from Jacqui and me to this record of our experiences as new beekeepers in The Marches.

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Treatment and food

Thank heaven for a relatively warm and sunny month. This has helped the crucial task of killing Varroa mites and feeding. The Apiguard treatment (Thymol) remained in each hive for 4 weeks. Two days after it started a count was made of the average drop of mites per day during a 4 day period. Hive 1 dropped 3, Hive 2 dropped 1, and Hive 3 dropped 9. The average of 9 in Hive 3 is a little high but hopefully the treatment will sort them out. If conditions prove right then they will be treated with Oxalic Acid in about December when there is no brood. The bees keep warm in winter by forming a cluster. No eggs are laid during that period so it is safe to administer the acid which can harm new brood.

The bees have been working really hard to take advantage of the warmth that has ensured a continuing supply of pollen and nectar. Pic shows a worker on our Nicotiana flowers. She has a heavy load of pollen in the basket on her hind legs.

An inspection of the hives on the 19th revealed good supplies of capped stores in each hive but nevertheless we need to feed them to assist in building up the stores that they will need early next season when they start to rear brood. There is usually a time when they are raising the new season bees but there is little nectar so they need good stores to see them through. The feed s given in the form of sugar syrup in the proportions 2 parts sugar to one part syrup. Bees will drown if they land in water or syrup, they need to have their feet on dry land whilst feeding or drinking. The round feeder shown in the pic enables the bees to come up through a hole in the bottom, then down the side of the central beaker (it has a ribbed surface for grip). The line of bees feeding at the bottom can just be seen through the opaque sides. They convert the syrup into honey which they store in cells in the comb. When they have reduced the water content sufficiently to prevent fermentation they cap the cells after which the honey will last in good condition until they need it.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Evil curse or vital nosh?

Our village magazine "Leintwardine Life" included reference to Himalayan Balsam growing by the river banks. Its an invasive plant outlawed by the Wildlife and Countryside Act because its such a bully. The bees don't agree! It provides them with a rich source of both pollen (protein for the larvae) and nectar (carbohydrate) just when they need it to start building winter stores.
I know that our bees have found it down by the river Clun because they have been returning looking as though they have been playing in a bag of flour. The pic shows a returning worker with the telltale white dusting.
It has been a busy Bank Holiday weekend for events including the Sun Inn beer festival. As I was peering into the bottom of my pint of Hobson's "Old Flossie" one of our local beekeepers, Robin, came over to discuss the current problem of wasps. Conversation was not easy thanks to the live music pulsating from the performance tent but we agreed that there are signs that the wasps may be a real problem this year unless we get some cold nights to start killing them off. Robin's bees are also bringing in the balsam.
Back at the hives I took a picture of an interloper trying her luck, unsuccesfully, at hive 2.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Treatment time

Really enjoyed yesterday's hive meeting near Tenbury Wells. Dennis handles his bees with confidence but real gentleness. The theme was Varroa treatment and preparation for winter. The opportunity to chat with experienced beekeepers about things like: how best to protect against wasps, whether to insulate the hive roof, the relative merits of selling honey in one pound or half pound jars, whether to feed between Varroa treatments, priceless.
So today I got on with the vital work without which winter survival, and next year's honey crop would be prejudiced. I took off the remaining comb that the bees had been cleaning for me since the honey was extracted. The pics show the artistry and perfection of the bees' efforts. Then I inserted the trays of Apiguard gell, one per hive, placed directly on top of the brood frames. The gell gives off Thymol fumes and remains in the hive for two weeks. A second treatment is then given for a further two weeks. It needs raised temperatures to evaporate which is why it needs to be put on before the weather cools too much. The downside is that no honey can be taken off once treatment has started. Any that the bees now collect is for winter stores. Its unlikely that they will collect enough on their own so a close eye has to be kept on the volume and sugar syrup will be fed to help them fill their larders. They will get plenty of tlc over the next two months. I shall also be monitoring the "drop" of Varroa mites to keep track of what is going on.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Second Harvest

