Thursday, November 29, 2012

Should I go and buy an accelerometer?

This link is really interesting and I suppose we will all now have to go out and buy accelerometers!  There has been really serious issue with weak hives this year in the UK and so if there is a way to help ensure hives remain strong this is great! The really interesting thing however is the timing.  The researchers say they can tell 10 days in advance that a swarm is going to occur.  So at what stage in the development of a new queen is this?  Well by my reckoning if a hive swarms just before a new queen emerges then the process is identifiable at about 6 days into the development of a new queen i.e. a day or so before a queen cell is capped.

So get in and remove queen cells early if you want to stop a potential swarm!  I don't think this is particularly revolutionary as we've known removing queen cells stops swarming - so long as the queen cells are uncapped. Removing capped queen cells will not stop the process. But what could be interesting is the development of a device that can positively identify swarming behavior, without a beekeeper having to go and disturb a hive.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New Blood!

I got the chance to look through my two bee hives at the botanical gardens yesterday, and I also got the chance to show them off to two potential (and wonderfully enthusiastic) new beekeepers; Megan and Shannon.

The weather was lovely - fine warm and dry and really quite unseasonable.  The bees must have thought it was late summer and behaved wonderfully. Even the queens came out to sun themselves and put on a show; I haven't seen them for ages!!! Anyway, it all looks quite well organized going into the winter and I shut up the hives feeling quite optimistic about their prospects for surviving the coming cold months.

I wish I hadn't been so complacent about the weather and had gone straight back and looked at my bees in my back garden.  I thought that the weather would hold for today, but sadly it's been windy and has rained! I'll have to hope that next weekend is fine.

Who are Megan and Shannon?  Two students from Washington University who are keen on keeping bees.  They form part of a surprisingly large group at the university who have just started to research beekeeping and who are looking into the possibility of maintaining hives on campus. They clearly brought out the best in my bees and enjoyed the chance to get up close to a hive.  It's really exciting to see such enthusiastic new people getting involved and I can't wait to see what ideas and thoughts they can bring to urban beekeeping.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Holidays are coming!

The holidays are coming so I'm putting together some gift bags!  A bottle of Honey and a Massage Bar.  There are four "flavours" of Massage Bar this year; Unscented, Orange-Vanilla, Black Amber and Lavender, and Ylang Ylang.  Of course all smell lovely (even the unscented one!) and really there is nothing mutually exclusive about using massage bars and honey! Trust me!

However, for those of you that aren't that experimental, my bars this year come in a tin.  This means they can be kept in a draw either at work or by the kitchen sink and they can be used as hand cream/barrier bars - they're fabulous like this too!

I hope to be selling some at the local farmers market in Kirkwood as well as in a local Kirkwood store "Cornucopia".  And there will always be some for sale from the front porch!  I have even taken my first "bulk order" of 8 gift bags for this Christmas!! So hurry and place your order before the rush!

Gift Bag contents!
Some lovely local beeswax!

Bad weather effects bees in the UK.

I saw this on the Guardian's web site today. I can testify that it was a wet year in the UK.  We went home for a couple of weeks in June and had some lovely weather the first week, the second was damp and cold on the whole.  I did wonder how the bees were coping.  And what a contrast it was with the weather in the mid-west! Here we suffered from a very prolonged period of dry hot weather that followed a very warm winter.

In the spring we were worried that our bees were developing too early and that we would be too late to carry out effective swarm prevention. By the summer this was displaced by concerns that the drought would mean there would be no nectar for the bees to capitalize on. However, by mid-summer I had harvested some 250 lbs of honey from my 3 suburban beehives - quite a difference to the average crop of about 8 lbs per hive that has been reported in the UK this year.  And now with winter looming fast I am worried there might not be enough by way of stores for the bees.  I fed them hard over a period of about 3 to 4 weeks in September/early October and added over 20 gallons of 2:1 sugar syrup (that's about 180lbs of granulated sugar) to 4 hives.  I think it is getting too cold for the bees now, so come the next warm snap I will remove the feeders and see how they look.  I may add some pollen patties just to help them out with the protein they need.  If the winter is as mild as last year I reckon we'll be OK, if it is harsh then I'm not so sure.  I guess only time will tell...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My introduction to beekeeping!

I don't think I really knew it at the time but when I think about it my introduction to beekeeping really started thanks to Haslemere Educational Museum.  The museum has had a remarkable observation bee hive for as long as I can remember!  Not just single frames of brood and honey behind some perspex you understand, but a full blown hive with windows on all 4 sides.  You can remove any, or all, of the panels and get a really good look at what's going on inside. I was always fascinated by this.

When I was a kid the hive used to be housed inside the museum, nowadays it has it's own shed in the grounds.  You can while away many hours inside a warm dry shed and watch the bees come and go about their business.

A good friend of mine took her daughters to see the bees this year and they kindly took these pics for me to blog. The Museum is a brilliant local attraction and in 2012 won "The Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award" or "Britains number one museum for families", as voted by families.  This is a big deal as it was voted No.1 from a not-so-short-list of 600!

All these amazing things we find out about bees and we let this happen...

I despair.  I really do sometimes.

As this article points out scientific data can be, and often sadly is, manipulated to suit the interests of polititians (and the major interest groups that fund them). It seems even the UK government (like all governents they are supposedly there to support the people) is paying no heed to the warnings being made about bee health.

When will a disaster be sufficiently significant for them to take action? Our bees are already struggling to cope against what are proving to be very damaging chemicals. Our urban areas are quickly becoming major sanctuaries for bees, let's hope we won't find they become the only habitat they can survive in.

Why bees behave differently

I always wondered what happened when you made a nuc...

If you remove young bees from a hive for example by relocating one or more frames of bees to a nuc box, the older bees on those frames will fly back to their original home, the donor hive.  So, you would therefore expect to have a surplus of older foraging bees in the donor hive.  I always assumed that some of these older bees went off and did some other jobs for a bit; at least until there were more new bees.  But I didn't know what actually happened. It appears it's all to do with patterns of chemicals that latch on to and regulate certain genes in the bees brains...

So here we have the answer!

