Getting our hives in order

More winter preparations down at the apiary today. I hadn’t had time to make a cake, but luckily Cliff came to the rescue with a luscious mascarpone, lime and blackberry flavoured cheesecake (think that’s what he said). So creamy. We really do have a good cake club going on.

It’s been warm, so a surprising amount of beekeeping was going on for October. We had two new young and enthusiastic wannabe beeks turn up, Karen and Freddie. Karen is a music graduate who plays piano; she comes from Canada and is here in London for an internship. Freddie looks after some community land in Park Royal and is hoping he can put some bees there once he’s done the Ealing beginners course.

Andy Pedley teaching Karen and Freddie

Andy Pedley teaching Karen and Freddie

Above is a photo of Andy Pedley teaching Karen and Freddie. I love his teaching style and could listen to him all day. He has a big hearty laugh that can be heard right across the apiary. When you hear that laugh down the road, you know Andy’s coming!

He had some fun with them by asking how many bees they thought were in the hive. They came out with various guesses such as ‘500’ or ‘2000’, so were very shocked when Andy estimated around 30,000! I must remember to ask beginners that question, it could be very entertaining. Especially if they start trying to count them all.

John Chapple inspecting Albert's hive

John Chapple inspecting Albert’s hive

Nearby a separate inspection was going on, as Albert had noticed an unusual build up of wax and other droppings on the varroa inspection tray. He was worried that wax moth or some other creature could be living in there. Above you can see John Chapple taking a look. These bees were incredibly aggressive last week and really went for my legs. This week they were a little better, but understandably not that happy to have their combs tilted around.

John found nothing wrong, except that the hive had no brood at all – in October you would still expect a small brood nest. However pollen was being brought in, which is usually a sign that the bees are happy. He recommended that Albert put a frame with eggs in from his other hive to test whether the bees try and make a queen cell from it. If they do, that indicates the colony is queenless and he can then combine them with his other hive.

Tom's home-made feeder

Tom’s home-made feeder

We also had a look in Tom Bickerdike’s colony to see how much syrup they’d taken since last week. Tom is a fantastic carpenter and joiner and has made this feeder himself. The compartment at the side is where the bees feed. It contains sticks and other bits and pieces so that they don’t drown. Last week Tom put two gallons of syrup in and these hungry Italian bees ate it all up within the week.

Tom has very kindly made Emma and I a properly insulated roof, with a layer of insulation sealed in by wood. He says he is on a mission to get everyone to insulate their hives!

As Emma explained in her recent post ‘Turning over a new leaf‘, we now have Myrtle and Chamomile’s colonies in double brood boxes and Chilli’s colony on a single brood box, though they are only just big enough to be in a brood box rather than a nucleus, so need plenty of feeding up. This is different to how we usually overwinter our hives (filling up a single brood box), so fingers crossed all goes well. Come spring we will probably do a shook-swarm and put Myrtle and Chamomile’s colonies into a single brood box again, as that is easier to inspect.

The ivy is out now, so plenty of pollen is coming in. Think we’ll wait till it’s over to put our mouseguards on, so that it doesn’t get knocked off their legs. Tom thought he could detect some sweet whiffs of ivy nectar in the air.

Here are some pretty pink flowers that I found growing in a circle in Cornwall. (EDIT – Jonathan Harding has kindly left me a comment below to say that they are Cyclamen).

Circle of pink flowers

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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22 Responses to Getting our hives in order

  1. disperser says:

    No more bees anywhere that I can see, except I do have what look like wasps (maybe) hanging around the hummingbird feeders. I put out a couple of dishes (very shallow) with some sugar water on them. They seem to like that.

    What’s the formula for the nectar used to feed the Italian bees? The wasps are probably not Italian, but maybe they would like the same thing.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      You’re the first person to ask me how to attract wasps! Most people want to know how to kill or repel them. They are a pain for beekeepers as they try to steal from the hives but they are good for gardeners, as they eat grubs and insects.

