Mindful Monk Series 4,
P8: A Swarm of Bees
Mindful Monk Series 4,
P8: A Swarm of Bees
You will, I hope be reaping the harvest from the wonderful summer. That said, I noted last week that my mother, living in Clonakilty had no apples at all on her four or five trees whereas last year the trees were groaning with fruit. Her big complaint was that no one came to rob them…. ‘They must all be too busy on their phones’, was her comment!
My bees made a recovery during the year and are stronger going into the autumn. I was glad to find plenty of brood which should provide a good supply of winter bees.
I have taken off some honey but have left them with plenty and so I am not feeding them any sugar syrup.
There is always the question of how best to clear the bees from the honey supers. Carbolic Acid was used for this process but only worked if temperatures did not get too low. It was a dangerous both for bees and beekeeper and it is banned today. Another chemical Propionic Anhydride was used in the 1960’s – it too failed if temperatures were not high enough.
Benzaldehyde (smells like almonds) was another chemical I tried but it is no longer in use. I use ‘Bee Quick’ which is very efficient and safe. It is a mix of natural oils and herb extracts. I spray it on a fume board (40mm wooden frame with an absorbent cloth stretched over it- you could simply pour on an absorbent cloth) and place it on top of a super and the bees clear in a matter of minutes.
Why do bees like honey
A young person asked me recently, “why do bees like honey”? It is a good question. Bees like plants which produce nectar with a high sugar content. The higher the sugar content the better they like it. Hence they go for dandelion rather then for apple blossom and it is why they love oil seed rape as it has a very high sugar content. But honey is what they love best – nectar is mainly water with a small amount of sugars – the bees process it to form honey by adding enzymes and driving off much of the water. Twenty five pounds of nectar yields approximately five pounds of honey. A National honey super contains about 25lbs. To fill a super with 25lb of capped honey the bees need to drive off over 100lbs of water! So honey with its high sugar content is the bees favourite. All the work has been done – the water content reduced and the sugars processed.
An new treatment for Varroa!
I read recently about interesting work in Poland on the use of rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) leaves to treat varroa. Rhubarb leaves contain small amounts of oxalic acid. It is most active in gaseous form and small amounts can kill varroa mites. The evaporating oxalic acid fumes in the brood nest hinders the build up of Varroa in early summer when the colony is particularly vulnerable with a large amount of open brood.
TO USE: Fresh rhubarb leaves together with their stalks are place on the brood chamber when the first supers are added in May. The stalks are crushed with a hammer.
After three or four days most all of the soft parts of leaves will be shredded and removed from the hive by the bees releasing oxalic acid and allowing the fumes to circulate through the hive.
The recommended treatment is to use rhubarb 10 times between May to Mid- September.
Much more experimentation is needed but there are positive results. Mite drop has been monitored and results show that using rhubarb leaves in summer reduces the mite population
Warning about feeding sugar syrup.
A study in the US has shown that syrup may contribute to U.S. colony collapse. Bee keepers who use corn syrup and other honey substitutes as bee feed may be contributing to colony collapse by depriving the insects of compounds that strengthen their immune systems, according to a recent study.
U.S. bee keepers lost nearly a third of their colonies last winter continuing the on-going and largely unexplained decline in the bee population that could hurt the U.S. food supply.
A bee’s natural food is its own honey, which contains compounds like p-coumaric acid that appear to help detoxify and strengthen a bee’s immunity to disease, according to a study by scientists at the University of Illinois.
“The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses,” according to the study, which was published on May 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America said in May that more than 30% of America’s managed honeybee colonies were lost during the winter of 2012-13, up sharply from around 22% the previous winter but still close to the six-year average. The losses vary year to year, but a huge and prolonged multiyear decline threatens the species and crop pollination
What a spell of weather – the warm sunshine over the last weeks should produce a great crop this year. My bees are still in recovery mode and unlikely to generate any surplus. I am letting them do their own thing this year and hoping they will grow strong and healthy over the season with no stress from me! I am not going through them and am happy to let them throw off a swarm or two into the wild.
It is a great year to have a solar wax extractor!
I was delighted to find an oak tree on our front avenue with bees flying in and out – a wild colony in its natural habitat! It has been a rare sight in recent years. I will keep an eye on them to see if they survive. It would be a great sign if they do survive without any treatment for varroa and the like.
Use of Smoker – one of the mistakes we can make is using too much smoke on our bees. We were all told the story that smoke makes the bees think there is forest fire and as result gorge themselves on honey and ignore the beekeeper! To ensure they ignored us we over do the smoke – the more smoke the better. But all this does is stress the bees and cause chaos among the bees and makes it almost impossible to find the queen.
Use the smoker sparingly – a few gentle puffs in the entrance and then a couple under the crown board should be enough. If it isn’t enough it may be best to leave them alone for the day. You can generally tell by the sound of the colony how much smoke to use. The key is to have the smoker well lit and close at hand so you can deploy it readily. It is also important to put in enough fuel so your smoker does not go out…it can easily happen. It is a good idea to have spare fuel in your bee box.
