Stacking up supers

Hive Notes

Last Friday our little group was without a tutor, and so we had a list of instructions – although it’s really nice to have a tutor with us, by the end of the evening we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves for managing a good inspection of our allocated hive, and managing to do everything on the list! So it was beneficial to get to us to sort things out on our own in the end.

The first thing on our list was to make up a new super and 12 frames to go in it. We did slightly cheat on this one, as there was a super of frames going at the apiary already and so we pinched this one to put on the hive. This is good, but also a little annoying as I could actually do with as much practice making frames as possible before the Basic Assessment in August! But with only 5 of us in the group last week it was probably a good thing that we could spend more time with the hive.

Last week we left our hive with 3 supers, one (and a half maybe) of which were looking like they were turning into lovely capped honey frames. We left our hive this week with 3 super totally stuffed full of capped honey frames, and one brand new empty super for them to enjoy. The weather this week has been crazy for the UK – around 34 degrees C – and it’s the middle of June (the solstice was Wednesday), and the bees have been totally making the most of it. We checked only the middle frames of these supers, and it definitely took two of us to carry each one away so that we could get to the brood boxes beneath.

As an aside, I’m planning on being a solo beekeeper, with my partner as an assistant some of the time. I’m a pretty unfit, 5’3” woman – how the hell am I going to lift supers of honey?! I need some tips from seasons beekeepers. Or a stool.

We got into our brood boxes, and saw a lovely pattern of capped brood in the top brood box, although no eggs or larvae really. I think that this in line with the honey flow at this time of year, as they’ve so much time and light to collect all the nectar that the bees have probably slowed down the egg-laying in the hive – but I’m happy to be corrected on this. We did see the Queen in this box, though, so that was nice. Although I put the box back together at the end and a little voice in my head said ‘better not crush the Queen!’ and now I’m a little paranoid…

In the bottom brood box we have all sort going on. I think this is their older box that they overwintered with, so as well as brood it has a couple of frames that seem to just be pollen on both sides. They also have a mixture of stores and brood on each frame – although we did see some pretty nice new brood on one side of the box – those pollen-only frames seem to be in the middle – can they be moved mid-season. And yes, we saw eggs! One member of the group wasn’t sure, and another didn’t have her glasses with her, but I took an executive decision: those were eggs.

So in the end we put everything back together with the new super, and it was a really lovely evening. The bees were pretty chilled out, we didn’t use that much smoke, and we worked really nicely together as a team.

Basic Update

I also paid my fee to take the Basic Exam this year – the exam date is in August, so I really should get revising soon! Things that I need to swot up on:

  • how long everything is an egg, larvae etc for
  • stages of worker bee jobs
  • what’s in flower! I am terrible at this, although it should be the easiest thing in the world.

Wish me luck!

 

The dream is over?

So, one of my big beekeeping goals this year was to get my own bees. And you may remember that I have hinted on this blog that I have discovered a local allotment and contacted the council about keeping bees on a plot/corner there.

Well, after a few weeks of emailing, they’ve got back to me to say that they can’t allow me to keep bees – yet. Sigh. It’s a bit of a blow, to be honest, and I had been holding out hope even though I knew they could say no.

When I first contacted them I was sent a very well-written letter about how keen they were to have beekeepers on the allotments and stipulating their responsibilities and mine. Everything was very sensible, and a few things that had come up in questions at Twickenham were already addressed in the letter so I didn’t really have very many questions about it. I requested a letter of recommendation from the TTVBKA and the council considered whether they would recommend me and put the suggestion out to the plotholders so that any concerns could be addressed (allergies etc).

It really comes down the the catch-22 situation of: I don’t have experience of keeping my own bees, but I need someone to give me a little bit of public land so that I can build up experience of keeping my own bees. I’m not wholly surprised. My two years experience at TTVBKA is fine, I think, but it’s not the same as having my own bees. Also, they’d really like me to have the Basic. Which hopefully I will do by the end of this season, and so that should help!

So it’s a bit of a bugger, but the dream is by no means over yet. For one thing, there is the possibility that I could put a hive on another site. The only issue with that site is that it is 25 minutes drive away. Not huge, no, but I don’t want to leap in without thinking about everything that impacts. It will take a bigger chunk of time from my week, I’ll have to consider storing material there, and I will have to be very organised when it comes to extracting honey as it’ll be a drive to get the frames back and forth. But it’s certainly not impossible, so my next task is to give it some serious thought – watch this space, I guess!

Back with the bees

So my last post was over a month ago – and since then I have been back to the apiary on a couple of Fridays to continue with Basic learning, and heard back from the Council.

I have been away in Pembrokeshire for a week (we stayed on Skomer Island for a night, and saw puffins, owls, seals, and all sorts of great things), so I have missed another week at the apiary since my last post. But before that we had opened up the hive, spotted the Queen – and passed her onto one of the more experienced beekeepers to clip her wings. I’ve not seen this done before, and it was done very matter-of-factly – I’m not sure I would be that calm if I were doing that for fear of dropping her! I also learned in the roundup at the end of the evening that there is some disagreement among beekeepers as to whether it’s a good idea to clip Queens. Obviously, once she is clipped so can’t fly away, but if there is some argument that if she was previously laying well and doing a good job once she’s clipped her attendants might consider her damaged and on her way out, and decide to raise a new Queen to take over from her.