Here's a neat idea reported in the Guardian the other day. If you're an aspiring beekeeper, or a beekeeper wanting to help or assist others then you can take a look at this map and see who is in your area. It was pos

OK, so this is an iniative from the UK but there's no reason why it shouldn't be adopted and applied elsewhere.  It's supposed to provide an outlet for people who want to keep bees but do not have the space, and for people who have space but do not have bees!!  or something like that!  I hope it takes off.  Check out the map.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


This week my observation hive spent a week at Tillman Elementary School, in the attentive care of Helen Ermel's 3rd grade class.

The kids asked loads of great questions and wrote me some brilliant letters! Thank you guys!

We're already planning a spring break in the class in 2013!

Honey Harvest - Update

It's been a while since I last posted. I have treated my hives for mites and have lost two queens! Is my queen loss related to the treatment? I don't know, but My feeling is that it is. Next year I will be trying a different non-chemical method of mite management. My preference right now is to cage the queen, but this needs research.

Anyway last Sunday I took off the final supers from my hives at the gardens. Two supers yielded 35lbs (16kgs) of honey. That's a total of about 90lbs (40kgs) in total from one hive - I'm happy with that.

Soy overall haul for 2012 is 255lbs (116kgs) from 3 hives. Great going given the dry mixed up weather.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Honey Harvest!

I spent an excellent (and enjoyable Saturday and Sunday morning) harvesting my honey. It was reasonably hard work lifting the frames and picking away at the combs removing the cappings, but with the help of others (and a few beers) the time passed quite swiftly!

However, before I could enjoy myself and conduct all this fun stuff I had to go and take the supers off my hives. I first went to the Botanical Gardens and removed 3 supers on the afternoon of 4th July. What a nice way to spend the day you might think... I'd agree, if it wasn't 41C (105F) and I didn't have to do all that lifting and hauling around of the supers! I was soaked with sweat within minutes! The good news was that my girls didn't seem to mind me doing it!

While I was at the gardens I checked my nuc and found the "squashed" swarm cell was still in place but that the bees in the nuc had started to form a new queen cell. I removed this as I found the queen and I plan to combine the hives sometime later this week.

I removed 5 supers from my hive at home on Saturday morning; at 6.30am it was already about 30C (85F) and again it proved to be really hot and really unpleasant. by the time Sunday came and I had to remove my final 2 supers I really didn't have the appetite to get fully kitted up. Anyway, thankfully, the hot weather here broke on Saturday evening (daily highs had been over 38C for 10 days running) and it was a much cooler 20F (70F) at 6.30am. It was still hot but I managed to remove the supers easily enough. Who has a good idea for a refrigerated beekeeping suit?

Once again the honey from the three sources was quite different in colour and flavour. The Botanical Garden Honey being quite "strong", the honey from home "sweeter". To summarize:

Botanical Garden Honey = 24.5 kgs (54 lbs)
"Big" Hive Honey = 50 kgs (110 lbs)
"Small" Hive Honey = 22.5 kgs (50 lbs)
"Observation" Hive = 3 kgs (7 lbs) - from one deep frame.

Total = 100 kg (220 lbs)

Nice Job Girls!

The 2012 Haul!
My Motley Crew

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Two weeks of hard work!

I came home from vacation last week to find the girls in my large hive at home have been working hard and packing in the honey! In the last 2 weeks all 5 supers have been almost filled! I need to check my other hives ASAP to see when I will harvest, but it all looks rather good for July 4th!

The Hunt for Drone Congregation Areas!

Well we did manage to go and hunt for the DCAs near Selborne. My Dad, Matt and I went for a lovely 4 mile walk through the gorgeous Hampshire countryside looking in three locations for the DCAs.  Sadly we didn't find any drones, but it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed ourselves as the photos testify!
Next time maybe I'll try and find a local beekeeper who actually knows their location! Nevertheless I have a big thank you to say to the chaps at Gilbert White's House in Selborne - Flair Kitching the Assistant Manager and David Standing the Head Gardener. Their instructions to find the locations were wonderful.  The fact we didn't find any bees there seemed only a very minor failing!

Here are some other views from our walk!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Leaving for our vacation this afternoon so I said goodbye to my bees! It's very important they know we're going away and why!

Anyway the hives in my neighbours have not really taken any syrup in the last few days, so I didn't add any more. But I did rearrange the frames to help to encourage them to draw out more foundation.

The hives in my yard are great! Three supers are pretty much full. The two other supers are there to be drawn out and also for some space should we get a nectar flow!

The other hive yard has space in its two supers but I have one in reserve should it be needed!

Bring it on!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Setting Up For Our Vacation

Our vacation is looming fast and it's time to set the hives up so they don't need attention for a few weeks!

Susan has kindly offered to feed the hives that are in my neighbours yard. I put a gallon of syrup in each yesterday and we'll feed these as long as it takes to get the bees to draw out the frames of foundation.

I managed to look in my Botanical Garden hives today. The hive I started from a nuc was doing rather too well! It had out-grown the single deep and I found brood in the super I had moved from the adjacent hive. So I moved this super to the bottom of the hive and I also added new deep to the top of the hive; having moved some frames up into it. The other hive at the gardens is blooming too! I reversed the deeps, moved the super that was full of brood up above the deeps and then added a fifth (yes fifth!) super!!!! Three supers are being filled and new foundation is being drawn out; the other two supers are empty, but have a lot of drawn comb, so I'm optimistic these will see some action!

That just leaves the two hives in the yard. I think I will try to look through these on Friday morning and I may add some more supers (my last ones) just in case there happens to be a major nectar flow while we're gone!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Feeding Time!

The two hives that I made from the city hive have been slow to grow and little new comb has been drawn out. So I decided to start a regime of feeding. I added a feeder and about half a gallon of 1:1 syrup last Thursday and today (4 days later) added a further gallon of 1:1 syrup to each hive. Clearly the girls are enjoying their feast! Hopefully this will stimulate brood rearing and some comb construction.

While the hives may not have any honey this year I'm determined to build them up for the winter and homey production next year!

Bee S.O.S!

I had my first emergency call on Saturday!  My friends Mike and Monica have/had 2 hives that are in trouble. They lost one and called me for help with their remaining hive.  They think the hive they lost was due to Small Hive Beetles. The hive just declined over a period of time and the health and vitality plummeted!  When I saw it there were lots of larvae present in the honey - an unpleasant, nasty mess !It's very sad and I know what they went through.  A couple of years ago I nearly lost a hive the same way, but managed to catch it early enough to do something about it!

