The Life of a Breconshire beekeeper June 2021

May 24th the temperature finally climbed above 20 degrees C; for me this marked the end of winter.

What happened to Spring this year?

Well, the weather was cold and wet; the fruit trees just about managed to flower and be pollinated. The bees did fly out to forage; they had to really. Some days they were flying when it was 8 degrees. I didn’t open the hives up for long if at all, but watched them from the outside. I can see them taking in pollen to feed young larvae, but I don’t know if the queen has become a drone layer. I’m not worried about them swarming in weather like this right at the beginning of the year here in mid Wales.

Once the temperature rose about 20 degrees it stayed there for a couple of weeks just as the Hawthorn came into flower; and at this temperature it yielded nectar and did so until the 10th of June with me. Wow…..I’ve not experienced this in the past 15 years, but it was perfect for the Hawthorn. I took frames of its honey off the bees once it stopped. A wonderful aroma surrounding the apiaries during this time; particularly in the evenings as the bees evaporated the water off the nectar and in doing so spread the local area with the Hawthorn aroma.

One of the many wonders of beekeeping is that we can experience this extended flowering of Hawthorn that others, even those devout lovers, this phenomenon of nature don’t spot; because we actively look for those times of ‘flow’, ‘nectar flow’. Also because we look to see what our bees are foraging, within a few years we know what’s flowing at what time and if there’s any difference year on year….Incidentally, Hawthorn flowers roughly the same time every year depending on height above sea level….

There was also OSR, oil seed rape, about 1.5 miles away from my bees and I tried to get the bees to draw comb with the nectar. The bees love it because it is so sweet. There’s an excellent article on ‘Nutritional value of pollen’ in the July 2021 issue of BeeCraft by Marin Anastasov. Not available freely on the internet;

The protein content of most pollens varies from 3-55%. A total of 18 of the 20 amino acids are found in pollen and their content also varies considerably…..For honeybees the minimum requirement for crude protein in pollen is thought to be 20% with all the essential amino acids present. Of all the essential amino acids, isoleucine is critical for adequate nutrition, but often accounts for less than 4% of all crude protein. Some plants produce large quantities of nectar and are highly attractive to bees, but their pollen protein content or amino acid profile of the protein may be inadequate. Plants in this group include dandelion and lavender’

However, OSR has a digestible crude protein level of 23% and an isoleucine level of over 4% which makes it a most excellent food source all round for the bees. Other plants with this characteristic include; blackberry, clover, gorse, pear, apple, bean and pussy willow, with Vipers buglos having 35% digestible crude protein. I wrote about plants for bees and protein in pollen in 2017

We should love OSR!!

I decided to feed the nucs I’d overwintered; four of them were going to be used for rearing queens and making nucs. I use mainly the Maisemore nuc which comes with a Miller feeder to feed the bees. Having read CC Miller and Jay Smith. north American beekeepers and queen rearers from over 100 years ago, one of the many issues they had was with feeding nucs, was that of ‘robbing’. Other bees coming into the nuc and stripping it of its syrup. often destroying the small colony in the process. Of course we still have this same issue, but the Miller feeder means we can feed without spilling syrup. Before Miller designed the Miller feeder he would feed on the hive floor and he talked about how bees would follow him around waiting for him to open up hives and dart in for a feed before going back and letting the colony know about this store in the little nuc. Miller would shut the entrance if he saw this happening, letting the bees out later in the evening. The robbers would shoot out and go home without remembering how to get back there….well sometimes anyway. A history of feeders from Bee Culture It looks like we have this Miller to thank for this feeder.

Jay Smith’s books can be read here: Better queens and Queen rearing simplified

So, I had to feed with care, but in these cold days there weren’t any bees following me around. In doing so from early March onwards I had let these four nucs build up big and strong; two of them had three extra brood boxes on them and were laying up to the fourth box, a third had two extra and the fourth still had only one extra brood box. An interesting observation that I will come back to later. All four of Buckfast origin, gentle to handle, three not needing any smoke, the other a little more nervous.

By May 24th, I had already started queen rearing.

In previous years, I have used the Cloake method, but this year, using the nucs, I intended to use a swarm box to get queen cells started and then a queenright colony to get the cells finished. By the beginning of June I had 45 QCs. These were spread across conventional 6 frame nucs, five double 3 frame nucs from BS honeybees, four double Lyson mating nucs and 10 Kieler mating nucs

BUT, there’s making QCs and there’s making QCs. What I mean is, we can get a small depleted colony to make a queen cell using a frame of eggs, but how good will that queen be? Often a new queen is superseded shortly after mating. Both Miller and Smith are of the opinion that the reason is to do with the quality of the queen. The bees will make a queen to tide them over, and then re-queen her when they are in better shape to do so.

Rearing queens is all about making the best quality queens. When do the bees make the best queens?

If we think about the time a colony swarms it is at its peak level of health, quantity of bees and levels of stores. Swarm cells are of the highest quality. So, you think to yourself that when a colony swarms use the QCs to make up nucs. Well yes and no. The queens should be high quality, but do we want to breed from swarmy bees? Well I don’t!

In my previous post I showed the start of the queen rearing at the beekeeping association apiary using the Cloake method. Here are some more videos:

Putting the queen into a cupkit to get her to lay eggs into the cups that we will then put onto a cellbar and into the Cloake colony

In the meantime we set up the Cloake board colony which will be used to start the QCs using one day old larvae in the cups that the breeder queen laid into. In the top box we want many young bees that have been well fed with syrup and pollen (pollen from frames of pollen and from pollen patties).

We will continue to feed the colony like this during the making of the QCs.

A week before we had added extra frames of emerging brood from other colonies into the top box.

We create a colony that is bursting at the seams, a colony that is fit to swarm!

The reason young bees are used is because they are conditioned to produce royal jelly from day 3 to day 10 roughly.

We make sure that they they have no open brood to feed, so by the time we put the cellbar into the top box the young bees are desperate to release their royal jelly.

We check that there are no QCs in either box.

A day before putting in the cell bar with the larvae, we insert the Cloake board between the two boxes, the lower box having the queen.

This makes the top box hopelessly queenless.

The entrance for flying bees is now into the top box, with a new entrance below at the back. Bees leaving the lower box at the back will return to the front and into the top box filling it up with even more bees.

By putting in the cell bar with the cups in a vertical downward position we take advantage of the bees natural tendency which is to make QCs :

We’re now ready to insert the cell bar after putting the cells with larvae into the bar

After inserting the cell bar the bees start the QCs. One day later we remove the Cloake board to make the colony queenright once again to let the bees finish the QCs. Experience shows that if the Cloake board is left in the bees don’t finish the cells that well. They are finished better like this.

Once sealed we put roller cages over the QCs with a little honey or fondadt in the bottom of the cage for the virgin queens to eat when they emerge seven days later.

The virgins are then put into a donor colony which can be anything from a mating nuc, a standard nuc to a queenless colony.

We put some into colonies and most into apideas from this latest batch.

These AMM virgin queens look really good, but its important to realise the effort that goes into making sure we have high quality queens.

The re-queening of the teaching apiary continues and we hope to have queens available for members from next year.

So far we are finding that mating success is good with strong nucs and not so good with the apideas which is frustrating given the effort needed to create them.

Weave a circle around him thrice. And close your eyes with holy dread. For he on honeydew hath fed. And drunk the milk of paradise………

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