|Farm on the Hill||
Well - I am delighted (and slightly amazed) that all three colonies have made it through the winter so far. I went to check them on Friday and it looks so different in the fields around the hive. I just watched from a distance for 10 minutes or so and saw no activity whatsoever - even though it was warm in the sun. I hefted them all and they all seemed heavy enough to me. When I put my ear to the hive and gently tapped the hive though all three made a gentle buzzing noise. I guess they are all deep in the cluster and didn't feel like stinging me today .... for a change :-)
I was going to do a varroa mite drop check this week but am reticent to do so while it is so cold. I have ordered some oxalic acid to treat the three hives some time within the next week or two. I also ordered 4 more varroa mesh floors for new hive building. I have been making new hives, and refurbishing old bits, in anticipation of scaling up in the spring.
Every old item has been scraped clean of old wax and then thoroughly scorched with a blow lamp to make sure that any old disease spores are destroyed. New wax foundation is then being fitted ready for spring.
I have one complete new hive ready now and have nearly enough bits and pieces for another two.
In other news I have been trying to develop some ideas for Logos for next years honey sales (assuming we have some!!) A few of the designs are below, though I am not happy with any of these yet!
I checked the hives last weekend and they all seem to have bees in still! Not much activity (wouldn't expect any really!) but still plenty of weight in all 3 hives.
I also built a new nucleus box at the weekend ready for any swarm collecting next year.
My original plan for next year was to build up my colonies by splitting them as many times as possible with a view to having a bumper honey crop in 2016. However - I have recently discovered an audio-book about swarm trapping/bait hives...and this has changed my way of thinking a little. I'm thinking now that I might do my best to stop swarming in my current hives and go for the bumper honey crop next year. At the same time I will try to increase my number of colonies by trapping or collecting swarms from elsewhere. Swarm trapping sounds cruel...but it's not a trap at all and is certainly not cruel. A swarm trap is simply a custom made penthouse apartment for bees placed in an attractive location for them. If a swarm, bull-swarm or cast leaves a hive (mine or anyone elses) then they will hopefully set up home in one of my traps. The 'bait' is simply a few drops of Lemon grass oil and a few old framed of comb and wax. I built 2 traps today and will be looking out for likely places to site them in the spring/summer.
I went to check the hives this afternoon. Not a lot to do really - just check that nothing has been bothering them. They all seem in good shape. I hefted them all and they are all a healthy weight....especially hive number 1 which I could hardly lift. Very little activity now - though I wouldn't expect much to be going on, especially on a cold damp evening. A healthy buzz was coming from each hive though when I stuck my ear to the side.
I called in at the Farm on the Hill allotments on my way back home to dig some leeks for tea. While I had been up there the whole of the Churnet valley had been filled with an eerie mist. It had seeped into all of the hollows and made it look as though a new reservoir had flooded the area. The photo doesn't really do it justice. Just beautiful.
First visit to the apiary for a few weeks. The purpose of the visit was to check that all the syrup had been taken down, to remove the feeders and to insulate the roofspaces. The colonies vary from very strong to very weak. Hive number 1 is incredibly busy still. I hefted and could hardly lift it. I am very confident that this colony will survive the winter and start next spring in good shape. Hive number 2 is the weakest of the bunch. They did take a good amount of syrup down into the broodbox - there just doesn't seem enough bees to make it through. Hive 3 is somewhere in between the two. They had also emptied their feeder and the hive had a lot of weight in it. I got a sting on the forehead (through the veil hat) but haven't reacted - hopefully I am getting used to stings.
There's nothing to do now for a while. I certainly won't be opening up the hives again until spring unless they need any emergency feeding.
Had some jobs to do for the bees today. The jobs were mainly about getting them sorted and ready for winter. Hive 1 needed putting on a varroa floor to make sure they have plenty of ventilation through the winter. They also needed the broodbox and super reversing and the feeder re-filling with syrup. The girls were not very happy with me at all - must have had more than 100 stings (not one got through the clothing though!!). finished the job - making sure that I didn't leave the queen outside of the hive, fitted a new mouseguard and refilled the feeder. It was good to feel the weight of stores - pretty sure that they have enough to get through to spring now.
