Clicking on any of the pictures will open them at full size in the browser window, which means you will have to use the 'back' button to return to the main pages, whereas clicking to the left or right of any picture will open them in a new window, if you fancy a closer look at any of the piccies we've posted! We've included a Google Earth satelite picture of our plots and this years planting plan at the bottom of the page, next to each other. If you choose the Earth view on the satelite image you can rotate the image until it is lined up with the planting plan, then use the arrows in the plan to scroll from Plot 2 to Plot 1.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Beekeeping Update 8th July 2010

Today we return to work after our holidays, Lee has already left to start at 730am, I'm on a Late shift today, so have to leave in a couple of hours, so please excuse us if the blog updates become a bit less regular than they have been for the past 2 weeks, working full time + looking after 2 full size allotments and 6 hives of bees does eat up a hefty amount of time, but rest assured, I will do my best to keep you updated of our progress on the plots!

Yesterday we did the inspections on our Bees, we currently have 6 hives in the 2 apiaries on our plots, the first apiary is on Plot 2, and the newer larger one (apiary 2) is on plot 1, confusing, but we know where they are!

Apiary 1 was first built in late 2008 / early 2009 ( and took our first 3 hives in June and July 2008, whereas apiary 2 was built in early 2010 (

So, onto the bee inspections! We inspect the bees for several reasons, to check their health, to see if there are eggs, larvae and sealed brood, to see the queen and to check for swarm signs such as play cups (empty cups that could be the beginnings of a queen cell) and queen cells. If left unchecked and a queen cell is capped, then the existing queen and a lot of the bees will swarm, which not only can be a nuisance, but also can result in their deaths if they dont find a suitable home within 3 days, as their honey supplies will then run out!

We started with Apiary 1, which contains Hives 1 & 2, both Smiths designs and the first 2 hives we got! Hive 1 is a smaller colony (we had fears they wouldnt survive the winter, but having made it through ok, we are willing to give them a chance to get established this year rather than requeening the colony), whereas Hive 2 is a very strong and productive colony!

Normally there's 4 or 5 of us to do the inspections, Pat and Colin, sometimes their daughter Sarah, and Lee and myself, so we usually split into 2 teams to tackle 1 apiary each, making the process a lot quicker than it would be if we all did it together, but as Pat and Sarah have gone away to Hampton Court Flower Show it meant with just the 3 of us present that we did the inspections together.

We started with Hive 1, which has a single brood box and a single 'super'.

The first thing to do is to check the floor inserts for signs of varroa drop. Varroa mite originated in the East, but was brought into the UK with imported bees, it is a main pest for the bees and can seriously weaken a colony, and natural UK bees have no defenses, so we have to take steps to keep the bees clear of varroa by treating once a year (in midwinter) with oxalyic acid and weekly by dusting them with icing sugar (it makes the bees give themselves a really good clean, which causes the varroa to fall off, and as we have mesh floors, the mites fall through the mesh and are expelled from the colony. Checking the floor inserts gives us a good idea of the quantity of varroa present, which fortunately seems to be very low at the moment!

Once the roof is removed we then remove the crown board, this keeps the bees in the hive and stops any unwanted visitors from getting in via the top.

Under the crown board are the 'supers' shallower boxes that hold shallower 'super' frames where the bees store their supplies, both honey and pollen. Depending on the hive you can have up to 7 supers on a colony, which the bees will fill with supplies, then 'cap' the honey with a thin layer of wax to keep the honey safe. Once a super is 90% capped it can be taken and the honey extracted in a centrifugal extractor, then filtered and bottled for our use. (If you'd like to take a look at a bit more info from the blog on how a hive is constructed, then take a look here

The bees not only draw out the foundation to make the cells, but also build 'bridging comb', which makes removing the frames for examination difficult and is generally removed (the wax is then extracted and used for making lip balm, furniture polish and candles).

Lee inspecting a super frame to see how they are doing with the honey. The bees work on the honey to reduce its moisture content so that it wont ferment and go off, once the moisture content is right for storage, then they cap the cells, and once all the frames are fully capped, then any excess honey can be harvested by the beekeeper (each hive generally needs a full brood box and super of honey stores to see them safely through the winter), this frame is partially capped, with thin white veneer of wax to keep the honey fresh and the moisture content correct for storage!

Removing the bracecomb!

Next we remove the super to reveal the queen excluder and brood box! The queen excluder stops the larger queen from going into the supers and laying eggs in with the honey stores, which makes it easier to take the honey without damaging the health of the colony by having eggs, grubs and larvae mixed in with the honey that you are trying to extract!

Worker bees in the hive!

The queen is much larger than the workers or drones, the longer bee in the center of the pic (marked with a green dot which denotes she is last years queen) is the queen in Hive 1.

A drone, more bulky and 'square' in shape than a worker, these male bees have only 1 purpose in life, to mate with a queen.

A drone amongst the workers!

Once we are happy with the inspection (that we've seen eggs, larvae and capped worker brood or seen the queen - not always possible), then we treat the brood box with icing sugar, sifting it through a mesh to dust the bees and make them have a good clean in the hopes of controlling varroa mite infestation.

Once dusted the bees take on a different aspect, looking a bit like 'ghost' bees!

Cleaning themselves nicely!

After that the hive is reassembled and left alone for another week, happy in the knowledge that the bees are ok.

Hive 2 is our strongest colony, the queen is that productive we've had to give her a super to lay in aswell as the brood box (hence the green band of the queen excluder is above the bottom brown super box. This hive now has 5 supers, 4 of which are drawn out and filled / partially capped / almost filled, with 1 new one that we added today!

In the center of the picture is the queen on this hive, shes a great producer, laying thousands of eggs a day!

