Tuesday, 20 October 2009

End of Season meeting - 17th October 2009

For those of you who couldn’t make it here is a quick summary of the last meeting of the season held on Saturday 17th October. Thanks to all those who attended, yet again it was a full and very vibrant meeting despite a few members being away!

Two new members, John and Becky, were welcomed to the ever growing fold. We now have over 20 families involved – not bad when you think we only started this March.

2009 Season review
Being the end of the 2009 season we recapped on our successes/failures over the year. It was agreed that 2009 had, yet again, not been a good year for honeybees. Weather-wise we did have a great spring which allowed the bees to build up really strongly but this was followed by a disastrous July and August (don’t we all know it!) which gave food supply difficulties for the large colonies which had built up. Consensus amongst other UK sustainable beekeepers on the Biobee forum seemed to agree with this. With hindsight (aint it a wonderful thing) it was agreed that perhaps we should have actively fed colonies this summer.

However, amongst the group 11 new honeybee colonies had been started, all but 1 from swarms, the other from a package of bees. Of these four swarms had died out – 1 was poisoned - source later identified; 1 the queen was found dead in the initial swarm; 1 was a failed split; 1 reason as yet unknown – see below.

The major problem we faced was a shortage of swarms as 3 others in the group had hives built and ready to go later in the season had they been available. Also a few others would have liked to populate second hives. The wet summer was one factor contributing to this problem but it was also felt that the Local Authority was favouring certain Swarm Liaison Officers. With luck we should fair better next year provided our 7 colonies make it through the winter as these will be a source of future swarms for us. We will also consider starting our own apiary (see below).

Dave kindly brought along his hive which had recently died out when he was away. This hive was started in mid June, just before the weather turned. From the comb build-up it obvious that they had started well and there was evidence of queen cells being built so queen problems may have been the issue. Poisoning or starvation are the other suspects but Dave has wisely kept some of the dead bees and at John’s suggestion will send them to FERA for analysis.

End of season housekeeping
We discussed ensuring that hive entrances were reduced against bee robbing and mouse attack – Plug all but 1 entrance hole on horizontal hive and fit mouse guard on Warrés – an example Warré mouse guard was shown. [NB: for those unable to make these we can knock up a few at the December workshop – see below]

Feeding was also discussed (see footnote) and a couple of examples of adapted Warré floors to facilitate winter feeding without opening the hives were shown. [NB: Again, for those unable to make these we can make them at the December workshop]

Bumble & Solitary bees
2009 had focussed heavily on honeybees but it was agreed that we would all like to do more for other bees. 3 of the group had hosted bumbles collected from call-outs. More were prepared to do so next year and/or place nests in their gardens in preparation for Jan/Feb when the queens are looking for new homes. See the Bumblebee Conservation Trust site for details. It was agreed that we would hold a Bumble & Solitary bee’s house workshop to build boxes which John kindly volunteered to take forward. This needs to be done before Christmas as a) some bumbles decide on their nest sites in Jan and b) solitary boxes make great Christmas pressies! [Workshop now arranged for 5th December, check your emails.]

YABeeP Apiary
The idea was mooted that we should be aiming to have our own apiary in the longer term. Amongst other benefits this would provide an option for those unable to keep bees on their own land and could provide a potential stock from which to breed bees to supply future members. Juley reported that YACWAG , the local nature conservation group, have expressed an interest in having bees on one of their land holdings which could tie in quite well. Juley will explore this with them although there could be a delay as it cannot go ahead until we get the hives built and populated with bees. We also agreed that members already awaiting bees should be given bees as a priority.

Next season
We agreed to start next season with a Honeybee hive building workshop around late February/March (Robin to arrange) for new members who have joined over the winter period and want to prepare for the season. This workshop to also include building horizontal hives as well as the Warrés.

Monthly meetings would again start in 2010 around April though we may go to every other month as the season progresses.

We discussed the possibility of more publicity for YABeeP and possible bee house building for children though it was felt that the group was naturally growing organically without it and a membership push may result in a demand for bees that we cannot meet.

Bits and bobs
There was some interest expressed in the possibility of arranging a Christmas social get-together, possibly a pub meet. Beanie kindly agreed to take this forward.

Juley’s reported that the conventional beekeeper who was using her land had given up following his bees absconding twice. She has since discovered honeycomb built in one of her bumblebee nesting boxes and wonders if they absconded his National hive in favour of her natural box!

To feed bees use a sugar syrup solution by mixing sugar into hot water. Use granulated white sugar - do NOT use unrefined or brown sugar as this can cause dysentery in the bees. Cane sugar is best (Tate & Lyle’s regular granulated is marked as cane) as pesticides are used on beet sugar crops in the UK.
In autumn the feed should be 2:1 i.e. 1 kilo of sugar to ½ litre of water (2lbs to1 Pint). It is better to feed a large amount over a short period rather than little and often or you risk stimulating the queen to start new brood - not desirable just before winter.
If you need to feed in spring or summer use a more dilute mix of 1 kilo of sugar to 1 litre of water (1lb sugar to 1 Pint water).
In winter (Jan & Feb) do not use syrup as the bees may not have the ability to dehydrate it enough to prevent fermentation. Over winter use sugar fondant which the bees can eat. Download a simple bee fondant recipe from the Edinburgh Beekeepers (16KB) or use this recepie and how to article from Bee Craft.

1 comment:

Juley Howard said...

Update on Juley's Warre Hive:

I have made a couple mouse excluders out of a chopped up quality street tin. I fitted the first one to just decrease the hole a bit today. The bees didn't seem too bothered - a couple came out to see what was going on.

After some news from other YaBeep members at the beginning of August that their bees had stopped in one box I started to worry that this may have happened to mine. So I had peered inside and seen that the bees were moving into the second box. But only just!

About 6 weeks ago I had overcalculated it seems and had thought that the bees had started making comb in the third box. I hadn't reckoned with them being set back so much by the poor summer, and had been convinced that they would run out of space.

When Robin and I had gone to add the 4th box mid September in fact there had been no need. The 3rd box was empty.

So following the 18th Oct meeting I thought that I would reduce the size of the hive down to two boxes, so prized the 2nd and 3rd box apart, tipped the 2nd box up to look inside. I had lifted the top two boxes to remove the 3rd box and they had felt a lot heavier (in Sept my boxes were pretty light, and I had decided to feed the bees). Looking inside the 2nd box it is stuffed full of comb. Not very tidy - but definitely 80% full.

So now I have reduced my hive down to 2 boxes, which look fairly viable to me, and have a mouse guard - I will fit the second guard to make the hole about half the size again in a week or two, this will surround the entrance hole with metal too.

Some lessons I have learnt - 1. my boxes are too wobbly - I am straightening the one not in use, when it has dried out, and the new one I made earlier today will be perfect.
2. The spot I had picked is too damp. The 3rd box was just starting to slowly rot. I will raise the whole hive further off the ground - the breeze blocks are very damp, so will add another layer either of bricks or treated wood. I think that the damp will be my biggest issue over the winter.
3. In future I will measure the base of the hive with a level. Mine is definitely not level - though clearly the bees are perfectly happy.

Now I look at the bumble bee box that harboured honey bees for a while alongside a warre hive box I realise that my bumble bee box was rather on the deep side - just the door was too big - no need for mice to chew their way in! So actually it was pretty much a dual purpose box - I just never thought to check it for honey bees - shame.