second of September, but also one yesterday in Ashford, about 300km. There may have been more by the time you read this. DEFRA and the Animal and Plant Health Agency maintain an page of UK sightings which will provide rolling updates on the situation.

There's a push on to stop the Asian hornet establishing itself in the UK, and people are being encouraged to learn what they look like and report sightings. BeeBase has a page on the Asian hornet with details of its biology and useful documents to help identify them — an identification sheet (in English or Welsh), poster (in English or Welsh) and postcard (in English or Welsh). The Asian hornet is now widespread in France and the National Inventory of Natural Heritage of the French National Museum of Natural History have produced an informative factsheet explaining the difference between similar insects.

If you see an Asian hornet, you should report them via email to the Non-native Species Secretariat on alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk, or via apps for iPhone or Android, or by filling out the online report form. Nests should be left well alone.

Beekeepers — with the requisite protective equipment such as a bee suit — who see Asian hornets can assist by attempting to collect a sample with a net, tennis racket or fly swatter. The less intrepid can also try to take a photograph. As well as this, beekeepers are encouraged to set out monitoring traps in their apiaries using the provided instructions and a YouTube video, and then update the National Bee Unit records via BeeBase to record that they've been set. The traps are made out of a two-litre pop bottle, some garden wire, some epoxy-coated floor mesh, some black plastic sheeting, and a bit of cardboard. It sounds like a good weekend project for us all if we can get together in the next few days to do it. It's simpler than one Tegwyn Twmffat's solution — a laser-equipped sentry gun controlled by a neural network.

Otherwise, another splendid sunset providing the backdrop to another visit to top up the empty feeder. The only unusual thing I saw was a cluster of woodlice in the roof. I'll have to check the whole hive for more during this weekend's inspection.

Feed givenWeather
C11.3l 2:117°C ☀ windy

It's beginning to get autumnal now, with a distinct bite in the air. Conditions were very pleasant for a meeting of all four of us — me, Dave, D and B — in a new, more relaxed and tranquil inspection approach. It really is a pleasantly unique way to spend an hour outdoors, and I always come back in a more contented frame of mind.

Anyway, avid readers of this blog will recall that just over a week ago the comb in Colony One was covered in queen cells, later understood to be emergency cells. Well, perhaps now the emergency is over, because all but one of the cells was as though it was never there, and that cell has been vacated. There's no sign of any queen as far as I could tell, but Dave told me that until she's mated she only appears marginally, perhaps unnoticably, longer than any other bees. For this and other reasons, she's harder to spot, and might be hanging out by the wall or corner of the hive. I think I saw a larger bee on the fourth frame of four and a half, so there's hope. What I don't remember seeing are were the big eyes and cigar-shaped bodies of any drones, even though there's been no queen and plenty of food so far. I wonder if they've been evicted already. I suppose it's not in the hive we need the drones, but some other colony which hasn't yet evicted them.

What we saw a lot of was stores. All that syrup we've been putting 'upstairs' has ended up where the brood cells used to be a few weeks ago when the queen was around. Old comb is now filled with shimmering nectar ready for winter, but not an egg, nor larva, nor capped pupa in sight. What this means if and when the new queen takes charge is anyone's guess, but there are six or so frames unused which could be used. I wonder — if the virgin queen mated and established new, late brood in the first couple of unused frames and stores in the rest then there would be an eleven-frame winter-ready colony. As ever, we'll have to watch and learn.

B got really stuck into the inspection process today, operating the smoker, filling the feeder, looking at the central frame, taking photos and filling out the checklist. He remarked on the propolis, on the honey capping, and the reticules. He was calm in spite of how bad-tempered the bees seemed to be today — he didn't flinch and was unbothered about being stung. I suppose the colony have been through a lot, so perhaps there's good reasons for them to be grumpy. There was still little sign of Varroa, so we held off on applying Apiguard for another week.

In Dave and D's hive everything looked great. Lots of brood, lots of storage, a docile colony, and a sighting of the queen. Check back here in a couple of days for a photo.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBroodframefuls of stores# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C1✘ unsure14L61.3l 2:1018°C ☀

Another evening visit to feed the bees with B and C, another empty feeder. B carefully tipped in the syrup and we spent five minutes before going looking at the pollen on the bees' corbiculae. The bees are going bananas for the syrup, and we're wondering whether to go every day for a bit to take advantage of that.

