Migrating from commercial to 14×12 frames – part two (a change of plan)


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Artificial swarms, Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping books | Posted on 12-06-2012

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I love to browse beekeeping books. I confess I don’t own that many: two, to be precise. But I like to browse, or ‘to look at the pictures’ (as my sister once rudely described my reading habits). My problem with actually buying books is that I have no time to read them, and that I suspect the bees never get around to it either.

Anyone coming here from Migrating honey bees from commercial frames to 14x12s – part one with the not unreasonable expectation that ‘part two’ might – you know – progress from there, ought to brace themselves now. I had a plan, an elaborate twelve-point plan, which I’d even begun to render into a series of beautiful colour illustrations. Unfortunately, (or possibly fortunately) the bees had a different agenda.

homemade and shop-bought National beehive supers

Shop-bought super (below) versus homemade super (above). After taking this picture I went out and bought three supers.

At my next inspection I found drone brood and over a dozen unsealed queen cells, the unmistakeable signs that the colony was preparing to swarm. The presence of queen cells was obviously a dead give-away, but I was quite proud of the fact that having noticed more than the average volume of drone brood on the outer frames I was already on the look-out for queen cells before I found them. And what was this in the super above? Honey. Honest to goodness honey. Two years of trying and approximately £400 in equipment and granulated sugar was about to pay off and result in my first jar of golden nectar: retail price £4.

I called Deryck Johnson for advice and, bless him, he came over the very next day. I don’t think I could have kept him away. I thought we’d split the colony, but what we ended up doing was an artificial swarm. I say “we”. Deryck did all the work. I stumbled around knocking into things. I could finally see what he’d meant about my apiary being small. With two of us it was like working in a broom cupboard. I proudly showed him the new apiary site I’d prepared around the corner. I’d put up fencing and everything. He said it needed to be twice as big. Ah.

We (he) knocked down all but two queen cells and then moved them and the entire colony (minus the old live queen), in the commercial brood box, to the new site in the back garden. A single frame of brood was kept back and rehoused, together with the old queen, in my 14×12 brood box on the original site. The rest of the brood chamber was then filled with frames of undrawn 14×12 foundation. A second super was placed on top and I was left with strict instructions to leave both colonies alone for a fortnight, but to keep an eye on the supers. So far so good.

Thirteen days later the second colony swarmed.

Next week (possibly): Extracting honey for the first time, and I get a third colony.


My first swarm collection


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee swarming and swarm collection, Beekeeping advice | Posted on 23-12-2011

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Why is it that I should hear the words, “Would you like another colony? Only there’s a free swarm going spare” for the first time just as I was settling into a warm sofa with a cold glass of wine? In other circumstances my answer might have been, “A free colony? Yeah, bring it on.” I’d wanted a second colony for some time. But now, with TV remote in one hand and glass of Sancerre in the other, I was overwhelmed by doubt and self-loathing, mainly at the realisation that I might be the kind of middle-aged, overweight supertanker that would forgo the prospect of new adventure in favour of a soft cushion and Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks. So instead I wearily handed my glass to Mrs S and chirruped down the phone, “A new colony? Wow, that would be great. I’m coming right over.”

That pretty much paints the picture of my phone conversation with Mark at the end of May. Neither of us had captured a swarm before, and both had expressed interest in doing so. Now the opportunity had presented itself, literally, in Mark’s backyard. A next door neighbour had spotted one from over the fence.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Up a tall tree.”

Of course it was.

“Easy to reach?” I ventured hopefully.


What were the odds?

Mark lives barely three miles away, so it took only a few moments to get round there in the car. I brought along a recently finished homemade nuc and found Mark’s partner Julie fully suited and wandering about with an open copy of A Guide To Bees And Honey in her hand.  Mark appeared from around the corner carrying a long ladder and with a mobile phone clasped to one ear. He was taking advice from Deryck.

“Yeah, Andy’s just arrived now,” Mark said. “We’re just heading to the bottom of the garden.”

I could just make out Deryck’s disembodied voice. It went on for several minutes, before signing off with something about garden rubbish.

“He says he really likes your blog,” smiled Mark, as I followed him to a small copse.

Sure enough, there at the top of a tall, willowy tree was a rugby ball sized writhing mass of bees.

Clutching a tree-pruning saw, and with his next door neighbour spectating from the safety of her kitchen door, Mark gingerly climbed up the ladder. As I clung onto its base to prevent it from slipping I wondered whether it might not have been more gallant of me to offer to go up there myself. That is, until I realised that I’d been left looking upwards as he sawed his way through a branch dripping in bees directly above me. Julie watched with interest from a discreet distance.

Mark removed the branch and descended, before carefully placing it inside the nuc which we’d already positioned on an old bed sheet spread out at the base of the tree. Time for a cup of tea! Forty-five minutes later I was driving home with the taped-up nuc box wedged behind my car seat. So much for adventure. Nice cup of tea though.

I positioned the nuc next to my other colony and for nearly six weeks fed and fussed over it, even getting excited that it contained both light and dark coloured bees (see Black honey bees and yellow honey bees). Eventually however, the penny dropped. The queen was laying drone brood. The number of bees was gradually declining and there were unmistakable signs of ‘bobbling’ across the face of the comb. I transferred the frames into my new brood chamber,  placed that on top of the existing colony, and separated them with sheets of newspaper, merging the two colonies. The swarm queen I put into a match box and left to die alone in the shed. I couldn’t bring myself to kill her.

So much for adventure.

Wishing all beekeepers everywhere a very merry Christmas.


Slow bee colony build-up in May


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Apiguard Thymol, Bee diseases, Beekeeping advice, Varroa destructor | Posted on 04-05-2011

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Something’s wrong. I only have two frames of brood and the bees are very docile. Too docile. Just a couple of miles away Michelle’s colony has nearly filled its second super.

I have varroa. I have wax moth. I appear to have some small red mites, possibly balaustium, which I’m told are harmless to bees but feed on pollen. I may have nosema. It’s always hard to avoid a slight sense of one-upmanship with other second-year beekeepers, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’ve recently been to several presentations on honey bee diseases and poor colony hygiene, so am trying to remain objective and to not fall into the trap of transposing it all to my beehive. But I’ve seen the varroa, the wax moth and the balaustium (if that’s what they are). Granted, not in any great numbers: less than one varroa a day, and two wax moths and five balaustium in total. Hardly an epidemic. There’s no sign of dysentery to indicate nosema, and no melted larvae to point to European Foul Brood. The queen is present and laying. I have eggs, larvae, capped brood and newly hatched bees, as well as uncapped stores and pollen. But I have only two frames of brood. Four frames of brand new foundation remain untouched.

It might be the queen. Michelle’s colony swarmed on Friday. On Monday we opened her hive to take a look and found 6-8 queen cells the size of Cadbury’s Crème Eggs. Interestingly, we also found the old queen amid a small heap of writhing workers on the next door neighbour’s driveway. She looked absolutely knackered (the queen, not the next door neighbour), which you could forgive her as the colony itself had bees spilling out from every quarter. They were pinging off our veils. All frames were heaving under the weight of stores, eggs, larvae and capped brood, while drones the size of my thumb stomped about looking ready to pounce – which I guess they were.

So what’s with my bees? I even cut the hedge to give them more sunlight.

Last Tuesday I ran into Robert, my bee guru. He suggested I had nothing to lose by going for a little shock and awe. Apiguard for the varroa, Fumidil B for the nosema (as it will do no harm even if it isn’t present), and an uncapping tool and no mercy for the wax moth. The red mites will sort themselves out, he said.

I’m going in…