Typically, I missed a week after that, so I’ll find out this Friday how she did! It looked as though she had been laying beautifully up until now, although she is a couple of years old, so it would be interesting if it all went pear-shaped now!

Other than that, it was lovely to get back into the hive, as it’s been a while since I have seen any bees. We did a routine inspection, saw that there was a good amount of brood and space for brood in the double brood boxes, and decided that it may be worth adding another super to the two already on the top as the flow appeared to be really good and they were bringing back a lot of nectar. The final thing that we did was a drone sacrifice – a wonderfully gory varroa-control measure.

What is a drone sacrifice?

Frames in a brood box are ‘deep’, 305mm, and super frames are ‘shallow’, only 140mm. By putting a shallow frame into a brood box, you create an area of space in the hive. Bees hate extra space, and will fill up anything that’s too big with comb of some sort until it’s comfortable for them. On a frame such as this, they will make brood cells, and the largest cells are drone (male bee) cells – so they’re the ones that bees will use to fill up the space quickly. The Queen then lays in these larger cells, and drones are created. Varroa mites like to sit in drone cells, as they are sealed for longer than worker bee cells, and so the mites have plenty of time to multiply. Once the drone cells are sealed, the beekeeper can come in, slice off the drone cells from the bottom of the shallow frame in a big chunk and them use a large fork to lift the cappings off the cells and see the drones and mites within. It’s a really gory process, as the royal jelly, larvae and baby drones ooze and sometimes wriggle out. But this also removes mites from the hive entirely, thereby acting as a varroa control measure.

Back to Twickenham this Friday – so I’m looking forward to finding out how it’s going.

Starting the 2017 season with news


So my season started, and I have been late in updating the blog to reflect this (what a surprise).

I went back to the apiary in Twickenham at the beginning of March, to pay up my BBKA membership for the year, and say hi to the beekeepers. After starting a new job in April last year, my free time and work/life balance really got out of kilter, and I couldn’t find the time to go down to the apiary every Friday evening. It’s been a year in the ‘new’ job now, we’ve moved house, and I’ve been able to change my working hours a little, and so time and headspace for bees is opening up again. Sigh of relief.

After a year away it was comforting that some of the members remembered who I was, and the Secretary’s first words to me were ‘doing your Basic this year, then?’ – to which my answer is yes!

This year’s major beekeeping goal is passing the Basic Exam, and last weekend I went down to the apiary again to meet the rest of the group I’ll be studying with this year. Last Friday was a beautiful sunny day, the first summer-feeling day we’ve had this year, and I optimistically brought my suit with me. Of course, we didn’t actually get to open the hives as it does still get cooler and darker in the evenings by the time we get there, but lucky me – I carried the suit, boots, and hive tools all the way from Surrey to London to Twickenham and back to Surrey again all in one day. Oops.

In any case, it was great to meet the other 12 people who will be studying for the Basic this year, and the two tutors who will be taking us through the year. We talked about the format of the exam, the curriculum, and got to know each other a little. The season proper will begin next Friday and of course I will be missing it, so in two weeks’ time I’ll see which group I’m in, and what they’re going to plan for the year. I’m really looking forward to getting going, and feeling like this goal is back on track!

Finding a home for bees

Another goal for this year was to get my own bees, if I could manage it. And now that we’ve moved house I have had a minor breakthrough (hopefully soon to grow in size). While wandering around the new area, I stumbled upon some allotments which are only five minutes walk away. Which seemed perfect! My current arrangements involve around 30 minutes travelling each way and so they’re not always the most convenient (although they are definitely interesting and worthwhile).

I emailed the council to find out more about this, and this week received a reply. This in itself was enough to get me jumping about my hotel room (I have been away at a conference all week) and I’m hoping that I can get enough things to align that it might be a possibility this year after all.

So, if it’s not too much of an imposition, keep your fingers crossed, reader. And I’ll be praying to the beekeeping gods for a bit of good luck.

New Year, new bees?

So, it looks like I gave this blog its own off-season – oops!

After my last post in October last year, I didn’t have anything more to do with bees. J and I weren’t able to meet up after that, and the hives didn’t really need opening over the Winter anyway, so that was that for 2016!

And what have I been up to since? Mostly, I have been settling into my new job, and I’ve also been very busy with buying my first place, so there’s definitely been enough to be getting on with. And now I’m back to thinking about my beekeeping plans for the next year.

My main aim for 2017 is to pass the Basic Beekeeping Exam, and I’ve also been thinking about where I might keep my own bees. Late last year I contacted Surrey Beekeeping Association and received a really lovely response about their courses, which at the time were fullybooked for 2017. But even if they weren’t, my work commitments would make it difficult to get down to their apiary in time for meetings, so I have a feeling that’s a stretch to far at this point. Interestingly, we were walking around the area in our new place last weekend, and stumbled upon some allotments which we had never seen before! So my new plan is to contact the Council about keeping bees there. To be honest, I’m not holding my breath on that, as I’m not sure they’ll allow it, or how long it might take to sort out, but it’s definitely worth a go! And it’s so close to home!

