3 hours, 7 hives, 0 stings

Yesterday morning J and I visited a site used by Reigate beekeepers, as the bees at Polesden Lacey don’t need inspecting or disturbing today. He will take a look at them next week, but I will be away at a work conference then, so won’t be able to come down. So instead we spent 3 hours today going through the hives. 3 hours! I was amazed! I’m still not convinced that J isn’t just being polite when he says that this would have taken him longer on his own, or that I’m not just being incredibly slow or clumsy in my inspections.

Mickleham Roadsign by Secret Pilgrim. CC BY-SA. Flickr.
Mickleham Roadsign by Secret Pilgrim. CC BY-SA. Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/6YHTyy

Now that the hives have been fed and varroa treatment has started, the bees are making wax. Between that and the season’s worth of propolis, the hives are seriously gummed-up. J removed the frame with the queen on from the observation hive that had been at the local honey show yesterday, but I couldn’t seem to get my hive tool to work and all the frames were stuck down so solidly I couldn’t make space for the frame with the Queen. Embarrassingly, I fumbled the two hive tools in my pocket (different shapes so surely one must be suitable for this hive configuration!) and nearly dropped one. J said ‘Don’t panic’ – which I balked at a bit – beekeepers aren’t supposed to panic! But he was right, I had freaked myself out a bit, tried to rush it to be efficient and instead was moving too fast. The buzzing went up a pitch while I was fumbling about with things and I realised that I just had to be calm or I would make things worse – it would be pretty shit to get stung on the first hive out of seven! So I managed to calm down, used a more familiar hive tool, and got the frames moving so that we could return the queen to her home. Definitely embarrassing, but I suppose it had to happen at some point! I would like to think that all beekeepers have been there, but I haven’t asked any.

I was also pleased that J was outside the apiary doing something else when I removed a concave roof which had a little puddle from last night’s rain and tipped the whole thing over myself. Soaked to the skin, through a beesuit and jeans. Excellent spatial awareness fail there! If he noticed that one half of my suit was soaked when he got back he was very polite about it, but I like to think that I styled that one out.

It surprised me how much work there is at this time of year, and how much remembering there is too. I guess that’s mostly down to the fact that I’ve only ever been dealing with one hive up until now, and it was comforting to see that sometimes J forgot which hive we had said we were going to put the extra brood frames in, for example. 

I wouldn’t say that we were necessarily shielded from these things at Twickenham, in fact it’s probably mostly down to me not attending lectures, but I think these things are much more your responsibility with your own bees and the difference at the moment is J is really including me in that. Also, there isn’t a large group of people to talk thing over with, it’s just the two of us – and I have no idea how he does it on his own! Experience, I guess.

So my attempts at record-keeping are hopefully a good habit to get into, you haven’t seen the last of them! And with more than one hive you have to make sure you’ve done everything you can to put each one in a good position: it’s important to ensure that the bees have enough stores to get them through the winter, and that varroa treatment is applied. If either of those things are forgotten your hive could be missing or seriously ill in the new year.

One final moan – I am going to be a beekeeper with either a bad back, or raised hives! As a tiny person of 5’3”, I had noticed during the summer that as the supers were added on, it become comical for me to reach the roof, let alone get the thing off the hive, and if we didn’t dismantle the hive first and then put it back together during the inspection I would probably need a stepladder to see in! Now it’s the Autumn, I’m having the opposite problem. Inspecting a single brood hive on a standard stand requires a lot of bending down, and with 14×12 frames things can get pretty bloody heavy. Some of the hives, however, were on higher stands, and those were a welcome relief. I wonder how practical that is later in the year when the supers are on, or how good it is for the bees? I’m sure I read somewhere that they weren’t meant to be that high… Any beekeepers are welcome to chime in on that one!

OK, moaning over. The upshot is: I had a really great morning! It’s weird going through a hive on your own (not moaning, just observation) but apparently I was helpful, and I do hope that’s the case because it was really enjoyable. I think I was probably very quiet, but I was doing a lot of thinking and mental notetaking! I got to see inside a lot of different hives, which I’ve not really got to do before, and while I think it’s a little too early for me to ask clever questions about their management, I feel much more comfortable with the overwintering process and happy that I’m beginning to see it through. 

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