Part 1: Are An Introduced Queen & A Swarm Related?

Part 1: Are An Introduced Queen & A Swarm Related?

I introduce a queen to a colony and a swarm goes over my garden a few hours later.  Are these incidents related?  I don’t know the answer to this question, yet.  I’ll post next week.

The Inspection

I am down to one hive after 2 seasons of weak colonies, wax moths, wasps and lets be honest, some bad beekeeping, so it was with crossed fingers I went to carry out my first inspection of the season.

At first glance all looked good, with bees coming and going … but I could also observe they were not bringing in any/much pollen, which was a worry.

In the hive there were no eggs, larvae or capped brood.  This was a big worry!  No pollen, but plenty of honey stores.  About 6 frames of bees.  I found the marked queen.  Luckily no cells with multiple eggs, which would have been a sign of Laying Workers.

I assume the queen has stopped laying and I assume there isn’t a virgin queen as there is no brood from which a virgin could have been made in the last few weeks.  I assume the Queen is producing enough pheromone to stop bees becoming Laying Workers.

Next Steps

I went online and bought a queen (delivery was going to take about 10 days).

To reduce risk of bees becoming workers, I added a frame of eggs from a friends hive (thanks Carolyn).

Introducing Queen (10 Days Later)

There is some best practice with how to introduce a queen but being (A) not a great beekeeper, (B) time limited (full time job and kids at home under lockdown) and (C) reducing the chance of beekeeper error, I did the minimum.  Doing the minimum does reduce the risk of the bees not accepting her … but I calculated this was a lower risk than me losing or injuring the queen.

So, I killed the current queen, removed the plastic tabs from the end of the queen cage and popped the cage into the hive.

Marked Queen 2019
Marked Queen 2019

I’ll inspect in 7 to 10 days to see if there are eggs or a dead queen.

The Swarm

So, I did all the above in the morning. Three hours later a large swarm went through our front garden, down the cul de sac, over a few neighbours gardens and then seemed to settle in a hole in a tree (high up).  Luckily the neighbours found the swarm reduced some of the monotony of lockdown and I shouted out to anyone that would listen that “it wasn’t mine” (probably wasn’t mine would have been more accurate).

I don’t think it was mine for the following reasons:

  1. Earlier the same day, I had both killed the queen (definitely) and left a queen in a cage which will take a few days to get her out of
  2. I presume there wasn’t a virgin queen in my hive (I hope)
  3. I think the swarm was too big (about 15,000 bees by my estimate: 30m long swarm x 10m wide x 5m high, with density of 10 bees per cubic metre – has any one got better ideas of how to estimate a flying swarm size?)

However, I’ll find out when I next inspect and you can find out in Part 2.

There was another swarm the next day, that passed 20m from my house. Starting to get excited about the season.  I need more bees, so I’ve ordered some Vita swarm attractant wipes (blog sponsor) and set up a nuc box.

Not My Swarm - April 2020
Not My Swarm – April 2020


Hope all going well with the start to your beekeeping seasons.

I also found these little wasp nests in the upstairs window sill.  Spring is in full flow.

Wasp Nest (Next To "Cole", From Ninjagos)
Wasp Nest (Next To “Cole”, From Ninjagos)

Emergency Feeding Bees – Part 1

Emergency Feeding Bees – Part 1

Blog readers have just started posting again on my Beekeeper Anonymous page (that I created when an early colony of mine starved), so I should have taken it as a warning to go and check my bees.

I just popped down to the allotment today (24th March) to do a quick 30 minute weed.  I could immediately see that the near and far hives were very, very busy but that the middle hive was not very active at all.

This hive had the least stores when I inspected a week ago.  Reading the comb I knew this hive was low on stores but it had been such a nice day and I hoped they were home and dry now that April was near.  Lesson learnt – I should have fed.  I wish I had.

There were dead bees and bees moving slowly on the landing board.  There was the occasional bee returning from foraging. I looked in through the entrance and could see lots of dead bees on the floor (up to about 1,000).  It looked desperate but hopefully not terminal.

I immediately went to the shop and bought 3kg sugar.  Mixed with 3L of water into a thin syrup and put into a honey tub and some into a hand sprayer.

Returned to the hive.  Opened the crown board. Removed the MAQs. Sprayed several times down each seam directing it into the comb.  In retrospect, I wish I had sprayed more as the comb could have held it without leaking out of the hive.  Put the jumbo feeder on top and poured in the thin syrup. I then trickled some down into the hive so they could find the feeder.