Having seen that there was a little honey that we could take without leaving the bees short we set about it on 16th, taking off 11 frames. Thanks to Hamish for the loan of the extractor once again. He has upgraded it by adding a piece of precision bright red engineering, an electric motor. Under the heading "Pros & Cons" I can report that its much quicker to use but on the other hand one has to be careful with the throttle if one wants it to remain in the same room. I suspect that at full belt it can cause electrons to collide. J managed to extract 30grammes of wax from the cappings to go with our 6 jars of honey.
During our first winter here I tried my hand at hedgelaying and it wasn't bad until Billy the Bull had fun pulling it to bits. I made the mistake of asking Malcolm what was the name of his bull. He looked at me as only a farmer can look at a townie and said that his animals have numbers, not names. If I want to know what it is I must read his eartag. Hence I named him Billy. The pic shows him resting earlier today.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Harvest time

Its in the jar, all 48 of them. Thank goodness I was warned of the importance of preparation to avoid terminal stickiness during the bottling process. All went well though I could have done with 3 hands whilst juggling different sieves. The honey in the extractor was divided into two equal tubs. The first was put in jars without further processing apart from filtering. The second batch allowed to start to set/crystalise for a week before it was warmed gently in my home made warming chest for 24 hours at 39c. Then it was put through a muslin filter and bottled. Good honey gradually crystalises and can set very hard which is inconvenient when trying to spread it on rushed morning toast. If it is allowed to set and is then gently warmed back to clear state it will take longer to set a second time and will set more softly. The downside is that heating will start to reduce flavour so we are trying to balance taste with texture.
Honey must never be overheated as the sugars caramelise and flavour is ruined. My warming chest has two 40w bulbs in the bottom. Testing showed that it will reach a safe maximum of 40c with the lid and both bulbs on.
Meanwhile our kitchen resembles a witches covern as cauldrons of chutney, jelly, jam, and marmalade bubble gently and the oven is full of a mongrel assortment of jars and bottles being sterilised ready for filling.
It sounds corny but it is truly satisfying to see the harvest being preserved ready for the coming winter and spring seasons.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Sticky stuff

Excellent hive meeting at Ashford Carbonell last weekend gave me a chance to chat with the "Experienced Ones" and I came away determined to take off our honey crop without further delay. Hamish most generously offered the loan of his extractor. Mother Nature heard me coming so wet and windy days followed but thankfully temperatures held up and I had the chance to remove 21 frames of honey on Thursday. Decapping proved less difficult than I had expected thanks to a large old serrated bread knife. Temp in the shed was 22.4 degrees. With the first 9 frames loaded into the extractor I tentatively wound the wheel and in no time there was the satisfying splatter of honey being hurled out of the cells against the side. At last after 14 months our first HONEY. It is important to load the machine evenly otherwise it will vibrate its way out of the room so I did 2 further loads of 6 frames each. The honey was left overnight but the empty "wet" frames were loaded back into the supers and returned to the hives for the bees to clean up. Next morning the honey was run out of the extractor through a coarse filter into two plastic buckets. Each was weighed at 10 kilos giving a total harvest of 20 kilos or 44 lbs. I also filled our very first one pound jar which will be our test sample for establishing the crystalisation properties of our honey.

If only we get some more warm weather during the next couple of weeks there may be some more honey to harvest. The warm sun today after rain seems to have encouraged the clover into a nectar flow, it was covered in all sorts of bees this afternoon.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

New friends

Telephone call asking if I would like a "nuc" [nucleus colony]from Tom results in a delightful drive in Hamish's van [thanks Hamish] up the beautiful Corvedale lanes last evening. Tom has been a beekeeper for over 50 years, he is "cutting back" and only has about 40 hives now! He understands every tic of nature's clock. Whilst we wait for the flying bees to return to the nuc we chat in the evening sunshine. A priceless opportunity to tap into the wisdom of so many years of experience. He used to think nothing of taking 20 hives in his Morris Minor Traveller up to some remote field to harvest honey from a particular crop. Its one of those occasions when I wish I had a digital recorder.

In no time half an hour passes, sun below the hilltops and most of the flying bees back so reluctantly we load up and head home.

