DECEMBER

Well, it’ll soon be Christmas. I know this to be the case as I’ve just seen my local supermarket unloading their first consignment of Easter Eggs, always a give away. I frequently hear people, mainly of my age group bemoaning the fact that ” It’s not the same as it were when I was a lad” and of course, they’re right. But then, very few things are, are they? I suppose it’s human nature to remember the good things and it’s right that we should. I imagine that the same sentence has been repeated since time immemorial and will still be fifty years from now, not that I’ll be around to hear it but history has a habit of repeating itself, doesn’t it!

I gave my last talk for the year last week, and most enjoyable it was. The subject was as usual The Honeybee with in addition, a brief touch on candle making, by request I have to say which was most gratifying. It’s always a bit of a step in the dark when you address a group for the first time but so far, nobody has actually thrown anything at the stage and if anyone has dozed off, they’ve snored quietly. This talk was at the Christmas meeting of a local Horticultural Society and because horticulture and bee-keeping go more or less, hand in hand, I had a feeling that it would go down well and thankfully, it did. We got a very nice round of applause at the end and I received some lovely comments. Also, the questions at the end were relevant and indicated that most if not all, had been listening, another plus.

NOVEMBER

The weather, at least for the moment continues fair and the bees have continued to enjoy what’s left of the Autumn sun. They seem to have now directed their attentions to the drones. I watched them at Mendip C, gathered at the hive entrances, they didn’t appear to be going anywhere, just milling around. After watching them for a couple of minutes, it was obvious what they were up to, the first returning drone was gently refused access. The bees just seemed to be blocking his way, no matter which way he turned, the bees would move between him and the entrance. Then, as he persisted, the mood gradually changed, no longer gentle, now a couple of the bees had broken away from the others and were actively pursuing the the hapless drone up the front of the hive. I watched as they set upon him, the drama unfolding in slow motion before me, all the time feeling my pockets for my mobile ‘phone. There was only going to be one outcome, only one winner, and my money wasn’t on the drone. My immediate thoughts, must get a picture of this for the blog. Needless to say, the ‘phone was nowhere to be found. Stupidly, once again I had left it in the car and of course, by the time I had legged it down to the car and back again, all the activity had ceased. I stood there for another five minutes but for nothing. Any drones still flying, having witnessed the fate of their brother, had obviously decided that, discretion being the better part of valour, it was better to wait until the coast was clear. Having witnessed the events of the last ten minutes, I can’t say I blamed them. Took a picture of the bees gathered at the entrance anyway.

bees on entrance 001

BEES GATHERED AT HIVE ENTRANCE WAITING FOR DRONES

The month has continued to roll by, largely uneventfully thankfully, and is now fast approaching December. There has continued to be quite a lot of activity in the apiaries, until this week that is, when the temperature has really plummeted. As I write, there is a layer of heavy frost on the rooftops and the cars parked outside are going to need their windscreens scraped before they go anywhere. Sitting here in the comfort of a nice warm lounge I can’t help thinking of my bees, hopefully clustered up tightly together and ready for whatever the weather has to throw at them. With the brook running just behind my hives at the bottom of the meadow, and the trees shading them from what’s left of the Winter sun, they are in a real frost pocket, very often holding onto a layer of frost all day even though the rest of the meadow has thawed. I know that honeybees don’t react to the cold in the same way as we do but I can’t help feeling a little sorry for them. Also, knowing that whether they do come through to the Spring depends largely on me. Was the Varroa treatment effective, did they have enough syrup, what if Spring is late next year, will the hives withstand the worst of whatever the weather throws at them, and should I have left the floor slides in. These are all thoughts which go through my mind around about this time every year. The truth is, their future is now firmly in “the lap of the Gods”. All any of us can do is to make sure all of our hives are weather proof and secure and that our charges are well provided for. Even though I’m happy in my mind that I’ve done my best for them, I shall still breath a sigh of relief when I see the first of them leaving the hives come Spring.

