It’s been about five weeks since my last post, and it’s all down to bees. Initially the time was being spent on good stuff, like collecting swarms, and so on, but for the last two weeks, it’s all been defensive duties, trying to prevent strong hives and wasps from destroying the smaller colonies. At the moment I’ve got a short respite from my ‘sentry’ duties, as the rain is keeping the bees inside, and wasp activity is pretty low, but as soon as the rain stops I’ll be back outside.
Some of the problems are a result of some of my beekeeping decisions, but others have been outside of my control.
Firstly, a short catch up.
In my last email, I mentioned a colony that was robbing, and the mystery swarm. Well I moved the robbers, and the robbing stopped. Once they were fed, they behaved much better, and have since gone to a new home.
The mystery swarm was the first of three swarms that had actually been prime swarms in early May, that had then gone on to swarm again. Just in case that isn’t clear enough, these were not secondary swarms from an established colony, these were swarms that had been collected, housed in Warre hives, and had then chosen to swarm again five to six weeks later. This is the first time that I’ve come across this, and have no idea if it is a common event. The fact that they had swarmed from Warre hives may be relevant, but I think that the warm dry period, which has only just been interrupted here, had more to do with it. We have a lot of forage available here in May, June, and July, and the colonies may have built up so well, that they decided to go again. One of the upshots of this has been that three colonies have become twelve, which is great news for bee numbers, but it has led to some problems, which I will elaborate on shortly.
The Mystery swarm was particularly bad tempered, so I decided to re-queen it. The only way that I could manage to do the work was to move the hive three feet, put a new hive, with new strips of foundation on the original site, and move a frame of brood, and some stores, across to the new hive. All of the flying bees then end up in the new hive, and the young bees and queen in the original hive, off to the side. Instead of re uniting them, I decided to give both of them new queens. The queens arrived separately, and one has been released, and I’m waiting to see if she’s laying, the other queen arrived later, and as soon as the weather changes, I need to check on her release.
All of the above, the robbing, the splitting of a late June Swarm, and the late swarming of the colony from the Warre left me with a number colonies that were below strength, and in the case of the Warre, with an unhatched virgin queen. This has led to some severe robbing problems.
First to suffer was a nucleus hive. Having been robbed by the colony that needed to be mloved, it was then set upon by wasps, and it was a real struggle to keep them alive. In reality, the colony was not viable, but the new queen was doing a great job, and it seemed harsh to leave them to the wasps, or destroy them myself. It might have been possible to combine them with another colony, but at the time, I didn’t have a weak colony that needed help. I have spent most of every day either knelt at the entranced to the hive, setting traps for foraging wasps, or searching for wasp nests to destroy. I have destroyed 15 so far, which I find sad.
Then last week, one of my strong colonies decided to rob the colony in the Warre hive, and having got into it, started to rob all of the others. Nothing that I tried could stop them, and I was so upset that I was torn between giving up keeping bees, killing the strong colony, or walking away. Initially I didn’t want to ask a favour of my family (somewhere to move the robbing hive), but that’s what we did, which was quite a feat, as it was in a double Commercial brood body, which was heavy. One of the interesting things was that the temperament of the colony had changed dramatically with the new queen. It had been a very gentle colony, but it really got the hump when I changed the floor. Now I’ve got to find a way to work on it without them chasing my grandchildren, and their dogs. The colony is fine as long as it is left alone, but gets very defensive when disturbed. I think that the dry weather has meant that the few flowers that are about have been unable to supply enough nectar to keep the bees fed, which hasn’t helped much. Now that we’ve had some rain, I’m hoping that we’ll have another burst of nectar from the local clover, and other plants
Having been robbed twice by bees, and then by wasps, my little nucleus hive is really not able to cope with the wasps. I have put on a screen to put off robbing bees, but the wasps manage to find their way in. The only thing that I can do is squash them as they try to get in, but cannot spend all of my daylight hours doing it. If I keep my absence down to 30 mins at a time, even though the wasps find their way in, I either get them as they leave the hive, or when they come back for a repeat attack.
It’s actually quite an education. Once a wasp gets in, it either robs honey, or kills a bee, dismembers it, and drags it back to the nest. it then returns with more wasps, and the numbers grow very quickly. Another thing that i’ve noticed is that when bees are returning to the hive, two or more wasps are following, and they try to grab the bee.If unsuccessful, they see how the bee gets into the hive, and follow it in. With a strong colony, that isn’t possible. The guards overpower the wasp, and kill it, or throw it out.
As far as the weak nucleus is concerned, it is still not strong enough to look after itself, but does seem to be gradually building up. Yesterday there was at least one bee trying to keep intruders out, but every time that the wasps get in, they kill a few,and the build up slows down.
This morning the rain seems to be keeping the bees in, and the wasps too. I’m hoping that a few more days of sentry duty will get me to the point where the colony can prevent intruders without my help, and I can get back to some semblance of normality. Iwas fortunate enough to trap a lot of wasps over the last two days, and the number of wasps seemed to have dropped yesterday. I think that there are at least three more wasp nests, that I need to find, as I see them chewing wood from the chicken hutches, and then fly back in the general direction of their nests. So far I haven’t found them yet, but I won’t stop until the nucleus is strong enough to look after itself, or collapses. My other work will have to take a back seat.