Talking of bananas, Julian forwarded a link to me which explains why bees hate bananas.

Feed givenWeather
C11.3l 2:118°C ☀ windy

Some more 2:1 syrup for the bees. The feeder was again empty, so it looks like we're going to feed them every other day at least. B poured the syrup in very carefully so as not to drown the bees that happened to be in the cup, with his sister C looking on. We had to go late in the day, but there was a great sunset.

Feed givenWeather
C11.3l 2:117°C ☁ windy

I went to the hive this evening to top up the feeder, and it was bone dry. I'd made up just over a litre of 2:1 syrup for them. As I poured it slowly into the feeder, twenty or so bees suddenly appeared in the cup to eat more. They're hungry.

In more dramatic news, two experienced beekeepers have told me that the cells in Friday's inspection that appeared to be half in a brood cell and half hanging off at almost right angles are in fact emergency queen cells. These are produced when some catastrophe has befallen the queen and the workers make a new queen from an existing brood cell. I haven't yet decided what, if anything, I'll do about this. There are several options, but I'll write more about all this in a few days.

Feed givenWeather
C11.3l 2:117°C ☁

The local beekeepers' association runs a practical course, and today's session was on honey extraction. There was an extractor and strainer set up and we practiced uncapping frames of honey with the tool, and knives (heated and unheated). The smell and the general gooiness of the honey was great. It was surprising how much honey came out of a dozen frames.

We also got to try some unusual honey that Thomas had with him. It was about twenty-five years old, very dark, resembled treacle or molasses and had an intense and delicious flavour. The bees that produced it fed mostly on lime trees. They are extremely fond of the nectar and pollen from lime flowers, but also collect the honeydew secreted onto the leaves by aphids. The resulting honeydew honey is something pretty special. This isn't unique to the lime tree — many trees host honeydew-producing insects. Even the cosmic ash tree Yggdrasil is mentioned in Norse mythology, described as having honeydew falling from its leaves for bees to nourish themselves on.

Thanks to Richard, we also got to see the photos of the sofa in the barn that Dave and D's bees occupied when he collected them with Thomas in July — one of them is attached to this entry.

The colony was fairly active today — lots of bees at the entrance and clusters of bees hanging off the frames and transferring food to each other. The inspection confirmed a lot of what we saw last week. The queen has gone, and the supersedure cells have increased in both size and number, doubling to twenty since last week. Small clusters of supersedure cells appeared in the middle of nearly all of the frames, nearly all closed, but a couple open with visible larvae inside. The brood was pretty much all capped and mostly worker brood, maybe 1.5 framefuls in total, in a healthy-looking pattern. However, there's no eggs or larvae in there, so the colony hasn't seen a queen for ten or so days.

The amount of stores hasn't increased much, maybe two framefuls, though there's a little more pollen. I'm trying out feeding with sugar syrup for now, so they got 500g sugar in 500ml water in a rapid feeder — remember to make sure the lid is secure if you use one.

A couple of day ago I stopped at the apiary and had a quick look at the bottom board. There was a moth, but not a wax moth as far as I can tell. There was also a single 5cm long string of faeces, but we couldn't find any signs of pests in the hive.

Despite being active, my bees were fairly docile today, buzzing only a little after being given a few hard downward shakes. They've become necessary now to be able to see any of the comb for all the bees in residence at 9am. Perhaps we should inspect later in the day instead. Dave and D's bees were very relaxed as they worked away, building up stores for winter. It was the model of a chilled-out inspection, and we saw the queen on the central frame too. I hope I'll get to spot a new queen too in my hive next week.

(Thanks to D for the photo!)

Queen seen?Queen cellsBroodframefuls of stores# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C120✔ 0e2l81l 1:1018°C ☁

Every inspection seems to be a case of expecting one thing and getting something completely different. I usually spend a couple of minutes looking at my notes from the previous week to put the next inspection into context and something completely new jumps out at me and makes them irrelevant.

Today I was unable to see the queen again, despite seeing retinue-like clusters of bees and a lot of both worker and drone brood and week-old grubs on the comb. We couldn't see many eggs — between the drone brood and the stores, it's hard to imagine where they would be laid.

