Diary

This diary is a running blog of our activities at Moy Valley Honey.   Don't forget that you can get an automatic update in your inbox or your favourite RSS feed reader simply by subscribing to our posts using the button below.   For more information about this, take a look here.

Habitat loss and honey theft

posted Nov 12, 2019, 1:34 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Nov 12, 2019, 1:40 PM ]

Beekeepers work hard, of that there is no doubt. By way of compensation, we feel entitled to take winter stores from our bees. The amount we take in an indication of our regard for those very bees that we labour alongside, all summer long. The amount we take is driven by completely individual needs: a sick child,  the need to make a hobby pay, greed and ignorance are but a few of the driving forces.


Through our training courses we aim to guide beginners on how much honey to take, if they so wish, and how to supply emergency feed if they think their colony is too light on stores, for whatever the reason. A new colony in the hands of a beginner is vulnerable and it is not easy, as a supplier of nucs, to place a nuc into the hands of a beginner, becuase only experience can provide the absolute skills needed to get a new colony through the winter.


There are no guarantees- predators, disease, a poorly mated queen, the ever decreasing lack of forage and other unforseen circumstances all stack the odds of survival against the new colony as well as the new beekeeper.  Training beyond a beginners class is absolutely essential and can be provided in your local association during winter meetings, study groups and in the summer, through workshops or routine apiary visits under mentorship.  Given time, you will gain the skills, grow in confidence and be able to thoroughly enjoy the bees, secure in your new found knowledge of the annual colony cycle and associated behaviours.


Nutrition is key, and personally, we prefer to feed bees their own honey, in times of dearth.   We may find that ivy has gone solid on frames in a super that did not get removed but is only partially full.  We then cut out that honey and feed it back to colonies that appear light in the autumn or if it is capped, we store it until mid winter or Spring.  We leave ekes on all winter in case we have to feed fondant or preferably, ivy honey cut out of super frames. If bees are not being fed, the ekes can be stuffed with a natural insulating material like old woolen jumpers, hessian sacking, wood chippings enclosed in a pillow case or such like. The material can act as a wick and deliver moisture away from the cluster out through a vent in the roof.

As for the reference to "honey theft", well, I am sure there is no need to call in the forensics scientists. Hard work is always rewarded, and so we respect and enjoy our honey, secure in the knowledge that we have left plenty for our bees and done everything else we possibly could for the wellbeing of those bees.




"To Autumn" by Keats: 100th anniversary Sept 19th 2019

posted Sep 22, 2019, 3:33 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Sep 22, 2019, 3:35 AM ]

I was on my way to help a beginner with a queenless colony last week when I heard a feature on the radio about Keat's poem, "To Autumn".  They played a recording of Seamus Heaney reading the poem and it was very fitting to be driving through country roads brimming with autumn wild fruits and berries, just like in the poem.  Here is the first stanza, which refers to the honey bee in it's brimming clammy cell.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
But things are not always so pretty in Autumn.  I include a photograph of some drone brood which, for whatever reason (probably the good weather and ivy flow) was laid last week, and which we cut out of a colony yesterday, as a way of reducing mite count ( and it was brace comb so it was in the  way of a hive we were converting to double brood).  Little did we know that we would find so many foundress mites on one larva- we think they are all gravid mothers because of the young age of the larvae, just sealed in many cases, and the brood is roughly all the same age.   Each of those mites can produce two to three young in a drone cell, so you can do the maths and work out that there would be a surge in the mite population at the worst time of year, when you want really healthy winter bees in development. 

Queens go off lay in August, after the main flow, and during varroa treatments, and start again after a few days of ivy pollen being brought into the hive by the foragers. When there is no open brood the varroa can't reproduce.  When it becomes available again, the mother mites have to compete for space in the maturing open larval cells, and very often you will get up to ten mites in one of these cells, as we saw with our own eyes yesterday.  Needless to say all drone brood was removed- in another colony I saw the bees pulling out drone brood and throwing out adult drones, as is routine this time of year. 

