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

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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.