So their other hive is currently queenless. I'm not sure why, but they had tried to introduce a new queen but this was not successful, so I was asked if I had any frames of eggs and larvae I could donate in order to stimulate the bees to rearing new queen.  I think we hit on a good solution. Mike and I checked on my observation beehive (the 5-frame nuc) - we found the perfect frame! Eggs (I think - it's so hard to tell) and lots of larvae - all uncapped.  We found the queen on this frame so I am fairly confident there should be eggs present.  Also, removing this frame of eggs also helps me manage my observation hive as it helps to keep the number of bees in the nuc under control. If this tactic fails I may just let them start a new colony using the queen and frames in the observation hive.  At least I won't have to worry about how to overwinter this hive!

Anyway, they will leave their hive alone for about a week, and then check for emergency queen cells.  If cells are present then it should be another week or so before a queen emerges and then another couple more weeks before she gets mated and starts to lay. I think if they inspect the hive this coming weekend and find cells they should leave the hive alone for at least a month.

I am looking forward to seeing what happens!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chilled Brood?

It's all bees this week!  I took the opportunity tonight to have a look though the hives that reside in the garden down the street.  It's been a while since I last had a look at these (April 21st) so I was interested to see what had happened.

Nearly four weeks ago I expanded one hive and moved two frames up into a new deep - along with just frames of foundation.  I did not feed this hive.  When I went in to inspect the hive this time around I found that there was a lot of uncapped pupae in these two frames.  At the time I thought it was probably a mistake to move the frames! Just after I moved the frames I thought it was way too early, but I still did it!

I think the bees that occupied these frames could not keep the brood warm and they have therefore been unable to rear new brood successfully. Interestingly I did see the Queen walking across the frames containing the "chilled" brood.

I didn't expand the hive that is adjacent to this "chilled" hive until May 5th when I thought the hive was ready to be expanded. At this time I added a second deep to the hive but again just moved a couple of frames up into it.  Like the other hive I didn't feed this hive.  When I did the inspection this afternoon I found the brood to have none of the issues the neighbouring hive has.  The brood is compact and there were few if any signs of any open cells containing pupae.

I do have supers on both hives.  The "chilled" hive predictably has no activity in it, but the other hive has some brood being developed in it. This super had partially drawn wax foundation in it. Clearly the queen prefers this to the frames of wax foundation that are next to the brood frames.

To conclude, I believe that by moving too few frames of brood up into the second deep, before the brood had sufficiently developed in the bottom deep, i.e. too early! I have compromised the development of the hive. The bees were not present in sufficient numbers to keep the brood warm. Also, I think that by not feeding the bees I have restricted their growth.

Therefore I intend to start feeding both hives in earnest! Even if these do not produce honey this year I can at least get them stronger for next winter!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Drone Congregation Areas - I'm going on a bee hunt!

Some time ago I wrote about Drone Congregation Areas and Gilbert White. Well we are going home to the UK for a vacation and I have decided to see if I can find the DCA Gilbert White first documented on 1st July 1792!

I sent an email to the Gilbert White museum in Selborne (in Hampshire) asking them if they know of the DCA and possibly where it might be located. I got a very prompt reply from their office saying they would pass on my enquiry to their Head Gardener, David Standing. This morning I got a delightful email from Mr Standing. Clearly he is something of a detective.

He had looked at Gilbert White's reference on 1st July 1792. This refers to the...

'loud audible humming of bees.... on the highest part of our down'.

Gilbert White goes on to say that...

'The sound is to be heard distinctly the whole common thro', from the Money-dell's, to Mr White's avenue-gate.'

Well, David believes 'The Down' is in this case the top of Selborne Hanger, the highest part of which is nearest the NW edge of the area and thinks that it is close to an old path (still in existence) that runs from the the top of the "zig-zag" path to Newton Valence, the neighbouring village. This old path would have been used by villagers traveling between Selborne and Newton Valence. The present path is a more direct route following the route that was cleared through the trees, of a water pipe that was laid in the 20th Century.

Although David is not sure where 'the Money-dell's' are, he suspects they are on the eastern side of the common, as 'Mr White's avenue-gate' was on the west. 'Mr White' being the Rev. Edmund White, Gilbert White's nephew and the Vicar of Newton Valence.

So I'm getting excited and I'm really looking forward to trying to locate this DCA. I have a map reference which will be where I will start looking. I plan to recruit the help of my sons, as I will need some sharp eyesight and keen hearing!... Watch this space!

Not much action!

I went through my hives in my back garden this evening - I have two hives a strong hive and a weak hive.  I went though the weak one first.  There was no honey in the supers so I think they may have been consuming some. But there is a lot of nice tight brood, but nothing that requires my attention.  What's especially nice is that I looked through the deeps and found the Queen. This was the queen that was reared by the hive back in March. I think the bees have sufficient space and I will leave things alone for a while.  I may do a reversal at the weekend or this time next week.

The stronger hive has quite a lot of honey in it.  I would guess 2 of the 3 supers are about 70% full.  Although not much is capped yet, things are looking good.  The third super is filling, but is not nearly so full. Although there doesn't appear to be much of a honey flow on at the moment I nevertheless added another (4th) shallow super.  This is a mixed super of foundation and drawn comb.  Hopefully the bess will be encouraged to fill this as well once things start flowing again.  I also did a reversal on this hive.  I reckon this is set up for the next month or so and it shouldn't need any attention for a while.  I didn't see the queen this time, which is a shame, but I managed to see small larvae.

I'm learning that "when it ain't broke, don't fix it"!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Inspections and a New Hive!

It's been a couple of weeks since the last time I was able to go and poke around the hives.  The weather has not been favourable at the right time.  Anyway, Sunday (5th May) came and with it some hot dry (albeit very humid) weather.

The two hives that I have located in a garden just down the street have grown a little.  The hive that I put a second deep on two weeks ago is now beginning to grow into its new box. The other hive (in a single deep) was full of brood and needed room to expand into.  So I added a second deep to this hive! Not much nectar is coming into these hives, at least it's not being stored in the supers that are on them.  However I do keep having to remind myself it is still only just May. The bees were a bit agitated but all in all they were reasonably easy to work.  I think only one or two tried to sting me.