Thankfully there was still time last week to treat varroa with apiguard and there are still more options, along with mite trapping in newly sealed brood,  that are less temperature dependent.  Many beekeepers prefer the treatment free option, and once you know when and how to trap mites, it is definitely a good option as it does decrease the mite load significantly.  We call the use of chemicals plus physical methods of removal "Integrated Pest Management" and we use both chemical and physical methods where possible.

First hint of Ivy in Co. Mayo: 5th September 2019

posted Sep 5, 2019, 6:25 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Sep 6, 2019, 7:33 AM ]

The ivy has made it's first appearance in any of our colonies, as far as I can see- I found an orange pollen pellet on an inspection tray today and prepared a sample of it for the microscope.  I was not expecting it to be ivy.  I thought the colour was wrong and I have not see ANY ivy in flower in Mayo at all as yet. It just goes to show, the bees rapidly find what they need as soon as it is in flower, and we are oblivious!!

This heralds a great spell for the bees.  Ivy nectar is very medicinal and I am sure the pollen provides valuable protein and lipids and minerals before the onset of winter.  Sometimes there can be a surplus of ivy, but it sets on the comb and so needs to be extracted fairly quickly, and no apiguard can be on the hives at the time.  We prefer to leave it to the bees, because it is better food than refined white sugar.

Full Circle

posted Aug 27, 2019, 2:49 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Aug 27, 2019, 3:15 PM ]

Well, just like that, we have come full circle, and are, technically at the beginning of the beekeeping season. For the past few weeks we have been dividing our time between indoors and out: harvesting the crop, treating colonies for Varroa, uniting colonies where queens have failed, mentoring beginners with similar problems, rendering beeswax, and bottling honey.   It is a very demanding time for beekeepers- the days are getting shorter and there seems to be an endless to do list, so prioritising is a must. 

Priority number one- the welfare of the bees, so treating for Varroa mites is done now to safeguard the winter bees that will bring our queens through winter.We use apiguard: one tray on top of brood frames (supers removed, an eke in their place) for 2 weeks, followed by a second for a further two weeks: this means every bee, pupa and larva will have, at some time in that 28 days, been exposed to the active ingredient, thymol.  This is a licensed treatment, so must be bought from a reputable source within the Republic of Ireland, and its use must be recorded in your medicines records.

Priority number two for us is bottling honey before it sets.  We do not heat our honey.  This means it will set (localities differ- this is our experience) after around 4 - 6 weeks and if this were to happen in large buckets, we would have to heat it for a week or so to soften it.  Who knows what delicate medicinal proteins are denatured during the heating process?  So we avoid this but it's a race against time to bottle it all, but worth it we feel.

Meanwhile, take your eye off the colonies for a day or two and you could find that wasps have decimated the weaker colonies or colonies with fully open entrances, colonies with stores to the front and the nest to the rear, colonies with non prolific queens, colonies being fed syrup for whatever reason (we avoid this at all costs until well after wasp season is over).  Once robbing starts, it is almost impossible to stop, so prevention is better than cure.  This is why we unite colonies just after the harvest when it becomes apparent that some queens are just not up to the job, or if we have problems with defensive bees (usually hybrids) or diseases like Nosema and chalkbrood.


All in all, the measures taken now to safeguard the winter bees and ensure only the best queens, and disease free colonies,  are kept, dictates our successes or failures from early next year, starting with colony losses in the Spring, to a good breeding programme and finally, and without co-incidence,  the honey crop.

Mid Summer Madness

posted Jul 10, 2019, 3:54 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Jul 10, 2019, 4:01 PM ]

Well, there is no rest for the wicked, or so it is said, and so the work of managing bees for the summer flow continues.  It amazes me that only a matter of weeks ago, we had to feed precious ivy stores which were surplus in May and indeed which were hampering queen laying by causing brood boxes to be honey bound.  We usually store these frames away until new nucs need feeding. But a few frames definitely had to be fed to full colonies that were on the brink of starvation.  Some of those colonies have made a miraculous recovery but the honey crop varies from one to several supers, all very location dependent.