First thing this morning I let the bees out to fly. Then mid, very warm, afternoon I take brood box number 3 down to the hive stand. The nuc is moved to one side, opened, and the frames carefully lifted in the same order into the brood box that is placed where the nuc had been. This should ensure that flying bees return to the right home. The remaining bees are shaken into the box and the nuc removed. Then a feeder is placed ontop and filled with syrup by way of a "welcome" feed.

Its a bit late in the season to take on a new colony. They will not produce honey for us this year but if the weather is kind there is a good chance that they can be built up sufficiently to survive the coming winter and set up a good start to next seasons crop. The pics show before during and after the transfer from nuc to brood box.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Civil War avoided

We live in an area where history is dominated by the English Civil War and bees follow in that tradition. If you simply add one colony on top of another they will set about killing each other. If, on the other hand, you spread one sheet of good newsprint over the host colony before adding the new one above things are different. The bees will within 48 hours, chew their way through and, like Channel Tunnellers, greet each other on the other side with open wings and no conflict. Incidentally I wonder if the newspaper pubishers appreciate the consequences to our honey bees when they trim their page sizes.

Inspection 8 days ago revealed that hive 2 was still queenless after more than 4 weeks. Not having a spare queen or young brood to introduce I decided to unite it with hive 3 where there is a laying queen. the newspaper method worked a treat and yesterday's inspection revealed lots of contented bees and chewed newspaper. So now we are back down to 2 colonies, lets hope this beautiful weather gives them a boost.

Incidentally the "extension" underneath hive 1 was successfully dealt with by placing a tray underneath and gently brushing the bees off with a feather. They were then poured into the top of the hive. The unwanted comb was then scraped off and collected for melting down.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Bees build extension

I wish our bees would read the same text books as me. I came home this evening from an excellent open day organised by Ludlow & District Beekeepers at Mocktree and decided to have an evening look at the hives. Hearing some extra buzzing from Hive 1 I bent down and there they were, a cluster of bees who haven't learned that they are supposed to build comb IN the hive rather than under it! No need to count sheep tonight, I shall be wondering what on earth I'm going to do about these hooligans.

In the garage we have some cardboard boxes stored on a shelf. Hearing buzzing I looked in the handhold and there was a wasps nest. Another issue I shall have to deal with. Who said insects are boring!!

Monday, 14 June 2010

latest inspection

Sunny day last Saturday so after attending a coffee morning at Kinton Farm I checked the hives. Number 1 has made good progress filling the second super, the first is well filled with honey much of which is capped so we shall at least have some honey this season. Did not look into this brood because new queen will only just have started laying new brood and I don't want to disturb. I have read that disruption too early can cause the workers to "ball" and thereby kill the queen. Lots of pollen being taken in and lots of bees so I am hopeful for this colony.
Hive 2 has no brood or eggs at all so it is queenless. This will be fatal for the colony unless I take action because the old workers will simply die out without being replaced. I have to decide whether a] to let them continue to add honey until they die out, or b]to merge them with another stronger colony where they can add to the honey harvest, or c] introduce a frame of new brood in the hope that they will raise a new queen.
Hive 3 has been adding to the honey in the supers. A quick look at one of the brood frames in the bottom box revealed uncapped larvae. This means I have a new laying queen in this hive. I now wait to see if she is productive enough to build up a strong colony for the winter.
Hope the young woodpecker pictured on Sunday watching mum on our feeder doesn't learn how to get at honey in the hive this winter. They can do terrible damage so I shall have to surround the hives with wire netting as a precaution.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


I may be one. Monday was bright following the rain of Sunday so I went to check the stores in hives 2 [the original swarm] and 3 [the second swarm]. Top box on 2 has fresh foundation that has still not been drawn out into comb. Next Box down has good stores but nasty surprise in third box just above the queen excluder. As pic shows there was a sealed queen cell on one side and there were three more on the other side. How did eggs [brood] get laid above the queen excluder? Either queen trapped above the excluder or I have workers laying - a bad sign. Having to make a decision there and then I decided to destroy all the Q cells because they looked small. Then checked the box below the queen excluder. No Queen cells, lots of bees, no brood. Given that the old queen who took the swarm should have been laying in the available comb this not good. Brought the box that had contained the Q cells down below the Queen Xcluder. Didn't see her there but lots of bees and didn't want to disturb them any more.
With hindsight I think I should have left one Queen cell and given them the chance to raise her. May finish up with a queenless colony through my own stupidity but never mind. I can either merge them with a successful colony later or give them a frame of brood so they may raise their own queen.