The two hives in my yard seem to be marching on too!  I would guess that more comb has been capped off and there seems to be quite a bit of nectar in the brood chamber.  So is it time for some more supers? Not quite, but soon...  There is still some room in the supers that are already on the hives and I would rather these get filled before I put anything more on.  When I do bottom-super I will interleave comb with new foundation. I hope by doing this the bees will rapidly draw out the foundation and also store nectar.  Maybe at the end of the week...  Once again these bees were so quiet to work!  It was as though they were inviting me in for a look round.  Hardly any were flying during my inspection! They truly are a pleasure to work!

Finally, I managed to take a look at the bees at the botanical gardens. I have had a nuc sat there since April 9th and it was about time I took a look inside as they were probably due to be expanded into a hive.  They didn't disappoint!  There was a lot of lovely brood in the nuc so I installed the 5 frames in a new hive body. I also made my way through the adjacent, parent, hive.  This was brim full of bees (yet I saw no sign of queen cells!).  The super (at the bottom of the hive) that was full of brood, is still full of brood so I left this in place.  At some point I will remove it but I don't think this will be any time soon!  I have two supers over the hive and these are filling nicely.  Now, this is where I may have made a mistake... I decided to add a super to the large hive - easy enough - but I also decided to move a full super across to the nuc in order to encourage the bees to draw out comb etc. 

Will this work?  I don't know!  The addition of the bees in the super to the nuc may upset the queen (either that or the new bees might just kill her on their way back to their own hive) . Also I realized shortly after doing this that adding the super of foundation didn't actually create any new space for the bees to occupy as I had intended!  The super contained foundation and no drawn comb!  I may have screwed things up, again! We will have to wait and see...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

School Visit

I'm taking my observation hive to the School on Friday! The queen isn't laying in the observation frame probably because it's been too cold lately!

I think I have realized the queen must stay in the nuc box part of the hive most of the time and should only be moved when she is to be observed!

You live and learn!


I was booked solid at the school! Word got out that I was coming and I was scheduled every 30 minutes between 9am and 3pm to talk to a class, sometimes 2 at the same time! I think I saw at least 12 classes!!!

The kids had some great questions and really got a buzz out of the observation hive! Me? I think I enjoyed almost as much!

And it seems that I was wrong about the queen not laying. She clearly had been as on Monday evening I found there was tons of brood in the nuc. So I got that wrong!

More Inspections

Things are looking good in my hives! I went in again on Saturday (April 21)

The two hives in my backyard are putting on honey. I should think one hive has 20 kgs stored! Both queens are present and laying well. I took the opportunity to equalize the brood and I moved it to the bottom deep in both hives. This should provide sufficient space!

The two previously nasty hives have both accepted their new queens. I added a deep to one hive (with just foundation) which was probably a mistake as there really wasn't enough brood in the hive. We'll see what happens!

The botanical garden hive is doing well to! Bee numbers are increasing here and I added another super!

I just have the nuc at the Botanical Gardens to deal with now! I ordered a new hive for this and I hope that it will arrive in the next few days!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another round of inspections.

I only managed to take a quick look inside the Observation Hive yesterday.  But it was just long enough to find the queen and move her into the observation frame. I found that no syrup at all had been consumed in the last week, which I think is excellent!  This means the hive is finding enough food through forage so I therefore replaced the feeder with an empty drawn frame of honeycomb.

I've enjoyed watching the bees at work the last couple of evenings and one interesting observation has been the amount of drones that seem to be just milling about the hive. Is this normal? Just by sitting near the hive it is apparent that there are a lot of drones flying in the late afternoon.  I'm not sure if the guards are simply not letting them back in?

The weather got worse throughout the day yesterday and I didn't manage to do any other inspections. Thankfully the weather improved this morning and I managed to look through the other 4 hives I have at home (or near my home); I managed to peek inside the hives long enough to get a feel for what was going on. The two hives in my backyard are thriving.  I actually put additional supers on both. The large hive now has 3 supers, the other (formally weak) hive 2 supers.  There is a lot of nectar coming in and I thought it prudent to give them some space to work with. There is brood in the top deeps of both hives, but not enough to warrant a reversal. Perhaps next week.

The old "nasty" hives that came from the city appear to be in good shape too.  I saw the new queen in one, but as I found her on the top of the frames in the deep I decided not to delve further into the hive for fear of killing her!  I have "previous" in this respect! So I left the hive with a single deep and a single super.  I will put another deep on in a week or so.

The other "nasty" hive I found to contain both brood and larvae, but I didn't see the queen - this time. I therefore don't know if the queen in the hive is the new queen or the old one but I guess I'll find out in due course.  You will remember the hive started as the top deep of the combined hive that I split in an attempt to determine where the old queen was, just so that I could kill her!  Like the other hive I found a lot of nectar in the deep so I added a super on this hive as well.  I will also add a second deep in a week or so.

What is good is that the temperament of both hives seems improved.  Yes, bees are flying in my face as I inspect the hive and they follow me, but they were not as aggressive and didn't sting me today!  I take this as a very good sign!

I will try to look over the Botanical Garden hive in the next couple of days, to see how my super and the hive are doing.  I will need to think about making preparations for a second hive here!

I have enough just about enough equipment to tide me over but I will need to order some more this week!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hive Inspection Sheet

I have been working for some time with Bob Sears at the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association on the preparation of a Hive Inspection Sheet.

This sheet is aimed at new beekeepers and we hope they will use it to start to get into the good habit of effective record keeping but to also encourage them to get used to looking for key indicators in the hive e.g. the presence of supersedure cells, swarm cells, lack of eggs and larvae etc. etc.

I openly admit to being a bad record keeper and I prepared this sheet! So I do promise to work harder and keep better records!.

For those of you interested here are some jpg images of the form... I'm working on how to attach a pdf of the document to the blog!

Observation Beehive - Now set up!

My final queen was used to populate my new observation beehive!

I got some eggs and brood from Susan's strong hive and simply added my queen in this nuc sized observation hive.  I've had a ball looking at the bees in the brood cleaning, waggling and generally bustling about!  I will let the queen settle in for a couple more days tbefore I move her up into the observation window.  Then I hope we'll be able to see the eggs change into larvae and grow!  Should be fun!

The local school is interested and I hope to be able to take the hive into the school in a week or so.

Blooming Garden Bees!

