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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy new year to all my readers!

I'm now the editor (and printer, enveloper, stamper and poster) of Beelines, the Monthly Newsletter of the Melksham and District Beekeepers Association.

In line with the infamous Peter Principle, the club has chosen the person with least beekeeping nous to take up the position.

I would like to publish it on the blog, but it contains member's names, so I can't. But I can show you the rather subtle Photoshopped photo that I put on the front page.

You might recognise the photo from the blog. It was taken by son Tom with a Canon DSLR. If you want to take bee photos, a DSLR with 12M pixels is essential. Getting bees in focus still requires the skill and eyesight of an 18 year-old.

My last contact with the bees was trying to fit a mouseguard to one. Although I used the utmost stealth, I was attacked by a host of angry bees and stung on legs and ankles (head and arms were luckily protected). They really don't like being approached when it's cold and windy and there is no honey flow. Good luck to any mouse that tries to make that hive a home.

I have decided against giving any hive a Oxalic Acid varroa treatment. Not because I don't think it will work, but because I am so incompetent (cack-handed, does that translate?) that I am likely to harm them inadvertently.

I will be reporting on the health of my four hives in the new year.

Happy new year!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Bees on the ivy

Three photos taken today whilst Mrs S was collecting sloes for her gin. Normally sloshes it back with the merest hint of tonic, but she wants to make some Christmas presents. Bottle of Sloe Gin, Jar of Honey, pound of plum jam - what's not to like?

The first is of a bee with a lorra lorra pollen. Note the two big arange stripes on the abdomen - I think that makes her an italian strain. Well, she was flapping her wings a lot and nipping from flower to flower, so I think that must be right.

The second is a rather venerable old worker - she has lost most of her hair. Her black abdomen marks her out as an English strain. She worked the same flower head for about five minutes with infinite patience.

Third one has rather odd markings - the orange band doesn't go right across.

If you have a chance, go an sniff some ivy flowers. You'll be surprised by the rank smell - a bit like a wet bed full of bedbugs (older readers only perhaps). That's what the honey smells like.

My new friends C and L gave me a pot of ivy honey and I made some experimental flapjack for sale at the honey show last week (sorry no photos - I was in the catering tent all day). I thought the flapjack was disgusting, but it all sold, even with a health warning.

And I sold four jars of honey (half-pounders) at £3 a pop. Can't be bad.

Say hello to Harriet

Harriet is a rather lonely cow, suffering from post partum depression. Now, I'd be the first to admit that my knowledge of bovine psychology is a bit, well, sketchy. But she did have a stillborn calf, and she has rather a mad look in her eye.

She lives in the field beside my most recent apiary. So I have added a barmy bovine to the guard sheep at the other apiary, in a bid to gather a Noah's Ark of bee protectors - a Rainbow Army, if you will, of farm animals.

Adding fondant

Much to my surprise, two of the three hives that I inspected over the last two days were practically devoid of honey stores.

The two hives have very large colonies and I guess that a lot of bees need a lot of food. The smaller colony in the third hive (that I have complained about in previous posts) is still small, but quite well provided for.

There seems to be a gap between the end of the summer flowers and the ivy coming on stream.

In first photo, I cut a window in the fondant package.

In the second photo, you can see it placed window-side-down over the opening in the top cover (which in this case is perspex.)

Each bag is 2.5kg of a mix of -oses (sucrose, glucose, etc) that the bees find amenable.

They will take this bagful down into the comb within a week. And at a few micrograms at a time, that's a lorra lorra trips.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Hornets - huge brutes!

See this huge hornet that I caught (with half a dozen others) in my wasp trap.

It's almost 3 cm nose to sting. Below it are a wasp and a worker bee. You can see how a few hornets could devastate a hive.

Vespa Crabro, if you're interested.

Cretan Honey

I bought three jars.

From left to right, they are:
  • from supermarket, complete with Lot No. Full EC compliance. The clearest.
  • from a babushka at the side of the road, no label, but from Thyme (she said)
  • from Agios Nikolaus (St Nicholas) market stall on market day. Claims to be "Sage and Various herbs" (Daifora botana).
All delicious, needless to say. Cost? Between Euro5 and Euro6 per 225 g jar.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Cretan Hornets

These are Vespa Orientalis. According to the pics on Wikipedia. The diameter of the coin is 27.3 mm. So it's big. And scary. But (I now know) has a sting which is no more dangerous than a wasp (yellowjacket), and they are less aggressive than a wasp.

I caught this one taking a swim in our pool. I helped it on its way, I'm afraid, because I wanted to photograph it. The previous day I had seen one kidnapping a bee from its hive. So I felt its species had it coming.

In photo below is same specimen plus a regular wasp.

In photo below I tracked them down to a wall of a cemetery, behind which they were nesting.

Cretan Hives

I visited Crete on holiday with the family last week, and of course, when I spotted the hives below I screeched the car to a halt and leaped out with the camera.

Of course, the hives are more "rough and ready" than UK and US versions. See below. But I guess the bees don't mind.