Jumbo Feeder
Jumbo Feeder

Closed up and hoped.  It was 5.30pm and still 13C.

I looked into the feeder 20 mins later and one single bee was walking up into the feeder! I hope they find the energy to get into the feeder.

Tomorrow is forecast to be sunny and 13C.  If the emergency feeding has worked they should be flying as normal.  If not, I’ll open again and spray in a lot more syrup.

Whilst I was kitted out I removed the MAQs from all 4 hives and put in entrance reducers.

Go and check your hives tomorrow!

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Bye Bye Bees

Bye, Bye Bees

Star Beekeeper To Quit Beekeeping

My Yorkshire beekeeper cousin has won numerous awards in the last two years from his local Wharfdale beekeeping association for his honey, heather honey, honey cake, photography and as best newcomer.  What a star!

But last season and this season he has received stings that have resulted in trips to hospital.

Requeening - Simon & Roger
Simon & Roger: Re-queening Aggressive Hives

Are you IgG or IgE?  It makes a difference

I have written before about bee stings which are made up of: several toxic substances, several agents that help the venom spread around the body, protein irritants, steroids and an alarm pheromone!

bee sting

In that post I explained that there are two types of people, those who produce more immunoglobulin G (IgG) and those who produce more immunoglobulin E (IgE).  Those who produce more IgE suffer progressively worse from stings.  Those people who produce more IgG build up their resistance to stings.  It looks like my cousin produces more IgE.

He was very enthusiastic about beekeeping and he invested in a lot of gear but it looks likely that he might have to give it up.

I’m working on him with suggestions of EpiPens, BeePro suits and that his wife is around when he is inspecting … but the consequences of a bad reaction are potentially significant.  He is considering immunotherapy but it seems that the effort required and the less than perfect outcome may not be worth it.  Let’s hope that research in molecular biology find new ways of protecting beekeepers from anaphylactic reactions.

Simon is not alone.  Many, many new beekeepers discover in the first couple of years that they are so allergic to bee stings that they need to give it up.

Advice To Avoid Bee Stings

My top advice to all bee keepers is to avoid stings and hence de-risk the potential of experiencing worse and worse reactions.  At least it will delay the point at which you may have to give it up.  Here is what I suggest:

  1. Re-queen aggressive colonies.  I have had colonies so aggressive that it is worth leaving them and waiting until April to cull the old queen and re-queen from new source (mated queens are available from April). Read more: re-queening aggressive hives
  2. Always, always, always wear your bee suit, boots, gloves, thick clothes under the suit
  3. Buy a quality one piece bee suit (a Christmas present?).  The best are from Sherriff (a sponsor of this blog)
  4. If you are very allergic/worried and have the money buy the Sheriff BeePro suit, an ultra protective beekeeping suit has been specifically designed to protect those sensitive to bee stings.

Stay safe and have a great Christmas.

Read more: Simon’s Beekeeping Year In 2016

BBKA News: Melissophobia – Fear Of Bees

Melissophobia (or Apiphobia) – Fear Of Bees

This article was first published in the newsletter of The British Beekeepers’ Association (No. 222 – April 2015).

I feel I need to come clean.  I have mixed emotions when inspecting bees, alternating between delight and wonder, to slightly nervous and occasional panic.

Melissophobia is an unreasonable fear of bees.  Surely, there should be a word for a reasonable fear?  With a particularly aggressive colony, my fear seems reasonable. Those little buzzing things sting.

Having a fear of bees is somewhat unfortunate for a beekeeper but it must be quite common. Surely most beekeepers heart beat increases when they hear the roar of 60,000 bees – especially if you have kamikaze bees.  Not all beekeepers can be the type that are happy to inspect their bees with little more than cotton wool in their nose and ears. Surely some, like me, are what they call metrosexuals (i.e. men who have been known to run away from spiders).