Monday, 24 May 2010


The blogger welcomes followers but the beekeeper does not. If the bees are in a bad mood the beekeeper upon leaving the apiary may be followed by angry bees, "followers", for some distance before they return to the hive. One of our hives has no queen at present whilst the workers rear a new one. Consequently the workers are irritable with anything that interferes with their work and we have followers. Sadly as a blogger I still have no followers!!
Jacqui took this pic that for me sums up what it is like to keep bees in the Marches.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


I think I must have missed a sealed queen cell when examining Hive 1 last Sunday. Out in the garden yesterday afternoon I heard the ominous roar of multi bees and soon spotted a swarm on the other side of our sycamore hedge. Once again out with all the kit and eventually as above pic shows I managed to get the bees to march into a super full of frames. I have bedded them down overnight in the apiary with their entrance plugged with grass. I now need to sort out a fresh brood box to provide them with a long term home. This swarm must have a virgin queen so I believe it should correctly be called a caste. It is a tall order to get the queen mated and laying but we and the workers must be optimistic.
Swarming score now bees 2, beekeeper 0.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The battle for survival

So, this season's fight for survival has begun. Following the swarm last weekend two separate battles are underway. The original colony [Hive 1] is now left without a queen but they do have brood that will be hatching out over the next couple of weeks. They must rear a new queen in order to survive.
The swarm colony [Hive 2] have a queen but no brood so they must build comb rapidly to enable her to lay eggs. Once she starts the first new bees will not emerge for a further 25 days. In the meantime the old tired bees will be dying off so reducing colony numbers. Its a race against time.

Monday, 17 May 2010

A swarm and a sting

Swarms and stings are to beekeepers what death and taxes are to all of us - inevitable. One of the main skills of beekeeping is swarm prevention, or at least control. Having boned up on the procedure I was fully prepared to carry out our first artificial swarm [a method of preventing loss of a swarm] on Sunday, but the bees decided to leave on Saturday!! Jacqui was outside with Ruffle when she heard the unmistakable roar from the end of the garden. Fortunately the bees were gathering in the sycamore hedge only a short distance from the hive. With the butterflies in my stomach similarly swarming I put on the kit, lit our smoker and gathered some boxes.
Earlier in the week I had set out a spare hive on a stand so the plan was to persuade the swarm to set up home there. I managed to shake the bees into my boxes, it took several goes, and then upended the boxes on to a white sheet. Pausing only to extract my first sting from my left thumb, I placed a wooden board up against the landing board on the new hive and covered it with a white sheet. Then I carried over the boxes wrapped in their sheet and shook them on to the board. After a nervous few moments for me the bees turned uphill and started to march into the hive. It is a truly amazing sight. I used a pheasant feather to redirect some that missed the entrance and were marching straight on up the front of the hive. At no time did I spot the old queen but I think she must have been there otherwise the bees would have marched straight out again. The air was full of flying bees all this time but gradually they settled down.
A swarm usually takes about one third to one half of the bees leaving the non-flyers, some flyers and all the brood in the original hive. In the evening I set about moving the old hive to one side and placed the swarm hive in the original position. This should mean that next day flying bees return to the swarm hive strenghtening it.
Next day, Sunday, I went through the old hive removing all the capped queen cells [a couple are shown pictured above you can just see the larva though the broken end], leaving uncapped ones. In a weeks time I shall go in to that hive again and remove all but one of the queen cells. Hopefully we shall finish up with a new colony with a laying queen in about three weeks from then. As to the swarm that will lose numbers until the bees have created new cells and the old queen has started laying again. What we need now is warm weather and a strong nectar flow.
As to that sting, I was wearing "Marigold" rubber gloves. They cannot prevent the sting but they do stop it penetrating too deep and they make it easy quickly to remove the venom sack. All in all not as bad as I had expected!!
As to my beekeeping skills and swarming the present score is bees 1 beekeeper 0.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Ooops, a sting

