My little apiary

Well hello again. I haven’t written a blog post for ages (not the first time ). Life happened and I let posting slip for quite some time. A lot of things have happened in the mean time. I’m just going to post an abbreviated update of what happened in the time sinds my last blogpost.


carniolan queen
Queen in transport cage with nursing bees

My last post was about a new addition to my hives. I had been reduced to a single hive and I bought a 6 frame colony from a friendly fellow beekeeper in my town. Jumping to the following year I still had those two hives and I bought a pure breed mated carniolan queen. “Pure breed mated” means that she is the daughter of a carniolan queen, who herself was mated with carniolan drones. The queen I bought herself had also been mated with carniolan drones. I also bought a virgin carniolan queen and successfully introduced them both into my two remaining colonies, making sure the colonies had been hopelessly queen-less a few days beforehand. This means that they had no way of rearing a new queen by themselves, this makes them more receptive to an introduced queen.


Nice story, the queens came in special queen cages with nursing bees and some fondant for feeding. Before you can introduce her you need to remove the nursing bees (or so I imagined, still not sure). For this you need to open the cover of the cage to let the other bees out, being careful to not let the queen out. You guessed it I let the queen out and away she flew. Hard cash was paid for this queen so I was duly distressed. I sat there in a chair for a while with my head in my hands. Then I heard a distinct buzzing quite different from normal worker or drone bee buzzing. There she was, landing on a chair not far from mine as this was a new location for her. I managed to capture her again without much trouble and was able to introduce her into my hive. Depression averted.


carniolan queenWe have now arrived at this year. Both colonies survived the winter. I had them both in polystyrene hives.  One colony bigger than the other. The bigger one, with the now mated carniolan queen exploded and soon showed signs of swarming. Par of the course I was to late and half the hive left with the queen. I still created a split from this hive as they were still quite large and I did not yet know the queen had left. The donor colony and the split both managed to successfully create a new F2 queen.

New beekeeper

The split from the swarmed hive is now my wife’s hive as she is always so involved with my beekeeping I decided she needed to experience beekeeping more on a first hand basis. She had always had her nose in my beekeeping, opinionated about every decision I make.Maybe she can keep the hives from swarming next year. I also made a split from the second have with the carniolan P queen and put them in a 6 frame hive. So I now, mid July have 4 colonies, one on 22 frames, two on 11 frames and one in 6 frames. I will have to transfer the 6 frame colony to a 10 frame hive before the winter as they are already occupying all 6 frames.

So that was two years in a nut shell. I glossed over many other instances of bee related stress but I will try to update this page more often from now on. See you in the next one.

Cheerio, Andrew

New Colony (again)

New colony in different hives in one month

A new colony addition to my bee inventory

So I bought a colony from a fellow beekeeper about a month ago. To accompany my other colony, which I’ve been bitching about for two years. Even though the old colony is the only ones which is still alive sinse I first started my beekeeping experience, three years ago. I have a spot for them close by home, at our communal vegetable garden. The other colony is staying where they are, about 3 km from my home. I must say a month later that having the colony a five minute walk from home is really very nice. They are getting way more attention than my other colony, who compared to the new colony I now know are a vicious bunch. I’ll add a video where I move them from an old hive to a new Styrofoam home, you will be able to see how docile they are.

The new colony is of the carnica variant (Apis mellifera carnica) and came out of winter in a 6 frame hive with a F1 queen, first generation pure breed. Beekeepers are racists I know, we don’t like subspecies intermixing….which is a conundrum for me as biologist (I could explain why I think that is a conundrum but I don’t want to make this post to long, maybe somewhere else).

Upgrading the hive

The beekeeper from who I bought the colony placed it, from his wooden 6 frame hive, into my 6 frame Styrofoam hive. He did this a few days in advance of me collecting the colony. I placed the hive in our communaal vegetable garden, close to home. They were flying like crazy in the unseasonably warm weather the first week on the new location. The first truly warm weather of the year. I can remember that I was still in my winter coat about three weeks before that time.

I’ve steadily upgraded the hive in the last month. Moving them from the 6 frame Styrofoam hive to a 10 frame wooden hive. Then to the 11 frame modern Styrofoam hive, bough especially for this colony. Finally I added a second brood box with an additional 11 frames a little over a week ago. I placed 3 frames with brood from the bottom brood box into the center of the new brood box. The rest of the box I filled with frames containing wax foundation. I did this to stimulate the bees to move into the top brood box and build comb onto the foundation. I’m not sure if this truly is a stimulus for comb building and I don’t have enough colonies to experiment.

