NOVEMBER

Sunday, 2nd. today and up until yesterday the good weather has persisted and the bees have been taking full advantage of it. The wasps seem to have made an unwelcome re-appearance so I’ve re-filled some of the traps. One thing I have noticed is that the bees seem to be retiring earlier. Yesterday, especially the afternoon, was quite pleasant for the time of year, even if the breeze was a bit cutting and, as usual, the bees were busily going about their buzzy business. When I took a walk down the meadow about four o’clock there wasn’t a bee to be seen although it was still light and hadn’t got noticably colder. They can obviously sense the onset of winter and are seemingly programmed to respond irrespective of conditions. I showed you the pic’s. of the eke filled with comb and this has also been repeated in one of the nucs. Every available space in all ot the hives has been filled with stores. I know that hindsight is a valuable thing but if only it didn’t come after the event. If I had anticipated that the good weather would persist for as long as it has I would have put off feeding for a month and given the bees back a couple of supers which I’m sure would have yielded a bonus crop. In fact, a friend who regularly leaves supers on above his crown boards of his hives as a means of resolving his storage problems has told me that most of them are now filled with honey. Ah well, wonderful thing hindsight.

Well into the second week now and really not too much to report. The weather has taken a turn-down over the last ten days or so, and the bees have responded accordingly. Can’t blame them really, I mean, given the chance to stay in the dry with all your mates or to venture out to get soaked, or even worse, blown into the next county, I know which I’d chose, how about you. I did my first candle-making demonstration last Friday for a local Horticultural Society and this was followed by a Christmas Fayre in a village a couple of miles away, on the Saturday. As this was to be my first talk on candle-making I was, to say the least, nervous. One kind lady was obliging enough to come out of the audience and assist me at the end of my talk which rounded the evening off quite nicely. Whether she was genuinely interested or just thought I needed someone to hold my hand (to stop it shaking), I don’t know but as I said, it did provide a nice touch to the evening and she now has a pair of Mendip Apiary candles as reminder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                  A SMALL SOUVENIR OF THE EVENING

Took a couple of pic’s. to give you an idea of what we got up to. They’re scarcer than hens teeth, these candles, so keep an eye on the Antiques Roadshow about fifty years from now.

 candle demo 008

 candle demo 003

             PURE BEESWAX CANDLES, SOME ROLLED AND A COUPLE MOULDED

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

                         A FEW ROLLED FROM PRE-FORMED SHEETS

I did have a couple of pic’s of me on stage but I decided not to include them. Whether it was the camera angle or the lense I don’t know, but for some inexplicable reason, my stomach looked twice the size that it really is, so I decided not to inflict them upon you.

As you might imagine, the Saturday morning following was a bit frenitic as I had first to collect some bits and pieces from the previous evening. All of this before making my way to the hall where the Fayre was to be held, and all before nine-thirty. The fact that it was bucketing down didn’t help but we made it. Having the event held indoors was a blessing and thankfully, the rain didn’t prevent the village hall from being filled for most of the day. They breed ‘em tough in Pensford.

I had dressed a few packages of honey pots, honey and drizzlers,(I don’t know what else to call them) etc. in the hope that they might appeal to anyone shopping for an unusual Christmas gift and pleased to say, they generated quite a lot of interest. 

Pensford and candle talk 018

                               GET YOUR ‘ONEY BASKET ‘ERE DARLIN’

Pensford and candle talk 003

                    LOTS OF STALLS AND PLENTY OF LOVELY ITEMS ON OFFER

Only one more Farmers Market between now and Christmas and then I can hang up my Stall-holders apron. I knew at the outset that that we’d never make our fortunes and as I expected, we’re a tiny bit out of pocket, but considering that we’ve paid for our stall, our banner and a few other bits and pieces, I don’t think we’ve done too badly. And of course, it is our first year, anyway, I’ve really enjoyed the experience. Would I recommend it, would I do it again, you bet I would. I’m already looking forward to next year and trying some new ideas that I’ve had milling around inside my head for a while. You’ve just got to keep reminding yourself of the Market Trader’s motto, “This time next year Rodders”. See you soon.

