A call from the apiary

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


This morning Dave and Ⓓ went to the apiary to check on the bees, on a rare sunny morning. Sadly I was unable to go, but they rang me on the drive back to give me an update from my colony.

The biggest observation is that my bees are not that keen on Fondabee — at least, not the way I've presented it to them. They haven't even touched it. The bees have about five frames of stores, but I'd rather they at least partly relied on the fondant, since it's going to be a long winter.

The setup us perhaps not ideal. The bees are hunkered down in the middle of the hive. An eke is sitting on the top of the brood box, with a crown board on that, and then a super containing the fondant. I could change the feed, but I think this week I'll try to change the way its given to them first. There are two options. Either I can lay the Fondabee upside-down over the crown board hole or I can cut one side of the pack open and lay them directly on the frames. On inspections we've done, Fondabee is quite gloopy, and so the worries I have of it just melting and running down the frames are probably not so much of a big deal. Also, the bees are getting stuck in it in the current setup, and in both these cases hopefully the number of feeding casualties will be limited.

In both cases I will be free to remove both the eke and the super, and therefore give the bees a much more compact and therefore managable space, especially given that the colony is so small that it doesn't even fill up the whole brood box. To remove the eke, I'd have to destroy the burr comb, but I think I'm just going to have to bite the bullet on that one and just do it quickly on the next warmish day we have. This is looking like Tuesday or Saturday so far. If it's still a small lump maybe I can squeeze it in somewhere, and if it's bigger I might be able to put it into an empty frame with some rubber bands. Either way, my suspicion is that the burr comb isn't worth the added space of the eke to the bees.

Ⓓ noted quite a few dead worker bees this time, with fewer dead bees ('about three') in our colony. Another issue of space is that the holes of the mouseguard that we installed appear to be too small for the dead bees to be pushed out of the hive. I should probably quickly check the floor of the hive when I open it up.

Ⓓ reported that the bees were aggressive, and this is totally in line with most recent inspections. Dave and Ⓓ trimmed the grass around the hive to aid ventilation, and they said the bees were keeping an eye on them. As Dave said, they're still alive, because 'they came out to say hi, and go away'. My theory is that this is because the colony are one headed by an emergency queen, and perhaps come next year the colony will be able to sort out a successor. During the call, Ⓓ said she believed that bees like children more than adults — they do seem happier around Ⓑ and Ⓓ. She thought that bees think that people are bears and in particular, they think children are cubs and therefore know less. There was also a theory that bees perhaps prefer to sting larger aggressors to make more efficient use of the stinger. Ⓓ keeps stick insects and sees different personalities in each and a difference in behaviour when she is handling them compared to others.

Ⓓ also mentioned a fact she read in BBKA News about Varroa. We know that Varroa feed on bee pupae, but whereas before we thought that they suck the blood of the pupae, we now learn that they are eating the fat around the wing muscles. This explains why the mites don't stay permanently attached, as you'd expect a blood-sucking mite to, and one reason why the pupae end up with deformed wings.

It is a tradition to wish the bees a merry Christmas on Christmas Day. However, today we decided to opt for our own tradition of seasonal wishes on Midwinter, also known as Yule, the winter solstice, the longest night, the return of the sun. Where we are, this will take place in the small hours of the morning of Sunday 22 December.

In many cultures Midwinter is a time for spending time with friends, eating and drinking, and singing and dancing around fires, and all that sort of thing. As well as all this, for us, it's the start of a new beekeeping season, the beginning of their spring, a time when brood rearing will soon pick up. Even in midwinter, there are a few things to check, so as well as wishing the bees a happy Yule we'll take another quick look at how they're doing, though we won't be opening up the hives. Come and join us if you're free — contact me for details.

Ⓒ has expressed an interest in decorating the hives with some bumble bee fairy lights we found at Ikea. However, with Ⓒ being away this year, we might leave the decoration at a few sprigs of holly or mistletoe, and maybe enjoy a glass of mulled wine from a vacuum flask. Maybe next year it'll be mulled mead.

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