Hive number 2 was pretty straightforward. a simple case of swapping the floor over and refilling the tub top-feeder. There was around an inch of syrup left in the feeder. I put hive number 2 on one of the newly made varroa floors and took out the tray to give them maximum ventilation. I also took out 3 frames of undrawn foundation and put a dummy board in instead - will help them to keep warm.
Hive 3 was not so straight forward... Again I needed to swap the floor out to a varroa floor. This floor was past it's best. I had had to plug gaps where the wood had rotted with gaffa tape so it was good to get them on a brand new floor. I had a nasty suprise when I took the crownboard of the feeder though as the feeder was loaded with dead wasps (and some live ones). Looks as though the new roof I made isn't fitting as well as it should. I fished out the wasps, taking care not to spill any syrup and topped up the feeder. After refitting the crownboard I taped up the holes to make sure it's wasp proof again. Don't need to worry about ventilation now they have an open mesh floor. I also exchanged the varroa treatment for a new batch.
I made sure that all three hives had new mouseguards fitted before I left. Probably won't have to bother them again now until spring other than to stick some insulation in the roofs before it gets too cold
Just a quick update....Went to the apiary this evening with 30 kilos of syrup to share between the 3 colonies. I also replaced the faulty roof on hive number 3 which Jo pointed out was letting wasps in to rob. I had one mouse guard which I was able to cut into two pieces to do hives numbers 1 and 2. Will need to order another one for number 3. I saw that the Apiguard that we put on hive 3 was gradually reducing - this will hopefully be all gone by next week when I will add a fresh one. Vey much winding down for the winter now. One strange thing I did notice....all of the bees seem to have a blonde Mohican at the moment - I think that Jo said that it was something to do with the Himalayan Balsam. Either way - I have punk bees!
It was great to welcome Jo Schup from the National Bee Unit to the apiary today for a routine check-up on the bees. Jo is the first other bee=keeper (and a very experienced one too!) to have seen my bees other than me. It was therefore great for me to hear that I seem to be doing (nearly) everything right. More importantly perhaps it was great to hear that the bees seem really healthy with no signs of any disease or virus. It was a great learning experience for me too. I'll give them a couple of days to recover from today's visit before I feed them again.....though they seem mightily hungry at the moment.
I picked up a new colony of bees today from my bee mentor. The day was hotter than I expected it to be so the bees were a little cross to have been kept locked in all day. I'm always a little nervous when driving with up to 30,000 angry bees in the car next to me! I couldn't pick them up until around 2 pm. I assembled the breeze-block stand and opened them up to fly at around 3. There was an almighty fuss when I took the crown-board off - they were obviously very happy to be free again. I let them settle in for a few hours. When I went back this evening they were all calm again. I fed all three colonies using 2 of the new top feeders and an inverted bucket type feeder. Hive numbers 1 and 2 had both cleaned out the trays of Apiguard varroa treatment so I removed the empty trays. One or two wasps were flying and robbing but hopefully they are strong enough to see them off. All set now with 3 strong colonies ready to (hopefully) survive the winter.
I checked the colonies this evening and added the 2nd dose of Apiguard - Thymol varroa treatment. I was pleased to see that both of the trays of the first doses had completely gone so it's reassuring to know that the thymol should be distributed throughout the hive. Both hives are building up honey reserves though I am going to feed them like heck as soon as the 2nd batch of Apiguard is all gone. I have purchased 2 x Ashforth feeders from Kevin at Bee Worthy so feeding them bulk syrup should be a doddle now.
Other news is that my most excellent bee mentor, Olivier from Peak Honey, has agreed to sell me a new hived colony next week so I'll be going into the winter with 3 healthy colonies - all ready for a bumper crop next year.
I videod this evening's inspection and am uploading to my personal facebook page as I type. If it all uploads ok I will try to link from the video in a comment below.