Fatalities due to honeybees are rare.  In October last year it was reported that a beekeeper in the UK (with known anaphylaxis) died of a honeybee sting and the article I read quoted an Office of National Statistics official that a man last died of a bee sting in 2012 in the UK. There seems to be a higher proportion of deaths attributable to bee stings in the USA, where in 2000, the World Health Organisation reported that, there were 54 deaths attributable to bee stings (from a population of 281 million people and where 90 people/year die of lightning strikes). Perhaps, this is due to an increased prevalence of Africanised bee.  So with these low rates of fatality it is apparent that my fear is not rational. I know that probably the worst I’ll get is some painful stings, a swollen leg and a lack of sympathy from my wife – but still, when you’re faced with a hive, it’s not just a bee you’re contending with, it’s thousands of them. Yes I know that the average adult can safely survive a thousand stings, but what if they ALL get me?!?

Facing The Fear

Of course the recommended treatment for phobias is to face your fear, something I will be doing quite a lot over the coming months, with the first inspection of the hives imminent.

This year though I’m going in prepared with my apiary armoury.

In my early days I had some lovely bees and thought that smoke was an unnecessary accessory. As the bees created stores and had something to defend I became a smoker.  I now have a bucket-sized smoker. I am resigned to being the Dot Cotton of beekeepers.

Smoking Hive
Smoking Like Dot Cotton

Clothes-wise, I have learnt that trainers with socks over jeans does not provide much protection especially when you stand in front of the hive entrance.  I have discovered that bees don’t sleep and that feeding at night does not mean that the bees won’t fly/pour out of the hive.

bee sting reaction
Bee Sting Reaction

I currently find myself with a particularly aggressive colony*. When I remove the crown board the bees surge upwards and pour out of the hive like a scene from my worst nightmare. They attack every weak spot.  Down my boots.  Through gloves.  They even sting the tips of my ears where they touch the suit.

I now wear marigolds under my regular gloves.  I tape up my boots. I wear thick shirts and jeans under my bee suit. I wash my gloves and clothes regularly to reduce any sting pheromones that might linger and that would initiate more attacks.  I have all the rumoured remedies on hand (onions, toothpaste, lemons and half the contents of Boots). Any pretence of me being a brave-beekeeper is well and truly annihilated.

When I do an inspection, of this aggressive hive, I’m in and out and do the minimum required. I have decided they are impossible to inspect after June.

My Skin Breaks Out In, Err, Hives!

Usually I go through the normal cycle of pain, swelling, itching and very tired for a few days if I’ve been stung by upwards of ten bees, but one time due to a combination of being stung and high anxiety – my skin broke out in, er, hives. It was so bad even my wife was sympathetic. This is all somewhat ironic considering I started beekeeping as a way to de-stress.

The solution is obviously to get some nicer bees. Ones that like their beekeeper and welcome a yearly raid of everything they’ve spent their little lives working towards.

My plan is to requeen as soon as possible this year (June) and an old boy has offered to come and jointly inspect the colony in April and perhaps requeen with some of his more gentle Queens.  I think he thinks I am either doing something terrible to the bees rather than me having a particularly aggressive colony.  Either way – it will be fantastic to see an experienced beekeeper working with this colony and see if he is able to charm them.


It’s always good to know how other beekeepers handle their hives. Have you found any impenetrable material to protect us from stings? How do you make your inspections less risky? If nothing else, how do you illicit more sympathy from your other halves when you do get stung? Do let me know if you have any ideas.

* When I wrote this article for BBKA News I did have an aggressive colony, but unfortunately I lost  it at the end of February (Post: Colony Post-Mortem).

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Aggressive Bees & A Physiological Reaction

Aggressive Bees & A Physiological Reaction

Aggressive Bees Produce More Honey?

Some people think aggressive bees make more honey but I have seen no evidence of this.  I have only experienced terrifying attacks and their relentless and uncanny ability to find any weak spots in my protective gear, which now includes marigold washing-up gloves under my leather gloves.  See video below.

I apologise for some muffled swearing at the end.  I thought I was fully protected and I thought bees only walked up … but apparently they can also walk down … down my boots in this case, plus they got one of my ears (again).

Is anyone else having the same level of aggression from any of their hives – and if so, what’s to blame? Is it nature, nurture – or just they don’t like the look of me? I mean these bees are not just a bit annoyed by my visits – within seconds of lifting the lid I have 15 stings protuding from my gloves!

And I thought these bee suits were meant to protect us but even with my DIY layer of insulation underneath (thick shirt / jeans and my trusted marigolds), they are still finding routes to attack (seemingly especially fond of my ears and ankles).

Even when I make my retreat, they don’t accept their victory graciously, no, they follow me 100 metres with one even escourting me to my front door, and attacking again when I re-emerge five minutes later. No wonder I have a persecution complex!

