Newsletter : April 2007
1. Editor's Notes
The fine spell at the beginning of April has allowed me to do a first quick check on the colonies. Of the 6 that went into the winter 5 have survived and are looking well at the moment, with stores, brood and pollen all in evidence. The survivors all have fresh floors, the top bars of the frames have been cleaned up and each now has a super under the queen excluder to give additional laying space for the queen.
Last month there was a brief reference to what is now being called ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ where bees have apparently deserted their hives for no obvious reason. This has been reported very widely in the United States where a few professional beekeepers have suffered massive losses. As yet no clear reason has been found though there is extensive research going. One theory is that it may be a multi-factor effect with chemicals used in both the hive and the environment playing a part. I note that BBKA, in its recent advice about using oxalic acid, has recommended that bees are only exposed to such a treatment once in a season. Robert Swallow’s reports in the last two Newsletters demonstrated that repeated treatments can trigger additional mite drop, but there may be unknown side effects from doing this. It could be argued that trying to rid the bees entirely of varroa might inhibit them from developing a natural immunity to this pest, which in the long run should be our goal. Control rather than elimination perhaps?
2. Last Meeting
John Perkins intrigued us all with the title of his talk, which was: Honeymoon Flats for Little Princesses. What followed was a description of his approach to queen rearing using mini-nucs. John raises about 70 queens during the course of each season, so his method is based on a great deal of experience.
The basic essentials are :
- queen cells (or virgin queens) raised from colonies selected for gentility.
- plenty of young bees on the point of foraging, which will be used for hatching the selected queen cell and looking after her until she is in lay
- drones from strong stocks which will provide good genetic ‘information’ when mating with the queen
- mini-nucs (such as the Apidea illustrated)which have the merit of being light, well insulated and needing only about 300 bees for successful raising of a queen.
Because of the need to have a plentiful supply of drones, queen rearing is best done between late April and July. After this time wasps can cause problems because they can easily overcome a mini-nuc and destroy the bees.
The method John uses is to collect young bees from a number of colonies by pulling a frame of brood out of each, spraying the bees with water to calm them down and then bumping them into a suitable box. The box is closed up and the bees are put into a cool place overnight. Next day, by which time the bees have realised that they are queenless, a ‘scoop-ful’ (e.g. washing powder size) is dropped into a mini-nuc which is already loaded with frames of drawn comb and a syrup feed. A virgin queen or a ripe queen-cell from the chosen colony is introduced to the mini-nuc and the entrance fitted with a queen excluder. The nuc. boxes are placed well away from the flight paths of any other colonies. After 5 days the queen excluder can be removed and after ten more days the queen should be in lay. The queens raised by this method are used to re-queen existing colonies to ensure that they are always headed by young queens, which in turn will help to reduce the incidence of swarming and the consequent lost honey crop.
There may be an opportunity, later this season, to demonstrate this technique for queen rearing in an apiary outing. Watch this space.
3. Next Meeting
April Meeting (Wednesday 11th. 7.30 p.m. at Shirehall)
We welcome John Hendrie, who will be talking to us about ‘A Driving Licence for Beekeepers’ i.e. why beekeepers should consider obtaining some form of beekeeping qualification. John has run beekeeping courses at Hadlow College and Adult Education Centres and has lectured and demonstrated on beekeeping for thirty years. He is currently serving as an elected member on the BBKA Examinations Board. He is on the BeeCraft Board of Directors, is Secretary of BIBBA and General Secretary of Kent Beekeepers' Association.
4. Finding and Marking the Queen
The words “First find the queen” must be among the most depressing that face new beekeepers when they are trying to undertake an activity like swarm-contol for the first time. Even the most experienced apiarists can be frustrated when trying to do this at times. However, there are techniques which help and, for the sake of convenient reference, some of them are listed below.
(Illustration taken from Dave Cushman’s website:
- Do it on a warm day early in the season. It is much easier to find a queen when there are 10,000 bees in the colony than when there are 50,000 and they are building queen cells as you watch.
- Focus on the task of queen finding to the exclusion of all other. You might be lucky and spot her while you are checking the state of the brood but you will probably not have your queen-marking kit to hand and by the time you find it the queen will have vanished.
- Keep in mind what you are looking for, e.g. the large shiny thorax, which is significantly different from that of the workers and the ‘low-slung’ ovipositer which trails behind her as she runs over the surface of the frame.
- Remove 2/3 frames from the end of the brood chamber and place them in a spare box nearby. They will usually be full of stores and therefore unlikely to be hosting the queen - but check anyway. Cover the remaining frames in the brood chamber with a manipulating cloth, leaving the gap at the end exposed to the light.
- Now take each frame out in turn to examine it. Watch the edges of the frame first because the queen often runs to get onto the ‘dark’ side. Then systematically scan the frame quickly but carefully, looking for the tell-tale signs. Turn the frame over and do the same again. You may need to do this more than once.
- Replace the frame at the ‘light’ end of the brood chamber, leaving an exposed gap between it and the covered frames still to be examined. This reduces the likelihood of the queen running onto a frame that you have already looked at since she will be unwilling to come out into the light.
