AUGUST

I’ve continued to visit the apiary daily and pleased to say, everything seems to be moving along just fine. Had a quick look in the supers and all with the exception of four, are filling up nicely. It’s all looking very promising for the end of the month when we shall take our final crop, so it’s, fingers firmly crossed here at Mendip for the next three weeks. Barring any unforseen catastrophies, this will be the first year I’ll have taken all my nuc’s. into winter fully occupied. On previous occasions, when I’ve fed the nuc’s. I’ve used surface or frame feeders but I don’t consider either of these suitable for pre-winter feeding. There isn’t enough room for a frame feeder as this would mean reducing the frames to four and surface feeders won’t, in my opinion, hold enough syrup without being constantly refilled. You will recall, my queen mating nuc’s. are quite simply, brood chambers to which a central partition and a second entrance have been added, so what I’ve decided is to try to make a bulk feeder for them based on the Brother Adams design. Instead of a central feed post, it will have two, one positioned above each nuc. but of the two cups covering them, only one will have perforations. This will hopefully allow only the bees from one nuc. to access the empty feeder to finish up the dregs, as it were without gaining access to the other.

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                                          CUT OUT AND READY TO GO

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                          PINNED AND GLUED AND AWAITING MASTIC

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                     JUST A BIT OF TIDYING UP AND A PAINT JOB REQUIRED

I am hopeful that these will do the trick and if they don’t, I’ve only wasted a couple of hours and I always enjoy fiddling about with bits of wood so it’ll be time well spent. But if they do work, just imagine, no more messing about trying to decide which feeder to use and how best to employ it. The beauty of the Adams design is that (a), the feeder can stay on the hive in place of the crown board, and (b), you can see at a glance just how much syrup has been taken down and if required, more can be added and all without disturbing the bees. I’ll take another pic.when I’ve finished them and I’ll let you know later whether they do the job or not.

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                                                  THE FINISHED ARTICLE

Seeing that Bookers have an offer for castor sugar on at the moment. I decided to take a drive down to Weston Super Mare last Thursday with a view to stocking up for the Winter. As always, I gave my friend Liz a ring first to see if she wanted anything, the result of which saw me making my way back through Somerset’s winding roads with some two hundred kilo’s of sugar on board. It was a bit like driving a speed boat over a choppy sea and I was quite pleased when I pulled into Liz’s. She was busy with her hives in her meadow and didn’t look up as I drove past her to the house where I off loaded her share of the sugar. I guessed that she hadn’t seen me, you know what it’s like when you have your nose in one of your hives, so I drove down to where she was parked. Me, ”Hello Liz”, Liz, “Am I pleased to see you, have you got your bee suit with you”?  And so there I was, doing my “knight in shining armour” bit for the next half hour, and let me say, very pleased to do so. Liz has been such a good friend and great help to me in the past, I’m always happy when I get the chance to repay her in some small way and it didn’t end there. “I’ve got a spare queen, could you make use of her”? Liz asked. I thought immediately of my hive four which, if you remember, I had left with a couple of frames of brood at my last visit having found them queenless. Now normally, I wouldn’t accept a queen which was of unknown parentage but with Liz it’s different. I know that most of her stock originated from queens supplied by Ged Marshall, a beekeeper of repute and well known for his quality queens, especially here in the West Country. I know for a fact his stocks are heavily influenced by Buckfast strain so, how I didn’t bite her hand off there and then, I don’t know, suffice to say that an hour later I was at the meadow installing my new caged queen into hive four. They had started to draw out queen cells proving to me that they were in fact queenless and these I destroyed. In the absence of candy, I cover the end of the cage with two or three pieces of newspaper held in place with an elastic band and I take the paper about half way up the length of the cage to give the queen somewhere to shelter if the bees take exception to her.

So, that was Thursday, I shall probably take another trip to Weston next week and that will see me stocked up with sugar for this Winter. On the subject of my visit to Liz’s, If nothing else, my visit proves, if proof was necessary, the value of being a member of your local beekeeping society. I urge you to join one if you haven’t already done so, don’t just stand on the sidelines, join in and make friends. It’ll make the world of difference to your journey through beekeeping, I know it has to mine.

