Thursday, 21 July 2011

Just when we had it straight...

Ask 3 beekeepers for advice and you get 5 opposing answers.

We had our Plan of Action sorted out. We knew what we needed to do,  we had "discussed" it to the point of agreeing on it.  It seemed reasonable. It seemed straightforward.

We then went along to a special information session run by our local beekeeping association, on "Preparing Your Bees For Winter", which was especially aimed at Newbies like us.

After half a session, where we learned that we needed to be doing everything ( get the honey crop off urgently, get the 4 week varroa treatment started - can't do that until you've removed any honey - squeeze in letting the bees clean the extracted frames - takes at least a week - then feed as soon as possible so the summer bees do the conversion work before they die so that the winter bees don't wear themseleves out doing conversion work) now, we were convinced that our PlanA was going to take too long.  We had to reappraise and adjust so, sitting in the hall, we worked out a new Plan, Plan B, taking into account the new information.  We weren't sure whether we should give them the frames to clean the week before or the week after the 4 week varroa treatment, and I waited patiently to ask the question.

And then the questions from other participants and answers from various experienced beeks present provided yet more information. Varroa treatments sometimes kill off brood. If you have a swarm with only a small amount of brood (like us), you have to consider not treating for varroa until spring.  

And we're also planning to reunite our hive, which will take at least a week.  We just don't have enough time to get it all done and finished.

As we walked back to the car after the evening, we worked out Plan C1, which is to not treat for varroa until early next year. That will give us time to unite the hives, feed them, and take off any frames as part of the reuniting process.  We were both on the same wavelength with this.

We decided to implement step 1 of Plan C today, which was to go to the allotment and remove the ekes (containing frames that needed cleaning, which they had done with mixed success) from both hives.   We've been using feeders as ekes, and we need to get them all cleaned up ready to put the Ambrosia in to feed the bees. 

We also decided to remove the Super from Hive 1, as the bees hadn't even started drawing the frames out and we might as well get it off and out of the way. One less thing for us and the bees to worry about.     We tackled Hive 1, our Queenless and Angry hive first.  It went well.   The bees were angry pretty much immediately,  but we were able to get through the process. 

I took the super and the eke away to try and get the remaining bees off, while DH put the hive back together and did a job of removing the eke from Hive 2.
We don't want to go into the bees again until next week,  as the next set of steps is likely to upset them a bit (at least, I'd be upset if I were a bee) and we don't want angry bees on the allotment over the weekend.

Here's our (current) thinking on the rest of Plan C:
Next week, Day A: Hive 1 (angry hive):
  • do full inspection to make absolutely sure there is no sign of a Queen. 
  • If there is a Queen consider removing her as she's creating angry bees and if you have an angry hive who are not Queenless, the only way to resolve things is to kill the Queen.
  • Remove some frames of stores and replace with new frames. The Queen moves UP when laying, so it will be good to have the newest frames here in what will become the upper box.  Scrape the bottom of frames so there are no jagged bits that could tear the newspaper when we come to Unite.  We will need to check again just before we Unite, but doing it in advance means there will be less work on the day.
Day B, Hive 2:
  • Look at Supers on hive 2, remove whole box unless they have started using them.  
  • Scrape top of frames on hive 2, ready for reuniting.
Evening B, both hives:
  • unite the two colonies using a sheet of newspaper to separate them.
Day C, one week later, cobined hive: 
  • Go into combined hive, rearrange frames if possible/desireable.   
  • Feed. 
  • Seek information to help make decision on whether to leave two boxes on until Spring, or to see if we can get down to one box.  
  • Decision not needed for another week.
I feel surprisingly calm at the need to change plans.  I'm a frustrated newbie in that I have to rely on the advice of others, or what I read, as we aren't experienced enough yet to know what is right, wrong, or just better.     

I do realise though that most of what we are doing is not wrong,  and that gives me confidence.   I also know that we always start by thinking about what it means from the bees' perspective rather than just what's convenient for us,  and that means that even if another route might have been better at least we aren't doing things through arrogance or carelessness.
I still feel safe in my bee suit.... although I'm usually a teeny weeny bit nervous as I disrobe by the car.  I'm always expecting a crafty bee to suddently pop up from nowhere, sting shining and extended, laughing as it stabs me.  I've obviously seen that in a cartoon and it's burned on my memory!


  1. Gosh, I want to get a hive so badly but every time I read a bee post I get overwhelmed. It's hard to jump in!

  2. HI Alexis
    Unlike chicken keeping, I would definitely recommend learning more about bee keeping - ideally getting some hands-on experience - before you jump in. Are there any courses or taster sessions that you can go to? Is there some form of local beekeeping association that you could join to find a mentor?

  3. My grandfather use to keep bees and when he passed on, my uncle kept them for for further 6 years until some wonderful youths one night smashed the hives to pieces 'for a laugh'.

    It is frustrating and upsetting that bees and bee keeping skills can be lost in a minute of juvenile madness.

  4. Sorry to hear about yoru uncle's hives Chris. Whata mindless thing for the yobs to do, and how sad for your uncle.