The crazy thing was that we counted maybe ten supersedure cells, of which at least seven were fully-formed and dangling off the comb. My limited reading around the topic suggests that this many are likely to include swarm cells, even though the ones we saw were in two or three clusters on the face of the comb, and not at its edge. Other writers suggest there's less cause for alarm, that the presence of ten cells is an insurance policy, and sometimes that a supersedure cell or two is good fortune. We removed one at the edge of the comb and there was a developed larvae in there. We left the others, as I understand you should, and all I can hope for now is a new queen will emerge.

There's now the possibility that the colony will swarm — given the number of bees I don't think this has already happened. The advice seems to be to either do an artificial swarm or to destroy all but a couple of queen cups, the ones that we perceive to be the strongest. Perhaps I should have destroyed the unfinished cups in any case. For either remedy it feels like time isn't on my side, but I will do some reading and head down there on Monday if it looks like I it's sensible to do anything. In any case, I'll take Dave's lead in starting to feed them now. Swarming usually happens when there's insufficient room in the hive, and Dave suggested shifting the frames around to give them more room — there are six completely unused frames at the southern end of the brood box.

On the other hand, as several wise beekeepers have told me, if they are going to swarm, they will swarm. I suppose there's something to be said for letting nature do its thing, especially at this late stage. The bees are better at managing their colony than me, I'm sure, and despite how I call them 'our bees', we don't own them.

Other than this, we have a fairly docile, healthy colony over the same 4½ frames. There are about two framefuls of stores, a strong ring of muddy yellow pollen surrounding a core of biscuity brood.

Great news from Dave's colony! We saw the queen today, and although we couldn't see many eggs, we could see larvae and pupae from about 7 days at all stages, including hatching. Things are looking good there, not a sign of a queen cell, and Dave seemed visibly relieved. He took us out for lunch after the inspection and we had a nice wander around Burnham.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBroodframefuls of stores# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C110✔ 0e2l90022°C ☀

I was at the apiary today with a couple of hours without anything to do so I sharpened an old pair of shears and tidied up the grass, something we'd both been meaning to do for a little while. I didn't have my bee suit so I just kept back from the bees, and all went well. We'd noticed earlier in the day that the bees were bringing back a lot of either dark grey or bright orange pollen. I thought it would be nice to get a photo, but one of the guard bees had clearly had enough of all this nonsense and gave me a sting on my upper cheek. This is my first sting as a beekeeper and I thoroughly deserved it. And all this after suggesting to Dave not to use a strimmer near the hives in case the vibrations disturb the bees and make them want to attack.

I deserved this partly because I spent longer around them than I needed to, but mostly because I wasn't wearing a veil. If attacked or seriously disturbed, bees will go for sensitive areas around the head of their attackers, guided in part by their exhaled carbon dioxide. When a bee stings anything larger than an insect, her stinger — drones don't have stingers — is drawn into the victim by two barbed slides either side of a stylus. As one barbed slide catches and retracts, the stylus and the other barbed slide is pulled into the wound. This process tears the stinger from the bee's body and kills her. Her last moments are spent flying around the head of the victim, distracting them, as though to sting again. It's pretty convincing.

What remains in the wound is a venom sac on the end of a long stinger. Once these are inside the victim it pumps out more melittin-rich apitoxin as well as releasing alarm pheromones signalling to the other bees to attack. Weirdly, in Africanised honey bees, which are much more defensive than our European bees, chasing people up to 400m and killing horses, these pheromones smell like bananas. The pheromone is hard to get off the attacker, and won't wash off easily.

As for the stinger, it's generally recommended to scrape it out of the wound, with a knife or credit card, for example, or even a fingernail if nothing else is available. However, a study in The Lancet suggested that the amount of venom delivered is the same whether the sting is scraped or pinched if done within two seconds, and the main thing is to just get it out quickly. My dad scraped with surgical precision with a Stanley knife he had to hand and as a result there's barely any reaction now. So, no real pain and no harm done, apart from to the bee, regrettably...

It could have been much worse than one sting to the face, of course, but it's enough for me to learn my lesson to wear at least a veil and not to take our bees' docile nature for granted.

