Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bee Nest Cut out at Callac.

Cut out of bee nest from start to finish.

I had a call from a couple who lived near the town of Callac.  They had a bee nest in there wall for just over 2 years and were looking for someone to possibly remove the bees, as unfortunately they were becoming a bit of a nuisance. Not surprising really as the nest entrance was only about 2 meters away from their front door. I was amazed they had tolerated it there so long!
I then wanted to be sure that If I was going to drive the 145 mile round trip, that the bees were in a cavity behind this old bricked up window and not in a plasterboard cavity behind that, making extraction virtually impossible

The answer I wanted arrived and luckily it was concrete render inside (behind the nest) so there was a pretty good chance that the nest would be easily accessible through the front window.

Just for reference the owners of this property had taken a photo of the swarm, as it arrived at the hole in the wall of their house. They arrived on the 24th june 2010, so they have been there 2 years and have probably swarmed as least  once.

This is the picture of the new entrance  before I started the extraction, as the bees had moved their entrance to the above right of the supporting lintel. 

You can see clearly in this picture , the proximity to the front of the house, even though there was a small glass conservatory over the front door, it was always a task just getting in to the property through a haze of bees! You can also clearly see the window outline.

Before doing anything else I smoked the bees 3 times heavily, I was pretty sure that this wouldnt drive then anywhere but out of the nest before going back in again, only to gorge themselves on honey, making my job a whole lot more pleasant.

 Part one was  to hack out the existing masonry, after firstly explaining to the home owners that this is what we call "deconstruction". You should always get the property owners consent prior to any work that may cause damage to a property, even if you are removing a nest of bees.
The masonry was luckily very loose, and once I got going it came away easily to reveal a wonderful sight of the front of the nest.

You can see mainly smaller pieces of comb in the front of  this nest, with the larger slices of comb being situated behind. Its basically a matter of space and the bees had built in around the space available.

The smaller rubble sized pieces of stone were all glued together with propolis, sealing up the lower part of the nest as well as stabilizing  the whole area by sticking everything together.

After removing the first few sections of  drone brood comb,  I then got stuck in to the real larger sections of brood comb. I managed to cut each section away at the top, then carefully grab each piece , so it didnt fall to the ground and cause the bees to get very angry and possible damage the queen if she was there to be found on the brood comb?
Incredibly on the third piece of comb, their she was, a beautifully shaped queen with a really good sized abdomen. Its one of the signs of a healthy queen. I had put my queen clip in my pocket at the start of all this, just in case by fluke I did manage to see the queen. 20 seconds later it was in the bag and she was in the clip.
Once you have the queen safely captured, the colony is relatively safe, no matter how bad things go from then on.

I, like many others like to use the elastic band method of holding in the comb.  After a few days the bees normally chew their way through the bands, but normally by then they have also built new comb and glued all the old pieces to the frames.
Incidentally, I had also tied the queen clip containing the queen, to one of the frames.

This was the largest section of brood comb, spanning the whole length of the cavity, which I estimated to be be between 40 and 50 litres. Each time I removed a section of comb, I brushed all the bees off in to the hive, as many of these bees were nurse bees and happy to stay with the brood nest and its odour.

By this stage You can see at the top, all the sections of comb that I had cut away, crossing the roof sections from left to right. Behind all the brood was the honey comb. There was several large slabs of this which is what I would have expected in August. Not a huge amount but about 10 kilos. When you get to the honey comb you need a good sized bowl of water at hand to wash your gloves in, each time you cut out a section.
This is essential for keeping things clean other wise  you cannot touch anything as you gloves are totally coated.

Now I have removed the nest, placed all the salvageable comb in to its frames, together with a large amount of bees. Each time I smoked the cavity a lot of bees migrated from the inside of the roof to the outside entrance hole, so what I needed to do was stop the going back in to the old nest site.

There was also, while all this had been going a lot of foraging bees returning from their duties to find the nest in turmoil and all these bees were landing at the existing entrance. So in  an effort to capture these bees  I liftes up the nuc box and rested against the wall, just to the left of the existing entrance hole.

Bees returning and clustering  around the existing entrance.

What I did then was to smoke all the bees out and then block of their entrance , so the bees would naturally look for another way to the nest and then find the new entrance to the left of its existing place, with their queen inside.

This seemed to work a treat, and very soon more and more bees were slowly making their way in to the nuc.