Meanwhile, some funding materialised and was put to good use by training some beginners in Knockmore who had missed our Spring training in Ballina.  What a vibrant community , and thanks to Shirley there who arranged the logistics for us, and to Leader and MSLETB for coming together on the funding.   Hands on training takes place this Sunday and we will monitor progress over the next 12 months.

Back to immediate tasks and we are still finding swarm cells in some colonies, still delivering nucs to beginners and still getting enquiries.  But on the horizon are things like harvesting the honey crop and treating for varroa, not to mention ordering frames and foundation- we always run out, despite meticulous planning and projections for the year ahead.  It's a good complaint and reflects the level of interest the sale of nucs and how focused we are on removing old frames that may have a high spore load.  Queens just love to lay in new foundation.  We have decided to adopt a zero tolerance for chalkbrood (Ascophaera apis) this year, so any colonies displaying even slight symptoms are put on watch, queens changed and may be shook swarmed.






Some Queens Mated & Laying

posted Jun 2, 2019, 2:50 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Jun 2, 2019, 2:51 PM ]

Finally, and in keeping with other years, we have a few queens laying already.  So I think it won't be too long until the majority of our queens destined for beginners' nucs, will be laying.  We like to give them a couple of weeks to establish a good laying pattern, before moving them on to our beginners, so we will be in touch by the third week in June. 

Bees were very cross yesterday and it suddenly dawned on me that (1) the weather was due to change for the worse and (2) there was very little forage, just a few very late Hawthorn bushes and I suppose some unidentified less significant sources of early summer wild flowers.  But white clover is beginning as is blackberry, so I think the June gap will be brief this year.  That said, I did notice brood frames were completely devoid of stores, but luckily there was some in the supers.  Nucs are always fed syrup regardless, so feeding continues.

If you wish to order a nuc, please use the form below:
https://sites.google.com/site/moyvalleybeesblack/queens-for-sale/nucs-for-sale
but bear in mind, we usually just supply our beginners class, and usually have a very limited supply beyond that.

Early Summer with Moy Valley Bees

posted May 27, 2019, 3:10 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated May 27, 2019, 3:16 PM ]



Early summer activities include training beginners in County Mayo (Ballina & Ballyhaunis) and examining in Ballina for the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations (FIBKA) beginners exam.   We had 27 beginners in Ballina and even more than that in Ballyhaunis, altough we did not conduct the apiary training there.

In addition, we have had to curtail the swarming impulse in over 30 colonies, and we are not finished yet.  This year, swarm cells appeared in the second week in May in strong colonies, but there is not an abundance of drones, so we are staggering our queen rearing activities to suit. 

The photograph shows the preparation of a double brood box in order to rear queens using a Cloake board.  We can take you through this method if you are interested, just get in touch! 

We just completed our first queen rearing workshop in the Ballyhaunis club, where we took a small and very keen group through everything from colony appraisal (including on site disease diagnosis - diseased colonies do not make good cell raisers nor is there much point using them as breeder material) to several methods of producing suitable larvae to be reared on as queens (grafting, jenter/nicot, Hopkins etc.)

The hawthorn flow is well and truly over, and we feel very fortunate to have gathered a modest crop of this very special honey. Sycamore provided a long standing back-up and the blackberry and white clover are not far off flowering and this makes up our main nectar flow of the year.

For the moment, all that remains is to be patient whilst our newly emerged queens go out on their mating flights and begin to lay, so that we can fulfill our nuc orders,  which were logged on the appropriate link on this website.  We continue to use every spare moment to make brood frames and super frames.  There is nothing quite like adding clean new frames to rejuvenate a colony in late Spring.  The workers draw it out immediately and within 5 days there may well be slabs of hatched larvae - these will eventually grow into your main summer flow foragers, so the more of these you have, the better able a colony is to take advantage of the main summer nectar flow.
Happy beekeeping and watch the chalkbrood and Varroa levels as ever.


