Search This Blog

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.

Queen No. 3 found and marked

The swarm I collected last Monday (the Bank Holiday) has drawn at least four frames of brood comb and the queen has layed in most of two sides - I stopped counting.

Wow. This is some huge queen. See photo below of queen sporting new green adornment. Yes, I know she's probably last year's queen (or older) becuase this was a prime swarm. And the fact that she is laying so soon after swarming is (I think) another indication that she is mature. But the green pen was to hand - and it's better than nothing.

These bees seem more prone to festooning that the previous colony. They run to the bottom of the frame and hang off it. But they seem very gentle. But there again - it is a lovely day. 22 degrees celsius and no wind. So what's not to like?

So we now have three queen-right colonies. Good oh.

But the question is what to do with this nuc? They can't stay in this box for long.

Queen No. 2 found and marked

Now I'm really motoring.

Found and marked the queen in the hive from which the nuc was taken on 2nd May. Green is the colour (of my true love's eyes - yes, it's true, but don't distract me with old song lyrics, probably mis-remembered). Green is the colour of 2009. So if the queen isn't green, she's been --- superseded. That's the bee rap,

She has layed about one frame of eggs.

See photo below of me marking her. Note the nurse bees getting very worried about what I was up to.

I have NOT clipped her wings - after the disaster in April.

Queen No. 1 found and marked!

Hey, I might make a beek yet!

I found and marked the new queen in D's hive (the one with the sheep guarding it).

She's only small - but she is laying. No photos unfortunately.

So she took from 2nd May (as a sealed queen cell) until about yesterday (29th May) to emerge, get mated, and start laying.

Whew! Relief.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Caught my first swarm

I got a call from Roger (entries passim) asking me if I wanted to collect a swarm.
I took my home-made nuc box and set off at high speed.

When I arrived onsite the owners of the property told me that the swarm was enormous and was hanging from a tree. But now the swarm was all in the undergrowth on a gravel path.

Mrs Owner was terrified of bees. But I shared her state of fear when a huge hornet started cruising the area. Was it after the bees? Hornets certainly like to eat bees by the dozen. They tear off the bee's head and eat the contents of the honey stomach. Nature, eh?

Photo above shows alarming faith in the strength of surgical tape - which was the only stick tape I could find in the rush. But the polycarbonate roof is good feature - at least you can see what's going on.

Mistake number one: I was concerned about the onlookers, so rather than shake the bees into the box (and putting bees into the air), I put in some of the undergrowth. Which meant that when I got it back to the house and the bees were hoping for an early night, I turfed them all out whilst I removed the branches.

Here they all are, trying to get back in through the two entrance holes - which you can't see for bees.

They were clustered to the roof when I opened it - and festooning ready to make comb.

I have given them three frames of foundation and a frame of ivy honey from last year (see previous entry). So now I'll let them get on with it for a fortnight, and post better photos when I next open them.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Catching queens

This is just three of the six queens that we took from one colony yesterday, during the training session for novice beekeepers at the club. The middle one is in a proper queen cage. It has a plug of candy (sugar) in the entrance so that when the cage is put into a queenless colony, the queen will have sufficient "face time" (aaargh) for the colony to become accustomed to her scent and accept her.

These queens will be used to re-queen queenless colonies (perhaps mine if my virgin queens have not done the business and returned).

The other two are, yes, hair rollers. They provide the perfect mix of shape, ventilation, easy of use, colour coding. They are mounted in small wooden blocks that can be easily stored in a box.

Instructor Alan removes a queen from the queen cell. Steady hands are needed. Fifty-five years of beekeeping helps, as well. Note hair roller cage at the ready.

This cell is a bit tough. The drone uncapping fork is used to good effect, even though it wasn't designed for this job.

Modifications to the topbar hive

The topbar hive now has a galvanised steel mesh at its base. In a previous entry I shows the plastic mesh that I had fixed, before I found out that there was a badger in the garden.

This is standard mesh that is used to make varroa screen floors. In case you missed it - the reason for this is that the mite will fall off the bee and through the floor, never to return.

Bees can regulate the temperature in their colonies very closely by building comb in clever configurations. But in the summer months, an open floor is fine.

These are the entrance/exits. There are six pairs of holes so that I can keep one, two or three separate colonies in the same hive (well, in theory). The holes are corked when not in use.

