Tag Archives: beekeeping

Naming the bees – a nod to Iain M Banks

Having left them in peace for many weeks, we looked in on the bees last Sunday. The hives felt heavy and the bees are collecting a lot of stores, hopefully enough that they won’t need extra feeding over the winter. Steph came over and acted as an observer, while we lifted frames and looked at the brood, honey and uncapped nectar. These bees have been busy.

The bees have been paying attention to the Malva moschata flowers

While she was with us Steph commented that, as we now have three colonies, we ought to give them names. She names hers after the places she collected the swarm from, which is a good method. We decided to be whimsical instead and have tipped our hats to late author Iain M Banks and the names he gave to spacecraft in his Culture novels.

The ships, and some planets, in the world of The Culture are run by sentient, hyperintelligent machines called Minds. The Minds choose their own names for ships which are often based on the Mind’s character or role. Thus, a military ship of the Limited Offensive Unit class called itself ‘Gunboat Diplomat‘ while a General Contact Unit ship chose ‘Just Read The Instructions‘. Sometimes the reason for a ship’s choice of name isn’t clear, at others it is, as in the Cruise Ship ‘Just Passing Through‘.

With the above in mind, here are the names we’ve chosen –

The first hive we had in the garden came to be here via our initial meeting with Steph when she came to collect a swarm that settled in the Magnolia tree last summer. She said that the garden would be good bee habitat and suggested that we foster one of her colonies and see how we liked it. If all went well, the colony would be divided the following spring and she’d take half back. Those bees are now spending the summer here before going to her apiary a few miles away. We’ve designated this hive as a GSV (General Systems Vehicle) and called it ‘A Very Fortunate Meeting‘.

On the right is ‘A Very Fortunate Meeting’. The box on the left is the colony division – it now has another layer on it as the bees are bringing in more supplies

The second colony arrived as a swarm on May 22 this year. It started out in a ‘nuc’ box, a temporary hive smaller than permanent ones. Earlier this month we transferred the bees into a larger hive and Karl made special extended frames to give them more building space. Because of the large frames we put it into SL (Super Lifter) class and, for no particular reason other than we liked the sound, called it ‘The Pipes of Apis‘ (after the biological name Apis mellifera and the sound new queens make).

‘The Pipes of Apis’ being transferred from the nuc box to their new hive

The third colony also arrived as a swarm, some time over the weekend of June 3-4 when we were away. Karl had seen a description and plans for a swarm box, a box attached to a tree in order to attract a swarming colony – an easy way to acquire bees if you have a tree they like. The swarm box had been put in the tree, but we’d only put three frames in it as we hadn’t yet taken delivery of the materials to make more. When we went away, the box was empty and we got home a few days later to find a colony had already moved in and set up housekeeping.

We decided to let them keep the box and be wild bees. They seem content to do that, they’re increasing in numbers and busy filling the box with comb. We’ve assigned them to the GCU (General Contact Unit) class and, additionally, put them in the organisation known as Special Circumstances. Given that their box hangs 3m high in the tree, we’ve named them ‘Sisters of Swing‘.

‘Sisters of Swing’

This is what we saw when we used an endoscopic camera to look inside after they’d been in there for three weeks. This type of camera is new to us and the film is pretty jerky, but you can see what’s going on. The last section shows the inside of a nuc box.

There you have it – frivolous names chosen simply to amuse ourselves, but now the colonies can be identified more easily than just pointing at them. If you’re familiar with Iain M Banks, then I hope this amuses you!

 

Happy new bee year

On sunny days recently I’ve been going into the garden to check for bee activity at the hive. For many weeks now the only way to gauge if they were still there has been to look at the debris beneath the hive or press an ear to the outside and listen to the faint buzzing from within. It was with great pleasure that I looked again this last Saturday (February 3) and saw bees coming and going. There weren’t many of them, only ten at the most, but it was encouraging to see them.

bee-yellow-pollenFirst bee sighting of the year – early in the year but bringing in pollen

Yesterday, February 7, is another sunny day so I looked again and was delighted to see dozens of bees milling about on the outside of the hive and many coming in with pollen.

17-02-07_1Their first big outing of the year

Pollen is in short supply in February, but the bees clearly know where to find it. The pollen the bees were carrying was in varying shades of yellow and orange and looking at a pollen colour chart suggests that blue and yellow crocus, willow and snowdrop (Galanthus spp) flowers are the most likely to have been foraged.

17-02-07_3Spot the pollen

Willow (Salix alba) grows along the banks of the nearby river Windrush and flowers early in the year, providing a useful source of early pollen and nectar. Snowdrops and crocuses are both common in local gardens and I’ve put in quite a few more since we’ve lived here. The large-flowered snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii flowers two weeks earlier in this garden than the more common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, giving the bees a longer season of foraging those flowers.

bee in flowerYou can just see a bee in this Galanthus elwesii flower

Looking at the bees themselves, I was pleased to see shiny bodies and wings with no signs of deformity, which would indicate a problem with varroa mites. It’s hard to avoid these mites completely, but they do need controlling. I’d taken quite a lot of pictures of the activity on the hive and in a closer examination of the photos, I spotted something reddish-brown on one bee’s thorax, a varroa mite. I’ve looked very closely at all the other pictures, but haven’t seen any more.

varroa-1The bee in the centre has a varroa mite on her thorax – look for the shiny, red-brown disc

Our bee-friend, Steph, the one who came to collect the swarm last summer, gave us a device to put in the bottom of the hive. It’s a Bee Gym, and it helps the bees to scrape off the mites by themselves as they rub against the wires and ‘flippers’. You can see a Bee Gym being used here.

beegym_shopA Bee Gym

The reviews I’ve seen look positive, so it went straight into the hive and we’ve also put in a varroa board so we can count the number of mites that drop off. They’ll be prevented from crawling back into the hive by Vaseline (petroleum jelly) smeared on the board, which they’ll stick to.

varroa boardHome made varroa board smeared with Vaseline

There was a great deal of bee activity yesterday and it wasn’t easy to track the bee’s movements, but I did notice some gathered in small groups, as if gossiping, and what may have been grooming behaviour. Grooming amongst bees isn’t something I’ve seen before, so I’ll keep a look out for it. On the ground in front of the hive, I noticed three dead bees – alarming, but it’s natural for some of the bees to die over winter and some beekeepers report finding dozens or even hundreds of corpses in late winter, so there’s no reason to be concerned. On the hive itself are small streaks on the wood near the entrance, evidence of the bees answering the ‘call of nature’.

All in all, barring unavoidable calamity, it looks like a good start to the bee year.

bee shadows 2Bee shadows