Saturday saw me down at the gardens attending to the hive there.  The bees are still in the medium that I moved to the bottom of the hive.  I didn't see any signs of the queen in this super.  There was however enough brood in the deep hive boxes to enable me to make up a nuc.  I took two frames of eggs and brood, a frame of nectar/pollen etc. and an empty frame placed and them in a nuc box along with a division board feeder.  I left this overnight and went back on Sunday with a new queen to introduce her to the nuc.

No problems!  I took the opportunity to add a second super to the hive and placed this on top of the deeps. I then put the super containing the brood on the top of the stack.  I'm fairly confident the queen isn't in the super so with luck she won't move from the deeps across the super of empty frames. The brood in the super should therefore hatch and leave the frames vacant for honey!

Fingers crossed!

Where did she go? Was she tipped off?

On Friday I prepared to go into my nasty hives to locate and KILL the queen.  I got all suited up - with 3 layers on top and bottom! I had smoke and an additional spray bottle of sugar syrup - just in case they got really mean and I had to douse them. I even made sure that I wasn't alone.  Susan helped me with the spraying and smoking.

Needless to say none of my preparations were needed! When we opened the hives up the bees seemed quite settled - not exactly calm; they were flying about us but not attacking us. Makes a change!

When we looked in the hive we saw plenty of bees, but nothing else. No brood or eggs or queen!  Now, if we had removed the queen and left some eggs and larvae I would have hoped to have seen some supersedure cells.  But nothing! The same was true of the adjacent hive! Nothing!

What has happened?  Should I suspect the work of counter revolutionaries liberating their monarch? Nah! I could easily have killed her last time I was prodding about! But that doesn't explain the lack of brood?  Could they have swarmed?  But that doesn't explain the lack of brood! Mmmm, I'm confused!

Anyway maybe in the end this isn't all bad news.  With the arrival of the new queens I now have two single boxes contining brand new queens! OK, so there is little in the way of brood, but I can live with swapping the bad bees for a couple of well mannered albeit "weak" hives.  I added the new queens on Saturday.  I taped over the end of the candy on each of the cages and left them for a couple of days.  Tonight I went to remove the tape and let the bees release the queen.  There didn't appear to be any balling of the cages so I am hopeful both queens will be accepted!

Curious isn't the word to describe this!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Regicide - The first steps!

The push to overthrow the old queen has started! Moves have just been put in place to topple the regime and replace it with an all together more benevolent monarch! Yes! It's time to kill the queen and get a new one!  But what/how do you do this with a hive that's unbelievably nasty!  The short answer is "carefully". For the longer answer read on...

You will remember that my urban bees were very defensive. VERY! So I moved them back to a yard near home with plans to re-queen the hive. I managed to reduce the hive to a single deep a few weeks ago. I then added a second deep to this easily enough, but the time has now come to replace the old queen. My new queen arrives next weekend.  However, working the hive is particularly nasty and I have to be very well protected. The last time I was in it I only got to the 6th frame before the bees were all over me and stinging my suit. And me!  I literally ran away!

So my plans for a coup have been formulated....

On Sunday (yesterday) I split the hive into two deeps.  I started from the assumption that the queen would be in the top box laying. I then very bravely (well I thought so) moved the top box to a new base board without using smoke!  No smoke?????  Well I didn't want to chase the queen deep into the bottom deep.  I'll explain why later. By the way, I was stung while doing this split!

My theory is this...  If I move the queen in the single "top" deep, when the foragers leave (i.e. the bees that fly and sting) they will go home to the deep that wasn't moved. As a result the queen should be left with just a few "nice" nurse bees around her! It should also mean that when I look in the "top" deep to find the queen she will be much easier to find and therefore KILL!  Secondly, by splitting the hive 6 days before my new queen arrives I should be able to quickly and easily tell in which deep the old queen is present.  If there are supersedure cells in the "top" deep then she must in the other lower deep - I sincerely hope she is not! This is why I didn't use smoke. If there are no supersedure cells then I'm looking for larvae and eggs of up to 6 days in age. Easy? No?

So once I have found her I will kill her and a day later introduce the new queen in her cage. As soon as the new queen is installed I will place a sheet of newspaper (with cuts across it) on top of the deep and then relocate the lower deep back on top of the deep containing the new queen. Still with me?  Anyway, I hope the bees will gradually adjust to their new monarch and will become much calmer. Finally, I will go back to the newly combined hive in another 3 days in order to release the new queen and after that I hope things will be back to normal.

So what if the queen is not in the "top" deep as I hope?  Well, I should be able to tell this by spotting supersedure cells that are being developed in the "top" deep. I'm not looking forward to determining that the queen is located with all the stinging foragers, but I'll just have prepare myself for going through the hive as best as I can! This time I will be armed with smoke as well as sugar syrup in a spray bottle.  

If it becomes too much for me I will try to kill the bees using dry ice! I figure if I put a lump of dry ice inside an empty super placed above the inner cover over the hive then the gaseous carbon dioxide will permeate through the hive and kill the bees off.  I'll then use the bees that were in the "top" deep and therefore fortunate enough to escape the gas chamber as the start of a new colony.  

I'm not too concerned about finding supersedure cells as any cells will only have larvae in them and should not be capped. I'm hoping the bees will deal with the supersedure cells by themselves, after the deeps have been recombined. 

Oh! I neary forgot! before I go working the "top" deep looking for the queen I will seal the nasty hive shut so that these bees cannot come out and harass me while I'm installing the new queen. If the bees in the deep I'm working send out an alarm pheromone the last thing I want is for loads of nasty aggressive bees to come out of the neighbouring deep gunning for me!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

This makes gloomy reading!

Common crop pesticides have been shown for the first time to seriously harm bees by damaging their renowned ability to navigate home.

New research strongly links the pesticides to the serious decline in honey bee numbers in the US and UK – a drop of around 50% in the last 25 years. The losses pose a threat to food supplies as bees pollinate a third of the food we eat such as tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries.

This article reinforces my views that big business isn't really interested in anything other than their bottom line, but it also shows how important urban bees will be to the survival of the honey bee in general and as a resource for the future.

Yes if there is research out there that can demonstrate that neonics are not harmful let it be published and scrutinized under peer review.  It is extremely worrying that the US and UK governments are so dismissive of the concerns.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Garden Bees

In contrast to the semi-organized chaos at home the bees at the Botanical Gardens are coming along very nicely, and so far predictably!  I went down to look through them today, and also to expand the hive.  When I left the hive a couple of weeks ago I left it with a single super under a single deep.  I had been hoping that the super would clear itself of brood as and when the queen moved up into the deep to start laying there. 