Reading back in this blog I realise that it has become a bit of an "anorack's diary" so its time to lighten up.
Following a rush of blood to the head we now have a new Labradoodle puppy. On Wednesday she was out by our pond with Jacqui. Unfortunately so were a good number of our honey production team collecting water needed in the hive. Ruffle being an inquisitive 9 week old, was fascinated by the buzzing sound in the shallows and headed straight in to check it out. Bees' worst enemy are bears that tend to be big, dark, and furry so a worker is programmed to defend the colony by burrowing into the fur to sting. Seeing a worker on top of Ruffle's head Jacqui selflessly grabbed the bee with her hand and removed it but of course got stung in the process. Fortunately she knew to scrape the sting away with her fingernail so that the pulsing sack of venom was quickly removed and the pain quickly subsided. Not everyone is aware that, despite being torn from the dying bee's body, muscles attached to the sting will continue to pulse for up to 20 mins driving yet more venom into the victim. Hence quick removal is a good idea!
Only a wife and a bee were hurt in the making of this story, Ruffle was entirely unharmed and, it has to be said, unconcerned.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The season starts

Thanks to warm days, blossom/pollen on the Bullace Birch and Alder, the bees have been very busy. The hive over-wintered with a super on top of a brood box, no queen excluder. On Sunday 11th April I examined the hive. Lots of bees present. The super contained plenty of honey stores and there was some capped brood at the bottom of the middle frames. Between the super and brood box a small quantity of brace comb had been built with some capped drone cells. The main brood box was well filled with brood both capped and uncapped. Decided to move the super to the bottom. Placed the brood box on top, then queen excluder with a super of drawn comb over that. The object is to give space for the bees to bring in honey without limiting the brood space for the laying queen. Hopefully this will discourage early swarming. The pic shows one of the super frames with capped and uncapped honey. Second pic shows some drone larvae that were exposed and removed.
On Sunday 18th I carried out the first full inspection of the year examining all frames. Didn't spot the queen but not surprising as there were a lot of bees in residence. The new super on top is filing nicely with honey. All seemed to be well with the brood so left well alone.
Inspection on 26th April revealed one play cell but otherwise nothing of note. Honey stores gradually improving. I shall have to keep an eye on the play cell in case it is built into a queen cell.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

"heater" bees on TV

Amazing - Richard Hammond's programme on Tuesday evening included spectacular thermal imaging from within the hive. The hot bees showed up so clearly as did the heat radiating from them within the brood. There is so much still to discover and understand. I'm considering appointing a "hive correspondent" to keep us in touch with developments direct from the frames, sooner or later we shall discover that part of the spectrum that will enable us to communiate.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Spring and "heater bees"

Serious pollen collection continues at the hive. Workers have been foraging on our late winter flowering heathers. The Bumbles are also out.

Interesting email from Elizabeth at L&DBKA drawing attention to the Telegraph article about "heater bees". It seems new technology has revealed that some bees raise their body temp by an additional 10 degrees C, enter empty brood cells and then control the temp of up to 70 pupae around them. One degree C is critical. 35C produces forager workers whereas 34C results in housekeeping bees. It seems that the heater bees can decouple their wings so that the muscles run at full power without moving the wings thereby raising body temp to 44C!!! Bees normally require a temp of 35C to fly. Since it is not 1st April the article seems genuine, its amazing the discoveries still to be made.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

more pollen

Great - warmish sunshine for two days in a row!!
The bees are really enjoying our Hellibores.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Last night was very frosty but thankfully bright sunshine warmed things up today 1st March. Bees were out in force early afternoon and for the first time this season they started to bring back pollen in quantity. White (probably Hazel) and egg yolk yellow (probably snowdrop) clearly seen. Looks as though the Queen is starting to work at increasing numbers.
With flying bees out and temperatures well up I decided to check for stores. They have been overwintering in brood and a half - brood box with super ontop and no Queen excluder. Eased them fractionally apart and hefted the super. Still very heavy so reasured that feeding not yet needed.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

temperature change

At last warmer temperatures. Reached 12.5c just after lunch and the bees were straight out. Some on the grass (for water?), others to the snowdrops. A sharp shower sent them back in after about and hour.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Dedication to knowledge

