Thursday 9 April 2015

The Sun Doesn't Always Shine

I was delighted with this shot of a 'buff-tail' - scruffy
gear and a huge dose of luck!
Not a good day today. The abridged summary will read "Hive disaster, vet called to lame lamb" but you'll probably expect more detail than that, so read on. I'll get to those two stories eventually. First, though, I was delighted with this picture of a buff tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) on flowering currant (Ribes sanguinum); probably the best bee picture I have ever taken. The bee was amazingly co-operative and the camera gear had a huge dose of luck thrown in.

Flowering cherry buds opening.
This is my trusty digital Canon EOS but I could never actually afford the digital extension-rings at the change-over, so I had to buy, 2nd hand, a pre-digital 50 mm 'prime' lens (the digital lenses do not fit the bayonet front fitting of the old rings). This came cheap because the auto focus drive on it is almost dead. Sorry story? As long as everything stays still while I manually focus, it does OK as a 'macro' set up but I struggle with busy bees, who are always on the move. The flowers are usually also blowing about in the breeze, so in 99 pics out of a hundred you do not get a crisp sharp focus. My bumble bee must have been the 100th one, she stopped for a good drink at that nectar and the breeze just eased for the few seconds while I tried not to get too excited and actually press the shutter-release.

Just showing off now. Primrose with early morning dew.
Our little amazing run of hot sunny days brought out the Ribes on which the lucky bee sat, and Ribes is one of the signals we bee keepers locally use to tell us that it is now OK to open hives and do the first Spring-time inspection. Over the winter we have come to know and get friendly with another local bee keeper (we'll call him T-McC for the sake of argument) and as we are all beginners we set up a reciprocal arrangement where we go and help each other, advise, give moral support and generally blunder through these early experiences trying not to do much damage and keep our bees alive.

Lupin leaves
The sunshine had T-McC on the phone suggesting that we should be doing our Spring-time inspections NOW and inviting us over (yesterday) ; we would do his yesterday and then ours today. So far so good. Bee suits and wellies were loaded into the car and off we went. In short, that part all went really well. The colony at T's was buzzing with health and we were delighted to be able to see healthy brood frames with eggs, young larvae, older (sealed over) larvae/pupae and a million bees coming and going with pollen. We even found his queen, who had been helpfully marked by his supplier with a dop of white paint on her thorax. Job done, we re-assembled his hive and sat down in the sun on his patio for a cold drink. A raven soaring in the thermals over his 'drumlin' put the icing on the day, and Liz seeing the first swallow of the year on the way home added the cherry.

T-McC cracks open his healthy hive.
At this stage, you might guess from my opening remarks, it all went a bit downhill. T was due back here at 2:30 pm. I had an inkling from the sheer numbers of bees around his hive yesterday, that all might not be so good here, where if I see 12-15 milling about, I'm lucky. On the way in, we showed him our 2 new lambs and even we could see that all was not well with the smaller, darker one (Thelma) who seemed to us to be a bit 'lame', struggling to put any weight on her front feet which she teetered around on, in high tip-toe mode. We were thinking 'lame' so foot issues, but T, who grew up on a farm in Cork, spotted that the lamb was arching her back and raising her tail, looking generally uncomfortable, so diagnosed possible constipation and advised us to get the vet.

Our own hive is not a pretty sight - dead mouldy bees (top left)
and empty brood (dark brown) with mouldy cells (bottom right).
Liz went to summon Aoife (Rhymes with Deefer) while we moved on to smokers, hive tools and bee suits. With the vet called, we adjourned to our hive and promptly set about our main disaster. Our hive is, unfortunately, 95% dead. The queen has died, so there is no new brood, no eggs, no larvae, no sealed up cells of larvae, no new emerging workers. There is a ton of unused honey (the crinkly white cells in the pics) but all the brood-nest (dark brown) is empty and cleaned out ready for egg laying. There are a few clumps of dead bees all mouldering and one or two cells of mouldy (?) pollen. We have well under a thousand bees and though some of these are bringing back pollen. All in all a depressing sight and a disaster for the hive. The new bees will live out their little 6 week lives and then fade away.

