Monday, 21 December 2015

Gatsbees B-Log: Autumn 2015

With a mild beginning to October, we were able to make a final check of a couple of the colonies


and found a nuc (nucleus), which was queenless. It should have been strong enough to survive the winter, even though it was half the size of a full colony...


but the queen had died and in the centre of the comb the bees had constructed a queen cell, far too late for the production of a new one.


This is a butler cage, designed to introduce a new queen into a queenless colony and minimising the chance of them killing her. (The 50p is to give you an idea of the size, not how much they cost!)


She is placed into the cage and a piece of newspaper is wrapped around the open end and secured with an elastic band to give her somewhere to hide while they get used to her and feed her.


We then put it into the hive between the frames of brood, where the bees would expect to find her. At this time of year there will be no issues about them accepting her as they know they won’t survive without one!



Ilex aquifolium

The Holly and...

  Hedera helix

the Ivy. A fantastic winter plant for bees with irresistible flowers for bumbles, honeybees, wasps and hoverflies, and also juicy berries for the birds.


The next problem was in the hive on the right, also a small colony of 7 frames, where the queen was poor at egg laying and putting the colony at risk, so I took her out.


We opened up the bigger colony in the hive on the left and put a large sheet of newspaper over the frames of bees, covered by a wire queen excluder to stop it blowing away.


After dark, when all the bees were at home and clustered together, we lifted the whole hive, excluding the floor onto the main colony.


Over the next week, the bees in both hives chewed their way through the paper, gradually integrating smells and feeding each other...

Happy bees!



This visitor to the hive is a harmless Havestman (or Harvest-person?). Rachel says it is a type of arachnid, but not a spider.

(Leiobunum rotundum) female


All this mixing up of colonies causes a few battles on the landing board but the bees, which look like they are being attacked, will survive by being submissive by putting their heads between their legs and sweeping the floor with their tongues.


27th October; pollen still coming in by the leg load, but I'm not sure from which flower.


I’ve left enough honey (I hope) for the winter, but gave some back on the wax cappings from honey extraction, for the bees to clean up and store.


Ah, yes, honey. Extracting honey is my least favourite job, but I will get round to explaining its finer details one of these days…..


And so they close up any gaps which they don’t want with wax or propolis and go to bed. Although it’s now December, there are still stragglers finding traces of honey in my bee shed (where I thought it would be safe by now).

Can you spot the queen?

A really tricky ‘spot the queen’ photo last time but they do like to make it difficult; she was just disappearing round the top side of the frame with just her long abdomen showing.


If then, you think you may enjoy the ‘gentle’ art of beekeeping, you can join your local Association for theory courses, which usually begin in January. Get in touch with the British Beekeepers Association on the net for your nearest contact and they will be delighted to hear from you.


Local associations generally run practical sessions in an apiary from around April to September, so would be happy to let you hang around and practice all summer if you don’t feel confident, or if your garden isn’t suitable for you to keep bees there.


If still not for you, then perhaps you could grow plants with single flowers in your garden or in pots next year, which are easier for the bees to work. They don’t have to be native like this Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens), but there’s always a corner for something insect friendly, whatever the growing conditions and whatever the time of year.

 Robin (Erithacus rubecula)  

So, that’s it for this extraordinary year; many thanks for your time and comments, it has been a pleasure sharing the girls with you all, amazing creatures that they are.

Big hug and a special thank you to Rachel and Tom too.

Gillybee X