Well, she appears to have done as expected and there is plenty of brood in the deep, but there is also some brood remaining in the super.  So rather than disturb the brood nest and move the super and deep around I simply added the second empty deep to the top of the hive.  The bees will now have more room to expand into and I reckon I made this expansion at just the right time! 

In a week or so I will take a second super down to the hive and I will properly reorganize it.  I will move the super with brood to the very top of the hive and put the new empty super between the top deep and the top super.  As long as the queen is not in the super when I move it she should not cross into the new empty super from the deeps below.  Hopefully when I get to this stage I will be able to tell if I can split this hive.  I have some queens arriving on April 7th so I might take a nuc box to the gardens and put 3 or 4 frames in it! 

All in all the Garden Bees are looking good! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Accidental Beekeeping and Artificial Swarms!

Some days everything you plan in your bee yard goes like clockwork, and everything you prepared for happens just as it should. At other times you muddle though and make the best of what you find, or make the best of what you did last time! Today was firmly in the latter category!!!

I am rapidly becoming an expert "Accidental Beekeeper". I thought I had planned so well last week and I managed to reduce the numbers of bees in one hive by moving a single deep from the strong WQH to the adjacent weaker AQH! I nearly gave myself a slap on the back for being moderately smart! Big mistake!!

I went through my AQH this afternoon in order to check on their progress (last weekend I added a deep of bees and brood from my WQH to strengthen this). I made certain the queen wasn't present, so I was pretty sure the bees would be growing in numbers in the hive. Yes, the number of foragers would be down but that would be compensated for by the number of young bees. Anyway I went through the hive and pretty soon found the queen. An unmarked new queen! Clearly I didn't transfer just workers and drones, but the queen from the WQH as well!  I think she must have disposed of the old white queen, and so now she has the hive all to herself. Still she has plenty if space to move into and with any luck the urge to swarm in this hive is now low!

Because of this "Accident" I was therefore very interested to see what chaos lay inside the WQH! Yes, there were still lots of bees, but more exciting (and I'm not sure if this is the best way to describe what I felt) I found loads of emergency queen cells AND swarm cells! On closer inspection one emergency cell had even recently hatched - I saw a neatly cut off, and still hanging cell cap.  A new queen was somewhere at large in the hive. I spotted her - still a virgin I think - as she was much smaller than a normal queen, but still with a distinctly pointed abdomen.

Of the other queen cells in the hive, some were empty (and not vital) and some were closed (but I didn't remove them just in case they might be needed!). So what to do? I thought about transferring some frames with queen cells to a nuc to start a new colony, but in the end I just closed up the hive and let the new queen go about her hopefully murderous and promiscuous business!

So what did I actually end up doing last week? Well I think in accidentally moving the queen to the weak AQH hive I made an artificial swarm. As they lost their queen, the bees that were left in the WQH hive made emergency queen cells, but before these could mature (it was only a week) one of the swarm cells that I must have overlooked in the inspection I did on the Wednesday before last weekend must have recently hatched.  This queen is I think the new virgin queen that is now roaming in the hive killing her sisters!

In a couple of weeks I will be getting some new queens.  By then I hope there will be clear signs that the virgin queen in the WQH has successfully mated and is starting to lay eggs. If not, then I'll consider putting a new queen in the hive.

Anyway when all is said and done by artificially swarming the WQH I may have controlled the urge of this hive to swarm and also, with luck, the presence of a strong laying queen in the AQH should stimulate this hive and cause it to gain strength!

Serendipity or what????  Oh! and I might have to consider new names for the hioves now!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

First Round of Manipulations Completed!

I had to dodge some rain, but I managed to complete the first round of inspections/manipulations on my hives today.  The development of all my hives is very advanced and all are doing better than I really expected (even the weak hive than came through the winter with an Autumn Queen).  The general concensus amongst beekeepers (I know, that's a bit of an oxymoron!) is that hives in the St. Louis area are about 1 month ahead of where they would nomally be after a normal winter.  We are in the middle of nectar flow NOW and I have had to add supers to the hives in odrder to make some space for the brood to to be laid and so fend of some swarming... more of that later.

There have been some issues and challenges to address and I hope I have managed to do this in such a way as to not upset the bees and therefore mess up the development of the colonies for the rest of the spring.

So this is what I found....

Autumn Queen Hive (AQH) - was the Blue Queen Hive:

This was the weakest of my hives to come through the winter. I requeened the hive in mid September 2011 and I was quite concerned that the new queen wouldn't have enough time to build up the numbers of bees in her colony to a sufficient level before the winter came.  But she did!

A week ago I reduced the AQH to a single deep but after looking though an  adjacent stronger hive I decided to take bees from this hive and add them to the AQH.  I did this on Wednesday.  I basically took one deep of bees from the stronger hive and added them to the single deep. It's a bit more complicated than that and I will address this in the discussion about the adjacent hive). Needless to say I did not just 'plonk' the new deep on the existing deep, I placed a sheet of newspaper between the deeps. But other than this I did no further manipulations.

There is a strong nectar flow on at the moment and I am concerned that the bees are filling the hive with this and therefore reducing the space the queen has for egg laying. I added a super to the hive and with luck the bees will move the nectar up to this super from the deep and generate some laying space.  The next time I am in the hive I will look at where the brood is and consider equalizing and balancing the frames out.  Perhaps tomorrow...

White Queen Hive (WQH):

This is the same White Queen Hive as last year.  The queen is now a year old and I will probably re-queen this hive in April.  The hive came through the winter very strong.  It overwintered in 3 deeps and that really seemed to help it's survival.  When I opened the hive for the first time I was really surprised to see how many bees were resident in all 3 deeps!  There are also frames filling with nectar (remember this is still March!) and I even found an open swarm cell.  I had to do something!

I decied to move a deep of bees to the adjacent AQH hive to strengthen this hive.  So last week I placed a queen excluder between the top two deeps of the WQH to help me locate where the queen was.  I looked, and I looked, and I looked for eggs in the top deep on Wednesday and I couldn't see any! So I moved this top box on to the AQH.  I did check the deep below the queen excluder to confirm there were eggs in this deep, but I couldn't see there any either!  I HOPE I have just moved a bees and not moved the queen as well! I will check tomorrow to see if I can see any emergency queen cells!  That will be a big clue.

