Bee improvement is not difficult – anybody can do it and in fact every beekeeper should do it. The first step is to assess your colonies for a full season and record the data in a Colony Assessment Sheet. It will take a full season because the bees often do not show their true colours till they are big and strong and start to throw their weight about. Once you have the data you can compare colonies systematically and objectively then select stocks for breeding and stocks for culling.
The sheet below has been designed to record both Colony Assessment Data and routine beekeeping information from each visit. Click it for a better view. Scroll down and I’ll walk you through it…
If you are overwintering an Apidea you will need to keep a close eye on the stores – especially in a mild winter when the queen may start to lay early. This one in the picture above has a double brood box and was well stocked with ivy honey in autumn but it felt a bit light so I fed it today. If you are wondering why the air vent is left open – that’s because they have it completely propolised and I don’t want to leave the front door wide open.
Once upon a time I used to keep mice. They don’t swarm but they are territorial and they do fight. If you try to introduce two mice, of any or either sex, by simply dropping one into the cage of the other they will fight. However, if you put the two of them together in a third cage they will get along like a house on fire. This is what I call ‘the third box principle’ and the same thing applies with bees.
Before we go any further I should state that the Third Box Principle is not an explanation of bee behaviour but it is a mental model which helps the beekeeper to ‘put a handle’ on what is observed. It is also a particularly helpful thing to know when you are in the thick of the latest bee conundrum and wondering what the hell to do next – it can give you extra options.
At the end of the summer, it is not always possible to find a colony in need of a new queen, especially after a summer as good as this one (2014) when it seems all the queens mated well. Nor is it always possible to find colonies with sufficient sealed brood to make up a nuc without weakening them unduly before winter. So what to do with those last, late queens in your Apideas?
Here is the quandary I found myself in this year: I had several sad little queenless Apideas and two other strong ones, each with five frames (feeder removed) and with good laying queens in them. I can never quite face shaking the poor queenless bees out, nucs weren’t possible and there’s nothing so sad as watching an Apidea dwindle its way into winter with laying workers and a bellyful of slugs.
There are many reasons during the course of the season why you might need to replace a queen bee. She could have become a drone layer, you may have killed her by accident or it could be that the bees need to be improved by the addition of a new queen with better genes. Whatever the reason, you can’t just put her in because they will almost certainly kill her – although I have known cases where clipped queens have fallen to the ground in failed swarming attempts and have then made their way back up the stand legs and into the front door of a queenless neighbour! Continue reading Quick queen-bee introduction – Matchbox Method→
If, like me, you have placed your Apidea/s in a spot that overheats in very hot weather you can easily cool them down and stop them from absconding by draping a white flannel or a strip of pale towelling over them like an Arab headdress. The pale colour will reflect a lot of the heat and if you periodically drench the cloth with cold water the problem is solved.
Alternatively you could just put a big sponge on the roof and wet it at intervals. Make sure there is a slope is away from the entrance or water will run in.
Also, make sure that you have the ventilation grille partially open so the bees can circulate the air. If you fully open the door you will fully close the grille so avoid that – see the photo above.
It always seems to take an eternity for these new queens to get laying and the spectre of queenlessness and laying workers rears its ugly head. But when you sit down and actually work it out it, it’s often your expectations that are out of whack.
Remember she matures for 4 days after she emerges then even if she goes straight out and mates she won’t start to lay for another 4 or more days after that. So don’t waste your time looking for eggs till she’s 2-3 weeks old because if she’s not laying before then there’s nothing you can do about it anyway except gnash your teeth.
Have a look at this diagram instead – it’ll help keep your expectations on track.
Click it for a bigger version.
Or click the thumbnail below for a queenrearing timeline for Jenter kit with a Cloake board system
If you have a few queen cells in Apideas lined up in a dark shed awaiting release, you will know when the little virgin queens hatch because they will announce their presence by piping a challenge to any others who might be out there. Often quite a chorus can start up!
Here is a recording of a piping queen bee.
Hover your cursor over the left-most side of this primitive-looking black strip and when the arrow changes into a little hand and the balloon says ‘Play/Pause’ – click it:
The Carniolan bee also known as Apis mellifera carnica or A.m.carnica for short has its origins in Eastern Europe and is therefore adapted to a continental climate with cold hard winters and long hot summers. It is now the main bee in Germany.
Photo from https://beeinformed.org/2012/04/queen-bee-identification/
It is also known as the Grey bee because 3 segments of its abdomen are broadly covered in a thick pelt of short grey hairs which partially conceals the underlying dark abdomen giving it a frosted look. Photo from queen bee identification article on www.beeinformed.org
It is similar to the Italian bee in that it is a medium sized bee with a long narrow body and limbs and it also has the same long proboscis which enables it to make full use of the red clover – an important forage crop in Europe.
It also shares the same gentle nature as the Italian bee but has a stronger swarming tendency. Coming from further north it fares better over winter being very thrifty with a smaller brood nest. Come spring and the build-up is very rapid indeed an adaptation to take advantage of an early flow.
If you are thinking of importing Carniolan bees – or buying from somebody else who imports Carniolan or any other bees for that matter – remember that you will be helping to erode the genetics of the Irish bee. The Irish bee has evolved over thousands of years and ‘knows’ how to cope with the uniquely horrible Irish climate. Why would you want to do that?
And don’t forget – small Hive Beetle is out there waiting for somebody just like you. You don’t want to find yourself in front of god explaining why you destroyed your neighbour’s native bee breeding programme and at the same time introduced the most devastating bee parasite to Ireland now do you?
The Buckfast Bee is named after Buckfast Abbey in Devon, in England, where it was first bred by famous bee breeder Brother Adam.
Brother Adam (Karl Kehrle 1898-1996) came to Buckfast Abbey from Germany at the age of 12 and began to assist the beekeeper. In 1916, 30 of the 46 beehives at the Abbey were wiped out by Isle of Wight disease, now recognised as Acarine – a parasitic mite which moves in and occupies the windpipes of bees. Continue reading Buckfast Bee→