- Continue to look through all the frames in this way, keeping the unexamined ones under cover.
- Be ready to mark the queen when you see her. I am not expert or confident enough to pick her up with my bare hands as good beekeepers may do. I also know from experience that if I use one of the cages with pins attached that you can press down on the queen to hold here still while you mark her, I will almost certainly spear several of her attendants with the spikes. So my preference is to use a queen ‘clip’. I can keep it in my hand when I am looking for the queen so as soon as I see her can close it over her. It does not matter if her attendants get caught as well because they can escape through the slots, whereas she is trapped. I will then release her onto a frame of stores laid horizontally across the brood chamber and hold her in position with a spiked cage while I mark her thorax. For marking I prefer to use a white marker pen (rather than a ‘tippex-type’ liquid). White shows up best when looking for the queen later and if you keep your records up-to date you know how old she is without having to colour-code her.
- An alternative technique is, after you have removed the first three frames, is to space the remaining frames out in pairs throughout the brood chamber. The queen will tend to hide in the middle of a pair where it is dark, so take a pair out together and open them up like a book and watch out for her movement. The only drawback with this method is that it is difficult to hold the queen-catching clip at the same time so you should place it nearby where you can pick it up while keeping your eye on the queen.
- Finally, be persistent. Once you have had your first success - and it may take some time - it does get easier. Practice, while not making perfect, improves the chances of finding a queen next time. Remember also that everyone has bad days. On the same day as finding one in a full colony I have failed to spot one in a nucleus!
If you want to explore the wilder side of queen finding there are some other suggestions below. The first two methods are useful when creating an artificial swarm.
- Move the existing hive a metre or so to one side and put a new brood box, fitted with frames of foundation, onto the old site. Put a queen excluder on top of the new brood box and an empty super on top of that to ‘contain’ the bees. Next take each frame from the old brood chamber in turn and brush the bees from it into the empty super above the queen excluder. This will inevitably put a lot of bees into the air but when they have settled down the queen should be found on top of the excluder. She can then be marked and put down with the others. Put the supers from the old colony on top of this new brood chamber followed by the old brood box, now devoid of bees. Close up the colony for 24 hours. Next day the nurse bees will have moved up into the old brood chamber and it can then be taken away into a different part of the apiary where they will raise a new queen. Don’t forget to feed them, as they will be without foragers initially.
- Use a Taranov board. This is simply a sloping board that the bees can walk up to get into the hive, but a gap is left between the top of the board and the hive entrance. The bees are brushed from each frame in turn onto the board. The older flying bees will fly back into the hive. The queen, and the younger bees, being reluctant to fly, will crawl over the top edge of the board and cluster there together.
This small group can then be housed in a new brood box, preferably fitted with drawn foundation, when the queen should be relatively easy to spot. Once again this nucleus will need feeding until foragers are available.
Finally, two unusual methods that originally appeared in our Newsletter for April 1995
When you have to get rid of an unsatisfactory queen, don’t put your foot on her but put her in a matchbox and place her in the freezer. Whenever you want to find a queen in a colony, take this old dead queen out of the box and pin her to the top bar of a centre frame. Close the hive. Walt 10 minutes and then open up quietly. The queen you want to find will be there, busily trying to get rid of her (dead) opponent.
For this method you need two queen-right hives. To find the queen in hive 1, take a frame of emerging brood from hive 2 and shake off all the bees. Exchange it for a similar frame from hive 1. Close the hives and wait twenty minutes. Open hive 1 and carefully examine the frame you exchanged from hive 2. The queen will be on that frame (because it smells different to her).
5. Shrewsbury Flower Show 2007
This year’s show is to be held on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th August. The Bees, Honey and Wine Section is again hoping to have a Honey Tasting and Sales stand with a number of types of honey from the Shropshire area supplied by members from any of the Shropshire Associations.
In order that we can get some idea of the number of people who would like to supply honey, it would be helpful if you could contact us by July 7th. So that everyone is given a fair opportunity to offer honey for this stand, there will be a cap on the amount that each individual can supply. This level has yet to be decided along with the selling price, although the latter may be based on £4.50 per lb. A deduction will be made from the selling price to help with the costs of staging the Show. Each supplier is expected to help steward the Bees, Honey & Wine Section at some time over the two days.
If you would like to offer honey or have any questions, please contact Ray Green.
6. A Warning
Polystyrene and plastic hives are becoming increasingly popular and are now bringing their own problems. Due to the current emphasis on environmentally friendly waste-management, it is no longer lawful for either the Inspector or the beekeeper to burn these items or any related plastic equipment – a necessary requisite in the case of AFB, and sometimes in cases of EFB. Neither is it practicable to sterilise any of this type of equipment by scorching – it melts with noxious fumes! Now, the only way is to employ the services of a properly accredited and licensed contractor who has access to an appropriate waste disposal site - which can prove costly for the beekeeper, and may have implications for any Bee Diseases Insurance compensation.
Dave Sutton RBI
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