OK, so don't examine the workmanship too carefully. I drive a desk in real life, not a workshop. My new staple gun gets a lot of use.

How bees make comb

This photo shows the colony making new comb. The frame has been added to the hive with the foundation broken off so that it is only a few cm long. This will encourage the formation of drone brood - which can be used either to take drones off into breeding apiaries or, more likely, to provide a test for varroa mite. I will say more, with photos, in another blog.

You can see the bees hanging in chains to make the comb - which explains (partly) why the comb ends up in the beautiful catenary shapes (from catena - a chain).

Bee scaffolding. More bees join the chain gang (sorry).

Friday, 22 May 2009

Missed four swarms! Gah!

Got a call from Roger at the club. He was called to pick up a swarm from the large garden behind my garden wall. The fourth swarm from there in a few days.

My lure hives (see entries passim) were not alluring enough, apparently. Or not far enough away from the original colony. They prefer to go over half a mile away from the originating colony - for a very good reason: they want to spread out to avoid over-foraging the area.

But I was not at home, and he had to give the swarms to someone else!

But I live in hope. The topbar hive need some occupants.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

My new top bar hive

Inspired by Phil Chandler at I have built a top bar hive. I heard Phil speak at a meeting of out local club (MBKA - see other posts).

He advocates a simpler, less invasive, method of bee-keeping.

So I have built the top bar hive to his design, with a few deliberate changes and a few inadvertant modifications.
This is the hive. Note the legs - makes it easier to work on the comb. The roof is quite light - another feature that makes it easy to use. Regular hives can have VERY heavy rooves.

The two separators (or followers, in the jargon). are shown here. They segregate the colony so you can keep two colonies in one hive if you separate them with one of these. They also allow you to expand the colony from, say, three bars to, say, ten.

The Vshape means that the bees will not join the comb to the sides of the hive - which would be very inconvenient because you would not be able to lift out the comb and inspect it.

The mesh is in the bottom of the hive. It provides ventilation, allows Varroa mites to fall through (and depart the hive - hurrah!), and prevents ingress by robbing bees.

I am worried by the access it affords to predators. There is a badger living in D's garden (which is current planned locaton) - in the Pampas grass (no, really, she put her hand in the burrow, felt something furry and warm and withdrew her hand promptly). So old brock may get his paws on the honey. We will see.

These are the bars. They have a groove in the underside into which I have put beeswax. This will encourage the bees to make comb on the bar in a straight line. Which nature abhors, but which makes husbandry easier for us.

So - all it needs now is a home and some bees.

Visit for more.

Colony now queenless

Disaster. Something I did (maybe) has killed the queen. I marked her two weeks ago. One week ago I split off a nucleus - which was succesful ( I went to see it yesterday at my friend D's).

But my colony now has no queen. The queen I marked is nowhere to be seen.

There are no eggs in the cells - further evidence.

But one of the swarm cells (see last week's entry) has been vacated - so I may have a virgin queen in there. So opening the hive was the last thing I should have done (had I known). Virgin queens are easy to upset.

I must cross my fingers and hope that either the virgin queen is OK, goes off to mate, and comes back and starts laying, or one of the other queen cells yields a new queen.

So I must wait another two weeks before opening the hive.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Honey, and a new nucleus

I have taken four frames of brood out of the brood box, put them in a nucleus box and tranferred the colony to my friends D's hive (see previous blog).

All went according to plan, except that I could not find the queen that son Joe and I had taken so much effort to find and mark (see previous blog).

I'm pretty sure she's not on the frames that I gave to D. I gave her a couple of frames with big, fat, sealed queen cells that will now hatch into a new queen (all being well).

But my hive is without a queen - unless she's hiding. And there're the dilemma. There are some more nice queen cells in the hive (see photo below). But if the queen is in there, they may swarm when the queens in the cells hatch out.
So do I destroy the queen cells to prevent a swarm (if she's there, but hidden) or let them hatch to get a new queen (if I am short of a queen)? Hmmm - no idea. Time to phone a friend.

The good news is that there is a load of honey - 10 frames are full and 80% is capped. See photo below. The capped honey has a white wax covering. The uncapped honey is glistening in the light. I need it all to be sealed before I can harvest it.

All photos were taken by son Tom. This last one is a cracker. You can see why he's a Guardian award winning photographer and got an A at A Level Photography.