Mid-May Hive Check

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It certainly hasn’t been the warmest week but since yesterday was fairly calm I decided to head out and ‘service’ the hive. It had been over a week since I’d last had a peek inside but I knew from my last visit that the bees were finally working on drawing new comb. For the first few weeks they completely ignored the brand new foundation-filled frames I’d put inside for them and I had to ask for some advice from an experienced beekeeper over whether this was normal or not. She seemed a bit worried herself and told me that it would have been best if I put in frames of comb that had already been drawn – meaning that there was already old beeswax comb from previous bees in the frame. It’s my first season as a beekeeper so unfortunately I don’t have any yet.

Notice the circular distribution of bees on top of the frames

It was also worrying since I’d been feeding the bees nectar (sugar-water) since I brought them into their new hive and it seemed that they were storing more of it than they needed. The problem being that there might not be enough space for the Queen to lay her eggs and for new bees to be reared. So with the advice of an experienced beekeeper I stopped the feeding and decided to give them one more week to draw comb before I approached another local beekeeper about buying one of his old comb-filled frames. Fortunately the bees seemed to figure out that they needed more storage space so by last week they were hard at work building on two of the new frames.

The bees have finally been drawing comb on their new frames

The new comb is a lovely golden-white colour and so far the bees are using it to store pollen and honey. I really wish I knew from which flowers they were collecting it right now since they seem to be coming back with all different colours of it: bright yellow (presumably from Dandelions), light beige, and also quite a bit that’s a deep burgundy. I’ve also noticed that they’re still gathering quite a bit of nectar themselves since one of the new frames seems covered in it.

The old frames seem to be more popular with the Queen and the comb is quickly filling up with dozens of tiny white grubs and masses of capped over baby bees. The process of a bee being born and raised is quite complex and runs over several phases. First the Queen lays the egg into an empty cell in the comb and the worker bees wait for it to hatch. Then they fill that cell with liquid food for the grub to feed on and it goes through a period of growing and moulting before the worker bees seal up the cell with beeswax. Inside, the larva spins a cocoon and transforms itself from a soft white grub into a baby bee in generally just over a week and a half by which time it emerges from the cell.

Narrow white plastic spacers fitted on the older frames

With the bees working so hard in the hive I made sure to slip in two extra frames for them. That should give them enough space to spread out and hopefully stop them from trying to build comb from the bottoms of their frames as I found they’ve been doing. It wasn’t incredibly warm yesterday so I did this as quickly as possible – if I hadn’t have been worried about them not having any more space I’d probably have just left them for a few more days. Bees like their hive temperature to be around 94°F/34°C so any prolonged exposure to cold air can disturb them and their brood.

One other task I had to do was to slip on some plastic Hoffman spacers onto the old frames which didn’t have them built on. The frames have to be a precise distance from one another so it was important to get them on before they really start gluing the frames together. The spacers slip on the ends of the frames and slide on easily so I was able to get them on in record time.

I bought the spacers from a really nice gentleman from Derby who runs a Hive supply cash-and-carry called the Honey Pot. He was extremely helpful and along with the spacers he even sent me a hand-drawn diagram of how I was to place them on. Normally the Honey Pot doesn’t do shipments but if you’re in the area please do stop by and have a browse around.

Debris accumulating on top of the disposable cardboard Varroa Floor insert

I really love working with my first hive and it’s always a pleasure to see what they’ve been up to since the last time I’ve visited. Even so, I feel a bit anxious at the prospect of messing up in these early days – morbid imaginings of accidentally crushing the Queen or clumsily dropping a frame are the things that keep me up at night! So when I went to inspect the Varroa Floor of my hive yesterday I nearly had a heart-attack. Among all the debris that had already accumulated on the cardboard liner I found about six or seven tiny bugs running around. Could this be the dreaded Varroa? I’ve never seen them live before so nearly went into shock until I realised that the bugs had antennae and so had to be something else. I believe that they are red spider mites, which often plague indoor plants but I have no idea what they’d be up to in a hive or if they’re dangerous to bees. Please let me know if you know anything about it. In any case, they and all the debris from the floor have been cleaned off so hopefully they’re all gone.

Close-up: a suspected case of Red Spider Mites inhabiting the Varroa Floor

It’s raining outside so I think I’m going to have to call off today’s Farmer’s Market. I wish we were still in the pavillion tent at Tynwald Mills but since the shopping centre has decided to fill it up with BBQ’s we’re out along the awning and a bit more exposed to the weather, which is okay for veggies but bad news for handmade soap. Hopefully it will be better next week so see you then.

13 Discussion to this post

  1. Jo says:

    It sounds like the bees have settled in well. It's always good to have some experienced friends on hand for when you need advice. I know you can read up about things or even look on the web, but nothing beats talking to someone with hands on experience.

  2. I expect it is all a bit scarey to start with – I found this out the hard way when I kept a herd of goats and had to start milking on my own after one or two lessons – the darn goats wouldn't stand still for me and there was milk all over the place. You seem to be doing okay and I wouldn't worry too much as it sounds as if you have plenty of old-timers on hand to advise you.

  3. sheds garden says:

    Interesting post. Thanks a lot for sharing such wonderful page.

  4. HI Tanya, I'm really enjoying learning all about your bees with you and seeing how the hive comes along. I had no idea so much was involved. I have a question though…what is Varroa?? Would love to know…and glad whatever it is that your bees don't have it.

    • You're a beekeeper in the making…I just know it 🙂

      Varroa is a little parasitic mite that feeds off of bee blood. It's not 100% known at this moment but many scientists feel that diseases carried by the mite which are passed on to honeybees may be one of the major reasons behind Colony Collapse Disorder – the dying off of bee populations worldwide.

  5. Leigh says:

    I'm delighted to read that your doing so well with your bees. So many folks have problems when they get started. I hope the little bugs do not signify a major problem. I'm told some sort of mite wipes out whole hives around here. We've not ventured into beekeeping yet, but it's on the "list."

    • I hope not either Leigh and I'm so glad that I bought a hive with a Varroa (screen) floor so I can easily clean it out from time to time. Just imagining those little bugs and all that debris inside my hive is a little gross.

      The mites you're probably thinking of are Varroa – they're a nasty little parasitic bug that's causing a lot of death and damage to honeybees.

  6. Hiya, looks like your new hive is doing well! It's interesting to see how things are going for you as a new beekeeper – I've recently been reading up on bees and beekeeping (me and my wife have an allotment out at the Braaid which is going quite well, and from learning about growing plants and pollination has led to learning more about bees). Am quite tempted to find out more about beekeeping on the island, seems very interesting from reading about it but guess there is a lot more to learn through practical experience (such as coping with so many bees!). Good luck!

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