I don’t expect any swarming this year but I’ll keep a keen eye on the garden bees. I have a look at/in the hive entrance every time I’m on the communal vegetable garden which is at least twice a week. And I just placed a second brood box on the the park bees hive not to long ago so I guess their fine (that’s how I’ll be calling them from now on).


New Year

brood frame

So, the year is almost halfway done and it’s been quite some time since my last post. I’ll just go over what has happend in the mean time. We had a winter with really high temperatures. I was lucky that there were a few days with freeing temperatures near the winter solstice, otherwise any Varroa treatment wouldn’t have been all that effective. Not that I know how effective the treatment was…my varroa drawer is completely weather worn and no longer fits. Apparently wasn’t water proof plywood.

The high temperatures during winter, I think, was the only reason the colony lived through winter. The colony sparsely covere 4 frames. Hardly 3 during the winter oxalic acid treatment.

Winter was mild but the cold weather in spring seemed to last for ever. It’s only recently gotte better. By recently I mean end of april. It was unseasonably good a little over a week ago (10-11th of may), it went from 14-15 degrees°C (57-59 °F) to 23-25°C (73-77 °F). That was two weeks early compared to normal, so said the weatherman.

The colony seems to have exploded recently as evidenced by the pictures, two frames are completely full of closed brood, many others have a mix between closed and open brood. They seem to be asking for a second brood chamber. They will be getting one soon. I still need to do some maintenance that I should have done in winter.

IMG_20160519_151636Then I will be placing them nearer home in a communal vegetable garden, at walking distance from home. Here I also placed my new hive. I will dedicate a post to that hive soon.

My only fear is that someone will be stung by bees from my old hive. They are not as peaceful as the bees in the new colony. In the Netherlands they call a colony like that an F16 colony….. I’ll explain. A first generation pure breed queen is called a P1 queen. A daughter queen of a P1 queen is called an F1 queen. A daughter of an F1 queen is an F2 queen etc… 16 generations after a pure breed queen you would get an F16 queen. Generally it is believed under beekeepers in the Netherlands that mixed breed bees are more agressie…. So bees from a F16 queen resemble an F16 jet… or am I underestimating your intelligence now.

I can agree that my first colony is quite feisty. They try really hard to do me harm when I bother them for to long. But I don’t really blame them. I will try to introduce a more docile queen by removing the queen and all consequent queen cells then give them a frame with eggs from the, as of yet unnamed, second hive. The resulting queen, an F2, will perhaps produce more friendly bees with which we can cuddle.

I’m a feeder

DIY beefeeder

I recently watched That Sugar Film, on everything wrong with (the) sugar “industrial complex” and consumption, and here I am feeding my bees 15 kilograms of this dreaded substance. I made my own feeder based on a design I saw a few years ago. It’s basically a tub with a hole and over the hole a tube though which the bees can enter. Around the tube is a floating platform and around that and over the end of the tube is the bottom end of a pet bottle so the bees can’t enter the tub of sugar syrup and drown.

bee feederEarlier I was using a commercial 2 liter feeder, but great numbers of bees died retrieving the syrup, they drowned in the syrup, evident in the picture on the right from an earlier post. I should have added straw then (hay forms a base for fungus growth in syrup, straw doesn’t) on which the bees could escape the syrup but didn’t have any last year. The tub fits about 6 liters of syrup (only about 4 in the above picture) which doesn’t require as many visits for me and there is no lull between where the feeder has been emptied and I fill it again. So only positives. This is the first time trying this setup so I’ll soon know if it works or not. I’ll update this post when I have been to check on the bees in a day or two.



Unlikely Honey Bee Flowers

Honey bee on basil
Honey been on oregano
Flowering oregano

Really short post this time. I was working  in our vegetable garden today and I noticed there were a number of honey bees visiting unlikely flowers. Herbs in our garden have either given up on life, making flowers sometimes is a last ditch effort for plants that aren’t doing so well to ensure survival of their genes (even though these look fine), or this is normal for this this type of herb. The basil and oregano have produced lovely flowers which the bees are happily making use of during this time of nectar dearth.