My Physiological Reactions

20 minutes after the above video I was in a mild state of shock. I could see that my arms and legs were covered in hives (skin looks like it is having allergic reaction) and I noticed that my ears felt like they had been injected with wax. Apparently I was shouting. I think the hives (on the skin) and ears were stress related rather than bee venom related as they had settled down after an hour.

Here’s a photo of my feet the evening of the stings. Stings in the ankles are painful. The feet swell by 30%.

For hours (and days) after the experience I could still hear their buzz in my ears. I flinched at small sounds. I jumped nervously when my wife touched my shoulder.  I have, it must be said, become a nervous beekeeper!

Ankles After Bee Stings
Ankles After Bee Stings

Re-queening Aggressive Hives

Despite all the above, I’m not giving up on beekeeping! So what’s my plan of counter-attack?

Next June I will re-queen with queens that are proven to generate gentle bees. Re-queening now runs the double risk of the bees not accepting the queen and of winter losses.

So how am I going to co-exist with these bees for the next 10 months? My wife and I can generally talk through our differences, and though she can be quite scary at times (“I’m gonna get you in the night” – terrifying), at least I don’t get beaten up or swell up as a result. I know this blog is called “talking with bees” but there is no opportunity for any bee whispering with these aggressive bees. So I think the only interim solution is to put a top of the range bee suit (made from kevlar?) on my Christmas list and looking at my wife’s reaction to events (she doesn’t like to see me getting hurt) – I might get one.

Post script: Sherriff (the top quality bee suit manufacturer) have now supplied me an Apiarist Bee Suit.  So far, so bee tight!

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A Visit To Maisemore

I had heard of these places whilst on beekeeping training courses and in whispered conversations. They had evoked more fear than curiosity … until now. Yes – I am talking about beekeeping equipment suppliers!

I imagined it to be like an old-school DIY store, the sort of place where beemen and beewomen would hang out to shoot the breeze. They would look me over and make me feel very small. It would be difficult to have a private, one-to-one conversation with the owner. “Yes I am a beekeeper. I’d like some bees and hives please,” I would ask quietly. “What type of bees and what type of hives?”, would start a conversation where I would gradually have to reveal the depths of my ignorance. I’d leave the store and they’d be thinking “I give him a year”.

But being a beekeeper and blogger I thought I should be brave and it was time I visited an equipment supplier rather than just buy online.

So, was the visit to be like my recent experience at a local DIY store to buy some curtain hooks? (After several visits I ended up buying all the packets of curtain hooks, none of which fitted).

Maisemore – My Local Supplier

Maisemore are just 45 minutes drive from where I live.  I first read about them on their website and was really pleased to find that they operated 1,000 hives across a number of locations. They were still practicing beekeepers and would understand my issues.  They are also a family run business in its 3rd generation.

Maisemore Apiaries
Maisemore Apiaries Warehouse

I arrived to find a big warehouse, a shop, lots of planks of cedar wood and some beehives in operation. Not clean, shiny beehives like my own, but proper working hives that had been built decades ago and stood the test of time.

Maisemore Shop
Maisemore Shop

Johnathan, who owns Maisemore with other family members, was behind the counter. Whilst I was there a few people came in asking about Queens and buying equipment, but nothing like the scary dudes of my imagination. Johnathan knew his stuff and we got chatting. We got on so well in fact, Jonathan kindly agreed to give me some equipment in exchange for some mentions on this blog – hence my new Beekeeping Equipment page!.

Why I Liked Maisemore

  1. They know their stuff – They operate 1,000 hives and understand beekeeping. Their products are not over-engineered and they rely more on word-of-mouth than big budget advertising.
  2. Great value – Their “Rock Bottom Bee Hives” are made of cedar and I couldn’t find any cheaper on my searches.  I have listed and provided links to other suppliers here: Beekeeping Equipment Suppliers
  3. Wide product range – They have all the equipment a new beekeeper needs. If you visit the shop, 95% of the equipment you would need is in the shop and I am sure Jonathan would be able to lay his hands on anything else you wanted, either out-the-back or in the warehouse
  4. I got some free stuff!