It’s the middle of the month now and as expected, there’s not been a lot happening at the meadow. Yesterday, Saturday was a pretty dismal day as most of the previous week had been but during the week I had managed to finish the third eke for the new site and I wanted to give it a coat of Cuprinol before storing it away and, a fifteen minute gap in the cloud allowed me to do just that.

pheasant & eke 009

                                       FINISHED AND READY TO GO

These eke’s.are nearly forty pounds to buy but cost barely ten to make, even if, as I have in this case, you purchase new timber. Well worth a go even if, like mine, your woodworking skills are a bit rusty. As I keep telling myself, at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to sit on the mantlepiece does it.

I usually have a wander around the allotments before leaving the meadow, just to see the gates are shut and nothing valuable has been left laying about. No point in inviting trouble is there. I stopped by one of the Raspberry bushes which amazingly, still had quite an amount of fruit on it. I was just wondering whether the fruit was still edible and should I give it a try when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, an enormous cock pheasant landed at my feet. I don’t know which of us was more surprised, probably me. He eyed me up and down a couple of times, decided that, in my current state, I posed no threat at all and proceeded to root around for his lunch.

pheasant & eke 003

pheasant & eke 004

                             SO, THAT’S WHERE THE SWEETCORN WENT                                                                                                                                                   He was truly a magnificent specimen and he new it. I can imagine all the ladies in the surrounding meadows queuing for his favours come Spring. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that close to anything like that before. Even allowing me to walk along side him for a while, at one point, no more than a few feet away, he seemed completely unconcerned. He did however, pause a couple of times, just long enough to fix me, somewhat disapprovingly, with his beady stare.  He even, somewhat condecendingly, I thought, picked up the Raspberry that I threw to him before tossing it distainfully away seconds later. A magical moment, one to remember, one more chapter in the life of Mendip Apiary.

With Christmas looming ever closer and with it the prospect of another year of bee keeping here at Mendip, I’ve been thinking increasingly of the new site and what still needs to be done in order that it will be ready in time. As I said earlier, I’ve finished the brood boxes and having taken advantage of Thornes’ sale, I now have the new roofs and floors, however, checking through the rest of the hive parts here at Mendip, it became quickly obvious that we were going to be sadly short of supers. There always seem to be plenty of supers, especially seeing them all stacked upon each other in the closed season, as they are now. A quick head count, revealed that this was no longer the case. For the first few years there were always more than enough hive parts to go around but I suppose, as the apiary has grown, these have gradually dwindled as they have been called into permanent use. I like to have at least three supers per hive and currently have enough to meet that requirement at the meadow apiary but I’m going to have to come up with at least another nine from somewhere for the new site. A quick thumb through the Thornes’ catalogue revealed that the cost of new frames and foundation alone was going to be in the region of three hundred pounds and the new supers would more than double that figure. I always knew that there would obviously be an additional cost in setting up the new site but I suppose it didn’t occur just how much until I saw the figures actually written down before me. So, how to bring the cost down to a more manageable figure. I had only costed for basic foundation so no savings to be made there and although Manley frames are more expensive than standard, I wanted to stick with them as I think the additional cost more than outweighs the fiddling about with spacers etc. and also, having a mixture of frame types is a real pain. So, all that is left then with which to effect these savings are the supers, but how. There’s another sale of seconds in January Thornes’ inform me so that’s a possible solution, but in the mean time, why not have a go at making a couple I decided. If it works, there’s your saving I told myself, and if not, you’ve lost nothing by having a go have you. I’ve always shied away from attempting to make hive bodies in the past because of the extensive tooling required and after taking into account the cost of Western Red Cedar, there didn’t look to be much of a saving to be had. Well, it is said that necessity is the mother of invention and with that thought in mind, I began looking at the other options.