I was interested to read of a beekeeper who found himself short of foundation and gave the bees some forty year old wax foundation which had white bloom and had lost its aroma. He laid the foundation out in the sun for a few moments until the bloom disappeared and the wax became flexible. He let it cool, put it into frames and the bees built out the combs perfectly!
Nucs are an important resource for beekeepers – you can use them to house a small swarm – to keep a queen – and it can be a source of spare brood to add to a colony. You can also create a nuc as a form of swarm control.
To make a nuc – have a nuc box ready – if you find ‘charged’ queen cells then you must find the queen. She will normally be on a frame of brood – transfer this frame to the empty nuc – make sure there are no queen cells on this frame or on any of the frames you transfer to the nuc. Transfer two or more frames of brood, one frame with stores and plenty of pollen and one frame with honey. The final frame can be a frame of foundation allowing the bees to draw out fresh comb. Shake in at least two frames of bees.
Move the nuc up to 4km away and leave for several weeks – you can leave the nuc in the apiary plugging the entrance with grass – as it dries out the bees fight their way out and re-orientate to the nuc box. Be sure to remove the grass if they don’t find their way out a day later. The old queen will start laying and the nuc will grow into a new colony. The speed with which this happens will depend on the weather. If the weather is poor it is wise to give them a feed.
The original brood box will have open queen cells – leave a good queen cell and fill with frames of foundation. After three or four weeks you can check to see if the new queen has started laying.
It is a good idea to change combs – some people are recommending changing all the brood frames every year to control disease. I have read about two method you can use.
Bailey frame change.
You need a second brood box with undrawn wax – take one frame of brood with the queen from the old brood box and place in centre of new brood box.
Block the bottom entrance, put on a queen excluder and make a new entrance above the queen excluder for the new brood box. Sit that brood box on the old one and leave it there until the remaining brood below has emerged. As they emerge the bees move to the top box to mind the brood the queen is laying.
Give it a gallon of syrup and feed till all the frames are drawn out.
After three weeks all brood in the bottom box will have emerged and so you can remove the bottom box with old frames ready to be melted down. Gradually work the old frame in the new box to the side and remove once it is empty.
Method two: Shook Swarm
Move the hive to one side and put a new brood box with frames in its place – mix of drawn and undrawn frames or just drawn or foundation depending on what you have available – on the old location.
Find and cage queen. Hang her in a queen cage with candy in the new brood box – the bees will let her out in a day or two. Shake all bees off the frames of the old brood box.
Give them a gallon of syrup and feed till frames are drawn….it might be an idea to put a queen excluder under the brood box to prevent queen absconding! It can happen. Once there is brood you can remove it. You do sacrifice some brood, so do it early in the season before much brood has appeared.
The most important thing about changing the frames is that stocks have clean drawn fresh frames for the season and you have removed any pathogens and chemical residues that may be in the old frames.
My bees are still struggling and I am struggling to come to terms with the decimation that occurred this winter and into the spring. Last week I met a bee-keeping friend in Tyrone, Larry Monteith who had a similar experience this spring. As he rightly said, “we always tend to blame ourselves first when things go wrong”. He puts his losses down to the exposed location of his colonies and the long drawn out winter. Here is an explanation on the Thorne’s webpage. “This winter past we have observed a large loss of colonies. The colonies that have died out seem to fall into three groups: sizable colonies that have died out with lots of stores (usually ivy or rape honey, set so hard the bees can’t use it), small colonies too weak to survive, that probably should have been united to give a stronger stock (20/20 hind sight is a wonderful thing). The third group are colonies that appear to have dwindled away (sometimes the queen is still present, often she isn’t). This latter group are usually put down to poorly mated or failing queens”.
As I said last month, I am trying to nurse my remaining hives back to health and have given them pollen supplement and I also treated them for varroa using apivar, a treatment I have not used before. Apivar is a longer treatment process than others but it does hit the mites at all stages in their breeding cycle during the weeks it is in the hive. This gives a lower mite drop in the first instance but a larger mite drop overall.
There is no sign of swarms although Larry had a swarm arrive in one of his vacant hives last week. There are two colonies of bees in the eaves of roofs here – I am hoping that they may throw off a swarm and go into one of the bait hives I have set up. What is very good news is that they have survived the last two winters and no one treated them for varroa or gave them a pollen supplement!
People often say to me, Glenstal must be an idyllic place to keep bees – all those big, brightly coloured flowers – rhododendrons etc. The truth of the matter is somewhat different – rhododendrons can cause paralysis in honey bees though bumble bees seem to love them!
It is not the brightly coloured flowers that produce nectar it is the less showy ones and ones which you often don’t even notice. Why is this? Flowers have a problem with sexual reproduction – they can’t move! And so they need to employ an outside agency to deliver their male gamete to the female. Some plants use wind and others use insects. Insects need some incentive to persuade them to come visit.