If you do buy from their store, please give me a mention (they deliver nationally and internationally). Next year, I’d love to negotiate a good deal on this yellow suit for my “Guest Beekeepers” 😉

Beekeeping Equipment
Beekeeping Equipment In Maisemore Shop

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  • My wife has banned any further spending on beekeeping equipment and I have now started a very small relationship with Maisemore which I talk more about here: Beekeeping Equipment
  • Link to Maisemore Website:

Dead Bees – The Body Count

I last heard some activity about 3 weeks ago when I knocked on the side of the hive and heard a friendly buzz … but nothing recently.

I saw a flying honeybee a few days ago and went down to my hive, in hope, to observe … nothing.

I took off the mouse guard and had a look in … dead bees everywhere.

Despite being an optimist, I was 100% sure the colony was dead. I felt pretty gutted – I was not going to see any of my bees flying around on a warm February day.  The hive wouldn’t be building up for the first nectar flow.

I went down on Saturday (2nd Feb) to record the devastation.  And then to my surprise and delight …

Wooo hoooo.  On a warm day I might see some bees come flying out.  I cleared the entrance and some of the bees from the floor to give them a hand.

Still not sure if their is a Laying Queen or if they will survive the Winter.  But they are alive today.  This was the most bee-ing I had done since I Gave My New Queen A Good Home.  I am looking forward to Spring.

PS. Do the bees carry out their dead or do I have to do it for them?

The joys and guilt of harvesting my first honey

An important day in the honeybee calendar just happened without much of a plan and definitely without a fanfare of trumpets.  One minute I was unpacking boxes due to the house move, then I got distracted and thought I would check the bees (which are now 30m round the corner).  I decided to remove a couple of frames of honey from the supers as a small reward but as I got them in the house without too many bees following me I thought, “what the heck”, and went back for the whole super.  I just shook the bees off into the hive.  No smoke was used.  No clearer boards.  No stings were received.  It was easier than I had expected.  Too easy …

My spontaneous reasoning for harvesting the honey went something along the lines that due to the high varroa count in my hives I needed to treat with Apiguard as soon as possible and I did not want to taint the honey in the one super I had with the thymol in the Apiguard.  Both hives now have an Apiguard treatment and I’ll update you on the impact in a future post.

Having placed a super on the kitchen table I then had to be deal with it there and then.  The only part that was remotely planned was that I had a borrowed extractor to hand.


There were four frames that looked extractable.  They contained 20% capped honey, and 50% unripe/uncapped honey (i.e. it was very liquid with a high water content and the bees had not yet flapped their wings enough to completely turn it into ripe honey).

Uncapping honey

Uncapping honey

I uncapped the capped cells with a serrated knife and placed the four frames in the extractor and turned the wheel.  This extracted the unripe honey.  As I got increasingly desperate to extract the ripe honey I first tried a hairdryer to soften it up (this had no effect) and then I used a knife and scraped it into a jar.

I must admit this this lustful frenzy of “harvesting” felt more like robbing.  Was I really stealing the bees winter lifeline for the sake of some sweet porridge in the morning and my beekeeper ego?

I reminded myself that though humans are the reason for the decline in honeybees (destruction of habitat, importing the varroa) if it was not for novice beekeepers, like myself, there would be no chance for the blighters at all.

And so I kept scraping …

Warming honey for extraction with no success

Warming honey for extraction


Two jars of unripe honey (liquid) and one jar of honey scraped from the comb (this honey seems to be a mix of wax, pollen and honey and is quite granulated).  They all taste delicious and are sitting in the fridge to preserve them the best I can (unripe honey ferments).

My first honey

My wife has so far not participated in the honey tasting sessions as (A) she does not like honey and (B) she prefers to buy food from supermarkets.  I am working on both of these elements.  We picked some blackberries and made a pie last year!  And now that we are living in the countryside, she is getting more exposure to allotment food, bees, spiders and nature.

Unfortunately, the honey I have is definitely not of the quality (or quantity) to demonstrate my thanks to the friends who had lent the extractor or to the various neighbours who had experienced at close quarters the swarm in May.  Hopefully, next year will be more productive.


When I started beekeeping my “business plan” was modelled on having hives with an average of three supers producing 120 jars of honey.  I have since learnt that honey production is highly correlated to the weather and that to produce honey I am going to have to be a better beekeeper: manage swarming better and aim to have hives bursting with bees for the two nectar flows of April and July.  I am also keen to get my other colony into a large 14×12 brood box as soon as possible as this will allow them to store enough honey to last them the winter without me being tempted to take their supers.

