14 June 2016

Tree Bumbles and swarms of Honey Bees

By this time last year we had been inundated with requests to collect swarms of honey bees. This year there have been far fewer calls and, so far, only two have been for honey bees. The rest have been about 'swarms' of bumble bees.

As much as I'd love to be able to spend time talking to people about bumblebees and their lifecycle I'm afraid that I have other calls on my time, so I end up suggesting they look online for more information and, you never know, they may even end up here on my small apiary's blog so I thought it might be a good idea to add post that might help.

The most commonly reported bee is the Tree Bumble, Bombus hypnorum. This species was first recorded in Britain in 2001 and has since spread northwards at a remarkable rate. Here's a picture from the BWARS site.

There's a lot more information on the BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society) website here, where people can add their own sighting.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, here, has a good page of information about the bumblebee's lifecycle and also how to encourage bumblebees to nest in a garden.

It might also be a good time to say that beekeepers tend to use the word 'swarm' differently from people who aren't beekeepers. To us a swarm is a cluster of bees hanging on a fence or in a tree, or a bunch of bees that have landed on the ground and look rather like a living cowpat. Non-beekeepers often use the word 'swarm' to mean a lot of bees flying around the entrance of a bird box, which is where it can all get a bit confusing.

Here are a some pictures showing what I would expect a swarm to look like - it's a magical sight and something quite unique.

Let's hope there are a few more swarm calls this year, because the lack of them is a little worrying as it hints at something not quite right in the background population of wild or feral colonies, especially those that have reliably produced swarms for many years.


23 April 2016

Orientation flights.

Orientation Flights are the first flights bees take, it's how they learn the position of the hive in relation to local landmarks. We more often refer to orientation flights as the forward and hive-facing flying we see when colonies are expanding, where it seems that new flyers are learning what the front of their home looks like so they can recognise it, and pinpoint its location. But that isn't all they do, and it's hard for a beekeeper to see how bees learn the location of their home within the wider local environment when a colony has been in the same spot for a long time because older bees get in the way.

It's actually amazing to watch a colony orientate en masse, something that will only happen when a colony finds itself somewhere new - when a beekeeper moves a hive, or perhaps when a swarm relocates from a tree to a permanent nesting site, or maybe even when a tree containing a nest falls down and the colony suddenly finds itself at ground level.

When the first two colonies of bees arrived at the small apiary it was intensely interesting (because they were new, because I was a new beekeeper and having bees was exciting) and so, of course, the hives were closely observed for hours on end - but I'll always remember those first few minutes.

31 March 2016

Winter bees and Summer bees

There's a neat evolutionary trick or two that enables colonies of honey bees to overwinter, and it isn't just the bees ability to cluster for days (weeks) on end when it's cold. Clustering, don't forget, is essentially an emergency measure to protect the queen and to keep her warm and safe.

Bees cluster when they collect around the queen whilst they're searching for a new place to live after swarming from the parent colony, and they will cluster when the inside of their nest is too cold for them to be able to safely walk around on their own without freezing to death. It's a pretty dangerous thing to do though, because a clustered winter colony will always settle over brood – the future of the colony - and can starve to death a mere inch or so away from food, which is why choosing the right nesting site after swarming is pretty important,

15 February 2016

BBKA Basic - Swarm Control for Beginners

The BBKA has made changes to the Basic syllabus and the way the assessment is to be carried out and marked. These changes apply from 2016.

The main change is that there is now a whole section on swarming and swarm control because it had been noted that those taking the assessment weren't really confident enough with their answers.

The BBKA asks that those taking the assessment are able to answer "Oral questioning on Swarming, Swarm Control and effects". A pass mark is 50%.

The syllabus is still quite clear  :-
The Candidate will be:
3.1 able to give an elementary description of swarming in a honeybee colony;
3.2 able to give *an elementary account of one method of swarm control; 
3.3 able to describe how to take a honeybee swarm and how to hive it; 
3.4 able to describe the signs of a queenless colony and how to test if a colony is queenless; 
3.5 able to describe the signs of laying workers and of a drone laying queen; 
3.6 able to describe a simple method of queen introduction; 
3.7 able to describe one method of uniting colonies and precautions to be taken;
* "An elementary method of swarm control" is not one which requires the beekeeper to search for the queen and then remember to manipulate doors in a special board or move boxes after a fixed number of days. There is no need to make things so difficult to remember, and so easy to get wrong.

An elementary method of swarm control is the one described by FERA as "Swarm Control When You Can't Find the Queen" or the one in the BBKA leaflet "Swarm Control for Beginners"

Swarm control doesn't have to be hard, it can be very easy.


30 January 2016

Messing with hard and fast beginners rules

When we learn something new we're often told there is only ever one way to do a certain thing, and we're often expected to perfect that method before trying a different way of achieving the same result.

Beekeeping is like this, to some extent, in that many instructors tell new beekeepers that there is one way, and only one way, of keeping bees - their way - and they can get really annoyed if their trainees don't do as they're told.

There are a lot of examples, let's have a look at a few :-

A new beekeeper must buy a standard National Hive.
Some say this is because that's what most people will be using, so it's easy to get spares and borrow a frame of

25 September 2015

Queen cells, swarming and beginner beekeeper training

It's late September, which is a strange time of year to think about queen cells and swarming, but, having recently helped a new-to-the-BKA-this-year beekeeper deal with the repercussions of bad poor misunderstood advice, now seems as good a time as any.

It's important for all beekeepers to know, and to fully understand, why it is not a good idea to remove queen cells as the sole method of swarm control, no matter how experienced the beekeeper who says it is! The end result is likely to be a colony with no queen and no means of making one. The colony will be doomed to a slow decline - which a newish beekeeper, struggling alone, may not notice until it's too late and they 'suddenly' see their hives contain frames empty of both brood and stores, with the few remaining bees on the point of starving to death.

How can this arise, especially when this particular beekeeper has done all the training, attended all the apiary sessions, and been to all available BKA events since they joined?

22 June 2015

Marcus Terentius Varro - De re rustica.

According to CMC Green, Varro "began the project, he says, at the request of his young wife who wanted to know how to manage her new estate". The 'treatise' isn't written as a text book, it's written as a series of stories and conversations.

When I first read this translation I was quite surprised to see how little beekeeping has changed in over 2,000 years (since about 30 B.C.), and how much of the advice is still relevant to 21st century beekeeping. Okay, so we now know that colonies are not led, or ruled, by a 'King' and we know that bees don't spontaneously appear within corpses of bullocks, but the antibiotic properties of honey have only been rediscovered, and used in medicine, in the last few years and the properties of thyme have been invaluable in dealing with varroa. Maybe there's something else that we 21st century beekeepers can use, if we look hard enough.

If nothing else, I think it's interesting.

This translation is taken directly from this site. The site owner William P Thayer states that this translation is "in the public domain", and may therefore be copied. Published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1934.

All the numbering and links have been removed because blogspot doesn't do sub and superscripts, and leaving them in made the text more than awkward to read. The number of paragraphs have also been increased, to try to improve readability.