But I’ve also renewed my TTVBKA membership for 2017, and shifted my working hours ever so slightly so now I can definitely make it there every Friday once the season starts and get back into the routine. First meeting of the year is next week, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of that again, and I’ll see if anyone remembers who I am.

So after a bit of a busy year with lots of adjusting a big life changes, I think I’m ready to go back to my beekeeping goals and see how far 2017 can take me – all to be detailed in this blog, of course. Welcome back!

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. 

Sunday 11th September

Mickleham
Clear to sunny, 16 – 18C

Reigate beekeepers secondary apiary x6 hives, plus 1 hive of J’s

Tasks

  • Checked weight and hefted all hives – double brood hives had around 40lb (18kg), and single brood between 20 – 30lb. Hives need around 40lb to make it through the winter (Williams 2010) and so lower weight hives were topped up – although for some single brood hives it was easier to take a visual inspection as a guide to stores vs brood in the hive.
  • Removed/refilled feeders
  • Checked brood – should be reducing at this time of year – looked for eggs, larvae and the Queen
    • Saw the Queen in all hives but one, which was very quiet – instead found one charged queen cup with larva, did not see the Queen or any eggs in this hive
  • One hive was low on brood but Queen was seen, so added 2 frames of capped brood from another hive
  • Ivy flow still to come and brood to decrease, so there should be enough space for the winter
  • Added Apiguard to each hive, will require second dose in 2 weeks time (28th September)
  • J’s hive: replaced 2 frames from the observation hive (with Queen), Jack to feed and add Apiguard next week

 

Williams, John. (2010) ‘Starting Out With Bees’ Kenilworth: Bee Craft Ltd.

Taking Some Responsibility

today I took another step into the beekeeping world – I went out into the field (no pun intended) with a new beekeeper to meet the bees that we’ll be taking through the next season together.

The difference I suppose between this and all of my other beekeeping experiences is that I felt more on show today. Partly, this is because J and I had never met before, so he was not only showing me the ropes, but trying to get to grips with what I knew and what I could reliably be trusted to make decisions on. Of course, he was a total gentleman, and asked lots of questions while listening to my silly questions too, but there was a little moment when I realised that I was out in the ‘real world’ of beekeeping.

Training a beekeeper

I should probably take a step back, given that this is the first post on this blog, and knowing my blogging habits I’m very unlikely to post an update if I don’t write it at this very moment.

I started learning how to keep bees back in January 2015, when I noticed that the Twickenham and Thames Valley Beekeeping Association that I walked/drove past fairly regularly was running a 10-week course in beekeeping over the winter.

Winter is a quiet time for beekeepers, in the sense that the bees are asleep, shut up in the hives keeping warm and eating their honey stores, although I’m pretty sure beekeepers will keep busy talking about bees or honey or mead or candlewax or gods know what else even when there are no bees to be seen. So during the off-season, this is the ideal time to get beginners involved. We had a 10-week theory course with the offer to come back in April once the hives were opened up again to get on a suit and get started putting the theory into practice.

Come April, we got going and I totally fell in love. I’m not sure exactly when I decided I’d like to keep bees, but I can tell you that it fast became one of my favourite activities, and I really looked forward to my Friday evenings at the apiary. There’s something really calming about beekeeping – once you get the hive open you can’t really make any sudden movements or the 20,000+ bees will have something to say about it, so it really forces you to calm down at the end of the working week. I can also tell you that watching honey being decanted and bottled is one of the most serene and lovely things ever.

This delightful experience carried on for a year, and I learned a lot about bees, honey, getting stung, and beekeepers. One day I’ll do a beekeeper appreciation post on here, because I’m telling you, they bloody well deserve one.

Next Steps

Around this time last year, I decided I was definitely getting bees. Then I decided I was definitely getting a new job. Said new job took me into central London 5 days a week, and so my time to spend thinking about bees was taken up by considering what I did for a living and did I do the right thing and where did all the time go etc etc. So things slipped. But I’ve been very lucky that my conversations with the Head Gardener at a popular South-East National Trust property meant that one of the beekeepers already on site knew that I was interested, and this is the lovely chap that I met today. He’s a member of Reigate Beekeepers Association, and although I was slightly nervous to meet him, we had a really great morning chatting about bees and making plans.

I’m looking forward to working with someone through the next season, and also – as boring as it sounds – closing up the hive for the year and getting myself mentally ready for the next season. As well as see these bees through, and maybe get a hive of my own when I feel comfortable, I’d really like to take the Basic Beekeeping Exam in the next year.

So anyway, I feel this post is drawing to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and if you have questions please comment below. I’m looking to use this online space to document my own beekeeping experience and also share interesting things that I learn, and I’m open to ideas for posts so ask and comment away!