Spring Management Begins

posted Apr 11, 2019, 2:25 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Apr 11, 2019, 2:26 PM ]

We did some cursory inspections on 28th March, and found that queens were laying well in most cases. 
The only exceptions were a few of last years queens were beginning to fail. It was as if they had laid an initial round of brood, but after that, completely stopped laying, to such a degree that we found laying workers had just started in a few colonies.  it would appear, from reading online forums, that queen failure of this nature is a slight problem this year. We chose to cull the queens, move the nucs/colonies to a new site, and after a week in the new location, placed beside a chosen hive to be strengthened, the brood (if present) was united to the host colony and the bees were shook out in front of it, and they were gradually accepted into their new home, without any risk to the existing queens.

Another problem this year is Varroa.  Indeed, it seems as though last year's Apiguard treatment was not effective in some colonies.  We have noted the genetic line in question, as there is a genetic component to Varroa susceptibility.  Some colonies are now displaying DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) as well, and we have chosen to apply two strips (one dose) of Apivar (active ingredient Amitraz).  It is not a chemical we like to use, but it is effective at 10 degrees celcius and Oxalic Acid is not suitable when there is brood in the colony.

The good news is that, even in weaker colonies,  there are lots and lots of foragers out, with new bees orienting all the time and lots of gorse and dandelion pollen being brought in.  Some white thorn is already in blossom and the sycamore is not far behind.  This time last year, four frames of brood was not seen until the beginning of May, due to the extended cold Spring, and we still had a record honey crop.  So swarming could come early this year (there is drone brood in stronger colonies - so count 40 days until swarm time, i.e. the length it takes to rear sexually mature drones) and we may be able to start rearing queens in early May (I wait until I see the first natural swarm cells).  So this weekend we will be waxing new brood frames that have been recycled after old wax was rendered. And we will be taking stock of equipment- we just never seem to have enough hives or nuc boxes!!!  Enjoy the Spring build up.  We will continue to maximise laying space in single brood boxes by taking out honey bound frames and gouging out honey the top corners of brood frames, once supers are on for them to move the honey into.

Time and Tide waits for no one

posted Mar 18, 2019, 4:41 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Mar 18, 2019, 4:47 PM ]

We are very relieved at this week's weather forecast for milder weather.  The river Moy, behind these colonies, has burst its banks in many places and I had to take a much longer route to get to these colonies.  The weather made for arduous trekking across muddy fields, and this is a new site for us, so evidently, it takes a full 12 months to really assess the quality of a site.

Colonies, despite the recent cold and wet weather, are in good shape.  Brown cappings and pollen on inspection trays indicate the rearing of brood, which puts pressure on the old winter bees.  A final quarter pack of fondant was given if needed, but this was rare. Roll on the week ahead, as buds are bursting to open and temperatures will be up above 12 C, if not more.  Enjoy seeing new bees fly for the first time.  They will be fluffy looking, and will have to take initial orientation flights in order to find their bearings. Don't forget, there are still a few weeks to go before we can say for definite that all colonies have made it through the winter. Be ware of isolation starvation.

Practice makes perfect

posted Mar 6, 2019, 2:28 PM by Helen Mooney

Last evening in Westport, I had a chance to meet up with my old study group- a group of welcoming, knowledgeable and engaging beekeepers, who continue to motivate and support beginners, as much as they did when I came through their door as an absolute beginner around 8 years ago now. My first experience of the study group, was joining it late, as I did not know it existed, and being made very welcome but being very confused as I grappled with all things practical, such as swarm control, queen rearing, splits and nucs etc etc. Evidently, it was time well spent and I was fortunate enough to be asked to return last evening and share my experience of maintaining productive colonies. 

It has been a busy few weeks, and no two lectures have been entirely the same (farmers, Athlone IT students, intermediate study group etc.), so I hope all of this practice will enable me to deliver the main precepts of beekeeping as clearly and effectively as possible.

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