From the next 3 pictures you can see the amount of bees around the entrance way reducing in numbers, as the number of foragers returning was quickly reducing with the onset of the  evening.

The majority of bees , now inside the box.
It is at this point when you have to make that decision, close up and go. I had the queen, a large amount of brood and comb and a lot of bees. so I dropped the front lid and they were in.
Its also important to take a breath at this stage. Trying to lift down a heavy nuc full of bees, at the end of a long hot afternoon is sure to be a recipe for disaster, with all that work ruined if you drop that nuc.
Fortunately all went well except I forgot i had not used this nuc for transporting bees before and during the 90 mins journey hope I had to battle my way through bees escaping through a small hole and flying around the car, which meant I got stung by my eye, which always makes me look as though I have had a stroke.
This was the second sting \I had got the whole day, the only other one being on top of my bum whilst bending over Lol , one nill to the bees!

So I got the nuc back to the apiary that evening, opened up the hive and let out the queen from her clip
The next morning I put on a feeder and let them get on with it. Its late summer and they would need time, good weather and sugar to rebuild their nest.

1 week later

I opened up the hive to my relief, quite a well organised repair work  going on.
Lots of pieces of the original comb that I had tied in with the rubber bands were being extended and welded to the side frames as they were also gnawing through the supporting rubber bands rapidly, with only a few remaining.

You can see the original piece of comb on the right (much darker in colour) and the newly constructed piece to the  upper left in clean white wax and also joined to the frame.

I have to say this is a really interesting way to learn about beekeeping. If you ever get the chance of doing a cut out then I would recommnend you have a go. Its a load of work, but the rewards are there.

Very many thanks to the home owners Dee and Keith for letting me remove these bees.
It was a a real pleasure to have this rare chance of seeing a wild nest as well as saving the colony.

Its not always possible to save a colony,  if they are  in a chimney of in accessible area, but in some cases it can be done.

I will be adding a video, as soon as I have sorted out the editing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Swarm from an Artificial swarm? What!

Could not believe my eyes, when I passed my apiary last sunday morning. A swarm was issuing from one of the nucs that was an artificial swarm,  made some 16 days previously!

The swarm settled about 4 meters, away on a sloe bush ( blackthorn)

16 days is the key numbers here! Thats the time taken to build, feed and pupate a virgin queen.
I think the only explanation I can come up with is that I know the hive was packed full of bees at the point of artificial swarming . The mother hive or donor hive was the only hive that has started drawing up 2 honey supers, meaning it had a lot of foraging bees that came home to discover that their home had shrunk and the queen had gone without leaving queen cells.
 You may also say well, "perhaps the  swarm is because the existing queen from the donor hive, stayed on a frame that was transfered to the nuc?" so to avoid this problem of not being sure, I checked all the donor hives the week after and was pleased to find newly laid eggs in all the hives, so that that theory put to rest!

The bees had  immediately made emergency queen cells and 16 days later and  with the weather being excellent the first queen cell opened and a virgin queen climbed out of her guarded cell to find a very full hive packed with bees, pollen and honey.

At this point she must have chosen to swarm. I think therefore you could call this a "cast swarm" due to the fact that it was a swarm  with a virgin queen and not a prime swarm leaving with the existing queen.
The difference being that you should`nt expect to see any eggs from this queen for at least a week or 2, As she has to go off and mate, then return to the colony and start laying.

The weather since has been excellent but I am still not going to interfere with the hive. There`s just no need!

Click here to see the video

As soon as I had collected the swarm and hived it, in to a nuc and then placed in a space of its own, but next to the hive it came from, in case they decided to leave the hive if they were queenless. They would then probably all craw, back in to their previous hive.

I immediately then went in to the hive and looked at the state of the rest of the queen cells. None of the others had hatched out, and the one that had opened must of been the one that left the colony and it was unlikely that she would have stung through the sides of the other queens cells if she was going to swarm!
I quickly had a think and decided that I could use a few spare virgin queens, so I cut out a cluster of what semed to be 5 and left another 3 on the other side of the frame. That should at least leave enough to leave the nuc a good queen.
I didnt have a container, so I just put the queen cells on my seat. A few minutes later my son sitting in front of my truck, started yelling, saying "theres a bee on the seat." Turns out it was one of the queens that had just hatched out and was crawling around looking for a colony to join!