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Warning – novice beekeeper alert

I inspected my TWO hives on Sunday with some trepidation.

Hive A: My hopes were raised when I looked in the old hive (the one that swarmed 5 weeks ago) and I saw white “stuff” at the bottom of some of the cells.  To a desperate, novice beekeeper, they looked a bit like uncapped larvae. To members of the Beekeeping Forum, with no emotional attachment to my hives, it was definetly granulated honey stores.  In conclusion, there may, or maynot, be a newly-laying Queen. Advice from beekeepers welcome.

Hive B: The newly hived swarm seemed to be doing nicely.  The first thing that amazed me was that they had drunk all the sugar syrup I had given them.  They had drawn out most of the frames and were starting to fill them with nectar and pollen.  I was hoping to see eggs, but it was 5pm, the light was poor and I could not see any.  The only worry about this hive is that Dad report enormous amounts of activity at about 1.30pm and he showed me some photos and it looked like they might have been planning to swarm.  So this might be a Queenless hive too.  Advice appreciated.

This is my first year of beekeeping and it’s even more complex than I originally thought.  Four days of training, some experience and numerous books had not shown me any photos of granulated stores or given me a definitive answer on what to do in the circumstances I have described in a number of posts.  There is a constant uncertainty around not having a laying Queen and further swarming.  I had hoped to be an OK beekeeper in my first year and make 2-3 supers of honey. I am now seeing this period as a huge learning experience.

I am going to phone a friend.

Original hive / brood box frame / no brood / granulated honey in centre / honey stores around the edge:

granulated stores

Newly hived swarm / drawing out new comb:

new hive brood frame

To find out what happened next you might want to read Proud Dad and please subscribe to this blog.

Bees on the outside of the hive – is this normal?

I confess, I am a very nervous beekeeper.

My wife is in awe at my supposed bravery in taking on such a ‘scary’ hobby – but the reality is, I still don’t feel comfortable beekeeping unless I have a professional by my side, or at least, my Dad.

He stands there calmly saying “focus on what you are doing”, I go into a panic-like zone and forget the basics like making my beesuit bee-tight.

Last week, I plucked up the courage to open the hive for a second time.  I had to.  It was the start of May – the swarmy season – and apparently I have “swarmy” bees.  The books said I needed to:

  1. Check if they were making a Queen cell, because if they were they would soon swarm and cause chaos
  2. Look for a Queen and mark her, so that I could undertake an artificial swarm to prevent a real swarm and chaos
  3. Make sure there was honey, pollen and brood in the frames, confirming that everything was OK
  4. Give them a sprinkle of icing sugar, to help reduce varroa

Only four little “to do’s” but one massive, noisy hive with 30,000 bees in it!

Crikey, it was busy (see photos below).

Step 1 – Looking for a Queen

No chance!  30,000 bees (many strangely on the outside of the hive after I had been examining the frames) versus one panicky, novice beekeeper with bees crawling inside his beesuit.

Yes – admittedly on my side I also have a calmer novice beekeeper (i.e. Dad) but unfortunately he’s an ally with macular degeneration who hadn’t had his Lucentis injection recently and now has a view of the world with an aspect ratio of 124:1.  To my Dad, all the bees looked like long, stripy worms.

Step 2 – Looking for a Queen Cell

Dad thought he saw a queen cell – but what did he know?  (Quite a lot apparently, see my next post).  In my panic-driven rush, I told him it was a drone cell.

Steps 3 & 4 – Checking the frames & using icing sugar

The frames seemed to have enough pollen, nectar (not capped) and brood. And I finished off the session by throwing icing sugar about, some of which went in the hive.

Phew.  Another encounter with bees leaves me stingless. Success in some form at least …

Help! Am I doing this right?

Beekeepers – how did I end up with so many bees on the outside of the hive?

Beehive covered in bees  Close up of bees outside hive

Postscript: You might want to read some of my swarmy bee posts!

Beekeeping – Smoking the hive & more to worry about

The BBKA news arrived today – this is the monthly newsletter of the British Beekeepers Association.  I thought it would be a wonderful antidote to newspapers and current affairs but this month’s articles include headlines like “Taking & Hiving A Swarm” with photos of giant swarms about 1m high and 0.5m wide (… interesting, perhaps something for next year); “Allergic Reaction to Propolis” (yikes, hope my skin will be alright); and a front page headline of “Neonicotinoid Effects on Bees” (hhmmm, let me guess, bad effects rather than how it makes them into bees with super powers … must read more).  Also, on page 24 are photos of burning pyres of beehives being buried in pits.  It’s like a scene from bee armageddon.  All terrifying to the novice beekeeper and surely off-putting for wannabee keepers!