As I’ve said before, this is a good time to catch up with any little jobs that need doing around the apiary and this year has been no different. Every year about this time my friend Liz has, what we call, a “boil up” in her utility room. She has an old gas boiler, we used to call them a Copper when I was a kid, and between us we boil up all of our old frames. I say we, but it’s Liz who does all the work, I just hand her all the dirty frames and take the cleaned ones from her. The boiler is big enough to take six or eight frames at a time and I have to say, Liz has it off to a fine art. It takes only moments to complete the operation and at times, I have difficulty in keeping up with her, but then as I tell everyone, I am now built for comfort rather than speed. The end result is that now all of my frames are now back in my shed, as good as new and ready for re-waxing, so, thankyou Liz!

Thinking of this year’s disastrous Spring and obviously having no idea what next year’s will bring, I’ve decided to put candy on early. My thinking is that I shalln’t have to worry about a prolonged Winter with the possibility of not being able to get near the hives. In the past I’ve always put the candy on at the same time as giving them their Oxalic acid, normally in January but, the last couple of years the weather has made this difficult. So, as I said, this year I’ve put it on early. That way, they have it if they need it, and if they don’t, it won’t hurt just sitting there. In the past, if I’ve made my own candy, I’ve just taken the lid off the container and inverted it over the crown board or put the container straight onto the frames.

candy on hives 001

PLASTIC CONTAINER PLACED DIRECTLY ONTO FRAMES

The problem with this is that the bees can only access the candy from underneath the container. In the same way, when I have bought on fondant, I’ve always spread it onto a used margarine lid or similar meaning that now the bees can only get at the contents from above. This year I thought I’d try something a little different and have made up some wire support cages. They measure about 8″ x 4″ x 1/2″ and I’ve used some semi rigid mesh that I had left over from another job so there was no cost involved.

fondant platform 002

CUTTING THE CORNERS TO ALLOW BENDING INTO A BOX SHAPE.

fondant platform 008

FINISHED CAGE

fondant platform 005

CAGE WITH FONDANT IN PLACE ABOVE CROWN BOARD

I’m hoping that now the bees can get at the fondant from all angles, more of them will be able to take more of it down more quickly. I’m trying it on half of the hives to begin with and if it works, I’ll put the cages on all of them. If it doesn’t, it hasn’t cost anything other than my time and as I’ve said before, that’s something I’ve plenty of.

 

 

OCTOBER

I don’t know now the weather has been where you are, but here in North Somerset the first week in October has been remarkable. Hardly a drop of rain, what cloud there has been has quickly disappeared as soon as the sun has reared her head and the bees have been quick to take advantage. The tell-tale grey smudges on their backs evidence of the presence of Himalayan Balsam close by and their appreciation of the nectar it yields, a real bonus at this time of year. The bright yellow pollen they’re collecting bares testament to their liking for Ivy, another valuable source of energy at this time, great for feeding brood but not so good for storing. As we all know, Ivy honey is very quick to granulate and once in that state, is of very little use to our bees as they are unable, during the cold of Winter, to liquefy and so make use of it. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that Ivy honey is probably a leading contributor to Winter starvation. The reason is that, unless we’ve have been keeping a careful watch on our bees  and  observing their activities, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that a heavy colony must equate to a full larder and therefore, no additional feeding is required when sadly, the reality is, they will very soon be starving. I have once in the past, fallen into this trap and it is one that I don’t care to repeat. A quick heft of a hive during January or February suggests that all is well within, when in fact, this is very far from the truth. Sadly, a fact that will be verified when at your first inspection you are confronted by a hive full of dead bees, still with combs full of stores and weighing much the same as they did in October. I find the best answer to the question as to whether the honey that the bees are storing is going to be suitable to meet their needs, is to remove a comb which has been capped and score it with your hive tool. If after a moment the honey starts to run when the comb is gently shaken then the chances are that it will be ok. If on the other hand, it refuses to budge, the chances are that it is Ivy honey and will be of little or no use to your bees.

Well into the second week now and with the Winter feeding and Varroa treatment finished, time to reflect on the season just gone and plan for the next. It hasn’t been a brilliant year for us here at Mendip, with our queen rearing not going exactly as planned, nor our honey crop, it has to be said, but, we’ve come through it. We are finishing the season with eleven of our twelve hives populated, all, with the exception of one, with this year’s queens, and I’m already licking my lips at the prospect of next season’s harvest. It came as no surprise that we had little or no honey this year as we have pretty much confined our efforts to producing new stocks and I’m pleased with the way that we’ve finished up.