If there are queen cells present I will simply keep going back into the WQH and remove them (and any subsequent ones) before I drop in another queen in about 3 weeks time.  Not ideal I know, but at least I will be controlling the numbers of bees in the hive and so controlling swarming!  It's all a bit ad-hoc though!

As well as reducing the bees in the hive it was very obvious that this hive contains a huge amount of nectar for the time of year.  Serious issue if the queen is laying in numbers (which she is)!  I added two supers on top of the now two deep hive just so the bees can move nectar away from the brood area and give the queen more space to lay in.

Clay Bees (formally the City Bees):

I managed to reduce the hive down into one deep last weekend.  There were about 4 frames of brood in the hive as well as pollen and nectar.  It is looking nicely set up.  But it still has a very defensive temperment.  It's not so bad if you only stand next to the hive, but as soon as you start to work the hive the bees become very aggresive.  I was working the single deep, got as far as the sixth frame and had to close the hive as I was being attacked and got stung twice.  Admittedly I was not in a full bee suit, but really ladies, this is spring and you're supposed to be all joyful and calm!  This hive will be requeened in April - no question!

Anyway, before running away I managed to throw another empty deep on the hive so this hive now has space for the queen to move into as well! Hopefully swarming tendencies are being controlled here too.

Garden Bees:

I checked the Botanical Garden bees for the first time today.  They overwintered in a single deep and a single super.  The super was left on last year as there was honey in it that couldn't really be harvested.  In hindsight this was a good decision (it happens once in a while!).  This hive looks lovely!  There was brood throughout the super as well as in a single deep frame.  I was fully prepared to add another deep to the hive but as there was adequate space available in the deep I just reversed the deep and the super.  I will go back in a week or so and I will probably add the second deep then.  If the brood is out of the super I may just move it up to the top of the hive and hopefully the bees will store nectar here.

All in all I am quite surprised this hive is so nicely balanced! I thought it was a bit light going into the winter and it didn't take on much syrup when offered!

If the weather allows I will go though AQH and WQH tomorrow to see what needs to be done here in terms of equalizing and swarm cells.  I will also remove the entrance reducers from these hives.

It's been an exciting week of beekeeping!  It's been good to get back in the saddle so to speak!

Monday, March 12, 2012

First Hive Manipulation

Finally the weather cooperated last Saturday - warm, dry and only little wind.  I took the plunge and worked through the two hives I have at home and the one just around the corner.  I hadn't been through these hives since the fall so I was interested to see what had been going on.
I started with my old "Blue Hive". This produced a large quantity of honey last year and went into the winter in two deeps. I lost the original queen in July and replaced her with a new "local" Illinois Queen in September.  I wasn't sure if she had enough time to bring the numbers of bees in the hive up to a sustainable level for the winter but as the bees had been active on warm winter days, I was happy enough although it wasn't really much to shout about!  When I opened the hive I found a small cluster of bees in the top of the top box.  I did see the queen and I saw that she is beginning to lay.  It's a bit of a slow start but a start.  There weren't too many stores and the bottom hive box was empty.  So I reduced this hive down to one deep and added some 1:1 syrup.
I moved on to my so called "White Hive". This went into the winter in three deeps and had been showing a great deal of activity throughout the winter.  Lots of bees out and about at any and every opportunity. Of late they had been really busy.  So I was expecting to see bees in the top box, perhaps the top 2 boxes, but to find them in all 3 deeps was very surprising and not a little alarming!  Fortunately I saw no queen cells but I did see a couple of queen cups being built.  Are they beginning to get out of hand?  I want to reduce the bees to two deeps but what is the best way?  Well, as the hive next door is a bit weak and could do with some bees I think it would be a good idea to donate a deep of bees to this hive.  Of course without their Queen! I stuck a Queen Excluder between the top and middle deeps and in a couple of days I'll go though the top deep to see if I can see any new eggs.  It's just too busy to spot the Queen! If there are no eggs then I can be pretty sure the queen is not in this deep so I can move the whole box over to the weaker hive. I'm not sure if I need to but I may put a sheet of newspaper between the two boxes just so the bees don't mix too quickly.  I'd hate for the new bees to kill the queen that's in there now, especially as she is a new queen.
Finally I went through my old City Hive. This had been moved not least because it was very defensive in its old location. I was expecting the bees to be more than a little weary of me but I was surprised.  They seemed quite calm!  I found about 3 frames of brood in the top box and some stores.  They look in good shape!  I nevertheless managed to reduce this hive to a single deep and will likely have to add a second in a week or so.  I think I may "store" the old deep above the inner cover just for now and allow the bees to do what they want.  The inner cover should stop the queen moving up into it.
So it was a pretty good day for looking at bees!  It's seems a long time since I looked to see what my girls had been up to! And it was nice to get back into a groove with them.  Oh, I think I will also have to come up with better names for the hives this year!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ulster Observation Hive

This year's project arrived this week - An Ulster Observation Bee Hive. It's a nice compact, portable hive - basically a 5 frame nuc with an observation frame above it.

My plan, and hope, is to be able to take it to both my son's schools. It's design should enable me to leave it in the classrooms so the kids can look at it over an extended period of time and not just for a short period.

Move to the 'Burbs

I finally managed to organize myself and got round to moving my bees in the city out to a neighbours garden, just down the road.

Last night I went to the city hive, closed it up and locked the hive boxes together with hive staples. All the thumping on the hive stirred up some interest but it wasn't enough to get them too excited. Early this morning Fred and I moved them 'home'. It was all very easy. Clearly I'm getting good at this!

I left them to their own devices today but tomorrow I may drop a patty or some sugar mush on them, just to help them settle in. Hopefully they will like their new surroundings and their temper will improve!

It wasn't very warm today but Nevertheless I took the opportunity to get into my hives at home. To one hive (my Blue Hive from last year) I added a patty on top of the frames as well as a ring of sugar mush above the inner cover. To the other (the White Hive) i added just a ring of sugar mush as this hive appears stronger.

When it's warmer I will do some organizing of the hives; a bit of equalization. Hopefully I can reduce the hives down into single or at most two boxes! I can then clean up the empty boxes!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

Another nice warm day, albeit a bit windy... And the girls were out in force!