Snow and dodgy road surfaces did not deter Hamish from driving Andy and me to Kidderminster last evening for a talk "Hobby and Professional Beekeeping" by Michael Collier (from whom we bought our first bees) organised by Kidderminster BKA.
Michael is particularly interesting because he has experience in all three of the categories that he describes namely: "Hobbyist" (up to say 12 hives); "Sideliner" up to 150 hives; and "Professional". His view is that about 400 hives are required for any chance of a full-time living.
He described aspects of working for professionals both in the USA and Canada each with 4000 hives as well as his own approach.
The audience included both experienced and novice beekeepers so the questions were many and varied. Michael fielded them with easy competence demonstrating his unfailing respect for the bees' welfare, and detailed knowledge of their natural history. I had much material for my notes as well as some valuable individual advice from him after the talk.
Thankfully the gritters had been out so our return over Clee Hill was safely accomplished before the frost set in.
I hope the bees appreciate the efforts we make to understand them.
Thanks to Hamish and Andy for a most enjoyable evening

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentine and mites

St Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers. Perhaps thats why this weeks mite count is down to 6 ie., less than one per day. There have been no cluster bustering days until today at about noon. Temp in the shade 7.5c but in the sun it went above 8c so out they came. Several seen on the grass, presumably collecting water, and others on the Snowdrops. They are obviously itching to get out and about. Clouding over this afternoon so they will not be out for long.
Three vintage Bentleys drove by, thats a rare sight these days.
Neighouring meadow still has some flooding. On looking out first thing there was the Heron, a couple of Mallards, and a Raven in the trees beyond.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Oxalic Acid

Culain asked if Oxalic Acid can be used a second time if the queen has yet to lay. I have been told that it must only be used once in a season but not the reason why. I see that the BBKA say in their leaflet issued in 2007 that a second application can harm the bees but no further detail. An interesting issue I'm going to read further.

Monday, 8 February 2010

low mite count and other things

Yesterday (Sunday) carried out 7 day mite drop count - 38 making an average of just over 5 per day. There were two cluster busting days on Thursday and Friday with quite a lot of activity so the lower count is encouraging.
Attended L&DBKA AGM on Saturday when there was a solid attendance. Culain's quiz based on identifying Bees, Wasps, Flies, and lookalikes was not only good fun but very revealing. The winning score was excellent but that was the exception, the general ability to identify our local flying insects is not that good even amongst experienced beekeepers. By no means everybody spotted the Honeybee Drone!! Culain has created a permanent display collection for reference by Assocn members.
On Friday we saw what at first looked like lumps of residual snow in the plants around the garden pond. Closer inspection revealed a whitish jelly some of which was clean but other clumps had clearly been through some creature's digestive tract! Some lumps were found in the water about 2 inches below the surface. "Frogspawn" was my first reaction but closer examintion did not reveal the tiny black dots or egglike structure. 2 dead frogs were, however, found in the water. The Heron has been around this last week, would he have tried the spawn? Could the jelly have been some kind of algae? On the whole I am inclined to stick to my original view but maybe the spawn is unfertilised or has been frosted. A small sample has been taken from the water and put in a container in a cool corner to see if any development takes place.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Warmer at last

Sun out and temp reaching 12c has opened the Snowdrops and brought out the bees in force. Foragers all over the garden. Some collecting water from the grass, others working the Snowdrop flowers. Great to see them out with a purpose even for a short time.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

a midweek flight

Tuesday morning was miserable with cold blustery rain. Then things cleared at lunchtime, the temp rose to 9c, and the bees were out straightaway in some numbers for cleansing flights. Whether there is sun on the hive or not it seems that their preferred min temp for flights is about 8c in calm conditions.
Thanks to Culain for a lift to Ludlow Assembly Rooms last night to see "The Vanishing of the Bee", much enjoyed. The production was a little on the parochial American side. I did like the short scene where smoke was seen going back into a smoker!! The film's conclusion is that there is no one cause of Colony Collapse Disorder but many contributing factors.
The honeybee is very tolerant of sympathetic husbandry based on respect for its lifecycle and essential needs. It seems to me to be common sense that a creature that exists not just as in individual but also as a complex colony depends upon delicate systems that are not fully understood but easy to disrupt.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Sugar is interesting