We have continued to be blessed with the good weather that accompanied the start of the month and as of yesterday, the bees were still going hell for leather harvesting what is left of this year’s bounty. Thankfully the wasp activity has begun to subside although, there are still one or two in evidence. I re-charged the traps at the weekend so hopefully, that should take care of them. There are always little jobs to be done around the apiary and this next couple of weeks will, if the weather holds, see most of them done. There are a couple of my older supers which need a little attention where the side panels have warped a little. If this is left unchecked, the gaps very soon become wide enough for unwelcome visitors to take advantage of, so, they will be first on my list. Normally, it’s just a matter of replacing the fixing nails with decent size screws. I always give the joints a liberal dose of Uni-bond before re-assembly and from memory, I haven’t had a single box which has required attention more than the once. A quick scorching with the blowlamp followed by a coat or two of Cuprinol and they’ll be back on the stock pile.

I have noticed wasps paying particular attention to the floor joint on one of the Adams feeders.

wasps and bees on leaking feeder 003

BEES AND WASPS QUICK TO DETECT LEAK IN ADAMS FEEDER

Although invisible to the naked eye, there must be some seepage through the joint which is attracting their attention. You can see how, in their desperation to get at the contents, wasps have even had a go at nibbling the woodwork. There is still syrup in the feeder at the moment so I won’t remove it immediately, instead, I have marked the area of the leak to remind me that this one requires re-caulking as and when the feeders are removed. As I said earlier, there are always little jobs to be done and for me, this is part of the fun of being a bee-keeper. I always get a sense of satisfaction when I tick off the last item on my “to do” list. I can then stand back and look at my little apiary, knowing they are all “Ship shape and Bristol fashion” and ready for whatever the Winter throws at them.

With November looming ever closer, the mouse-guards are in place and the floor slides have been removed. I’ve completed the minor repairs which I’d mentioned earlier and, making the best of the continuing good weather, I’ve been just generally giving the place a bit of a tidy up. There’s still a few frames of old, discoloured wax to be cleaned up. These will be boiled up once I’ve removed the wax for rendering. Probably my most un-favourite, if there is such a word, job around the apiary, which probably accounts for it being last on the list of “to do’s”. The reason being that I always seem to end up with my gloves and sleeves covered in a sticky mix of honey, wax and propolis. Add to this the unwanted attention from what’s left of the bees still flying who incidentally, seem to be able to detect this mixture.from miles away, and you can see why it’s always last on my list.

So there you have it, another bee-keeping year here at Mendip draws to a close. I shall continue to visit my little apiaries as the weather permits keeping a watchful eye open for any signs of unwelcome attention. I’m thinking here of Woodpeckers and Badgers in the main. Something, touch wood, that we’ve not been troubled by thus far, but there’s always a first time isn’t there. I happen to think that sites which remain un-visited for long periods are far more likely to attract unwelcome visitors that areas where there is regular human activity, just my thoughts you understand. It gives me a good excuse, if one were needed, for visiting my bees whenever the opportunity presents itself. The neighbours must wonder at my sanity when they see me, often in the midst of a gale, over-coat on, hood up and gloves on, just standing, looking at my hives, but, I’m used to that by now. In the early days, I used to find it quite embarrassing  when people would stop and stare at me in my bee suit. Now, unless they ask, I just raise my arm, give them a friendly wave and say, “I come in peace”. That’s normally enough to convince them that I pose no threat and they continue on their way. I did once catch a muffled comment about the Asylum door being left unlocked but as I said, I’ve long since stopped worrying what people think. The truth is that the meadow, in the company of my bees, is a place where I always enjoy to be, whatever the weather. I somehow feel an empathy with the contents of those little boxes, trying to imagine exactly what is going on inside and knowing that their whole little world is totally dependant on me. Quite a daunting thought and one not to be taken lightly I think.