I spotted a giant hornet land on this hive and carry off a bee. As I said in a previous post, the hornets treat them as a take-away dinner. Bite the heads off and suck the nectar out of the stomach. Discard the rest. See the next post for more on the hornets.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Two miles makes a difference

My honey maidens and I tasted the honey from the two sites, which are two miles apart. And there is a definite difference in taste. One is slightly sharper, the other is rather more caramel-like.

But they got spun together and blended.

Honey maiden D, owner of one site, was disappointed not to get "single vineyard" honey - but at least she got to taste the honey from the hives at her property.

30lbs of honey

Pounds? Imperial measures?! My loyal readers will both be thinking "Wasn't it kilos last harvest? Editiorial standards are slipping at Pickwick Towers."

But I have bought 128 half-pound (OK, 226g) jars from the Bristol Bottle Company in Keynsham (that's K-E-Y-N .... for older readers) for 21.5p each.

I used 60 of them. Do the arithmetic yourself if you're that pedantic. It's hard enough extracting and bottling and then writing the blog. Get a grip, dear reader!

First photo shows some of the 60 bottles. Actually the one in the foreground looks like the waxy end of the barrel scrapings.

The second photo shows the real deal - clear with a slight green tinge - which might or might not be the green in the glass.

Third photo is of a still-wet frame after being spun. I'll be putting these back in the hives this afternoon for the bees to tidy up.

Final photo is of the inside of my new honey extractor, being cleaned out by the bees, who will take the honey back to their hives. I hope most of these bees are mine.

And the occasional damn wasp.

This beautiful piece of stainless steel equipment was bought on ebay from a very nice man in Amesbury for £168.

So the accounting to date is: equipment bought, about £1000. Time invested, many hours. Payback, 60@£2 = £120. Don't go into beekeeping to get rich.

The local honey show at Lackham is on soon. Shall I enter my best jar into "Best Newcomer" competition?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

New Apiary - No. 4

My friend C has agreed to have some hives on his land. He has created a small oasis - lawns, apple trees, fire pit - at the back of his field.

I bagged a swarm last week, thanks to D, the local pest control operator. It's very late in the year for a swarm to succeed - but it was a big one. It was hanging in an apple tree about 2.5m off the ground. But a pair of steps and a hefty whack deposited it into the skep. First use of the skep, and I'm impressed.
The photo below is the "commercial" hive that I have chosen for this site. It was available - I had bought four complete hives from a friend of an acquaintance a while ago. But I had started off with WBC hives, thanks to my mentors D & M. Commercials and WBCs are different size boxes and frames.

It's not as pretty as a WBC hive, that's for sure. But I can't let them go to waste.

I have put an empty brood box on top of the main brood box to accommodate a feeder.

The palettes make a good level base, don't they?

The feeder is in the next photo. You can see the bees coming up from the brood box through a hole in the top cover, into the feeder, and then over the top until they reach the syrup. They consumed four pints in just a few days - and I gave them some more today. Dunno why the syrup is a bit yellow. It was Fairtrade cane sugar. Maybe I overheated it when I made it.

They seem quite defensive. There is a line of bees across the entrance and any wasp that comes close gets immediate attention - unlike the established hives that are more laissez-faire.

And yes, I have registered it on beebase.

Photos are not as good as usual because: a) I took them, not son T or son J; and b) they were taken on my iphone.

Tune in again in a few days' time. Honey harvest is pending!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Varroa mites counted

First photo is of the floor of the hive that I covered in paper and vaselined a week ago - see previous post.

Most of the detritus is bits of wax, pollen and sundry rubbish. The brown blob in the middle is a varroa mite. In all I counted about 12 on the sheets - not too bad.

Second photo shows the mite in context of One Pound coin. The mite is bottom right.

The third photo is the best focus that son Joe could achieve. We really need a macro lens.

You can just about make out its claws.

The next post will show the varroa count after the first treatment - icing sugar - which I will apply after removing the honey next weekend.

Tout a l'heure, mes braves!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Bees for Development - my sponsored charity

I had been thinking that I should give some of my ill-gotten, no - hard-won - gains to a charity.

So Bees for Development it is, then.

I will buy tamper seals from Thorne's to put on each jar.

That way, I can get buyers to donate 10p a jar.

Monday, 3 August 2009


Perishers! There were several dozen inside the hive. The bees try to kill them, but the wasps are quite nimble.

I will go back tomorrow with wasp traps and I will narrow the hive entrance to make it more defensible (defendable?). The wasps were sneaking in round the edges of the entrance.

Putting in a Varroa screen

I had removed the bottom board of the new hive, leaving the hive with just the Open Mesh Floor between the bees and the open air.

It's a healthy thing to do, because they are then well ventilated, which cuts down disease. I particular, it allows varroa mites to fall through the mesh into the grass below, never to return. With a solid floor (like the other hives), the mite could crawl back up, and onto another bee.

In the photo below you can see that I have put two sheets of A4 white paper onto the bottom board, and I have smeared them both with Vaseline. This will glue the mites in place, when they fall, so that I can count the litle buggers.

The next photo is of the bottom board half pushed in.

My plan is to count the mites that fall off in one week, without treatment, and then treat the bees with icing sugar to make them groom, and repeat the count, to see if it is, indeed, an efficacious treatment.

