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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Spring Awakening

The Bee by: Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) 
 Little chemic-artisan,
 Doing work no other can, 
 Deep in dewy nectaries, Petal-walled refectories-- 
 Apple-blossom, columbine, 
 Rose and lily, all are thine, 
 Yet, though oft thy weight they bear, 
 Dost thou know how they are fair? 
 Thine are sun and Summer breeze-- 
 Hast thou aught of joy in these? 
 Pollen-yellow dumbledore, 
 Leave thy clovers tumbled o'er! 
 What's a lily? What's a rose? 
 Down the golden lane he goes, 
 Drowsing forth a prosy song, 
 "Honey! Honey!" all day long, 
 Wasting life's diviner sweet, 
 Hiving food for drones to eat. 
 Oh, thou silly, silly bee! 
 Idle here and learn of me!

Its been a while since I have posted on here, but I am glad to say that all three of my small colonies have survived the winter and are doing well, all out and about even on a rainy day like today has been. There is a lot of activity and I can see plenty of pollen coming in. No idling here! There has been plenty of blossom around during April, with the brambles, cherry blossom, plum trees, apple trees, blackcurrants and various other trees in the neighbourhood in full blossom, so there has been plenty for the bees to do. I hope the nectar flow this year is better than last year, but the weather hasn't been too promising so far. I also had a couple of visitors today, who are local people planning on keeping bees in top bar hives, and we talked bees and about meeting up to talk and support each other, and I have started a yahoo group for local networking and to organise get togethers etc. And thus South Wales Natural Beekeepers is born!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Into the Winter

We have had a few mild and sunny days and the bees have been flying whenever it is warm enough, although there are no flowers out. In the winter months the bees go on cleansing flights to empty their bowels whenever there is a mild enough day. There has been activity from all three hives, so far so good, but being still concerned that with the late swarming and the poor nectar flow last year, that none of the colonies have had a chance to build up adequate stores for the winter, I purchased a 12 kilo pack of fondant and put a 2 1/2 kilo slab in each hive on top of the topbars. Hopefully this will see them through the colder weather that is yet to come.
Another concern I have is that on inspection of the hives at the end of the year, I saw some small caterpillar type things on the comb, which may be wax moth larvae.


Wax moth can be quite destructive in bee hives, particularly if the colony is weak. A strong colony can generally deal with them. I have found some lovely videos on Youtube of bees dealing with wax worms

More information on wax worms and dealing with them can be found at Beesource Beekeeping, not that I intend to use any of the chemical treatments discussed there.

A comment on the Youtube video states that wax moths are enemies to bees, but also enemies to varroa, but no further information is given about this. I am very keen to find out more about it though, and will post on here anything I am able to find out. I do feel that Mother nature knows best, and left to their own devices a balance will be found.
Another video by the same person shows bees dealing with varroa

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Another Swarm

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm in July isn't worth a fly
A swarm in August is worth a pint of sawdust
A swarm in September is something to remember
A swarm in October is rarely seen when sober

- Traditional Rhyme

Well I am certainly seeing somthing to remember this September - swarms a plenty!
Today I found a second small swarm hanging in a tree in my garden.
I had noticed a lot of buzzing around the garden bench, and looked up to see a swarm.

It must have been there a while before I noticed it, as when I shook the bees into a skep, I found that they had already started building comb on the branch of the tree and had covered a leaf in wax comb.

This time, after shaking the bees into a skep, I placed topbars over the top of the skep, and wrapped a piece of thick wire around from the bottom of the skep over the top bars to hold them in place, and left the skep under the tree until it began to get dark and all the bees were inside.