I was considering looking inside the hive just to see how things were doing. If it was less windy I probably would have, but when I saw all the activity I thought there was little point. Tons of pollen is being brought in. I may throw on some sugar mush but I think things are looking just fine for now

I will look soon, early March most likely!

Trivia Night!

The local Elementary School had it's annual Trivia Night on Friday. The theme was "Party Like a Rock Star" which in some way goes to explain wy I'm dressed like Freddie Mercury!

Anyway, I donated two "Bee in a Bonnet" honey baskets. Clear and Set honey, beeswax and a massage bar. Amazingly I raised $85- which I am very proud of! OK so I have some way to go to beat Bill Turnbull's record of about $7,500 for a pound of his honey!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spring Preparations

I now feel spring is on the way! Last weekend saw the annual EMBA seminar and this weekend I made a new hive stand in a neighbour's yard just down the street. This new stand will be for my relocated bees from the city. I think I will try to move them in the coming couple of weeks.

I must also think about ordering new queens for my current hives.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beekeeping Insurance - painful and pointless

I was contacted just before Christmas by my insurance agent over the fact I keep bees in my back yard.  I have a suburban lot in Kirkwood, Missouri, (a suburb of St. Louis) and I have two hives in my back yard.

My agent apparently did a routine inspection of my house (I guess as a result of me refinancing my home) and saw the hives and decided this was a risk they could only cover by putting my home on a small farm policy. Coincidentally this cost three times my household insurance policy!  They claimed they were concerned about the elevated risk of people suing me due to stings and possible allergic reactions. Thoughtfully they did add that my future policy would also cover me for selling products that might later make someone ill! I was assured that research had been done with several insurance companies to see if there may be policies that can cover me for keeping bees.  Apparently, I was told, none do! My insurance is currently was with American Family Insurance.
My initial reaction was that this was simply opportunistic.  When asked, my agent told me that most people when confronted with this issue give up keeping bees on their property!  So I can only assume that people who do keep bees in their yards do so either unaware, or in contravention of their insurance policies or they have never had their properties 'inspected' i.e. what the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve for! 
I was hugely irritated by the assumption that I am (or rather my bees) are assumed to be the guilty party if someone gets stung. My agent said that if someone gets stung in my neighbourhood they may be able to sue me without proving the sting came from one of my bees.  The logic is that because I keep bees I have an elevated profile, so I am assumed to be the party responsible! It seems strange that I would have to prove it wasn't one of my bees in order to avoid being sued.  I think proving one way or the other would be extremely difficult. Anyway, I live in an area where there are several backyard beekeepers living within a small radius  - perhaps 200 yards. 
I decided to contact someone about this.  My beekeeper friends didn’t know much - they don’t have insurance! So I put an email into Kim Flottam at Bee Culture, and got a very prompt reply! Unfortunately he could not supply a name of a company or organization but he expressed his interest in finding out what I ended up doing, and he published my account of what happened initially in the letters page of the February issue of Bee Culture.
Armed with some moral support I embarked on my own research, calling up local contacts, other brokers and Texas Insurance and Financial Services who advertise in ABJ. TIFS (like most companies I called) were more used to dealing with company insurance not insuring the hobbyist / backyard beekeeper. But they nevertheless looked into my predicament and were surprised by my insurance company's approach and sympathetic to my plight!
It turns out that the insurance policy is was offered in Missouri (coverage is different across the states) is basically a farm insurance! Not sure why it has to be a farm, but hey, what do I know! The cover includes for third parties (passers by, trespassers I guess) and also covers my liability with respect to the products I sell (up to a ceiling of $2,000). If I sell more I become a business, albeit a small one I guess.  However, the documentation I have received does not include any mention of beekeeping! The only thing I have is a note from the insurance company in an email which states:
"State Auto has not excluded coverage for beekeepers. The key is: Is it a hobby? If it is a business, it is excluded by form. If it is a hobby, coverage is automatic."
Pretty key I'd say!!!
So this left me asking "What have I learnt?". Well, basically that:
  1. Insurance companies are still generally greedy, opportunistic racketeers and have no scruples - my early view has not changed much!
  2. The risk of keeping bees is low as is borne out by the rarity of anyone ever being sued for negligence - I challenge you to find any!
  3. That if your insurance company doesn't specifically exclude beekeeping you're good!
  4. If you are challenged by your broker, tell them to show you exactly where in your policy beekeeping is excluded.
  5. If you feel you need insurance cover call Texas Insurance and Financial Services - Allison Moseley was very helpful.
Now the dust has settled I find that, overall, my insurance costs have not significantly increased from before I was "outed" as a backyard beekeeper. In fact I now gave a better auto insurance policy, mainly because I was damned if I was going to keep any business with American Family Insurance!  Finally, and possibly the biggest lesson, was learning you should regularly review your insurance for the best deal and don't just assume your broker is doing their best for you!  All they want is easy money and there is nothing easier than sitting back waiting for your clients to renew their policy without thinking, or helping them!!! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Did I just do an Inspection?

It seems the start of the beekeeping year gets earlier and earlier!  The next couple of days here in St Louis are going to be a lot warmer than normal, so it's a great opportunity to go and take a look at the hives and check on signs of life!
I just got back from visiting my city hive .  I wasn't sure whether this colony would survive as it was light on food going into the winter. I tried to feed it up in the Autumn but I wasn't sure if the bees has put enough stores away to get them through.  If truth be told, I wasn't sure I wanted them to get though either, but that's another story!
So today I took advantage of near 60F weather to take a peek. Lots of bees flying in front of the hive. Although I didn't see any pollen or forage going in it was good to see them so active, most probably cleansing and cleaning.  I was quite surprised to see the activity. Anyway, I quickly popped the cover to check inside and I could clearly discern a cluster in the middle of the hive.  It was a bit spread out but I put that down to the warm weather.  The hive still seemed pretty heavy, but I still took the opportunity to add a pollen patty under the inner cover - that can't do any harm!
I mustn't get complacent. There's still a long way to go before we can really say winter is over, so I can't be 100% sure this hive will make it, but the early indication is that it will and hopefully do well this summer. 
My plans?  To move the hive back to Kirkwood before the spring. However, I first need to build a hive stand in a friend's garden, then I'll wait for a cold day and move the hive.  That won't be too difficult!  Reckon I'll be doing this in February!