I suppose the first consideration is, what exactly are the requirements of a hive body, or in this case, a super. Well, obviously the overall dimensions need to be the same as a conventional super. The structure must be weather proof and allow for ease of handling and in my case, probably more importantly, be fairly simple to construct. Armed with all the relevant measurements, my next step, as with most of my little projects, was a trip to my local B&Q. Again, they failed to disappoint and I was soon on my way home with a couple of lengths of 150x22mm sawn timber. Enough for two carcases I figured and for a cost little in excess of fifteen pounds. I would have prefered a decent hardwood but in this instance, cost is a prime consideration so, B&Q’s finest it had to be. I have used this timber quite extensively in the past and am sure the secret to a lasting job is, as with most things, in the preparation. I try to pay particular attention to all the joints making them as tight as possible and they all get a liberal coating of a good waterproof wood glue before being pinned or screwed together. The finished article then receives at least two coats of Cuprinol before being pressed into use. Done this way, and receiving a further annual coat of preservative has certainly worked for me here at Mendip and I’m hopeful the outcome will be the same for the new supers. The fact is, if they only last a few years, they’ll have bought me some time and if, as I anticipate, the overall cost is less than ten pounds each, then they’ll be well worth the effort.

The timber purchased is within 1mm of the required width so no cutting needed there. So the first step then is to cut the four sides, that is two of 460mm and two of 460mm less 44mm (2 x 22mm), this being the thickness of the timber. When assembled this gives us a frame 460mm square. The two short pieces then need to be rebated, the bottom edge to provide the necessary bee space and the top edge to accommodate the frame lugs.

super 007

                         SHORT SIDES WITH REBATES TOP AND BOTTOM

The internal dimensions of the box between the shorter sides are some 50mm less than the long sides and this additional thickness to the sides I’ve achieved by fitting two additional strips of timber, which as luck would have it, I already had. This timber wasn’t quite thick enough so I used some strips of 6mm ply, left over from my earlier feeder making attempts, to achieve the required thickness.

super 006

 super 005                                               SPACER STRIPS FITTED

The rebates need to reflect the 6mm strips. If all of this seems overly complicated it’s because of the way I’ve described it. The facts are that the first one took about three hours to make and the second, just under two. I knew that I’d struggle to describe the making of these things so I’ve included a number of pic’s which hopefully will illuminate my feeble attempts at DIY super production.

super 003

                                  SIDES AND SPACING STRIPS IN PLACE

SUPER 2 004

                                                       HANDLES FITTED

 SUPER 2 003

                                 FIRST COAT OF CUPRINOL APPLIED

The final stage is to fit a couple of handles on the sides, I’ve used pieces of 25mm square strip, and to give the finished article a couple of coats of cuprinol. I’m really quite pleased with the results of my labour and with an overall cost of about ten pounds including the frame runners I feel that I’ve brought the cost of the new apiary to a more acceptable level.

 SUPER 2 001

                                        AND THEN THERE WERE TWO

 What a lovely note to finish November on. The weather here in North Somerset for the last couple of days has been more reminescent of late Spring than of winter. After the morning mist has lifted, the sun has blessed us with it’s presence for the rest of the day and the accompanying breeze has meant that T shirts and shorts have been for many, the order of the day. I personally stopped short of wearing shorts believing that the people of Clutton have probably enough to contend with without me exposing them to the contents of my trousers, and I’m talking legs, just in case you were becoming alarmed. So to the bees, I decided to take advantage of the sun and get my mouse guards fitted and from halfway down the meadow I could see the bees, like me, were taking full advantage of the sunshine. There were bees issuing in numbers from every hive and surprisingly, a number of them were returning with pollen although, goodness knows where they were getting it from. Now, whether it was the sun on their backs or just the chance to stretch their wings I can only guess, but they were in remarkably good humour. Even the few that crawled over my hands while I was fitting the guards, showed absolutely no signs of aggression.

winter bees 004                                  ONE OF THE QUEEN MATING NUCS.

 winter bees 001

                                                    BUSY, BUSY BEES

So, there we are, plenty of activity from all but one of the mating nucs. I know all four nuc’s. went into Winter with similar numbers and with plenty of stores so, maybe they are just late risers, I do hope so as I’ve already found homes for all four queens come Spring. Realistically I suppose, if one of the nucs. does fail to over-winter, it’s only nature’s way, having spotted a weakness, of taking them out of the breeding cycle. So, if the object of the exercise is to breed the best quality queens, then she will have assisted us in that aim.