Then I wrapped it up in a sheet and put it in the shed. My plan is to move the skep to where the hive is going to go tomorrow, and leave the skep and bees there for a while. Once they have started to build comb on the topbars, they can be moved to a topbar nucleus hive, or a full size topbar hive.
27th September - I attempted to transfer the bees to a topbar nucleus hive, but they were reluctant to leave the skep. About half the bees were transferred, and I carefully placed the queen in when I spotted her. I left a small gap between a couple of topbars and put an inverted large yoghurt pot full of syrup on top, with small holes punctured in the lid to allow syrup to slowly drip out for the bees to collect. I couldn't then put the roof on the topbar hive, so I placed the skep over the yoghurt pot on top of the topbars, which also served the function of encouraging the rest of the bees to move down into the hive. With a little adjustment, a hole cut into the roof of the hive, and a shelter built around the hive, I now have a rustic combination skep/topbar hive which I'm quite pleased with.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Late Swarm

It seems I was wrong about the reason for the number of drones outside my hive a few days ago - they weren't being kicked out after all, but were more likely there for another purpose. Drones can often be seen around a hive when the Queen is about to swarm. A couple of days after seeing all the drones I looked through the obbservation window and noticed some swarm cells had been built. These are long peanut shaped queen cells which hang from the bottom of the comb. There are three types of queen cells: swarm cells, supercedure cells and emergency cells. Supercedure cells are generally built in the middle of the comb rather than at the bottom, and are for when the bees intend to replace their queen. Emergency cells are generally ordinary worker cells which have been built up into queen cells in an emergency situation where the queen has been killed or injured. Very young worker larvae can then be fed up with royal jelly and developed into queens.
I was rather concerned about this as it is very late in the season for swarming. I thought that the swarm cells had just been built, as I hadn't noticed them before, but on closer inspection I noticed that some were capped and two had already hatched out. As the weather was cold and wet I didn't want to do a full inspection of the hive, but lifted about 4 combs at the back of the hive to inspect. I saw a queen on the innermost comb I inspected, but am not sure if she was my original queen or a new virgin queen. I was also quite alarmed to see that there was hardly any honey in any of the combs, some of which had been full of honey on my last inspection. Lots of bees had their heads inside cells, as if looking for food and I was worried that the bees were starving. Bees were also clustered together all at the top of combs. I wondered then if the colony was starving and that the queen making was emergency behaviour. The bees had used up all of the sugar syrup/herbal tea mix I had put in a few days earlier, so I gave them some more. There also appeared to be less bees in the hive, but I would be expecting them to be reducing in numbers for the winter now. I did wonder though, whether my old queen has already swarmed, taking half the colony and much of the honey with her.
When I got up this morning and went to look at the hive, I happened to look up into a tree overhanging the apiary, and hanging from it in a high branch, was a swarm of bees!

It looked like quite a small swarm, and may well have been a cast. I called my man for help, got him to don a beesuit and together, armed with ladder, seceteurs and a cardboard box, we went to collect the swarm. We managed to shake most of the bees into the box, but there were a significant number flying around as well as small patches of bees in the tree, on the wall and on the ground.



I noted though, that a number of bees in the box began fanning, which is a good indicator that the queen was in the box, as they were fanning pheremones out to guide the other bees to the box. So I decided to leave them to it for a couple of hours. When I returned, I couldn't see any bees, and thought that they had absconded. I looked up in the trees and couldn't see the swarm anywhere, at which point I felt a bit disheartned, thinking that they had flown further away and that I may have lost them for good. But then I looked more closely into the box, and was pleased to see a very orderly cluster of bees under the lid of the box.
So I closed the box, taped it shut, wrapped it in a sheet and put it in my shed, where it will remain for a day or two whilst I prepare one of the Warre hives. I don't know how well this swarm will fare, as it is very small, and I still think that it may be a secondary cast rather than the primary swarm, and that I've lost the primary swarm; and it is very late in the season, not a good time for swarming, and they are unlikely to be able to build up the stores and numbers in order to be able to survive the winter. I have since read that there is such thing as a "Starvation Swarm" which can occur late in the year when the bees have insufficient stores in their hive and the nectar flow in the surrounding area is not good. The old queen takes off with a load of bees to try and find a new home where foraging is more plentiful. Unfortunately it has been a bad year all round as far as nectar flow goes, so they are unlikley to find any such place. I will feed them with the herbal tea and sugar mix (2 parts sugar to one part water for the Autumn feed, thicker than the 1:1 ratio used in the Summer) and use plenty of Thyme in the herbal tea to help protect against varroa, plus nettle which apparantly helps them produce more brood. I may also have to consider giving them a pollen substitute - a mixture of garlic powder and brewers yeast, as both pollen and nectar supplies may be insufficient now, and pollen is required to rear brood. Other than that, we are in the hands of the Bee Goddess!