Saturday was the day of the Farmers Market and by nine o’clock my little stall was up and ready for business. The fact that it was still pouring with rain at ten thirty did little to dampen my spirits or those of the other stall holders, and the sun made a welcome appearance arround ten forty-five. It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning, we finished at two. We were made most welcome by all the other stall holders and met some lovely people. We opened a jar for people to have a taste and from memory, only one taster didn’t buy a jar but more important than that were the lovely comments that accompanied the tastings. As I said, a great morning and one I wouldn’t have missed in fact, I plan to attend the next two months’ markets, that is, if the honey stocks hold out.

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                              MIDSOMER NORTON FARMERS MARKET

This pic.doesn’t really do the Market justice as it was taken while some of the stalls were still going up and it was still raining, take my word for it, by mid morning the place was heaving. Not wanting to be late for my first foray into market trading I didn’t stop for breakfast so by about twelve o’clock I was starving. There was a short pause in the proceedings and I decided to have a quick look at the other stalls. Two things immediately struck me, just how friendly everyone was and the quality and diversity of the goods on offer. The sight of the meat pies on one of the stalls was just too much to resist, well. I hadn’t had any breakfast, had I!  I have to say, I can’t remember a bought pie ever tasting better. My friends, please don’t take my word for it, and the fact that there’s an excellent honey stall at one end of the Market has nothing to do with it, the next time you see a sea of green and white pergolas at the bottom of the High street, just pause for a moment, pay them a visit. You won’t be pressed into buying anything but I’ll be mighty surprised if you don’t. Everything looks so inviting, it sells itself. So, so different from your average Supermarket jaunt, and you won’t have to wonder what you are buying or where it’s come from, because it’s all guaranteed to be local produce. I’ll look forward to seeing you there, please come over and say hello. As for what you take home with you, I know you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday afternoon, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to take a look at four. They’d had a couple of days to make their new queen feel at home and I just wanted to make sure everything was in order. I don’t like to disturb the colony too soon after introducing a new queen preferring to give them a day or two to get used to each other. A quick look in the brood box showed me what I wanted to see, the bees had nibbled away the paper and freed their new queen.

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                                       QUEEN CAGE AFTER RELEASE

I didn’t bother them any further, the mood of the hive told me all I wanted to know. I’ll check for brood at my next visit but remembering the quantity and quality of the brood she left behind in the nuc.she came from, I’ll be very surprised if she disappoints.

Well, another week has come and gone and quite a busy one at that. It ended with the Village Flower Show yesterday where once again I plied my wares.

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        A COUPLE OF SHOTS OF MY FLOWER SHOW EFFORT, GOOD FUN !

Good fun, hard work but well worth the effort. Not just because we sold some honey and a few candles but of the feeling you get just by being a part of the whole event, the sun shone throughout most of the day and it reflected in the faces of the people walking around. Everyone seemed to be smiling and exchanging a cheery word with one another. Lots of interest in the stall, lots of tasting and some very nice comments. I forgot to mention, following the previous extraction, I included a couple of frames of wireless foundation with the empty frames, which the bees very kindly filled so I was able, for the first time, to include some “cut comb” and “chunk honey”. It put a little more variety on the stall and created quite a lot of interest so, well worth the effort. One lady said that she had bought a jar of my honey at the Dog Show a fortnight earlier, she said that she had never tasted anything quite like it. I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad but she said that she just had to have another jar so that was a relief, phew!  A lot of people took the trouble just to come over to just say hello, some I remembered and some I didn’t recognise at all which was lovely.  It’s some three years since I left the village and yesterday reminded me of one of the things I miss the most and that is the friendliness of the people. It’s a place where people still have time for each other, time to say, “mornin’ my dear, ‘ower you today? ”or “luvly day innit”. Lovely people, lovely place and lovely to be a part of it again.

Plenty of activity at the apiary early in the week, and with the sun shining more or less constantly since my last visit, plenty of comings and goings. I decided to have a good look at them all on Wednesday, I’d spent part of Monday helping Liz and with the weather on Tuesday, looking a little threatening, I’d decided to finish off my feeders, so Wednesday it was. First stop the nuc’s., considering how many frames of brood I had taken from each of them they have all done remarkably well, and were all pretty much back to full strength. It was noticable just how placid they all were. So, industrious, fecund and placid, these are the principal qualities I have been looking to breed into my queens, am I at last on the right track, hopefully 2015 will have the answers. Next, on to the hives, pleased to say, all looking pretty good, the new queen in four has taken up her duties with gusto, lucky old Gusto did I hear you say. Had they been as busy as their activity suggested, well. a quick look below the crown boards revealed that they had. Frame upon frame of capped  honey which the weight of the supers confirmed. I left feeling well satisfied having placed eight above clearer boards, and looking forward to the next couple of days when hopefully, I’d be able to put my new extractor through it’s paces once again.

