Tag Archives: varroa

Swarms, Swarms, and more Swarms

It’s been hectic here, but then it always is at this time of year. I’ve now housed six swarms from three of our hives. Five have gone into Warre hives, and one went into a National, as I had no more Warre floors, or roofs available. I have two more hives that are yet to swarm, as they have built up poorly. One is definitely queen right, as I opened up the hive to check, and saw her. I need to check the other. I no longer open the hives, unless it’s vital, but the last hive does not seem right, and I don’t have an alternative.

I’ve got some pictures of one of the swarms going into a Warre hive, well NOT going into a Warre hive actually, although more of that later, and also pictures of bees in a Warre hive, taken through an observation window.

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Happiness is the Buzz of Busy Bees

Whilst my head tells me that growing my own food is the most important thing that I do here at The Sustainable Smallholding, my heart tells me that it is my bees that are most important to me. It’s only now, with the bees active again, that I realise how much I’ve missed them for the last three months. Here’s a short update on how they are.

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Bees Working

A little while ago, I set up a feeding station for my bees, about 200 meters from the Smallholding. The recent mild weather has meant that the bees have been more active than normal, although the winds of the past few days has restricted their flying. Today was much more calm, and the bees took full advantage, taking in water, feeding on Mahonia, bringing in small quantities of Ivy pollen, and descending en masse onto the feeders. Here are some pictures of them, taken today. The insulating sleeve is sitting in the syrup to help prevent bees falling into the syrup and drowning.

As well as providing food for the bees, the syrup mix contains an essential oil mix, which I am using for varroa treatment, instead of conventional chemicals. I came across a couple of web articles describing their use, and noticed that Apiguard is just synthetic Thyme Oil, Api Life Var is a mixture of essential oils, and so is Vita Feed Green. All are much more expensive than using the essential oils themselves. There are links to these articles in one of my earlier posts, Hectic, Honey and Happy,  which you can find by following the link below.


The feeders are one gallon poultry water containers, and are hung up in a tree, a short distance form the Smallholding. If they were too close, it would probably lead to robbing of the weaker hives, as the returning foragers would not be able to give a bearing and distance to the new food source, only a message that it is close to the hive, leaving new foragers to investigate the immediate vicinity of the hive, including other hives.

In the pictures you can see that there are a few other insects taking advantage of the free food source. What the pictures do not convey is the noise, and level of activity. There were bees all around me as I moved in to get some close ups. It’s my 50th Birthday next month, and I’m hoping that a camera with a better zoom might be on it’s way, so that I can get better pictures. Watching the bees leaving the feeders, all of them were heading back towards my hives. There are two other beekeepers close by, but their bees don’t appear to have found the free food source.

Winter feeding for bees

Bees on Feeder2

Bees on Feeder 4

More bees on Feeder

bees on Feeder 6

Yet more bees on Feeder

Take Care


Hectic, Honey, and Happy

Things have been hectic again, and I cannot believe that it’s been so long since my last post. The aspect of my smallholding life that has been keeping me so busy has been beekeeping. This is a hectic time of the year as far as the bees are concerned, but the changeable weather, and a breakdown in communications, has made it even busier.

Firstly the good news. I extracted my first batch of honey for this year. 37lbs from one hive, which came from two supers. That is all of the honey that we will use in the next twelve months, put into jars in mid May. There is still a full super on, plus a spare brood body, which is being filled as well. The brood body is to give me frames of food to give to new hives, when I make increase. That should have been last week. I ordered four new queens, from an importer who has always been good in the past, with instructions to let me know if there was going to be a delay. No message came, so I created three new hives, and removed an old failing queen from another, ready to introduce the new queens the following day. They didn’t turn up, and will not get here before the end of this week, nine days late, at least. I have had to buy a product called Bee Boost, which is an artificial pheremone, designed to replace one given out by the queen. I’m hoping that this will keep the queenless hives working, and believing that there is a queen present, until the new queens cam be introduced. I’ve not tried it before, and it’s not what I would have chosen to do, but I don’t want to lose them. The bees for the three hives all came from one huge colony. Each hive has six frames of bees, including stores, but not much sealed brood. The colony was preparing to swarm, and I think that they had stopped the queen from laying, and were trimming her down to fly. The parent colony is still very strong, and I will need to monitor them, to see if the removal of so many bees has deterred them from swarming, and that the queen is laying again.

I have also been helping a local business with their bees. We have carried out a shook swarm on one colony, and moved it to a new location, and I have to do the second hive tomorrow. Weather permitting. The work is helping out my finances, and it’s nice to work with bees in a situation where cost is not a concern. I’m hoping that this will develop into something really special. The bees are being moved temporarily, so that a better apiary can be constructed. The bees will go back onto a 500 acre Biodynamic farm, and we may be able to adjust their planting regime, in order to provide additional forage. They already grow acres of good stuff, and the farm is just over the road from my own bees:-)  I’ll keep you posted.

