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Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Back on the drone trail

The first DCA I discovered last year showed up a sprinkling of drones today (4 May).

The first DCA I discovered last year showed up a sprinkling of drones today (4 May). Then it was wheat, today, it’s oil seed rape.

Spring is very slow in coming in southern England this year. The oil seed rape still isn’t in full blossom around here, but today was sunny and faintly warm so it was time to see if the drones are congregating yet.

Two of three known Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs) showed up nothing, but the third had three, maybe four, drones chasing the lure. Actually they were more interested in my hat. I’m starting to hear them before I see them. Their buzzing contrasts clearly from the many bumble bees that were around.

I am confident that these DCA locations persist from year-to-year and some obviously across the centuries.

There are no signs of queen cells in my colonies yet, but I expect that to change this weekend as the temperature rises and the nectar flows more freely.

As soon as I find a good response in known DCAs I discovered last year, I will start the search in some new areas I have in mind and put a few new ideas to the test. Since I have started eight weeks earlier this year and in time for the swarming season, I am hoping for some even more dramatic results.

In case you missed it, here’s the story from last year:

1 July 2015 In search of a mate

2 July 2015 Drone Congregation Areas

7 July 2015 Another Drone Congregation Area

20 July 2015 Video of Life in a Drone Congregation Area

28 July 2015 Do drones assemble above prehistoric sites?

3 August 2015 Drone Goal

10 August 2015 Rediscovering the first Drone Congregation Area more than two centuries later

8 September 2015 In search of a Drone Congregation Area SatNav

27 October 2015 Hilltopping

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Next Generation Beekeepers


Showing the various stages of comb development.

This week, Vita’s Sebastian Owen went to inspire the next generation of beekeepers  in a local pre-school.

They responded enthusiastically — especially when Sebastian gave an energetic demonstration of a ‘waggle dance’ and then the whole class had a chance to try their own version.

The youngsters were fascinated at the different ways that honey comes to arrive on their breakfast tables and how beekeepers make runny, set and comb honey.

A shiny block of pure beeswax was passed around to give them the touch and smell sensations of that prized beekeeping product, but Sebastian didn’t dare pass around a pot of honey for fear of receiving a cleaning bill from the pre-school.

Sebastian wonders how many might go on to take up beekeeping in the years to come. The way the hobby is growing in Britain, there is a very good chance that at least one will become a beekeeper.


Sebastian in a bee suit, demonstrating some of the equipment beekeepers use.


The queen with a surprise

I had two firstsIMG_8672 this weekend: one routine, the other a first in two decades of beekeeping — I was stung by a queen!

The routine first was hive inspection for the first time this year. All colonies were alive and well, though one was perilously close to running out of food. Its demeanor showed how close they were to a dreadful demise. They had sealed brood, but were smart enough to be tending no new brood. They were becoming demoralised. and rather sluggish. However, their mood was transformed in minutes with the arrival, of emergency food supplies. I hope and think they will revitalise quickly.

Other colonies were busy bringing in the pollen even though there was no obvious source for their bright yellow pollen baskets. Despite the mild winter, spring is now quite late in southern England because of the decidedly chilly February and March.

The other first was a real novelty for me. I lifted a fine looking yellow queen to mark her and she obviously took objection to such an indignity. To my amazement she stung me on my thumb. The sting sensation was indistinguishable from a worker’s sting, but looked quite different: there was no black barb to be seen, just the white venom.

Fortunately, queens don’t die when they sting. Their stinger has no bard and can be withdrawn without damage to herself. A queen’s sting is normally reserved for other queens, so I am not sure why she picked on me! The rest of the colony seemed good tempered, but I will be keeping an eye on her!

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger


Replace those old brood frames!

IMG_2577Vita’s blogger was a bit shocked this weekend to see how little beeswax is actually contained in an old brood frame!

Using a steam cleaning system that separates the beeswax from the rest, there wasn’t too much beeswax coming from the brood frames! 

Unlike super frames that should hold the honey only and have nice white beeswax, brood frames seem to be held together mostly by the discarded skins of old larvae and a bit of propolis thrown in!

It provided a timely reminder to replace brood frames regularly to avoid the build-up of a potential disease reservoir.

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

A surprise at the herb farm

IMG_2474Last weekend, my first hive was moved to the herb farm I blogged about last November, but there was a surprise in store.

The abandoned WBC hive in the undergrowth that appeared to be empty last autumn did in fact contain a colony of bees. Oh dear! That will have to be dealt with.

I have never really wanted to manage a WBC. It’s a traditional British hive type invented by William Broughton Carr in the late nineteenth century. It is loved by many, mostly for its pretty looks, but disparaged by others! Don’t even mention a WBC to a beefarmer!

I am told that the WBC was especially useful in the days of nineteenth century austerity because the inner walls could be made from discarded fruit boxes. That would have been very thin, cheap wood which would have been protected by the outer ‘lifts’ made of sturdier, more weather-proof wood. Bee-tightness of the joints was obviously not then a priority. WBCs could keep bees warm in winter, not too hot in summer and condensation was not likely to form within the hive.

The architecture of a WBC hive, courtesy Maisemore Apiaries http://www.bees-online.co.uk/

The architecture of a WBC hive, courtesy Maisemore Apiaries www.bees-online.co.uk

WBCs certainly look pretty, but they pose management challenges. And I found out very quickly what one of those challenges might be. The abandoned hive at the herb farm was very difficult to prize apart because the colony had obviously done well last season and had built brace comb everywhere — including between the inner and outer walls. It was a bit like cavity wall insulation, just a tad stickier. Still, the honey looked a very tasty dark-golden colour and that promises well for the apiary.

Since I don’t have the parts to manage a WBC and I certainly don’t want a colony untreated for varroa in the vicinity, something must be done! At a first quick inspection, there was sealed, seemingly  healthy brood, but no obvious unsealed larvae and, in the chaos of the sprawling nest, no sign of the queen. Given the cool day, I quickly tried to tidy up, cut out the mountains of brace comb and re-organise the frames so that a more thorough inspection could happen on a better day.

The emerging plan is to inspect the colony thoroughly to ensure that it is healthy, treat for varroa and possibly transfer it to one of my Langstroth hives or offer it to a WBC hive beekeeper.  More later …

UPDATE 16 March: We shook-swarmed the bees in the WBC into a Langstroth hive and provided some feed. It was too cold to search for the queen thoroughly, so we hope she is on board. Two Apistan strips were also inserted as an anti-Varroa treatment. Since there is no brood yet, the strips need not stay in for the usual full six weeks of two brood cycles. The colony seems healthy but quite small, so we can only hope they get can get going in the spring nectar flow.

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

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