Umido vere melior fetus, sicco mel copiosius; quod si defecit aliquas alvos cibus, impetum in proxas faciunt rapinae proposito. at illae contra derigunt aciem et, si custos adsit, alterutra pars, quae sibi favere sensit, non adpetit eum. ex aliis quoque saepe dimicant causis duasque acies contrarias duosque imperatores instruunt, maxime rixa in convehendis floribus exserta et suos quibusque evocantibus, quae dimicatio iniectu pulveris aut fumo tota discutitur, reconciliatur vero lacte vel aqua mulsa.
Pliny Natural History Book XI Chapter XVIII
Yes, we have graduated from the cardboard box/sheet method to a full-fledged nuc for swarms, courtesy of our friends Tony, Jo, Nic, and Rob. The Nuc was made by Tony (he of the better quality photos on this site), with many interesting features such as a nuc-modified, built-in Miller feeder, a removable entrance hatch, and mesh floor. We have it pulled apart in the garage at the moment to air out that new varnish smell. Come spring we are armed and ready, so bring it on, you bees!
Our girls have been fairly active over the past few weeks, with all the warm weather we have been having. I even saw evidence of pollen gathering today in both hives. The upside of this is that at least I know they are alive (especially the swarm hive with the relatively small colony) and functioning. The downside is what kind of havoc this may play with their schedules. Their activity, together with the growth already apparent in the yard, makes you wonder what will happen if a real cold spell comes on.
Of course, for lazy beekeepers like us, the other down side is that their activity makes us think we have to be more active. Some excellent posts and videos by other beekeepers also launched us into action (http://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/drizzling-oxalic-acid-on-bees/ Thanks, Emily!). Consequently, we did a varroa treatment with oxalic acid for both hives yesterday.
We didn’t do it last winter, mainly because we somehow lost sight of our supply. I think this losing of the stuff was my clever way of avoiding doing it: if you could see all of the warnings you get about working with oxalic acid, you might think that the full Darth Vader suit might be the only way to get things done. Couple the insane danger element with the fact that for some reason we bought the stuff in powdered form requiring all kinds of measurement and handling, and you can see that we had a recipe for disaster. I suppose I shouldn’t divulge how we went about it for fear of opening ourselves to ridicule, but as this is supposed to be a beekeeping record among other things, here goes:
We mixed 35g of the powder with a litre of sugar solution. Of course, this is a crazy amount for just two hives (which at the very most might require 50ml each of solution, which is what we gave them). But, I was just so nervous about working with the stuff, that I didn’t want to get into adjusting measurements. We are no chemists, and the last thing I wanted was to kill the bees with a solution that was too strong. So, for better or worse, this is what we went with. Naturally, we have a bit leftover. I have read that the solution, even under the optimum conditions, will only be good for 6 months. As we will not need to do this for another year, we are faced with disposing of the leftovers. I have read that it can be poured down the drain. I am a little reluctant about this, so I will put the question of disposal out to any kindly passing beekeeper-How best to get rid of the stuff?
We do feel a sense of accomplishment, and I am pretty sure we haven’t killed the bees as both hives are pretty active today. Each hive has a few dead bodies in front of it, but I am thinking this is probably just normal attrition.
We have had a lot of activity bird-wise, but more on that anon.
As you can see from the above quote, new year, new ancient. I have the British Beekeeping Association to thank for drawing my attention to Pliny in its last newsletter. He was not too clued-up about the nature of swarms, though.
Translation of Pliny
In a wet spring the young swarms are more numerous; in a dry one the honey is most abundant. If food happens to fail the inhabitants of any particular hive, the swarm makes a concerted attack upon a neighbouring one, with the view of plundering it. The swarm that is thus attacked, at once ranges itself in battle array, and if the bee-keeper should happen to be present, that side which perceives itself favoured by him will refrain from attacking him. They often fight, too, for other reasons as well, and the two generals are to be seen drawing up their ranks in battle array against their op-ponents. The dispute generally arises in culling from the flowers, when each, the moment that it is in danger, summons its companions to its aid. The battle, however, is immediately put an end to by throwing dust3 among them, or raising a smoke; and if milk or honey mixed with water is placed be-fore them, they speedily become reconciled.