Dave and I spent an hour inspecting this morning. It is idyllic — just us and the bees, the sun in the sky, the smoke wafting out of the smoker, with horses walking by, interrupted only by the occasional falconry drone. It's very easy to get in the zone when inspecting, kind of a mixture of being relaxed and also very focussed on the comb.

So, the status report from Colony One, still operating on 4½ frames with lots of tidy comb. My focus this time was on checking on the forming queen cells I'd seen, and wondering if my colony were going to get a new queen. The raised cell that we thought was a supersedure cell is no longer there. Maybe it was the beginnings of a queen cup that was later abandoned. It couldn't have held any egg at that point, anyway. There were no signs of chalk brook or bald brood this time. The varroa seems to be low in this colony too. The bees look healthy and were pretty relaxed (until we shook them off the frames).

There is brood of both types, flat worker and raised drone, and big plump white pupae all over the place, in the familiar pattern, nicely tight and compact. I did see some eggs, but not as many as I'd like. Over in Dave's colony, we tried hard for several minutes to find either the queen or some eggs, but to no avail. In both cases, and especially in Dave's, the central brood area is jam-packed with capped brood and grubs over maybe two or three frames in each case, and perhaps there's simply no room for the new eggs. Definitely something to look for in the next inspection, and ask some more experience beekeepers about.

We were both concerned about the lack of eggs and having not seen a queen. The other concern was the quantity of winter stores. Dave remarked at how from the weight of the frame, the quantity of stores and perhaps the general population felt as though it had reduced since the last inspection. When he'd lifted them out, we didn't see more than perhaps a frameful, along with a general reduction in the amount of comb being built. Dave had brought along some Candipolline Gold and left 500g of it to help with the stores. My bees have a bit more but I think I'll be starting feeding earlier and throughout September, just as Thomas had advised.

I continue to love looking at pollen. The bee bread in my colony is a dull grey but in Dave's there's some beautifully bright orange stuff in the familiar rings around the brood, as well as on the bees' corbiculae (pollen baskets). Apparently some people cook with bee bread. Anyway, we also saw a couple of times bees with their proboscises together, transferring food to each other (trophallaxis).

We both said we need to get better at finding the queen, though I suspect we see her retinue often and don't think to look for the queen among them. Maybe there's an online practice site we can visit or even create — I've found an online photo album and even a book so far. Maybe we should just mark her the next time we see her, but since she's from a swarm, I wonder which year's colour she'd need to be marked with.

I've realised that I need to make a couple of changes with my record-keeping, specifically recording the number of frames on which I saw brood and recording stores by summing up both the total stores on all frames. The fact that I've seen 4½ frames all along on which there were some stores, is useless in situations like today when I want to know whether the total quantity of stores is going up or down. So from now on, I'll report the sum of the stores, and use the letter 's' to mean the number of frames used solely for stores, for example in a super.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBroodframefuls of stores# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C10✔ 20e2l80019°C ☀

Today's inspection was rained off, but we still went to take a look. Instead of opening up the hives, D and I had a look at the bottom boards while Dave cut back the long grass and brambles around the apiary, giving us much more room. We talked about how my hive is low to the ground, and how to avoid damp over the winter. Dave suggested using paving slabs in the short term, and for the longer term he offered to make another double stand on which my hive could sit. You can see the difference between the stands in the post about the trail camera. We must all have felt as though beekeeping is something we'd like to keep doing for some time, because with the talk of this new stand came talk of a possible expansion to four colonies next year.

Anyway, it looks like tomorrow will be sunny, so we're going to do the inspection then.

Local beekeepers' association meetings can be an essential source of advice, being full of very experienced beekeepeers. I went to yesterday's apiary meeting of Burnham Beekeepers with a bunch of questions, mostly from Thursday's inspection.

Firstly, some cool backstory about the second colony. They were found in an old sofa, covered in wax, on a farm near Berrow. Thomas said they refused to go in the hive at first for an hour but the next day they'd set up home. The second colony were the last swarm he collected of the season, so we have been very lucky.