The other treatments that I will use are Apiguard (a preparation of Thymol, a natural extract of, er, Thyme) and Oxalic acid (again, naturally occurring, in rhubarb).

So I will post again with news of the results.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Please sign the petition for the banning of Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids are killing our bees. Please sign the petition to have them banned in the UK.

For more info and to sign our petition please visit:

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Honey in full flow now

I visited my apiary at D's today, with son Joe (who took the photos).

I try to make this a low-impact hobby - so we cycled there. Only a couple of miles.

There are two hives there. One painted traditional white gloss, the other brushed with beeswax/linseed oil mix. Which do you prefer? Both are well-protected against the weather.

The guard sheep are still there - recently shorn, I think.

(My spellchecker doesn't like "shorn". Surely that's the right spelling? Yes, says that's OK. Must be the blogger spellchecker.)

Example frame from the super (ie above the queen excluder, so containing stores only.). This one is 100% nectar - no pollen at all. Looks very clean on new frame and new foundation, doesn't it?

These two colonies were new this year - so they're doing very well. Colony one has capped 80% of each of eight frames - the remaining two are not yet drawn out. So I'll need to put on a new super. So that's about 7kg of honey gathered in two months, from a colony that started out as a swarm in May.

The other colony is a bit behind. it has filled its brood box with stores, and drawn out half the frames in the super that I gave it six days ago.

But Colony Two has an iffy queen. There are four frames of brood - but I was expecting more. It's an odd shaped brood - suddenly stopping at frame four.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Adding some brood to the topbar

Here is the topbar hive in its permanent location. There are six lime trees within 50 metres - so I'm hoping for some lovely lime honey.

To help the small colony that I installed, I have added a frame of brood from another (regular) hive. You can see the top of the frame in the pic below.

I was going to remove the comb totally from the frame and attach it to a topbar, but my colleague, Emma, whose hive this will be, persuaded me to leave it attached by just the top.

I have to cut the corners off - but luckily these were just stores, and I put them in the bottom of the hive for the bees to eat and clean up.

The hinge and stay is a masterpiece, and a work of genius (if that's not too immodest a claim). My friend Emma can't lift heavy things like roofs, so the hinged roof is ideal.

There are two 16mm holes for ingress and egress.

And an aluminium roof. There's a brilliant shop in Bath called Avery, Knight and Bowler that sells everything metallic. The 2m x 1m sheet of Al cost £16.

Fingers crossed for the bees. The sealed brood on the comb that I added will emerge in a few days and add to the colony.

Friday, 12 June 2009

New queen is a star

Here is the new star of the show - a lovely big healthy queen, dressed in a delicate shade of fluorescent green - much like the home life of our own dear royal family.

She has layed four frames of brood since she came on to lay about 14 days ago. The photo above shows what a great queen she is. This is the perfect frame, with an arc of brood (the biscuit coloured area) surrounded by stores - pollen and honey. The lighter shaded capped cells are full of honey.

Avid followers of this blog will both remember that this colony was queenless from about 28th April, following the queen wing-clipping debacle.

But it's back on song now, and I'm predicting a good harvest in the autumn.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

First honey harvest

First photo shows the uncapping of a frame. The honey in this one seems a bit darker. See the cappings slide away into the uncapping tray.

I couldn't get the hang of it. Whether to cut on the forehand or the backhand, whether to cut up or down - and let the cappings fall away? It's an awkward job - and sticky.

The extractor, courtesy of Roger who is the engine room of the local bee soc, mentioned in previous blogs. Centrifugal force spins the honey out of the uncapped frames.

Two minor disasters. 1) one frame disintegrated and the comb fell out into the bottom. Had to retrieve it - getting even more sticky - because it was wired foundation and I didn't want the wire to wrap around the spinner. 2) the comb was weak in one frame and just flew out, wire and all. Another sticky retrieval.

Another uncapping - this time of comb on a brand new frame - so cleaner and easier.

See the uncapping tray full of sticky wax. I later put all this sticky gunge into a bain marie and heated it until the wax melted (65 celsius [how do you put the degree symbol into this blogger?]). Let it cool, then pull off the wax, leaving the honey in the pot. That gave me another 1kg of honey - albeit rather cloudy. Gave one pot to my friend Robin who came to help move a hive the next day. Thanks, Robin.

The honey glugging out of the extractor into the settling tank.

Pouring out the last kilo or so into the filter.

A good day - 8.5Kg of honey.

All photos by son Tom - Guardian Award-winning Photographer (did I say that already :-).

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cute prairie dogs

There is a mini-zoo at Lackham, and these prairie dogs are a few weeks old. So cute.

Sorry about the photos - taken on my iphone without a zoom.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Honey, lovely honey

The first proper harvest. 10 frames full.

At least 20 pound of spring flower honey.

ie Ten frames like this.

Cwaargh! Bring on the toast and coffee.

I guess the first 20 pound jars are owed to friends and family who have had to pretend to be interested in all things apiarist.

Otherwise that would have been 20 x £4.00 = £80. Not much return on the hundreds I have spent on hives and kit. But it's a start.