Opened up the hives – nothing remarkable actually. #3 (which is the only “real hive” we have now in Espoo) is buzzing with life and lots of new larvae. Added an F-Box – not that I think it is yet needed but I really do not like getting the hives remotely crowded here in Espoo.
The Swarm hive was busy and new larvae – did not see the queen though. Added a couple of food-cakes and a couple of brood-cakes to strengthen it a bit.
The original hive #7 – where there are only bees and no queen – not much has changed there either – quite a few queen cups in late stages so soon there should be a new queen.
The split out big hive with no queen is in pretty much the same state – no queen yet – tons of bees though – and tons of queen cups in various stages – so also here we will have a new queen soon. Took a couple of food-cakes and two 50% brood F frames and stuck them in the swarm hive where there is a queen – just to strengthen that one and make a bit more space in the big queenless one.
We finally removed the heating mat from under this hive. They definitely don't need it any more!
A nice hive, the red queen is still there, tons of brood, pollen and some drone larvae but no varroa. Added a box on top to make some space.
This hive is not in a great place though: there is a red ant highway right through the middle and there are a lot of plants growing up around it. Too late to move it now though.
It was such a hot day and neither of us really wanted to spend hours in our bee-suits but we didn't really have a choice.
We spent about three hours going through the hives one by one, removing drone larvae, adding new boxes and generally checking that everything is OK. We took the smoker with us, and the bees were very calm. We managed to get a lot done.
One of the hives seems to have a bad varroa infestation but apart from removing the drone larvae, there is not much we can do about it now.
We've been thinking about the queens and will probably get new ones for some of the hives in late summer.
He's taking a look inside the four hives we have here in Espoo. We found an unmarked queen in the "swarm" box which is the old queen from hive #7. We found eggs in the Hive from Hell #3 so there is a queen in there somewhere too, it was a very crowded hive and we need to add a box and some more frames. We have a box but no spare frames at the moment. We're thinking we will add a box anyway, just to prevent the mass from overheating. The other stack has no queen (we didn't find one) but there are plenty of queen cups. The risk is that when the new queen hatches she will leave the hive and take a swarm with her.
We've let them be for a couple of days and tomorrow we will open the hives and see what's going on inside. We need to find the queens and see if there is any fresh brood. We might be able to merge the four hives into three, we doubt there is a queen in each. We think we know which hive swarmed (not the Hive from Hell). We'll also be looking for queen cups - we might need those.
I was working from home this morning and about to leave to get the bus into town when the dog asked to go out: she had been hovering around in the kitchen for a while, it's unusual for her to ask to go out from the kitchen.
Tom opened the kitchen door, yelled and then slammed the door shut: "It's like a horror movie out there." Indeed, we had our first swarm.
There was a cloud of bees swirling around above the grass (lawn? sort of) in the back yard, a buzzing column that seemed to stretch up even higher than the flagpole and the trees.
I called Peter.
Then I donned my spacesuit and wandered out ... by now most of them were hugging the trunk of a very tall spruce, at about 15 meters above the ground. Great. First things first, I wandered over to the school and told the teacher on playground duty to keep the kids away from our garden - some of the boys spend their breaks in the ditches and down in the river which was right where the bees were swarming.
Peter arrived home and I handed over the spacesuit, the gloves, a bin bag and a broom and went to work.
P&T spent the entire afternoon dealing with swarming bees. I was convinced the recently christened Hive From Hell had produced the swarm but Peter thinks it was the other hive (the "quiet guys") since he had found an empty queen cup in there when he added a Farrar frame yesterday.
The only way they could bag the swarm was to climb up the spruce on a ladder with a bin bag and a broom. Anyway, that worked and P managed to get most of the bees (including the queen) into a cardboard box. Thomas had to drive to Kirkkonummi to buy more frames from the bee supply shop. Then the other hive started to swarm - but they dealt with that by setting up a hose and sprinkler which sent the bees back into the hive.
We now have four hives in the back yard and I have no idea which are which and where the queens are. Peter says the situation is under control. We need to check the queen situation and then merge some of the hives if we can. I dread to think what the situation is like in Pojo. Tom will report back later this evening having gone out there with strict instruction on how to add frames to the hives. Poor Tom had no bee-suit to wear while Peter was up the spruce, and he was stung several times. Astonishingly he had no reaction at all. Maybe he should quit uni and become a bee-keeper.
Swarming is quite dramatic but we have to reassure ourselves that we didn't really do anything wrong. Bees are programmed to swarm, it is part of the long-term survival strategy of the colony. We had added boxes to the hives the previous day, which should have prevented the swarm, but what we didn't do was check for queen cups...
Lessons learned: we need an extra bee-suit, smoker and miscellaneous Other things here. No good leaving all the kit in Pojo. Also, don't listen to advice on internet forums. Just open the lids, look inside and make up your own mind.
This BBC article summarises what is happening when bees swarm.
We follow the Vaakapesäseuranta site which tracks the weight gain of a few selected hives around the country. We keep our eyes on the one in Lohja which is not so far from our apiary. The graph shows kg weight gain (set at zero at the beginning of the season) and the date. Readings are taken once or twice a week.
The comments below the graph are all in Finnish but if anything interesting happens I'll post a translation.
As you can see from the graph, the hive was losing weight during the first two weeks of May, due to the cold spell (night frosts) we were having. We were actually feeding our own hives during that cold spell. It is not unusual to lose a whole hive through starvation if there is a late cold spell, especially if that delays the flowering of something like dandelions (which was the case this year).
Today was warm and nice, well over 20C. So, the next time they weigh the hive, we should see the line go up again.
I just came across a website run by a company in Devon, UK and I found their advice on polystyrene hives to be quite interesting. Modern Beekeeping: Hive Use.
They are not using the same hives as us though the article states that their supplier is Finnish. But very similar.
Number three hive, which we moved to Espoo, is the hive from hell. They are so moody and aggressive. But the colony is also very active, organised and productive. I guess that's the way it goes.
We added an F-box now that they are in position in the garden, it was getting a bit crowded in there and we do't fancy having to collect a swarm from one of our neighbours. The locals are used to bringing Zelda back when she goes walkabouts but I think they might draw a line at putting a few thousand bees in a sack and walking up the road with them.
One solution to the problem, would be to change the queen. That would have an almost immediate impact on the collective psyche of the colony. So, we will think about it.
The dandelions are just starting to bloom so it's time to start adding boxes to the hives. We are putting F boxes under the main brood boxes (L boxes) because it's still chilly at night and we don't want to disturb the temperatures in the hives too much. At the same time we inspected the bases and overall they were pretty clean so not much housework to do there.
Next week we will remove any remaining food boxes.
We are bringing one more hive back to Espoo. We've discussed the bee thing with our neighbours and they came over to look at the hive. They have no issues with us installing a second hive near to the boundary between their garden and ours. The bees seem to do so well in Espoo, there is so much to forage close by, especially later in the summer when all the local gardens are full of flowers and the park is a sea of purple rosebay willow-herb (fireweed)..
So, #3 hive is now in Espoo and in the autumn we are planning to sell local honey in the kiosk down the road.