JANUARY

Sitting here at my desk, the first thoughts as usual at this time, “where did last year go”? Before proceeding, I’ve just taken a quick look at last January’s entry, and I’d began it on more or less the same note so I’ll just leave it with “where did last year go”? and move swiftly on.

We are going into 2017 with our stocks more or less up to strength, the frenetic activity at the hive entrances on the days when the sun has managed a prolonged appearance has encouraged me to take an optimistic view of the season ahead. I told of how I had given them all a portion of fondant the week before Christmas, well, last Wednesday was particularly fine and warm. The first thing I noticed on pulling into the car park at Mendip “C”, even before climbing out of the car, was the number of flying bees in attendance. It was more like an April morning than one at the beginning of January. The bees were obviously enjoying this post Christmas bonus and took little or no notice of me as I approached. An opportunity to check the fondant level I decided, and was I glad that I did. In the couple of weeks since receiving the fondant, and I’m talking about a block about the size of a pound of butter to each hive, they had each managed to reduce it to little more than the size of a 10p piece.

It is easy to miss-interpret the signs at this time of year. This amount of activity around April time is a most welcome sight, telling us that our bees have over-Wintered successfully and that our queens have commenced laying in earnest. With Spring flowers now very much in evidence, there is no shortage of forage, so as I say, a welcome sight. However, in January and February it’s a very different matter. There is little or no forage about now, so the bees have little choice but to delve deeply into their Winter stores, stores which should be lasting them well into Spring, but which, at this rate, will be lucky to see March out. All that is needed is a cold, wet Spring, similar to those of the last couple of years and we have a disaster on our hands. It’s an easy mistake to make, miss-reading the signs, and sad to say, one I’ve made on more than one occasion. There can be no more sobering sight than, when at your first inspection, instead of the hundreds of bees that you expected to find, all busily going about their business, you are confronted with a tiny bottom poking out of each comb. Each one belonging to a bee which had starved trying in vain, to glean the last vestige of honey from the comb.

Suffice to say, by the end of the day, they had all received another portion of fondant. I shall continue to regularly monitor the fondant situation and give more whenever I think fit and strongly recommend that you do the same. If you need any encouragement, just picture all of those tiny bottoms looking up at you.

I’ve said before that in my view, an understated bonus to the hobby we all enjoy, is the lovely people that we come into contact with. People that otherwise, we would probably never even meet. I’m glad to say, last Tuesday was no exception. I gave my first talk of the year to a local ”Over 60′s Group”. I had never met any of them before, but, they made me feel so welcome that I felt like one of the family within moments. When the Chairman asked me to please move my table a little closer to the front row, I did enquire whether the reason was to make me a better target if they decided to start throwing things, but I needn’t have worried. They gave me an enthusiastic reception, and said some lovely things when I had finished. Some even laughed at my silly jokes, another bonus!  After a cup of tea and a biscuit, I bid my farewells. I meant it when I said that they made me feel like one of the family and even writing about it a week later, I get a warm feeling inside. I was just sorry I couldn’t leave them with a couple of jars of honey by way of a thankyou,. Ah well,hopefully next time.

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 were 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. Afterwards there was a light supper and it’s then, in the relaxed atmosphere that accompanies a mince pie and a sandwich that you really find out how the evening has gone. “You know, I had no idea that there that many bees in a beehive” and ” I found that bit about the waggle dance really fascinating”. Just some of the comments but, the best one for me, from the Club Secretary,”Geoff, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your talk, I’ll never look at a jar of honey in quite the same way again”. It has to be the greatest plus of being a beekeeper, that you  constantly  meet the loveliest people, not just at functions but, just going about your daily business. I’ve lost count of the number of people, and I’m talking about people who I’ve never seen before, who’ve come up to me, smiled and said, “I know you, you’re The Bee Man aren’t you”! For a while I used to feel a bit embarrassed but now it gives me quite a warm glow.

This week’s weather has been as warm as last week’s was cold. Not an ounce of movement last week, at last they’re clustered I thought, an I’m sure they were but today, I could see flying bees, in numbers from barely half way down the meadow. That’s not what you want to see at this time of year. Active bees are feeding bees and although they have had plenty of syrup, this sort of activity will quickly deplete the stocks which might have to last well into April if we have the sort of Spring that we’ve experienced the last couple of years. I took a quick look at the hives that had received fondant last week and all the bees were attacking it with gusto. An hour later saw the remaining hives each with a portion of fondant. Using the now inverted Adams feeders as ekes makes the whole operation so simple  With the fondant on the cages that I’d made last week, it’s just a case of gently lifting one edge of the feeder and placing the cage above the frames  The bees were showing interest in the cages and their cargo in seconds and checking on their progress will only take seconds and involve a minimum of disturbance.

A week before Christmas now and not much to report from the apiaries which I’ve continued to visit as the weather has permitted. A couple of bees flying from each hive on most occasions, probably defecation flights I shouldn’t wonder. I’m pretty much up to date with the jobs I had planned for the quiet season so not much to get excited about there. I have, however, acquired another six pairs of castellated runners. I first used these at the Mendip “C” last year. I have used the eleven slot spacers which places the frames at 37mm centres as opposed to the Hoffman spacing of 35mm. I recall that at one of the David Maslen talks which I attended it was stated that 37mm was the spacing of wild comb and therefore the preferred spacing as far as the bees are concerned. Seemingly, the narrower spacing of the Hoffman frames was an effort, on behalf of beekeepers, to restrict the numbers of drones that the bees produced. I subscribe to the thinking that whatever stresses our bees must be in the long run, detrimental to their well-being and anything that we can do to reduce this must be to the good. If my bees are happy to produce a few extra drones, then, who am I to deny them. So, that was my thinking behind the fitting of castellated runners at the new site and thus far, they have worked well. There is little or no propolising of the frames which with 14×12″ makes their removal and replacement much less of a chore. I did need to acquire a “J” type hive tool, a small price to pay I decided. The only problem I encountered was when I needed to introduce a queen cell in a spring type cell protector because of course, you can’t slide the frames along the runners. This was easily overcome by just bending down a couple of the castellations opposite one another allowing the frames to be slid far enough apart to allow the cage to be inserted. The metal used in the runners is soft enough to be bent just using your fingers and just as easily re-instated once the queen had emerged and the cage had been removed.

So, there we are for another year, not a good year as far as honey yield but we have got our stocks back up to strength which was my prime objective. All of the hives have had a fresh coat of Cuprinol this year, barring a couple of boxes, and they won’t hurt to wait until the Spring. A couple of the hive stands are beginning to look their age but hopefully, the repairs I’ve carried out will keep them going for another couple of years. I purchased another three eke’s. at one of the equipment sales, enough to convert the last of the hives still on standard brood to 14×12″. In addition, I now have enough nuc’s to have a proper try at The Cloake Board method of queen rearing. So, barring any unforeseen catastrophes, this will be my last time of writing until the new year and so all that remains is to thank you for joining me here at my little Mendip Apiaries and to wish all of you a Very Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year.

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.

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FINISHED CAGE

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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.