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John the BeeMan's Blog - mid May 2014 - Smokers, Nucs & Entrance Blocks

BBKA News - articles of interest from May issue:

Smokers are much discussed, if to use and what to use.   I employ a variety of fuels, always starting with a small sheet of newspaper with shredded cardboard (from Thornes packing material) or dried grass to get going.   I have used oak chips from a woodworking planer, but prefer very soft, dry rotten wood which smells like bonfires.   Lovely!   Iíve just tried fir cones, the ones squashed by car wheels work best.   These last two help keep the smoker going longer but tend to tar up the smoker lid which often needs cleaning.   I always have the smoker on the go as bees are so unpredictable.

You may also like to read the articles on 'Some Quirks of Swarming' and 'Bees on BS Standard Frames'


Continued Checking for Swarm activity at the Cemetery (6th May)

The 3 colonies with virgin queens were not ready for checking, best to let them settle in without disturbance.   I just adjusted the top super, putting empty frames to the middle with the fuller ones to the outside.   Also, making sure that the bees have plenty of space.   The 2 nucs and the 2 other full colonies were thoroughly inspected for queen cells, and appeared to be free from them.   I hope that I didnít miss any??

The Apidea mini nuc is doing OK, although the queen is not laying yet.   If she isnít by next week I will begin to worry.

The comfrey is now about 5 foot tall and the hives are almost hidden.

Hives amongst the comfrey
qMini Nuc building up
Hives amongst the comfrey
Mini Nuc building up

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Murphy Bees

One of the colonies has swarmed!   I couldnít have checked it fully last week.   I formed a small nuc with a frame with a cluster of queen cells at the bottom and left the main colony with 1 decent open queen cell.   Plenty of honey being stored with one super really heavy.


Making a Nucleus:

There are 4 vital ingredients for a nuc, a good frame of brood, a full frame of stores (honey and pollen) and plenty of bees.   Lastly, a queen, or potential for a queen, such as a queen cell.   At this time of the year it serves 2 purposes: as an artificial swarm and spare queens as an insurance policy if any virgin queen fails to get mated or is lost.   If they become surplus to my needs, I can sell them.

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Entrance Blocks

I noticed that Johan, at the Kenwood apiary, traditionally opens the full width of the hive entrance.   Alan Byham (the previous area Bee Inspector) suggested to me that a small entrance has several advantages and that he has used this for some years.   We no longer need this entrance for ventilation as the mesh floor provides more than adequate air flow.   A small slot, about 3 inches wide and 5 mm high is very defendable against robbers such as wasps and other honey bees and the 5 mm height will stop an Asian hornet (when it eventually arrives in the UK) and mice from entering the hive.   I have been using this entrance for the last 4 years and found it satisfactory, although at peak times the flying to and fro does get quite congested.

Year round entrance block
Summer time camouflage
Year round entrance block
Summer time camouflage

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Brood Disease Session at the Kenwood Apiary.

Several of our members came to my discussion and demonstration on ĎBrood Diseaseí, enjoying the sight of the healthy yellow gut of mature larva.   Some were really surprised that eggs were so easily seen in freshly drawn comb, thus proving one of the benefits of replacing brood comb regularly.   Johan has changed virtually all brood frames in the association hives this season, so, if you want to experience egg watching, now is your chance!

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More Checking for Swarm activity (14th May)

I checked the 3 colonies with virgin queens and in hive 1 there were eggs and young larva, so that oneís OK.   The other 2 have no laying queen yet.   As a precaution, I added a frame of brood which included all stages of development, from other colonies.   This will serve two purposes: if the queen is in difficulties they can form a new queen cell and if there is a delay, the pheromones emitted from the brood will help prevent laying workers.   All other colonies were clear of queen cells.

Very little apiary left!! (compare with the winter photo)
Culled drone brood , before and after the magpies have finished
Very little apiary left!! (compare with the winter photo)
Culled drone brood , before and after the magpies have finished

The Apidea mini nuc is doing OK, the queen is laying and I saw eggs and young larva.   I realised afterwards, that I didnít cover the entrance with a queen excluder, so hope that she will still be home when I next attend!

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Murphy Bees

The colony that had swarmed had produced a few more queen cells, so removed them except one good sized sealed cell for hatching.   The other colony is fine although the honey storage has slowed, as it has with all other hives.   The nucís queen cell had hatched and I saw the virgin queen, not much bigger than the workers, just a different shape and colour.

Beeswax preparation

The weather has just started to warm up and the sun has plenty of radiated heat in it, so I gathered my various bits of wax from damaged frames, culled drone brood and wild comb generally, cleaned my solar wax extractor and got it going in the garden.

My extractor is homemade, many years ago, out of a surplus brood box, tilted at 45 degrees and faced with a sheet of glass.   Iíve processed pounds of wax in this, finding it to be the cleanest and easiest way to render down wax.   The metal shelf inside slopes very slightly so that the molten wax slides off into an ice cream carton, while the dross is left behind on the shelf.   Itís surprising how dirty this wax is, judging by the amount of rubbish left over.   Brood comb is really not worth melting, as most of the wax is soaked up by the brood debris.

Solar wax extractor melting the wax
Left-over beeswax ready for the extractor
Solar wax extractor melting the wax

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Flowers for the Bees to look out for!

The sycamore is still out, also comfrey and borage may be growing wild in gardens and waste land.   Roses are just starting to flower.   There has always been a 'June Gap' when there is a dearth of forage nationally during the month.   London probably doesnít suffer from this with its vast array of flowering borders, shrubs and trees.   Mid June will be the start of the major flow of the season when the lime and brambles get going & many others.   Have your supers ready.

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