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Casting out of the Drones and Preparing for Winter

Oh for a life of comfort in the warm hive
For a drone it is good to be alive!
When it seemed long summer days would never end
Our hard working sisters to us dearly tend,
Who never cease to toil away
Bringing pollen and nectar every day
Building comb, cleaning, feeding young
Making honey when the day is done,
While we would preen and strut our stuff
Not a days work expected of us!
Looking pretty is our role
And pleasure flights when we feel the call,
To explore and congregate with the chaps
Enjoy hospitality from another hive, perhaps
Til welcomed home by sisters dear,
We never had any need to fear.
Our every need and whim fulfilled -
Who'd have thought they'd have us killed?
Oh what has become of those carefree days?
Now forcibly ejected, pushed away!
Ripping at wing and leg
Sisters, why treat us this way I beg?
Rejected, ejected, left to die
Dismembered by wasps when we can't fly
Why this fate? Oh woe is me!
It shouldn't happen to a dandy bee!

Karin Rainbird 16th September 2011



When checking the apiary and observing the bees in the last couple of days I was struck by the number of drones I saw around the hive.


It is that time of year when the hive begins to reduce in number and prepare for the winter. Drones may be forcibly ejected from the hives, the guard bees pushing them away with their bodies, and ripping at their legs and wings with their mandibles. Some drones who's wings are still intact, may fly off and try and gain entry to another hive, others will remain sitting in the vicinity of their own hives and try to regain access. I noted a number of drones trying to get back into my hive, and the guard bees are at the moment still tolerant, and allowing some of them back in.
Others seemed less fortunate, and I observed a wasp attempting to carry one of the drones (twice its size) off. Wasps will dismember drones and carry them off bit by bit, but I couldn't bear to see this and chased the wasp away. Tits, sparrows and other birds may also eat the drones and drone pupae which are ejected from the hive.
Drones can be easily recognised and distinguished from worker bees by their size and large eyes. They are longer, fatter and fluffier than worker bees and their eyes take up pretty much their whole heads.

Drones are also stingless, their sole role being to mate with a queen and pass on the genes from their mother. They have no role in collecting nectar or pollen, housekeeping or rearing brood, though they may well have a role in temperature control within the hive. Due to their limited role and use, they are ejected in the Autumn, to ensure that there is enough food left for the workers and brood to survive the winter and ensure the survival of the colony. If the drones are being ejected from a colony in the Autumn, it is a sign that the colony is "Queen Right", i.e. that the colony is doing well and has a good healthy queen who is laying plenty of eggs. If the colony does not eject the drones, then it is likely that they are planning to supercede their queen for one reason or another. So hopefully, my hive is queen right and doing well. My last inspection revealed plenty of new comb built, and some honey, though as I didn't do a thorough inspection looking at all the combs, it is diffiuclt to know how full their stores are. As it has been a dry year this year as far as nectar flow goes, I decided to give them another feed of sugar syrup to ensure they have stores through the winter. This time I made a preparation with nettle, which apparantly the bees love (according to Phil Chandler on the Natural Beekeeping course I attended in Devon last weekend); chamomile, to give some flower essence; and thyme, in the hope that the thyme will help protect against varroa mites. Phil Chandler also suggested on the course that a few drops of tea tree oil can be added to the sugar syrup feed and that this will also protect against varroa, and that the bees don't mind it. This is surprising as most insects hate tea tree oil. But bees aren't most insects! And tea tree is very effective against fleas, lice, mosquitos and other blood sucking insects, so it may well work against mites that suck the bees blood. I may try that next time if varroa appear to be a problem.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Other Visitors to the Apiary