To me they seemed unlikely honey bee flowers but apparently honey bees think them perfectly acceptable.


Second Apiguard treatment

Community Veggie Garden

Just a short update.

Because the weather was lousy here for a few days. There even was some record number of nonstop rain hours, 60, which apparently this is not unheard of in autumn, winter or spring but quit rare for summer. Anyway, the rain prevented me from continuing the Apiguard treatment, replacing the tray for a new one. Saturday was cold-ish so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow in between showers”…but there was no “in-between”.

I think I already mentioned that I was missing a honey super from the bee stand but now I’m also missing a syrup feeder. I’ll contact the beekeepers society that exploits the apiary. I’m thinking that maybe I should take my bees somewhere else and not store my stuff at the bee stand. My wife started a community vegetable garden close by, which has a garage close by where we get our water from. On top of this garage I can place the bees. That way none of the gardeners or visitors (both of which a surprising number of which will be afraid of getting stung) will be directly confronted by the bees.

The drones in the above video are desperate for a meal, there were a lot visiting the colony. I don’t know if my girls are one of the last to continue to feed them, I didn’t notice as many at the other hives. In dutch they call the cession of feeding the drones “de darren slacht” which literally translates to the drone slaughter even though the workers don’t actually kill the drones they at most drag them out of the hive and refuse to feed them. I don’t know what the official English term for this behavior is, anyone? Compared to many solitary bees the honey bee male has is easy, he gets fed and is welcomed everywhere. Many solitary bees have to defend a range against intruders and other males. They don’t get free room and board or they get lucky on a date with a queen. They just work their ass of and if they are lucky, get to mate with a number of commoners…

FYI, I reduced the hive entrance before I left so the girls don’t have defend such a large opening against wasps and robber bees.


Two queens

This time of it’s possible to find two queens in your colonies, don’t panic, this is often caused by a silent supersedure. That’s where the bees decide that an old queen or under performing queen gets dethroned by the worker bees. So I guess bee colones are more of a democracy rather than a monarchy than you would think.

A blog from our national bee society mentioned this issue recently. I think this is what happened to Sif last year. I was already not very satisfied with the queen but didn’t get to replace her. Then I found an empty queen cell in early fall. I didn’t know what to do, but already suspected a silent supersedure. As I hadn’t marked my queen, I had no why of knowing.

What I don’t understand is why the new queen doesn’t eliminate the old queen immediately, and if she doesn’t what happens to the old queen? Does the new queen kill the old queen later, after a nuptial flight? Do the worker bees eliminate the old queen? Does the old queen leave of her own accord? I don’t know, although the last option seems unlikely to me. Anyone have any idea?


Apiguard, Varroa treatment

apiguard in hive and hive lacation

Just a short quick update this time.

I’ve just gave the bees their first Apiguard tray, which will start the end of summer Varroa treatment in preparation for winter. I’m a little early this year but as I tend to be late so this year I choose to be early. It is also quit convenient to start the treatment on the first day of the month which coincidentally happens to be a Saturday, perfect. So the tray will need to be replaced on the 14th and the second and last tray will stay with the bees till they are finished with the stuff.

Although I will probably remove the tray beginning of the next month, assess the hive and start feeding soon after, perhaps in the middle of august. That should give me and the bees plenty of time to complete the winter preparations before the weather starts to deteriorate.

I’m borrowing a honey super from a fellow beekeeper (I tend to not paint flowers on my hives…) as my super has vanished from the apiary. It looks like the colony that was in this hyve has either died or the beekeeper found a more suiting hive…

First time going into winter with just one hive….we’ll see.


Solitary bees Video

I came across this video about solitary bees that I wanted to share with you, enjoy.


The Solitary Bees from Team Candiru on Vimeo.

90% of Britain's bees are Solitary Bees. They are crucial pollinators, yet are little known or conserved. This film aims to change that.

This film showcases the fascinating behaviour and value of the UK's solitary bees. We follow a variety of different species through their struggles to find resources, avoid death and create new life.
Ideal for anyone who loves our bees and nature!

Our main aim is for this film to not only entertain, but to be used as a free educational resource. If you would like to use The Solitary Bees in an educational setting, please contact Team Candiru for a free HD download.