This then got me thinking about the other hive that was very slow to requeen. so I picked her up and put her on the entrance to the queen less colony and in she walked.
This is one method of re queening without using a queen  introduction cage. This virgin queen has very weak pheromone smell  and or of an existing colony and its the only time that a colony of bees may accept a queen ( virgin) in through the front door.
The other benefit of this spare virgin queen, is that if the hive had re queened then the virgin queen probably would not be  accepted of killed by the much stronger dominant egg laying queen. So nothing to loose.

The remaining queen cells, I put in to separate jars, as one more had hatched out on the way home and they need to be kept apart, before they try and kill each other!
I phoned my beekeeping teacher , who like me, had lost hives this year due to poor re queening after swarming, who was around to collect them within an hour, most grateful for this rare gift of spare queens in late august!
A great result. I got to see a swarm issuing from start to finish, caught the swarm, and also got  spare queens to requeen queenless hives! all luck that I was there to see the swarm come out of the hive as other wise I wouldnt have known where it had come from, thats if it stayed in the tree for long enough for me to spot it.
I am very happy!

Coming up: A cut out of a wild  honey bee nest at Callac, Video to come later, when editing is complete.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Late swarm, bearding bees and drone comb

Late swarm.
Caught a late swarm in this trap in the hot spell last week. It must have issued the first or second day of the really hot weather. The trap in about 1,2 meters off the ground, facing  North, but it does get the sun for most of the day.I checked the trap about 10 days before and there was a few bees checking it out but not in large numbers, so it was a very nice surprise.
 Not an enormous swarm but nice size,  that will get away well. The queen had already started laying and there was already a remarkable amount of pollen and honey stored in the centre frame which would indicate they have been there for at least a week. Normally one may expect a few swarms around the beginning of July but not really at the end of the month. This is a clear indication of  just how bad the weather has been over the spring and early summer with  the nectar flow still running well in to late July.
This swarm will stay in this nuc until next April, because it is unlikely to draw up enough comb and store more than five frames of provisions before the onset of autumn and  before the queens start to slow down her laying frequency .Also it is easier to heat and manage a smaller area if you have a smaller number of bees in the hive. Its all a matter of economics. They are capable of existing as a very small colony in a large hive for overwintering, however the odds of surviving the winter are less in a larger space.

The other thing to remember is that with all swarms, it is likely that  the queen is in her second year and she may have swarmed due to her coming to the end of her life.
If this is the case, hopefully the current queen will have started laying eggs in her new home and the new colony can become established before  the old queen dies or becomes weak,  leaving a window of opportunity to supersede the current queen or make emergency queen cells in the event of her sudden death.
For both kinds of queen replacement bees need eggs that are less than 3 days old. If no eggs are available of that age, then the colony is lost. Its also one of the main reasons why so many swarms die after swarming.
The queen is lost or exhausted by the swarming process or she dies shorty after esatabishing a new colony but has not started laying yet.

Bearding bees

Due to the hot weather all three of the recently created artificial swarms  have struggled with the temperature. 
The reason for this is that during the process of creating an artificial swarm, you move your existing hive from its existing position, to another place and subsequently all the flying bees make their way back to the nuc in its place, and always struggle for space but it is necessary, as the more the bees confined to this small 5 framed nuc increases the chances of successfully raising a new queen for the colony.
On hot days you will often see bearding where, bees have to leave the hive in an attempt to help regulate the temperature within the colony. Very often they will beard in the day and return to the hive in the evening when things cool down. Its actually a good sign of  hive management.

Drone brood comb

I wanted to show this picture of some Drone brood comb that I took out of a recently failed hive, that had failed to re queen successfully. Typically to the outer frame, was this beautifully constructed gallery of  drone brood comb that had since hatched out, but a good example of just how different brood comb is from normal worker brood. Many people cut out drone brood from the hive, as it is really a waste of resources to produce drones in the hives we look after, but in the big picture your own drone brood may not be made to produce drones for mating with your queens, but bees are genetically built to produce drones to ensure that there is always a pool of drones to mate with.  Drones are usually around from about mid april to about october, peaking in numbers around mid August, before all the drones are booted out of the hive as the colony prepares for overwintering. They get rid of any possible drain on the colony and obviously useless males are the first to go.! This gets my wife`s vote!

Drone brood raised above the normal  cells of worker production.