This is what I’ve been waiting for. Those long winter nights and short days are past, new life is bursting forth everywhere I look, and proper beekeeping is back. It all happens at once; adding space, dealing with swarm cells, raising queens and soon – harvesting the spring honey. It’s a good job I have the help of my son (The Mole). Anyway, new queens – the season has taken off!
I’m writing this on a Sunday, as usual, so that it’s ready for release to my hordes of followers, desperate to hear from the Walrus. I jest, of course; there are no hordes. But the Walrus is real. I missed the Eurovision Song Contest last night so this morning I watched a few bits on YouTube and, on balance, I think I dodged a bullet. I get enough cringe from American Idol. Later, I shall begin the enormous task of sorting out the gargantuan mess that is my garden. When it’s cold and wet I can’t face it, and when it warms up, there are bees to attend to, so the garden suffers.
As usual, it’s been a struggle with my over wintered mini-plus hives. The queens need far more space than even 4 boxes in a tower can provide, and the comb quickly becomes full of brood and nectar. The only option is to move my over-wintered queens into larger premises, which is great – they will do well, I’m sure. However, the mini plus hives require queen cells, or they will raise ‘scrub queens’. In fact, that has already happened. Once my first batch of cells is ready, I will rip the mini-plus hives apart, add frames of foundation or drawn comb, and start using them as mating boxes, for which they are ideal.
Swarming So Far
So far, out of 54 colonies (including nucs), I have lost three swarms and had to deal with queen cells in another seven. Two of the swarmed colonies had gone before the first full inspection, and on the other one I’d only seen cups with eggs in, but I probably missed an actual queen cell. I’m pleased that these swarmier colonies are not headed by queens that I have made. They are daughters or granddaughters of ‘my’ queens. I often find that when I let them re-queen themselves, they get progressively more swarm prone, as well as more runny on the comb and defensive.
I bought a breeder queen off Andrew Little and did the first round of grafting yesterday. It was nice to chat with him today, and good to hear about how Peter Little’s legacy continues through Andrew. As I’ve said before, once people start talking about crossing breeding lines, my brain melts. All I want to know is that she’s a well-bred queen and, in this case, her daughters have been tested and proved to be excellent.
Now that 30 grafts are sat in my cell builder colony, I’m more relaxed. My main worry with breeder queens is that I will kill or lose her before I manage to make many daughters. This happened to me a few years ago when I bought a Peter Stoffen queen and accidentally killed her. I try not to kill good queens, and even feel a touch of remorse killing horrible ones, but these things happen.
This latest breeder was created on the Sherberton site on Dartmoor; the one owned by Anton Coaker that Brother Adam used to use. Luckily, Anton and Peter Little were buddies, so Andrew benefits from that.
Finally, my lovely new premises for honey processing and grafting has been installed. It’s a shipping container that has been refurbished, and now it’s perfect for my needs. It was incredible watching the fellow from Nortons Hiab Services lift the thing over an outbuilding into a yard. We then had to shove it into place using the Gehl skid-steer loader. My first beekeeping task using these swanky new facilities was grafting, and all went well. Soon I shall have electricity and water connected, and then I’ll have to figure out a way of ensuring that I track and pay for the power that I use.
The way I set up cell builders is to start off with a Demaree. The queen is in the bottom box with little or no brood and plenty of space, with a queen excluder overhead. Then I put the supers on the excluder, then add another excluder over the supers, with a brood box on top containing frames of sealed brood. I add frames of sealed brood from other hives too, so that basically the top box is full of it.
A few days later, I make sure any queen cells are removed in the top box. Then, after a couple of weeks, the top box has mostly emerged and been backfilled with nectar. Most of the young bees have migrated to the lower box to tend to the brood there. On grafting day, I move the bottom box & queen to another floor elsewhere in the apiary. The top box now becomes the brood box on the original site, so that flying bees will return there. I then shake 5 – 6 frames of bees into the queen-less box from the one with the queen (making sure the queen stays where she is).
The grafted larvae go into the centre of the queen-less hive, with a pollen frame on one side. I also place a foundation frame in there. This should reduce the amount of brace comb around the cells. After 3 – 4 days, I re-combine the hive, with the cells in the top box and the queen down below. It then becomes a ‘queen-right finisher’ colony. I remove the cells 2 days before they are due to emerge. Often I can then add more grafts with good success, but subsequently I need to add more frames of sealed brood to boost nurse bee numbers.
Although it may be insane to take a holiday at the end of May, it’s what we have done as a family for twenty-plus years, and long may it continue. We pay our annual visit to Tighnabruaich on the West coast of Scotland (Kyles of Bute). It’s so beautiful and peaceful; a little paradise with good people, great food and numerous dog walks. The main thing I do is stare across the water to the hills of Bute, marvelling at how every little change in light makes a different, yet equally beautiful view.
Then I return home and frantically check to see if I lost any swarms. Normally, it’s okay because we give them space before we go away. It is tempting fate, but I don’t care.