      In the spring and summer wasps get sugar from sugary secretions their larvae produce as they grow. In late summer/autumn they no longer have larvae, so are desperately trying to find sugary sources for energy. This is why they are attracted to alcoholic or sugary drinks, or fallen apples.

      The usual formula for feeding bees at this time of year is a 2:1 sugar syrup, so I make this up as two pounds of sugar to a pint of water. A low heat can be used to dissolve the sugar – not too hot as this can produce a compound called HMF – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroxymethylfurfural – which is toxic to bees. It’s important to use white granulated sugar as brown upsets their digestive systems, this may well be the case for wasps too as they are closely related. I’m sure the wasps will love that, anything sugary will bring them buzzing.

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      • disperser says:

        Not attract them . . . pulling them away from the feeders. Hummingbirds usually cede the ground when wasps are on the feeders.

        Curious though . . . is that a misprint? 2 pounds of sugar for 1 pint of water? When I do my mixture for hummingbirds, I use volume, so a 2-1 mixture would be two cups of sugar to 1 cup of water. Just wondering.

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        • Emily Heath says:

          Ah I see! In that case, I wouldn’t waste good sugar on them. It gets rather expensive feeding the bees that much sugar in autumn, but it’s worth it as they are bees. Just as it’s worth it to attract beautiful hummingbirds.

          A wasp trap can be made this way: “Get a 1 or 2 litre soft drink bottle. Cut it in 2 about 5cm from the shoulder. Invert the top into the bottom (like a funnel) and tape to keep in place. Put syrup in the bottom and a tablespoon of vinegar. The wasps cant resist and the bees are put off by the vinegar.” (From Trisha Colchester on the British Beekeepers Association Facebook page). As alternatives to syrup, jam, squash, coke (not diet), lager or cider can be used.

          Not a misprint for the recipe. 1 pint of water weighs around the same as a pound of water, but in the UK we tend to measure dry foods using scales and liquids using a measuring jug, which wouldn’t be in pounds. Your cups system would work just as well.

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          • disperser says:

            Not wanting to trap them . . . If I wanted to kill them, I would use my wasp shotgun, but the neighbors get all bitchy when I do that.

            It’s not a problem right now, as I’ve not seen any sign of hummers.

            The question was also because a few weeks ago, when the flowers were beginning to go, bees were trying to get liquid from the feeders. The wasps only showed up in the last week or so.

            If I see a hummer out there, I’ll put something out for the wasps.

            Thanks.

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  2. Laura says:

    I walked right into a bee flying around near a hummingbird feeder this morning, and it didn’t sting me. Yay bees!

    BTW, I think you might like the pictures here, if you haven’t already seen them: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/artscience/2013/09/bee-utiful-the-stinging-insect-gets-a-close-up/

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  3. Jonathan Harding says:

    Your pretty Cornish flowers are Cyclamen, I have many flowering in my Sussex walled garden along with Autumn crocuses and Sedum. The bees are also enjoying a second flowering of the Myrtle tree and are gathering a lot of pollen from it’s fragrant flowers,a real late bonus..

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  4. What a lovely account of this afternoon, and I feel so much better now that Thomas has seen our hives and thinks their OK for overwintering. And yet so much more to do this autumn to get our hives in order!

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  5. thebigbuzz says:

    Hi Emily
    Mmmmm … mascarpone, lime and blackberry cheesecake sounds sooooo scrummy! Pleased you liked my National Poetry Day blogpost. I performed my Honeybee poem on the day, and told the children to look out for them. Still plenty here, plenty busy! Good to see they’re still plenty busy where you are too.