And so it was. Four days on and I’ve just put the extractor to bed once again, for the last time this year I should imagine. I’m really quite pleased with this extractor, being of lightweight plastic, it’s not too heavy to lug around, which bearing in mind, that it currently resides in my spare bedroom, and the fact that I’m not getting any younger, is quite a plus. It will accommodate nine standard frames or six Manley at a time which is ample for my needs. With hindsight, I wish I’d got the motorised version as winding by hand can be a bit of a chore but motor kits are available so I think I’ll probably treat myself before next season.

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                            EXTRACTOR ACCEPTS SIX MANLEY FRAMES

I’m pleased with this last crop, it seems a lot darker than the earlier one, some of which incidentally, has already started to set. This sugests to me, that the bees must have located some Rape somewhere on their travels although there hasn’t been much in evidence locally. I’ve been surprised at how many people prefer their honey set so it isn’t a problem. It will hopefully enable me to produce some creamed honey so it could be a blessing in disguise. I haven’t started jarring this new lot yet and it’ll be interesting to see how it compares colourwise.

A week on and I’ve jarred about half of the last crop, had to stop as stupidly, I’d run out of labels. Incidentally, there is no difference in the colour, jarred and with the light behind them, they appear identical, although this latest batch has a slightly stronger aroma I’m thinking. The evening following the extracting, the supers went back on the hives. The bees seem very placid at this time, probably worn out from all that foraging. It’s a real pleasure to work them when they’re like this and they were up into the empty supers before I could get the roofs back on. There doesn’t seem to be much around for them to forage on at the moment and I think maybe they’re getting hungry. The good thing about that is that they will have the empty supers cleaned up in no time enabling them to be removed away to store and freeing up the hives for their Apiguard treatment. I always try to get the supers back on as late in the day as possible because at this time of year, the bees don’t seem to need much encouragement to start robbing each other and the smell of fresh honey does seem to stimulate them in this direction. On this occasion it hadn’t worked however, from half way down the meadow on the day following I could see that a large number of them were engaged in just that. It’s quite simple to spot  bees engaged in robbing. The first you notice is quite a large swarm gathered around the hive but unlike a swarm, they don’t seem to be milling around, rather bobbing up and down and all facing the hive entrance. It’s almost as though they are queuing, waiting their chance to dash past the guards and execute their dastardly plan. As usual, they always pick on the weakest, there is no compassion in nature, it’s real dog eat dog stuff. Nuc’s. one and two seemed in the main to be the focus of their attentions, there also seemed to be quite a gathering around the entrance to hive five.

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                                           ENTRANCE TO HIVE FIVE

Quite strange really as nuc’s. three and four are no more than five feet away from the other two and yet they seemed to be being totally ignored. So, restrict the entrances to one bee space and hope for rain.

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                 NUC.1 THE FOLLOWING DAY, ENTRANCE RESTRICTED

Whether rain dilutes the smell of the honey or what, I don’t know, but in my experience, they seldom seem to resume after a good downpour. And so it was, it rained most of that night and the following day when I visited the meadow, all was back to normal. I should have restricted the entrances straight after putting the supers back on the hives but as I said, they all seemed so placid and intent on working the empties that I let them fool me, sneaky little beggars.