All seems to be going well in the apiary. I have carried out a couple of routine inspections to check how the colony is coming along, and lots more comb has been built, which is slowy being filled with multicoloured pollen and honey. I could also see brood in various stages of development. I don't intend to inspect often though, and certainly not once a week, as however careful one is, it is virtually impossible to avoid one or two casualties with each inspection, and it stresses the bees, so I would rather just observe from outside the hive. I can check through the observation window to see how the comb building is coming along, and watching the bees coming and going at the entrance to the hive, I know that as long as I can see pollen coming in, that there is brood, and that the queen is alive and laying. I can also sometimes smell the lovely delicate scent of honey on a warm day in the apiary, Other insects can obviously smell it too, and I have seen a number of stripey insects buzzing around the hive, other than my bees.

The Hornet Mimic Hoverfly, Volucella Zonaria is Britain's largest hoverfly, being almost an inch long and has colonised Britain from Europe, once rare here, but slowly becoming more common in the south of the UK. I had never seen one before and wondered what this monster was that appeared to be trying to get into the beehive. Apparantly they like to live in hornet's nests, where they lay their eggs. So I'm not sure if it is trying to get into the beehive to live, in the absence of a hornet's nest, or whether it is just attracted by the smell of honey. It keeps returning though, and buzzes around the entrance to the hive for a while until accepting that with the number of bees at the entrance, it is not going to gain access.

I have also seen bumble bees buzzing around the entrance to the hive, as well as drone flies (which look a lot like bees and can sometimes be mistaken for honey bees) and other typs of hoverfly, and the odd wasp, so I guess it is the honey that is attracting them.
Bumble bee and Drone fly resting on top of one of the empty hives after failing to gain access to the occupied hive.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Bee Goddess

Mother Bee
Solar Queen
True parthenogenesis,
You create from yourself
The Son/Lover
Without need of a father.
Then he, true Son of the Mother
Flies high to the Sun
In search of another Solar Queen
To unite in fiery joy
Giving of himself in divine sacrifice
100 Mother's Sons
Rising to the Sun
To die in that moment of bliss
Of union with the Mother
Spreading his mother's genes
To other Solar Queens
That they may produce
An army of daughters
Spreading throughout the land
Bringing life where 'ere they go.
Was the first ever bee
A Queen who, like the Goddess
Produced from herself her Son and Lover?
Did she nurture him herself
Then take him back into her?
Did he go to his mother/bride in willing sacrifice
As does our Lord?
From their union were all bees created
And thus the diversity of life as we know it
Made possible to come into bee-ing?
Is the Goddess a bee?

by Karin Rainbird 21st July 2011


Bees were worshipped and honoured all over the ancient world. Honey was seen as food of the Gods, divine nectar, and the honeycomb, with its intricate cellular structure is a perfect symbol of the interrelatedness of life, with order and beauty. The Queen bee, or Mother bee, like the Goddess in Pagan Creation stories, is able to produce male offspring without herself being fertilised by a male. These sons (the Drones) carry her genes to other colonies, fertilising other queens. Fertilised eggs then can become workers and new princesses

Sumerian Bee Goddess
Honey, beeswax and other bee products have also had a place in religious ritual from ancient times, until the present day. In ancient Sumer, honey was poured over thresholds ansd stones bearing commemorative offerings. Honey and wine were poured over bolts used in sacred buildings, and ground on which temples were to be built were consecrated with libations of wine, oil and honey. Cylinders describing the building of a new temple for the God Nigirsu dating back to 2450 BCE describe this ritual process (see The Sacred Bee by Hilda M Ransome, p35)
Honey was also used by priests in rites of exorcism, and descriptions of such rituals have been found from Sumer and Babylon. A bilingual text mentions a Honey God, but it is unclear which God it is connected with. Honey was also used as offerings to the Gods, and to embalm the dead in funeral rites, sometimes first smearing the body with bees wax.
Bees wax and honey have also been used in magic, and the practice of making wax images of victims is an ancient practice popular in Babylon and Assyria.
Unfortunately little is known about the Bee Goddess or Bee God in ancient Sumer, other than a few images and scattered references in texts.