A lovely neat "brood pattern" surrounded by honey
but unfortunately no brood! 
These things happen. Where ever you have livestock, they say, you have dead stock. Bee keeping is not meant to be easy. We are lucky to have the Longford Bee Keepers Association (LBKA) at our backs to help us out with advice and, rather beautifully today, someone willing to pass us some replacement stock - a queen and some living brood to get us started again. The answers to our calls for advice and help have so far mainly centred around the queen and brood nest falling victim to cold and wet, possibly because we gave them too much space by adding that 'super box' before it was needed. and even adding the first one back in August before the brood box was bursting at the seams. We have inadvertantly created a drafty "chimney" with colony all up the middle but empty 'edges' so that the smallish, new colony was unable to keep all the space warm in that recent cold snap. You live and learn.

Lovely heavy frames of honey - we guess the girls won't
need it now!
So we were sitting out front on OUR 'terrace' discussing the disaster and the day (T was feeling a bit of 'survivor guilt' he said) when with beautiful timing, Charlotte (our much esteemed sheep and lamb expert) and Carolyn blew in. We were quickly able to round up Polly and her twins and to stash them in the 'shed' to await the arrival of the vet. Charlotte had a good check on the problem lamb (Thelma) and could see no real cause for lameness (no dodgy feet or stiffness or heat at joints, no swollen or tender places). We also needed to check she had a bum-hole (sometimes this does not open properly) and was not 'scouring' (diarrhoea). All clear, we just had to wait for the vet.

These frames should be covered in bees - there are a hundred
here if you are lucky. It's not a happy story. 
Well, to cut that story short, Aoife has now been and done her finger-tip stuff. The lamb's bum opening is not properly formed, so is tight with stray tissue inside and she is struggling to pass 'matter'. If T had not spotted this, she would have gone downhill fast over the next couple of days, said Aoife (so many many thanks, T!). She is now on frequent liquid paraffin and jabs of pain killer and anti-biotics (to 'cover her' as she had a high temperature), the plan being to "soften her up" as well as relax her so that she can start unloading and be a lot more comfortable. Poor little mite.

Not a queen to be seen
So all in all, it has not been a good day but, hey, these things happen. The sun did actually shine and we worked our way through the bad stuff. Thank you very much to all those who were there for us or on the phone, on the Facebook group and elsewhere. Special thanks to a lovely lady who might just be able to re-stock our hive with a new queen and some willing workers. More on that later. They say these things always come in threes. I went to check on the hens last thing and found that the broody Sussex had abandoned the nest, presumably as a result of our rather rude impostion of a 'yow' and 2 lambs, then a vet, on her solitude. Ah well, now off into the Western 9 pm 'half light' to catch Thelma again (who we'd let back into the field on the vet's advice) for her last-thing dose of liquid paraffin. It's not going to be easy now that mum (Polly) has sussed that sometimes when you get bribed into the shelter, it is not just for ewe and lamb nuts! Good luck you amateur sheherds.


Care Towers said...

Oh bloody hell that's not a good day, is it! Hope all things recover quickly. Anything lined up for the birthday?

Anne Wilson said...

Sorry to hear about the bees. How is the lamb doing now?

Matt Care said...

The Birthday, CareTowers will do OK but might get postponed as Liz is on another mission of mercy on the actual date.

The lamb seems a lot more comfortable today after her doses of liquid paraffin and shows signs of having actually managed to shift some 'product'. She isn't arching her back any more, isn't holding her tail up and is a 'divvil' to catch, she's so nimble.

Anonymous said...

Hello Matt,

Sorry to hear about the bee's, did you feed them last autumn, i also find putting a square of insulation board on the roof helps, but in previous year's found it gets later in the season before looking at them. The other thing is treat for varror mite, in the later part of the year.
As you said you may know all this from your beekeeping exam.

I saw you have a picture from the bog walk, i cut my turf by hand still, on that plot you took a picture of.

We live not to far from you near loughglynn. And came over from kent in sept 2011.

Also its nice to see someone trying out a small holding, and being self sufficient. If you want to get in touch my email is

Matt Care said...

Hi Paul. Nice to 'meet' you. We will have to do it properly - I will send you an email.