I’ve continued to visit the apiary more or less daily since the supers went back on, weather permitting. The weather seems to have taken a bit of a nose-dive this last week with temperatures dipping well into single figures most nights. Not a bad thing as I want the bees to clean out the supers and I figured this cooler weather would encourage them to do just that. Imagine my surprise then, when I took a quick look a couple of days ago to find not only have they not emptied the supers but are attempting to refill them with several frames already filled and capped. I hadn’t planned to extract again this season but I need to get the supers off and get on with my varroa treatment and winter feeding. To be effective, both these activities need a degree of warmth so I like to get started no later than the last week in August. Nine is giving me cause for concern once again, the activity at the hive entrance suggests that once again they are without a queen. I could be wrong but they seem to be behaving in that sort of aimless manner which always to me, suggests queen problems. Also, you’ll have noticed, when you tap the side of a queenright hive, the pitch from within rises and then subsides fairly quickly but when they are queenless,  the pitch will rise and stay that way for some minutes. Well, that’s how nine are behaving again. For some reason, they don’t seem to be able to raise and keep a queen for any length of time. They’ve had brood from other colonies from which they’ve drawn out queen cells and a caged ripe cell from another all of which have hatched out and begun to lay. Then after three or four weeks, queenless again. So where to go from here, they are very strong in bees and despite their queen problems, have managed to fill more than half the brood box with stores so I don’t want to lose them. The choice as I see it, is either to unite them to one of the other hives or to my spare nuc. I’ll sleep on it, I’m tied up with a local Fete tomorrow so won’t be able to do much at the meadow but I’m thinking that Sunday, at the latest, sort out nine and get the empty supers off. The weather forcast isn’t too promising but that’s the plan.

I mentioned previously that having Adam’s feeders has allowed me to more or less dispense with eke’s as all I do now when dispensing Apiguard or the like, is to turn the feeder over. This works well with hives but won’t with the queen mating nuc’s. because of course, it would allow the bees to access each other’s nuc. I hadn’t really thought about this before as this is the first year that I will have gone into winter with all my nuc’s. populated, but not a problem, just glad I thought of it before I came to put the Apiguard on. Just partition a couple of the redundant ekes and job done.

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                      A QUICK COAT OF CUPRINOL AND IT’S, JOB DONE

Well, Saturday’s Fete came and went without a hitch. I won’t bore you with more pic’s of the stand, suffice to say, the sun shone all day and from the conversations I had and the abundance of smiling faces all around, I would say that everyone enjoyed themselves. I certainly did and once again, met some very nice people. I even had an offer of another apiary site which I shall be following up shortly and have been invited to bring the honey stall to another local function. So, as I said, a very pleasant afternoon and well worth the effort.

The Fete finished around five o’clock and the sun was still shining when I got back to the meadow to off load. As I said earlier, the forecast for Sunday and for the rest of the week for that matter, wasn’t great so I decided to make the most of the oportunity afforded by the sunshine and deal with nine. A quick look in the nuc. and I decided the right course of action was to unite them to nine. The nuc. was filled wall to wall with brood and stores so it was a simple matter to transfer the whole lot into the centre of a spare brood box and unite the two boxes. A couple of sheets of news paper with a few slits in between the boxes usually insures the operation goes smoothly and the whole thing took little more than ten minutes.

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         BOXES SEPERATED WITH A COUPLE OF SHEETS OF NEWSPAPER

The weather forecast suggests that Wednesday might be the best day next week so all being well, that will be the day to check nine and remove the empty supers.

The forecasters are still saying that Wednesday is going to be the best day of the week and so far, they have been right. Apart from Saturday, in this neck of the woods at least, the weather has been pretty dismal, yesterday, Bank Holiday Monday was the first time for ages that I haven’t visited the meadow. Instead, I spent the best part of the day making sugar syrup, probably one of the most tedious jobs, in my mind, that we have to involve ourselves in. I only have three decent size saucepans and although they produce 25lb at a time between them, the job seems to take forever and of course, sods law being what it is, I always manage to splash some on the hob or the units which all adds to the fun.

As with every task we embark upon around the apiary, we are at the mercy of the weather and as so very often is the case, around the middle of August and on into September, the weather takes a turn for the worst. If the temperature drops too low, this can present a real problem as to be effective, both the administration of Apiguard and the feeding of syrup need a degree of warmth. Although both are essential to the well being of our bees, if I had to sacrifice one it would be the Varroa treatment. This based on the understanding that without sufficient stores our bees will surely perish whilst, even with quite high Varroa levels present, they are still in with a good chance of seeing the Winter through bearing in mind that come November, they will recieve a dousing of Oxalic acid. So, with the weather forecast by no means certain for the next few weeks, I shall start my feeding on Wednesday and will commence my Apiguard when I’m satisfied that all the hives have sufficient stores.