Before today all I really knew about it was that a spoonful helps the medicine go down. Thanks to an excellent article in BBKA News by Dr Julian M Cooper I now know my Fructose from my Glucose. Its only fair to the bees that I should try to understand the background to the miracle that they perform in producing a product that cannot artificially be made.
I am pleased to see the medicinal qualities of honey are not just the product of old wives tales. One of the products of the bees' enzyme action is hydrogen peroxide giving some antiseptic properties to honey.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

more mites

Some sunny spells and milder temperatures (up to 9C) had bees out flying this week but they soon hurried back to the cluster when snow showers started. Today I made the first check of the floor since last Sunday. Counted 87 mites making an averange drop of just over 12 per day. Wax dust indicated that the workers had been using stores.
So ends a January of true Winter. Good crop of snowdrops showing white but not yet open. Forecast is for more cold weather so I can leave well alone and get on with installing a new floor in the shed.
My first attempts at wax extraction from some old frames demonstrate just how much I have to learn. Some wax is recovered but I have a way to go before I achieve reasonable efficiency. Meantime I have enough to wax the kitchen drawers.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

more Varroa

Mite drop counts for the last two days are 73 and 62 respectively. There has been some mid-day sun on the hive on each day with the result that a few bees have been flying. First snowdrops are beginning to appear in the garden.

Friday, 22 January 2010

varroa monitoring

Today the temperature has reached 9c. Mite drop count 142 making the total for 4 days of 1035. Today there were some wax flakes on the floor indicating some feeding activity in the hive. Housekeeping continues with 9 dead bees by the entrance. Steady rain/drizzle has kept the bees inside.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Varroa update

Having once again trudged through the melting snow to collect the floor tray I find the mite drop count for the past 24hrs to be 118.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Varroa treatment

Temp reached 8c last Sunday 17th, dry with some sun. Hamish took the opportunity to call round to show me how to apply Oxalic acid. The hive (a National) setup is a super well filled with stores over a brood box with no Queen excluder. There were plenty of bees all located in the brood box. After treatment using syringe to trickle sugar based solution at 5ml per seam of bees, we closed up without further inspection. During about the next hour some workers were seen on cleansing flights and some housekeeping was observed as 7 dead bees were ejected from the entrance.

The bees were left alone for 24 hours. I then removed the tray from under the mesh floor and cleaned it thoroughly before replacing it and leaving it for a further 24hrs. I then counted the dropped mites - total 473! - again cleaned/replaced the floor. Repeated the procedure and after next 24hrs the count today was 302.

When checked last Sept after Apiguard treatment no mites were seen. At the end of Oct during the warmer period a few mites were seen but not counted. The current high counts therefore come as a surprise.

Yesterday enjoyed an excellent evening talk by Gerry Collins a Master Beekeeper "Queens and Things" organised by Kidderminster, and Hagley and Sourbridge BKAs.

Monday, 18 January 2010


2 years ago retirement brought wife Jacqui and me to Leintwardine in the Marches (Herefordshire/Shropshire border). It is a rural community where we are surrounded by agricultural land and life is directly connected to nature and the seasons.

Jacqui had given me "The Beekeepers Pupil" by Sara George, a work of historical fiction that rekindled my vague but long-held interest in honeybees and beekeeping.

Early 2008 was spent reading and researching theory and practicalities. In September we visited the Ludlow Food Festival and the stall run by Ludlow & District Beekeepers Association (LDBKA) where we signed application forms for an introductory course. In the spring of 2009 we attended a full day theory course and a half day practical where we were able to handle bees at an apiary using borrowed suits. That experience confirmed that we were comfortable both with handling bees and the responsibilities involved. We also knew that we had the backup necessary to make the investment in equipment and bees a reasonable risk so we duly placed our orders. Our hope and intention was, and is, to keep bees as a hobby that will eventually pay for itself.

The story of our our first summer is for another occasion, suffice it to say that we find ourselves starting 2010 with a snow covered hive full of healthy bees waiting for the warmer temperatures of the new season.