I plucked up the courage.  It had to be done.  The plan:

  1. Open the hive
  2. Replace the closed floor with an open mesh floor (so the varroa fall out)
  3. Dust bees with icing sugar, so the bees clean each other and the varroa drop off (yes – that is what beekeepers do)

I managed to get the paper, cardboard and chippings to light straight away and off we set to the allotment with the smoker.  I just want to make it clear that I took Dad with me as I want him to be my Deputy (rather than hold my hand and protect me from the bees).

I’d read the books.  Been on the courses.  And was anxious to just get on with it and naturally the plan went out the window.  If you are a beekeeper, you might not want to read the next paragraph.

Before: me, pensivefirst time at beehive After: beehive without landing board and without entrance excluder (this was not the plan, eek)beehive without landing board

I puffed some smoke into the front and back of the hive. So far so good.  I lifted the roof and placed it on the ground.  The crown board was full of 1000’s of ants.  Hmmm – another worry to add to the list.  There did not appear to be ants inside the hive though.  The bees seemed really good natured and friendly, ie. they did not hassle us.  I put the super on top of the roof on the ground.  Picked up the Queen excluder.  Worried about the Queen hanging onto it, but felt powerless and relied on the fact that she probably wasn’t.  I lifted the brood box and put it on top of the excluder.  Removed the closed floor and replaced with open mesh floor.  At this point realised that I had now got rid of the bees landing board at the same time.  Hmmm – another worry to add to the list.   Reassembled the hive, trying not to crush too many bees, but everything might now be at right angles to what it was before.  Sprinkled 50g of icing sugar over the brood box.  Hopefully bees are robust.  Hopefully bees can find the entrance?

[If the language above is confusing please read about beehives.]

There seemed to be a bit of confusion and a lot of bees around the entrance for the next 30 minutes.  I left the entrance reducer out so there was a massive entrance for the bees.  Was not sure if this was the right thing to do. Another thing to worry about and Google.

I went back later to use secateurs to cut the grass below and around the hive and replaced the entrance reducer (based on Google evidence).  I studied the hive a bit to discover quite a lot of dead bees around and about 100 clinging to the bottom of the open mesh floor on the outside of the hive.  Hmmm – another two worries to add to the growing list.

So much to worry about.  So much to learn whilst making life and death, success and failure, decisions.   The best bit of the day was watching white bees flying around covered in icing sugar.  Magic! I’ll try and take photos next time.

If any real beekeepers are reading this, please give me some advice.

I feel over-whelmed and so am trying to break down what needs to be done into small steps.  So next time:

  • Do a varroa count on the board
  • Check they have stored honey in the supers
  • Check to see if they are building a Queen cell
  • Try and find the Queen
  • Dust with icing sugar

I think I can do this.

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Manliness – Learning to use a hammer at the age of 39

Renting flats and house shares for 20 years has meant that I have not needed to do any DIY or look after a garden EVER in my life.  Despite having an engineering degree, the only hand tools I have used have been a knife, fork and spoon.  Ever the modern-man, I have sensitive skin, use Marigolds and Head-To-Toe baby wash.  As a consequence my hands have a softness that Fairy Liquid models gush about and which my more manly friends are shocked by.  I feel this might change as I type this with hands bearing blisters and holes where I pulled splinters out.

Hammering has got to be simple, right?  It’s like one of the first things that our hominid ancestors did before they discovered fire.  I banged at the first nail with the enthusiasm and dexterity of an 8 year old child wielding a Bob-The-Builder tool-kit.  It went in at an angle and ending up poking out dangerously from the brood box.

My 70-year-old Dad, then showed me how to hammer nails in straight.  I always saw myself as a late developer, but not this late!  Should I be embarrassed writing this?  Not sure.

I looked at the flat hive pack with only slightly less trepidation than I look at the beehive.  So many parts.  So much that could go wrong.