As is usual for this time of year, wasps are beginning to make their presence felt around the apiary so all the entrance blocks have been fitted and the entrances restricted. Every hive now has a wasp trap ( jam jar half filled with water and strawbery jam with holes punched in the lid ) adjacent to the entrance. At best wasps are a real nuisance but at worst can totally decimate a colony leaving it not only traumatised but so short of stores that it will surely struggle in all but the mildest of Winters so we ignore them at our peril.

Mid-morning Wednesday and I was back at the meadow. The forecasters had been right and there were the makings of a very pleasant day in evidence. I had managed about 125lbs.of syrup which I had with me. If you recall, following the last lot of extracting, I had returned the empty supers to the hives for the bees to clean them up prior to storing them away for the Winter. The plan for the day was to remove all of the supers, give the brood chambers their pre-winter health check and ascertain just how much stores they had accumulated, then return in the evening and start feeding accordingly. Well, that was the plan and as we all know by now, in beekeeping, things seldom if ever go to plan. The bees always seem to have one more trick up their sleeves and today was to be no different. By the time I got to the second hive it was obvious what the bees had been up to. I had expected find the supers clean and ready to be stored away but as usual, the bees had other ideas, instead of taking the residue honey from the supers down into the brood box, they had begun to refill them, to the extent that a few of the frames were now fully capped. I could maybe understand this if the brood boxes had been full of stores but with one exception, they were more or less empty. So, where to go from here, I considered extracting the honey, diluting it and feeding it back to the bees but then I would be left with supers too wet to store, precisely the reason why they were given back to the bees in the first place. No point in leaving the supers on as any honey stored in them would be too far away from the cluster to be of any use to the bees and I needed to get sufficient stores into the brood boxes to see the bees through the winter and if I wasn’t careful, I’d be running out of time. 

Pondering on the dilema of the supers and their contents it had briefly slipped my mind as to the other reason for my visit to the apiary. This was, of course, to check on nine and to see whether my efforts at uniting had been successful. The sight of “confetti” strewn around the entrance of the hive told me that at least they had chewed their way through the newspaper and upon opening the hive, the sight of “her majesty” crawling sedately over the combs being attended on with due defference by her new subjects confirmed that success. Just a case now of re-arranging the frames so that all the stores and brood were in the bottom box with the queen before removing the other box to store. In the fulness of time, this will recieve an eke to convert it to 14 x 12″ but that will be a job for later. Right now, organising the feeding and sorting out the supers was the order of the day. I had decided the only course of action open to me was to stack the supers somewhere adjacent to the apiary and let the bees clean them up. I couldn’t take them to the top of the meadow as the orchard  and the allotments are used by others and I didn’t want to alarm anyone by drawing the bees up there so as I said, a couple of stacks somewhere closer to the hives was my decision and this I set about doing. The stacks were set slightly above the ground and spaced so as to allow the bees free access. I didn’t have any spare roofs so each stack was topped off with a crown board and a couple of bin liners held in place with a few drawing pins. I am aware of the arguements against allowing the bees free access to the supers in this way, i.e.,robbing and the transmision of desease etc. but in my experience, once you commence your feeding program the bees need very little encouragement to start robbing each other and as far as transmitting desease between the colonies, I am happy that there are no other apiaries within a five mile radius of mine and am certain that my bees are at least as healthy as the next, so I have few concerns in that direction. Anyway, when I left, there were two stacks of supers and later that evening when I returned, all the hives received their first feed. I forgot to mention, I also had with me, when I left, two supers filled with capped frames the fate of which I shall decide upon later. The mating nuc’s. will get their syrup at my next visit. I will just add, all the hive entrances had been restricted to one beespace before I left.

All that was on Wednesday and it was Friday before I had got round to making another batch of syrup so it was early evening when I returned to the meadow. Removing supers and general disruption around the apiary does tend to get the bees somewhat wound up and I was glad to see that on my return, they had considerably quietened down. They had managed to inflict a dozen or so stings upon me on Wednesday and I had no wish for a repeat performance, so as I said, I was pleased to see that things were approaching normality. A quick check of the feeders revealed all was moving along nicely. Number five had completely emptied their feeder and was re-filled. All the others were topped up and the nuc’s.received theirs. It was the first time I’d used my modified Adams feeders and I was delighted to see the bees up in the feeders before I left.

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    OBVIOUSLY THE BEES IN THE RIGHT-HAND NUC WERE THE HUNGRIEST

 

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