We have had the support of the National Trust, Natural England, Buglife, Environmental Justice Foundation, Nuturing-Nature, Campaign for the Solitary Bees, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Natural History Network, Wildlife Film-News, Bristol Zoo Gardens and Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project and a huge thank you goes out to them for their advice and help with access and sponsorship.

So what's next for Team Candiru? We are making a film about the Bees of California. Please follow this link for more information! http://www.helpabee.org/ca-native-bee-documentary.html

Winter Colony Loss

I’ed  like to discuss two scientific articles on the possible cause of colony loss over the winter period (referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD) in English speaking countries). The first article was published in the peer reviewed online publication PLOS ONE this month.

In this study the researchers (and the beekeepers) collected and analysed data from a total of 86 colonies using the following scheme (abbreviated copy from the article);

  • During the last week of July 2011; >35 forager bees were collected from the closed hive entrance and tested for Nosema spp. presence.
  • During the first 2 weeks of August 2011 a sample of 50 bees was taken– 25 from frames with brood and 25 from frames without brood for pesticide residue analysis.
  • A minimum of 30 bees were sampled in an identical way for virus analysis.
  • Further a minimum of 50 cells with bee bread were sampled for pesticide and palynological (determine plant species from pollen) analysis.
  • Mature and half-ripe honey was sampled from each colony for pesticide residue analysis.
  • During the last week of July 2011 and last week of October 2011 approximately 200–250 bees per colony were sampled by the beekeeper for varroa infestation analysis.

From the analysis of these 6 data points the researchers come to a number of results some of which I’ll discuss here.

A weird result presented in the “Losses related to plant species” paragraph, seems the correlation between the presence of rapeseed and field mustard pollen in bee bread and colony loss over the winter period. Although this may be attributed to the higher prevalence of these species in rural areas where other factors will be prevalent, factors like neonicotinoids and other pesticides. Still, this is a weird result as wild mustard seed, for instance, is often included in seed mixtures advertised as bee friendly. I suspect it must be a “correlation does not imply causation” issue.

An other result that I thought surprising was under the “Virus and Nosema spp. related losses” heading. The study didn’t find a correlation between the presence of various viruses or Nosema and winter colony loss. I would have thought that there would be a clear connection between some viruses and CCD. Deformed wing virus (DWV) has a connection to Varroa destructor [link]. So if a colony has a high prevalence of DWV, it is safe to assume there is a Varroa infestation. The study did find a strong link (p<0.001) between Varroa mite load (in October) and winter colony loss, presented under the heading “Varroa mite related effects”. Nothing surprising about that result.

A result that is perhaps not as surprising is that the study found a link between neonicotinoids (neonics) and CCD. The study makes a distinction between where the neonics were found. The link was found in colonies where the neonics were found in either the honey or in the bees but not when it was found in the bee bread. That last result I think is slightly surprising as bee bread is fed to developing bees. Apparently neonic presence during development isn’t important but only neonic levels in adult bees is important.

The study concludes that the presence of Varroa mites the hives is the most important indication when it comes to winter colony loss or CCD and neonics second then rape/mustard seed then hive location.

The second article is slightly older (2014),  from the publication Bulletin of Insectology. I must say that the publications website doesn’t really inspire much confidence. Beside that, the scale of the study doesn’t really allow to be very confident on the verisimilitude (I like that word) of the conclusions. However I do wish to include the conclusions, you can read the article and you come to your own conclusions on the trustworthiness of the article.

Long story short the article comes to the conclusion that two neonicotinoids alone are capable of causing CCD. When six different hives were each given nonlethal doses of one of the two different neonics, those hives either didn’t survive winter or came out of winter crippled. Compared to six other hives that were treated “normaly”.

There was no difference between the two groups of colonies over the bee season and the lead up to winter, but during winter the difference was drastic. The authors pose that the differences are significant. The study doesn’t check for Varroa on the bees themselves and treats all the colonies equally for Varroa, so in essence removes the Varroa from the equation. The study gives me the impression that the conclusion was built into the design of the research.

I think I have more confidence in the results/conclusion of the first study. Not that I think that neonics/pesticides don’t play an important part but I don’t think there was ever any doubt about that. Beekeepers have little control over neonics but they are able to do something about Varroa. So I guess that is where beekeepers should focus their attention, I know I try to.


Other articles:
Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields
Bee Experts Dismantle Touted ‘Harvard’ Neonics-Colony Collapse Disorder Study As ‘Activist Science’