In doing the inspection in here we did find some 'play cups' pictured here next to some capped drone brood (the drone brood is much taller and domes, whereas the worker brood is almost flat to the frames. Any play cups are best removed, by squishing them with a hive tool.

This worker bee decided to investigate the taste of my gauntlet!

So, onto Apiary 2! From Left to Right, Hives 4, 5, 6 (Stingray), our original Hive 3 (that swarmed earlier this year and we rehomed into the National its not living in) and a nucleus box (homemade of course!) Hives 4 and 5 are smiths design, but Hives 3 and 6 are both the more popular (at least locally) National design, they both use similar frames (but the smiths have shorter lugs), the main differences are the exterior design (smiths have routed handles - usually- and Nationals have an extra piece of wood on the sides that make a bigger handle) and the position of the 'beespace', smiths have a top bee space, whereas national hae a bottom beespace! (The beespace is 1/8", and allows the bees to transit the space easily, any larger and they will fill it with braceomb, any smaller and they cant get in, so will seal it with bracecomb and propolis!

All was well in Hives 4, 5 and 6, but on opening Hive 3 we found 2 queen cells, this capped one......

.......... and this uncapped one. The 2 bees to the left of the queen cell are newly emerged worker bees, which stay in the hive for their first couple of weeks, acting as nurse bees by feeding the larvae and building any comb that needs to be drawn out.

Looking in from the uncapped end you can just see the queen larvae. The egg is fed with royal jelly for 5 days, then the grub growns on until the cell is capped and the new queen emerges 9 days later. If left with nothing done, a colony with a queen cell will normally swarm, so depending on time of year (after early July has passed it is unlikely the new nucleus will have enough time to get established and set down enough stores to see them through the winter) you can either split the colony, or later in the year we sadly have to remove the queen cells.

These 2 cells (along with a frame of stores, a frame of eggs and a frame of brood) were placed in a nucleus box and moved into apiary 1, its a bit late to take a split, but hopefully there will be just enough time for them to establish themselves, ready for the winter!

The new nuclues in apiary1.

Once finished its wise to check yourself for bees before removing your protective suit, as you can see here, Lee has a few bees investigating him!

So, thats the inspections done for another week! Hope it was of some interest, and thanks for reading!


Green Jeannie said...

oh yes, I found it very interesting indeed. My neighbour on the allotment is keeping bees, so this was particularly relevant to me, now I feel I perhaps understand a bit better, what he is doing up there.

Especially when he appears in his white outfit with netted hat!

I will call back again and have another deeper read, bees are fascinating, we went to a lecture back in the winter, by a guy who is leading a Bee Preservation charity up here. Totally fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

Green Jeannie ;0D

Shayla said...

That was very interesting, its nice to see how these things work because unless you have bees or know a friendly beekeeper there is no way to ever see what goes on in there.

Lois said...

Hi there. I'm a very novice allotment beekeeper who has just discovered your blog. It's fascinating to see what you are up to and how you have got on. I'll read through the blog but would be interested to know if there were any problems specific to allotment apiaries you have come across so I can attempt to avoid upcoming oops :-)

Anonymous said...

Well, as a non bee keeper but professional honey eater... I have to say this all looks super professional, well done the Dobbys!

Great set of pics as usual and very well explained.



Mrs Dobby said...

Hi Jeannie, they are even more fascinating when you get into the hive and start watching them do a waggle dance or see an emerging bee from its cell, just being 'born'!

Glad you liked the posting and feel free to come back for more info anytime!

Mrs Dobby said...

Hi Shayla, I heartily agree, we hadnt a clue until we were tutored by a friend whos a beekeeper, its definitely something that takes a lifetime to master! BTW, we do have a spare bee suit if you ever want a look inside the hives?

Mrs Dobby said...

Hi Lois, congrats on taking up beekeeping, its absolutely fascinating, and the honey tastes sooo much better than shop bought stuff!

Allotment specific problems? Not really, although we are limited to a maximum of 6 hives on the plot (tho we can keep any splits we get in nucleii until they are rehomed), other than that, sight them out of the way, keep your neighbours sweet with a jar of honey (if you get any this year, make sure you only take some once they have at least a full super for themselves for the winter) and do regular checks, the last thing you want is a swarm, especially if there are other plothlders nearby. Although they are actually at their least likely to sting when swarming, the noise and sight of 30K bees flying round can be quite scarey to those who arent used to it! HTH, and feel free to ask any questions you need to, ok?

Mrs Dobby said...

Hi Alan, once again thanks for the kind words, glad you found it entertaining and like our set up!

BilboWaggins said...

What a lovely post, so interesting and great pictures, thank you.

What I cannot understand, however (and I know this is what every beekeeper does), is that with the incredibly serious decline in bee numbers, why kill queen cells. Yes, I know they will swarm - shouldn't the BBKA be supporting you to establish many more hives?

Mrs Dobby said...

Hi Bilbo,
As the old rhyme says....
'A swarm in May is worth a field of hay,
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
But a swarm in July isnt worth a fly!'

Basically, any swarm thats rehoused or any new split from an existing hive from mid July onwards hasnt got enough time to draw out the foundation, build up their numbers and lay down enough stores to see them through the winter, so although we'd love to continue to increase the colony numbers, all we'd be doing is wasting their time and effort and allowing them to die of starvation during the winter.

Although we dont want to kill queen cells, its better for the bees if they stay as a strong colony easier able to survive through a winter and more likely to provide multiple divisions early next year, such as the 4 way split we took from Hive 2 at the very beginning of May this year.

Please feel free to ask any other questions, although we still consider oursaelves novice beekeepers (this is our 2nd year with the bees), we'll do our best to answer them for you. HTH

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