I’ve been down to Cornwall for a few days on a beer-assessing trip with a pal.  I have a couple of hives on his plot of land north of Launceston so thought I’d attend to them as we passed by that way en route from one holiday let near Polperro on the S. Coast to a caravan at Widemouth Bay near Bude in the north.  Although I had a bee-suit in the back of the car and also my trusty Swiss Army hive tool in my pocket, I had forgotten to bring a smoker so would have to improvise.

I went into a hostelry in Polrerro and bought a small cigar, a castella.  I haven’t tried using cigar smoke on a hive before although once, in Eire, I used a cadged cigarette successfully while opening a hive on the bog.

The hives at my friend’s patch (called Forty ‘cos it is 40 leagues from his home) were both battling with wasps the last time I visited, back in October, to give them their supers back and to apply a second dose of Apiguard, so I wasn’t at all sure that they would be alive. Wasps have been an increasing problem in recent years and I have lost several hives to them, once a complete apiary of 4.

When I got there I found I didn’t need my cigar.  I had to perform post mortems instead. The first one, which has 14 x 12 frames, had lots of old corpses outside and a heap on the floor within, below a dead cluster with no food immediately around. At the back of the hive, however, were 3 frames with plenty of honey, which I have brought home for harvesting.  So it looks like isolation starvation.

Going through the second hive, a National on an eke that had enabled me to make an artificial swarm using a 14 x 12 comb to start it, I found, at first, more wasp than bee corpses; but then, in the middle, was a cluster of dead bees on several combs of sealed brood but no stores at all.  My diagnosis is starvation resulting from wasp attack.  If I can find the local bee inspector’s email I shall let her know.

I cleaned up the hives and cut out all comb that had been bred in to reduce the chances of perpetuating unsuspected disease. They are now awaiting swarms to arrive in early May. There is some hope that this will happen as I noticed a bee from elsewhere inspecting the site.

I carried the cigar around for a couple of days, resisting the temptation to smoke it.  It is now tucked away in the car in case I forget the smoker again.


About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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3 Responses to WHO NEEDS A SMOKER?

  1. Yvonne says:

    Hi Chris, I checked the ICOG hives a couple of weeks ago and there were loads of dead bees in the TPH, however they were healthy enough to have a real go at me (I had left the smoker as I did not intend to open them but found the National top super had been nudged off) Is there anything I can do to prevent the wasps?

  2. At this time of year the best thing to do about wasps is to take a cushion, a book, some old brood comb and a fly swat to a sunny sheltered nook within a quarter of a mile of the apiary. Place the comb in the sun; place the cushion a couple of feet to it’s right; place the fly swat by your right hand; place your rump on the cushion; find your place in the book and read while keeping the comb in your peripheral vision. There’s a good chance that you will attract a queen wasp searching for provender and/or a nest site. Apply the swat now to avoid having to battle with a thousand of her daughters in August. Bees may also investigate so look before you sweep.

  3. ann says:

    the latest advice is to put wasp traps out as soon as the queen wasps get active. Each queen you can catch is one less nest of thousands Put jam or dog meat or beer or a mixture of all three in a wine bottle with enough water to drown them. Don,t put honey or sugar or you will kill your bees

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