I have used essential oils in my feed, hoping that it would help with my varroa regime. I came across this article recently, which you might find interesting.                                                                               varroa article

It’s dated 1996, so I’m not sure how up to date it is, but if you look at some of the treatments offerred these days, they are just essential oils, either natural, or synthetic. the same goes for some of the feed supplements.

Here are some more useful links. Varroa Control

Essential Oil again

I hope that you find them useful. I got the most from them by reading them, and then following all of the links, and reading those too. It helps with doses, methods, etc.

As I’m not looking to sell honey, but would prefer to raise more bees, I’m toying with the idea of only having two colonies at a time producing honey, and keeping the remainder for bee breeding. This would allow me to keep feeding with essential oils, without worrying about them getting into the honey. Having said that, I would rather have them in my honey, than some of the other chemicals. This regime would allow me to create strong colonies for splitting, with plenty of stores. The stores would contain the oils, which would then be used to raise young bees. The benefits of that are apparent from the first link. Less varroa, more bees, clean bees.

I’ve been making new hives, nucleus hives, a swarm box, and a couple of bait hives. I have liaised with a local pest control company, and arranged to collect their swarms, and put leaflets through doors in my village, to let people know that they can contact me for swarm collection. I suspect that when this windy, wet weather breaks, swarming will start in earnest, and I might run out of hives. I should be so lucky.

There are some things to update you with, that are not bee related, but I’ll save that for later this week.

Take Care


Busy, Busy Busy, a Smallholder’s Life is Busy

Things have been really hectic over the last seven days, so I thought that I would put together a short update of what’s been going on here on the Smallholding, in the last week.


My wheat plants are really forging ahead. I had a visit from my friend who runs the local biodynamic farm. I showed him my plants, and he was amazed at how far ahead they were. Here’s a picture. Note the trowel in the foreground, to give you an idea of the scale.

Bon- Fils Wheat

Bon- Fils Wheat

It will not be long before the plants start to produce ears. He (Jason) gave me some of his biodynamic preparations, which I added to my compost tea, my wormeries, and to my compost heaps, as well as scattering over the smallholding.


I have been planting out as well. Tomatoes into the greenhouse beds, courgettes under cloches, Onions, Rocket, Red Orach, Buckshorn Plaintain, Mallow, Thyme, and Lettuce into the beds, Borage and Willowherb into the hedgerows.

I also managed to sow some more Eucalyptus (Viminalis), and some Manuka. I’m not sure if the Manuka will be hardy enough, but it’s worth a try for the price of a packet of seeds. I’ve put some more Clover in, for the vegetable beds, and some more Tagetes, for companion planting.

There are still lots of things to plant out, and re-pot, but it’s slowly going outside now. It’s also time to get some frames put up for the outdoor Tomatoes, Melons, Runner Beans etc. So much to do, so little time.


On the beekeeping front, I’ve put out some bait hives, and built a swarm box, for collecting swarms. Pictures to follow. The baithive here is white and yellow. I’m hoping that the colours will encourage bees to investitage it, as they seem to examine all sorts of yellow stuff that’s laid around here. I’ve also carried out a shook swarm for a young girl that I am mentoring. I have another three to do for other people, over the course of the next week or so. (Shook swarming is a bio-mechanical method that helps to reduce varroa infestation, and brood disease). Once they have seen it done, they should all be able to do it for themselves next time (the people, not the bees, although that would be great, wouldn’t it?). I will be checking to see if there is enough honey collected, to make it worth extracting. If the weather stays bad, the bees will eat it themselves, and who could hold that against them. They’ve done all of the work.

Most of the stuff that I’ve read suggests that the bees will ignore most sources of nectar whilst they’re working Oilseed Rape (canola), because the nectar is so high in sugar, but for the last few days, I’ve watched my bees working a very pretty, yellow Tree Peony. I had never seen a flower on it until I gave it a good ‘haircut’ a few years ago, and it has flowered wonderfully ever since. It produces large black seeds, encased in a big red seed pod. I planted a few of the seeds last year, which didn’t do anything, but some of them have come up this Spring. Now that I know that the seeds are viable, I’ll put some more in this year. I have some more hives to assemble, and some more to make, prior to increasing the number of colonies.


The Sustainable Watch has arrived. My mother found one at a car boot sale this morning. A Sekonda, cost £2. here’s what it looks like.

The Sustainable Watch

The Sustainable Watch

I,ve asked her to look out for another, as this one is too pretty to damage whilst working.

I went to Debyshire for a wedding reception. Hi Bob and Heidi. I had a great time.

When it’s written down like this, it doesn’t seem as though I’ve done very much at all. Where did the week go?

Take Care