Dad was keen for us to use his Black & Decker Workmate and he patiently showed me how it worked.  I’m glad he’s got the kit.

black and decker workmate beehive construction

Two hours after we started we had a hive stand.  Only a brood box, frames, supers and roof to go.  I don’t have time for this!  This is where the ready-assembled beehaus would have come into its own.

I thought beekeeping was going to help me regain my sanity but these last few days it has been making me feel anxious.  I am on a schedule.  I only have evenings and weekends.  I’m getting married in a week.  I have a load of to-do’s and a speech to write.  But the bees are full of varroa and on the edge of swarming.  If I don’t build this second hive now I won’t be ready to artificially swarm the bees.  I need to read up about varroa and how to get rid of it.  And this blog needs feeding, even though I only have 3 Facebook Friends.

Hopefully, the slow-paced, regaining my sanity moments will come later, right?

Other manly stuff I did this week (with Dad metaphorically holding my hand):

  • Went to a building product suppliers and talked with men – they treated me gently
  • Bought 2 flagstones to put under the hives
  • Got my first splinters in 20 years and enjoyed the pain
  • Built most of the rest of the hive (20 man hours so far)

PS. I am still worried about opening up the hive.

The next time I had to man-up was when I broke an unwritten family rule.

I Am Not A Beeman

Unlike me, Jonathan is a real beeman. He knows stuff.  He knows useful stuff about the weather, bees and plants, whilst I have a couple of theoretical GCSEs in Geography and Biology. He’s got dreadlocks.  I’ve got a short back and sides with designer stubble.  Not waxing is my token gesture to manhood.  He picks bees up by their wings.  I stare at bees and wonder what to do.  He gets the smoker started in less than a minute.  I just stand and stare uselessly wondering “how did he do that”?  He uses his bare hands to wipe the floor board clean which has quite a few varroa mites on.  I cringe and think “I need to man-up”.  He casually knocks bees off the frames.  I knock 1 or 2 off when I try the same technique.  He is a beeman.  I am not a man.  I am not even a fish (to quote an Apprentice episode).  When will I be able to strut proudly in my beesuit?  I had better read “Status Anxiety” again.

My new-to-me hive:

 My Beehive  National Beehive

Major U-turn!  I have a confession to make!  You may have noticed from the photo that it does not look like an urban setting.  The plan to be an urban beekeeper has changed as an opportunity came up to buy a National hive full of bees in a countryside allotment.  Beekeeping is not cheap and this seemed a good way to start.

Despite my ineptitude and lack of beemanliness, Jonathan was fine about selling me his bees.  I am not sure how the bees feel about it.  I will introduce myself properly when my beesuit arrives, but I am guessing my arrival might not be welcome.  If I was them, I would rather be looked-after by Jonathan.

As I write this post from my flat in Bristol, it feels strange to think that there is a hive out there that I am responsible for.  It feels a bit overwhelming.  Where’s Jonathan?  Can I send him another text?  Did the cost of the beehive include dealing with an anxious, novice beekeeper?

 “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld”, 2002

My fears – the known knows:

  1. The Queen is unmarked. How am I going to find her amongst 30,000 other bees, when I artificially swarm them in a few weeks time?
  2. Will I be able to handle the bees, or will they terrify me?
  3. Will I be able to reduce the varroa and remove the ants?
  4. Will I be able to build a hive from a flat pack (I am so unpractical)?
  5. Jonathan says the bees are “swarmy” – a technical term for the fact that I might not have any bees next week and risk annoying lots of neighbours

My ignorance – the “unknown unknowns”:

Despite my Geography and Biology GCSEs, I know little of practical use about the environment and animals.  Whilst Rumsfeld might have been coy about what he knew, I can honestly say that when I look at the hive, it is the great unknown to me!

To manage my fears I have a plan: 

  1. To deal with the varroa: order some Hive Clean (natural treatment for the varroa)
  2. To deal with the ants: get some cinnamon and vaseline (more in a future post)
  3. To deal with the “swarminess” – buy another hive and when the bees start creating Queen cells, get Jonathan over, find and mark the Queen and do an artificial swarm into the new hive.  (I will then have 2 hives! Am I multiplying my problems?  The expression “out of the frying pan and into the fire” comes to mind.)

I think it’s gonna be alright.

Post script: As a beekeeper, this was the first time I realised I had some manliness issues to deal with.  The next time they cropped up was when buillding a flat pack beehive, Manliness – Learning to use a hammer at the age of 39.