On the other hand, after talking about some of the things we'd seen, it became clear that we're dealing with two possibly weak and definitely small colonies. They are going to need special care if we're going to have them around in the spring. This means doing a few things. Firstly, as the foraging sources deplete from September onwards — or maybe earlier depending on the weather — they'll need to start being fed more sugar syrup. Not just every week, but checks every other day to make sure they are topped up. Without enough food they would begin to go robbing other hives. The availability or otherwise of winter stores is the colonies' biggest threat at the moment. Secondly, we may need to be more assertive with Varroa management, even if we don't see much evidence of it. An icing sugar shaker isn't going to cut it, and some people said that method can damage grubs. A dose of Apiguard in September was recommended, irrespective of the low varroa levels now, with a midwinter oxalic acid treatment. I've done this before during my time at Walworth Garden, where we treated with sublimation. Some people consider sublimation a more effective method, and you don't need to open up the hive and disturb the bees in the middle of December. Treatments are usually done in winter so that they don't affect the honey taken the next year, but we have the particularly important need to keep our colonies as strong as possible. Finally, over winter, it's said that not the cold that kills bees, it's the damp, and we'll just need to keep an eye on that, not that I think we have a big issue with that at the moment.

What about the things we saw on Thursday? The few cells of chalkbrood is likely a sign of stress rather than damp, and doesn't demand much action. The raised, cratered cell is likely to be drone brood hatching in its own time. My pessimistic diagnosis of bald brood turned out to be wrong — it's just be new bees hatching and nature doing its thing. Most interesting of all, the extruded cell in the centre of the central frame is indeed likely to be a supersedure cell, and there may be more. It seems that the queen is about to be replaced, drone brood is around to help with that, and we can only hope the attempt is successful.

All this useful advice and the lines of questioning that led to it goes to show something about experience in general — that people who really know their stuff work not by ticking off a checklist, but by being able to tell when something is different or unusual. At the moment our inspections feel a bit overwhelming to do within the ten minutes the bees give us, as we try to remember all there is to do. Hopefully as we get into beekeeping, we'll be able to just scan the frames, see what's out of place, and gain a deeper understanding of the colony. It's been fun so far.

D and Dave have a cool camouflaged motion-activated trail camera that they use to capture photos and video of wildlife. They set the camera up for a week or two and if it sees any motion, it records images or video onto a micro SD card, using night vision if it's dark. The results are usually pretty good. We've seen plenty of deer, foxes and rabbits, for example.

Here we can see a nice view of our two hives in the rather long grass, taken on Tuesday morning at half-past seven. Two birds are perched on the gate and another one is just coming in to join them. Of course, there's not a bee to be seen.

We're now into August, and we're over most of the swarming season and into the time of year when most beekeepers begin to think about harvesting honey. For those of us looking after new colonies, we're thinking of the sufficiency of food stores as the nectar supply dries up and pest control such Varroa treatments. Although my colony has a few potential problems (see later), the drop on the bottom tray is low and the colony comes from a swarm, which is considered to be a lower risk for varroa. Originally the place was to treat them with a thymol-based treatment, but we've decided to hold off for a few weeks if things continue to look good, on the basis that it's best to leave them alone if we can get away with it. We can consider other options if things suddenly get bad later.

Welshie on IRC noted the burr comb on the bottom of the frame in the picture for the last entry, and advised removing it to stop the development of brace comb. Brace comb spans gaps to give rigidity, but makes inspection difficult and may end up containing valuable stuff like brood or honey. Given my bees' propensity to build irregular comb, I'm going to have to be more diligent in scraping it off with my hive tool than usual. Since last week, another two clumps of it had been built. Dave remove it and put it on top of the frames for the bees to recover the wax and any nectar from. You can also fix it inside an empty frame with rubber bands, or just take it away in a container with a lid, but don't just leave it behind, because that can attract predators.

Anyway, we had the third inspection today, with B and D both in attendance with plenty of enthusiasm. As ever, things looked good, but with a few surprises. And as ever, the list of things to look out for was longer than a reasonable time limit would allow, so we didn't much queen spotting, but instead looked more carefully at the comb. We saw the queen last week, and I could make out some eggs too, if in fewer numbers. Eggs are hard for me to make out on the comb on even a bright but cloudy day. Next time I'm going to bring my glasses and a head torch to see whether that makes it easier.

