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.

Replacing comb influences colony health?

The bee research group in my country, bijen@wur, organized a symposium last month which I didn’t attend. One of the speakers there was bee researcher Dennis van Engelsdorp (weirdly dutch sounding last name, translates to “English village”).  He presented statistical data from a beekeeper survey that suggested that annually replacing to much of the comb (50% or more) negatively influences colony health. Often the idea of replacing comb is to prevent buildup of pesticides and/or pathogens, but it also looks ugly blackish comb. But the data shows that beekeepers who replaced 50% or more of their comb compared to beekeepers who don’t replace any, lose more colonies over winter.

It is unclear what causes this, the survey was not comprehensive enough for any analysis like that but the data is clear. They suggest not to replace more than about 20% of your comb annually. I was aiming to replace about a third of the comb but according to this information I will have to amend that. Apparently reusing comb from old colonies is also not advised as it also caused more winter deaths. The only problem is the lack of additional information in the survey. For instance it is unclear what the origins where of the reused combs. Perhaps the old colony died of disease.

So much is unclear, it wasn’t a study but only a survey. What is clear is that you shouldn’t renew  to much of your combs annually. See the accompanying video for yourself (there is also a link to the web page in its description):

Surviving the winter

Krant methode
Newspaper method

Making sure my colonies survive the winter period is, after egg laying workers and a queen-less colony the most stressful thing I have had to deal with. A colony needs to be big enough to have a chance of surviving the winter. During the winter time the bees will congregate into a ball of bees inside the hive. The bees have to keep this ball at a relatively constant temperature of around 18-35ºC (35ºC being an indication that the colony has brood), averaging at about 24ºC, even if the temperature outside gets as low as -15 ºC outside the hive. The bees will only be able to maintain this temperature when there are enough bees. The bees vibrate their flight muscles to generate heat. During winter many, many bees will die, only hives that can sustain this die off will survive.

A beekeeper is supposed to asses his colonies strength in late summer to early fall and decide if he thinks this colony will survive the winter or not. If there is any doubt the beekeeper should combine colonies to create a stronger colony of which he can be sure it will survive winter. A colony should  occupy at least 6 frames in a hive to have any chance of surviving the winter. If a colony doesn’t meet this requirement then the beekeeper should combine this colony with an other weaker colony. As I only have two colony I either combine them or I don’t.

The easy way to combine colonies is by placing a newspaper on top of an open hive box of the one colony and spraying the newspaper with sugar water. Then you place the brood box(es) of the second hive on top. The bees will have to eat through the newspaper to reach each other. The hypothesis is that by chewing through the newspaper they will all smell the same (newspaper ink) and hostility will be averted. You obviously will have to kill one of the two queens, do this a few days before uniting the hives and place the hive that still has it’s queen on top. Just parroting theory here…

As I was reasonably sure my original colony was big enough to survive winter I didn’t unite my two colonies, the colony that was the result of my artificial swarm was borderline big enough. But as I would end up with one colony either way, I chose the selfish option and I kept both colonies separate. I hope to start the next season with two colonies. I’ll be kicking myself if both colonies end up dying, that will be about 150 euro’s down the drain. I now know my original colony is still alive (because of the oxalic acid treatment I had to perform) but it wasn’t as large as I would have liked. And there are still 2 months of possible freezing weather ahead. If I were a religious man I would be praying, but me I’m just hoping for the best.