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  6. I’m glad your hives are having special insulation. It seems unfair to the bees to have to work so hard during the winter just to keep warm. Wooden hives look very drafty to me but I know I’m looking from a too human point of view. I have been watching the honey bees on the ivy flowers near me and they have enormous sacs of pollen so I can understand why you would not want to obstruct the hive entrance at the moment.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Actually you’re right about the draftiness. There was an article in the British Beekeepers’ Association magazine recently about how thin the walls of hives are compared to trees. The double walled WBC hive keeps the bees warmer but is more cumbersome for beekeepers – the National hives we use are really designed more for our convenience than keeping the bees cosy.

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  7. danieljmarsh says:

    Hi Emily, I also found that I had a broodless hive about 2 1/2 weeks ago. I patiently went through the frames and there was no sign of the queen or brood and the brood area had been filled with sugar syrup. There was also no sign of supercedure or requeening activity and it was hard to judge the temperament of the bees as this hive had been more feisty than my 2nd generation buckfasts in the other hives all year. I closed up the hive, went home and sent a few emails out just to see if anyone was about to merge colonies and may have a mated queen to spare. One week later I went back and re-checked and there she was, wandering around the hive and looking very healthy, my marked queen from last year but there was still no brood. I remember last year she stopped laying during a prolonged wet period and I thought she was lost then, I think some strains just have different laying patterns and it may also have been down to the apilife var treatment but it certainly throws you when there are eggs and brood in all the other hives and one has just packed up for the winter already. We still have a lot of pollen coming in – mainly from Himalayan Balsam at the moment but its lovely to still see the bees flying and having strong colonies ready for the winter.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks Daniel, that is a good point that the weather can cause queens to stop laying. Albert has had Apiguard on, so maybe that could have put her off too. Glad your queen is still alive and well after all.

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  8. Dear Emily,
    Can you change my e-mail address to – instead of – which will be going off line soon. I don’t know if you can do it or if I have to send a reaction to one of your posts with the new address.
    Could you tell me if you in South England make covers with roofing material for your hives? I am considering doing this. Our winter temperatures can get as low as -10 degrees centigrade. I think this is about 14 degrees F. Does it get that cold where you are. It is not always that cold though. You read Rusty Burlew’s Honey Bee Suite don’t you? The site name is http://www.honeybeesuite.com She has information on using roofing felt to insulate the outside of hives.

    For feeding I use an upside down glass jar which holds about 700 gr. of syrup. I place this over the hole in the inner cover resting on two very thin slats of wood. (paint stirrers). The lid is metal and screws on. You poke two very small nail holes through this lid. One hole allows for droplets of syrup and the other hole stops a vacuum from occurring. I was having far too many drowned bees with other methods. They even crawled into the tiny slits in my baggie feeders and could not find their way out again so that is not a good method for my Apis Mellifera Mellifera bees. What sort do you have? I have 4 hives and they are on a nature reserve but out in the open only some young trees and scrubland as protection. This is their first year at this location. I do this with two very experienced older beekeepers, Johannes and Cor. They have their Apis MM’s in their back gardens in long open sheds. We are trying to set up a sanctuary for Native bees here in the north of The Netherlands. Beekeepers here were not so interested in AMM as they are not highly productive of honey they say. This made it so that there were not many native bees left here and we, our official name is Noordbij, are trying to rectify this situation.
    Bye for now, take care and happy beeing

    Lindy van der Meulen

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Lindy,

      Thanks for your comment. Here in England we tend to use insulation within the inside of the hive rather than wrapping or covering the hives up for winter. Our temperature tend to be a little less cold than yours.

      Emma and I use rapid contact feeders in our hives. These look like this: http://www.thorne.co.uk/health-and-feeding/feeders-and-food-supplements/feeders?product_id=1641. The bees come up from under the crownboard and can lick the syrup without getting in it. Sometimes we’ve had problems with bees getting under the top lid and drowning, so now we keep a brick or heavy object on top to stop them doing that.

      I’m pleased to hear that you are trying to protect the native bee subspecies. My bees are quite dark and we let our queens mate with local drones rather than buying in queens from abroad. However in London it is not possible to do selective breeding as there are so many beekeepers around. Best of luck with your efforts!

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