Now, those surprises. There were three. Firstly, there was the beginning of one extruded cell on the comb. Although it didn't appear to hang down, this could be the beginning of a single supersedure cell, signalling the colony's intention to replace the existing queen. As is often the case with beekeeping, the advice is to leave well alone and hope for a successful outcome. If it is a supersedure cell, we can hope the supersedure is successful and we end up with a new queen — one which can lay and has enough sperm not to just lay drones. Maybe, rather than my eyesight, the reason why I couldn't see many eggs was that the queen isn't up to the job. Secondly, possible signs of disease. I saw a couple of cells with dead white brood in them. This larval 'mummification' is a sign of chalkbrood, not usually a serious matter in a healthy colony but more of a potential problem in smaller, stressed colonies. Interestingly, the National Bee Unit advise that avoiding damp apiary sites will help to minimise chalkbrood, and we may well have an issue with that, as I've noted before. I might need to get my hive up on the higher and stronger stand that Dave made (incidentally, here's how to make one). Thirdly, about five or ten raised, cratered, open-topped cells could be seen, with possibly the two eyes of a bee ready to emerge within. It reminded me of the cell shape in the signs of bald brood, but there's no white larvae inside, and no lines of cells or clumping from the underlying tunnelling wax moth larvae. However, bald brood is the premature uncapping of pupae. Sometimes that's genetic and re-queening usually solves it. So, again, I'm not worried very much, particularly as it's only a few cells. Maybe they are just fully-matured but dead, or maybe the bee is waiting for some reason before emerging. I'll ask at the next local association apiary meeting in a couple of days.

Otherwise, I'm generally happy — a recognisably good brood pattern on the same 4½ (northmost) frames if a little holey, a nice circle of dusty grey-brown pollen had grown since last time, lots of winter stores building up, lots of nice larvae and capped brood in the cells and a nice docile colony. Dave and D's colony looked great, building out the comb, no queen seen but laying abundantly and generally looking active and happy. Afterwards, we went home, talked about what we'd seen, and played Tantrix and chess mini-games.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBrood# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C10✔ 50e✔ CB? BB?l90022°C ☁

A seventeenth-century saying goes "a swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly."

Well, you could have fooled us. Today's inspection, at half past eight on a nice sunny morning, was the first time I'd inspected hives with Dave. We're pretty happy with what we saw. The queen was seen on both of the colonies, as well as lots of honey stores being built up, and no obvious signs of pests or disease. Dave and D's colony has all the signs of a good start — eggs, stores and a bit of pollen. There are more bees in this newer colony and Dave remarked that the frames felt heavy.

Seeing the (unmarked) queen on the colony I'm looking after is a relief, though last week I saw a hundred or so eggs so I wasn't too concerned. Since then those eggs have developed, and there is now a lot of biscuity capped brood, surrounded by pollen, surrounded by a lot of pale honey stores in the familiar pattern. I could also see quite a few larvae developing.

Last week I noticed that the bees had decided to build to one side of the hive. Dave's hive is the same configuration as mine — cold way — and his bees are starting from the north side of the hive too. The other weird thing last week was the irregular comb. They've built this out even further in the past week, almost appearing like it's a bit overloaded, appearing to bridge a little between frames occasionally. However, there's a good corridor of bee space between each, so I'm sure they know what they're doing. I noticed quite a lot of propolis too, and had to use the hive tool for the first time to crack apart sections of the hive. Another look at the bottom board, mostly covered in wax flakes and a few dead bees, doesn't suggest (yet) that there's a big Varroa problem in either colony.

D has a theory that her colony have more natural, wilder, foraging behaviour, having left their sugar syrup alone and seen feeding on the nearby hedgerows. We'd left a total of 1350ml of sugar syrup for mine, but the hivewarming present is over now and so I removed the feeder. Time will tell whether they go out foraging on the hedge, but the muddy yellow blackberry pollen here and there on the comb suggests they have been out a bit already.

After we'd put out the smoker and talked about all we'd seen, we all headed off to spend the day exploring the area around Wills Neck on the Quantocks, which reminded me why I love living in Somerset.

Queen seen?Queen cellsBrood# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C10l80019°C ☀

Older updates for July 2019 and before are archived. Indices are available for the year 2019.