Last weekend was warm, so Emma and I did a shook-swarm on our two strongest hives, Myrtle and Chilli. We worked as a team, Emma shaking the bees into a fresh brood box with new foundation, then passing me the old frames to bag up in bin bags. Pat kindly got a fire going for us, into which the old frames and brood went, hopefully along with a load of varroa mites. Emma has written a great blog post about the day and her thoughts on the shook-swarm: A tale of two colonies.
Above you can see Emma looking at a frame in Myrtle’s hive. It is old, brown comb which could be harbouring disease.
Emma shaking the bees in – she was very good at this and our bees are so gentle they didn’t get at all moody with us. As you can see, it was a nice sunny day. The gap in the middle gives space to shake the bees in and then we filled up the gap with frames of foundation before putting a feeder on top of the crown board and closing the hive up.
If you look closely, you can see a grey clip protruding in-between the top bars of the new hive. We hung Queen Myrtle in a cage between the frames so that she stayed safe and the workers felt comforted by her smell. They will notice very quickly if her pheromones are missing and become unsettled.
We fed the colonies with strong 2:1 sugar solution syrup, which is essential to do following a shook-swarm. Worker bees have eight wax glands on the underside of their abdomens. To produce wax, they will consume nectar (or the sugar solution we provide) and hang together in chains for warmth. The sugar and warmth causes tiny wax scales to be secreted from their wax glands, which they then chew and manipulate into comb using their mandibles and forelegs.
Emma has gone back several times in the week to top up their syrup. Colonies differ in how much syrup they take in after a shook-swarm – Chilli’s hive has consumed a lot more syrup, even though she probably has slightly less bees. Myrtle’s hive has been taking less down, so they are probably collecting nectar instead. Green alkanet (evergreen bugloss) is out now and we saw lots of sweet common carder bees working it. It’s a member of the borage family but more common than borage, so a very important wildflower for bees.
Yesterday we did a quick check inside Myrtle and Chilli’s hives to make sure all was well after the shook-swarm. The workers were on about five central combs in Myrtle’s hive. We saw Myrtle and – even better – rows of neatly laid eggs! The workers had been even busier in Chilli’s hive and were on about eight frames. We spotted Chilli but did not see any eggs yet, though the sky was quite overcast so we may have missed them.
Look how white and clean the new comb the bees have been drawing is.
Tom did a test last week on Chamomile’s hive using a small sample of about 30 worker bees, and was able to determine that nosema is present, though his test does not tell him how badly the bees are infected. He has kindly made us up a thymol solution, which we will spray lightly on her bees next weekend.
Afterwards, we had some cake. Jayne had brought some fab scones with jam and this is a honey loaf I made.
Today I went down to Northfields allotment to help out with their Radbourne walk wildlife project again. We cleared another section of soil before planting it with a wildflower mix containing poppies, cornflowers and some other wild flowers. English bluebells will also be going in. Nettles and green alkanet are being left to grow along the fence as they are good food for butterflies and bees.
Another stag beetle loggery was created. The logs need to be put deep in the soil, as the stag beetle larvae prefer rotten wood. The protruding wood will be good for solitary bees to nest in.
My reasons for helping out with the project are not entirely altruistic, as a nice lady called Jasmine makes sure we are very well catered for. There was a tea break with three types of cake followed by a later lunch of delicious vegetable curry with rice and tomato chutney. In-between eating/digging I also paid for our new allotment plot so that Thomas and I can move our bees there, once we’ve got the plot ready. Everyone I met seemed very happy that bees will be coming and appreciative of the benefits of having pollinators on the allotment.