We have elaborate strategies to attract a mate but plants had invented them long before we came on the scene – bright colours ( red, yellow, purple) – scent and nectar. Nectar is a food reward for the insects.
Some plants hedge their bets and use belt and braces – colour and scent – others use scent and nectar…others just produce nectar. It is this third category that are of most interest to bees and other pollinators; bramble, clover, sycamore trees, white thorn, and ivy. As these plants produce nectar, they don’t need to dress up in elaborate, brightly coloured petals to attract insects – their flowers remain so small that some people don’t even notice the flowers -many people are surprised to hear that ivy has a flower at all.
Several flowers also use colour for a secondary purpose – to help insects save time and not visit a flower when it is already pollinated and no longer producing nectar. The horse chestnut flower when it opens has a yellow spot at the base to guide the bees to the nectar pot – when the pot is empty flower the yellow spot goes red. Bees don’t see red and so this labelling device stops bees wasting time on flowers that are no longer productive.
Bees under threat.
A third of Irish bee species are threatened with extinction with bumblebee populations are falling year-on-year due to removal of hedgerows and ditches, use of pesticides and insecticides and climate change.
May 20th was the first ever global World Bee Day and hopefully the EU ban on insecticides linked to declining bee populations ,will help prevent further deterioration of the pollinators here.
We can help bees by maintaining hedgerows and planting bee-friendly flowers including snowdrops, wallflower, lavender and crocus. Professor Jane Stout, of TCD, who helped establish the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, said while “pretty tough”, bees were under pressure. “It’s not just pesticides but fungicides and insecticides too,” she said. “It’s also changes in how land is managed, which impact on habitats to nest and over-winter, and there’s fewer flowers to feed on. “We also have diseases which are becoming more prolific along with changes in climate with extreme weather events. “Bees are pretty tough, but all of these different drivers seem to be pushing them to the edge.”
The recent survey of Irish bumblebee populations in 2017 found that they had fallen by 14.2pc compared with 2012. Of the 100 bee species here, 30pc are under threat of extinction. I must get myself a guide to the bumblebee species in Ireland. I was watching and listening to them working on a huge rhododendron last week – there were at least three species evident.
Gerry Ryan, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, president of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations, said cutting of hedgerows, removal of ditches and use of pesticides was having an impact. “The natural environment is the best,” he said. “This time of the year you have the blackthorn in flower, and next week you’ll have the whitethorn and they’re very valuable for our bees. Bigger farmers and horse owners are taking out all our natural hedgerows left to us by generations of people who have gone before us.
“There is a decline, but in honeybee terms we’re holding our own. I’m in a nearly organic environment, but we have members in south Tipperary, Meath and Kildare who are decimated.”
|Some interesting and important points about Drones also on Thorne’s website…
Last year I decided to increase the number of drones in my hives to improve mating. Various beekeepers advised against it… The general perceived wisdom is that drones cost the hive in honey, they contribute nothing and act as a vector for Varroa, the removal of them to trap Varroa is their only redeeming benefit. If this is the case why do wild colonies contain between ten and twenty percent drone comb?
I put one frame of drone comb into my 14”x12” Nationals as part of a Bailey comb change, ensuring the comb was spaced to allow the drone cells to be capped (the standard spacing of DN4 Hoffman frames only allows one bee space between frames, stopping the capping of Drones). The drone comb was placed in the middle of the nest; it was the first comb drawn by the wax workers, and the first comb laid by the Queen.
Once the drones started to hatch I monitored the Varroa levels very carefully, there was no discernible increase. The temper of the two colonies I did this to was fine to start with, and if anything they have become even calmer and more laid back. There is a suggestion in the literature that an increase of Drones in the colony reduces swarming… Both colonies I did this to last year produced no cells at all, and only an odd play cell so far this year.
The books suggests that workers are genetically only 50% related to the Queen, and come pre-disposed to try and raise an egg from their cohort to a Queen Cell, having a 75% investment. The Queen is happier with lots of her Drones around as they are all 100% snapshots of her DNA, a happy relaxed (less stressed) Queen should be in better pheromonal control of her colony. The increase in the number of drones from one in a hundred to 10 or 20% makes the activities of the workers futile and Queen cell production is reduced.
One observation from last year suggests that I should have moved the Drone Comb to the side of the brood nest once the queen had stopped producing drones; as it was the workers filled the Drone comb with honey splitting the nest into two. The Queen continued to lay in the 5 frames on the warm side of the hive, the other half of the nest hatched out, and was then filled with honey. I wondered if the queen would start to one side of the barrier in spring… I needn’t have worried first inspection in March showed the nest on 7 frames – 3 frames on either side of the Drone frame, and the drone frame fully laid up with drones. This was mirrored in the second colony, and the Varroa numbers are still low and bees happy and healthy. There may be something in the saying “A happy hive is a hive with drones”.
Useful tip: Cross fire Smoking
If you smoke straight in the front of a hive you are likely to split the bees and encourage they to move to the sides of the hive and make it more difficult to find the queen – an alternative is to point your smoker left and right and encourage them to move to the centre.