June was quite an eventful month here at Mendip, what with the nuc’s. all populated and headed by my new queens, the appearance of the Roe deer fawn. My unsuccessful attempts to prise some of their precious stores away from my little flying friends and the queen in hive two managing to get into the supers, which is something I’m still scratching my head about. So as I said, quite an eventful month and these were some of the thoughts that accompanied me as I prepared for this month’s first visit. There were several things on the agenda for today. Although we should be coming to the end of the season as far as swarming is concerned, I like to continue my weekly checks of the brood chambers until the end of the month. Tying this in with a handful of icing sugar to each, kills two birds with one stone as it were. I also wanted to restore some sort of order to hive two before the supers became completely over-run with brood. So, where to start, I decided that as two was going to occupy most of today’s visit I would start at the other end of the apiary and work my way back. Nine and eight looking pretty good, I didn’t disturb the brood chamber of seven, other than a sprinkling of icing sugar, as the last time I looked, they were busy superceding if you recall although thankfully, that hasn’t prevented them working on filling their supers. Six, three supers but none fully capped and so to five and at last, one super ready for extraction and it was to get better. Four had, with the exception of a couple of frames, finished capping two of their supers. Three had recently re-queened and were busy building up their brood so it was on to two who thankfully, had at last had decided to co-operate. Maybe their concience had at last got the better of them for all the loving care I’ve showered upon them over the last few weeks, but I doubt it. If you recall, because of the brood in two of the supers, I had left them without a queen excluder while I decided on the next course of action. I was hoping that the queen would return to the brood chamber of her own accord. I removed the top four supers as gently as I could and went carefully through them, no sign of a queen which was good news because as I said earlier, I wanted to get the excluder back on as soon as possible. Instead, probably two thirds of the frames were now capped. The absence of fresh brood in the supers which she had started to lay up and the fact that the bees had started to raise a queen cell on one, suggested that she had in fact returned downstairs. I decided to leave it there, replacing the four supers as carefully as I could, they had suffered more than their fair share of interferance from me in the last few days. There was still a little work to be done but for now, enough. I did however, replace the queen excluder below the fourth super before leaving.
The following day, yesterday, as usual, saw me back at the meadow, I had before leaving the previous day, placed clearer boards below the filled supers and by the time I arrived, they had done their job. There was only a handful of bees remaining and I think I had the boxes off the hives and into the car before most of them even knew that I was there. I won’t bore you any further except to say, by the time I had finished seiving through, I had five supers filled with capped frames and one with the part filled ones and the frames containing brood. This one I gave to eight who I feel is still in need of a little help. So, there we are, barring any unforseen catastrophies, the weekend should see us with the first of this season’s honey.
I know from the feedback I’ve received how much interest the mention of the baby deer and the pictures in last month’s blog raised, especially with the younger members of the beekeeping fraternity and I’ve been asked what is the latest news. Well, I have to say that since those pictures were taken there have been no sightings of the fawn or it’s mother, so I’m posting a couple more pic’s. from that day which you might find interesting
I’M GETTING BIGGER EVERY DAY
IF I CAN’T SEE YOU, YOU CAN’T SEE ME.
That’s not to say that they are no longer in the meadow but with the grass as high as it now is and knowing how adept deer are at keeping a low profile, it’s hardly surprising that they haven’t been seen. When I say the grass is high, I mean high. In places it comes above your waist in fact at the moment it’s more remeniscent of the Sarengeti than our Somerset meadow. I’m told there have even been sightings of a small herd of Wildebeest at the southern end but I have to say, that as of this moment, they are largely unconfirmed. Within the next few days the meadow will be cut so this may well be the last mention of the deer for a while. When they do return, and I’m sure that they will, I’ll hopefully have my camera with me and take some more pictures for you.
Yesterday at last, provided what we’ve waiting for here at Mendip, this season’s first honey crop. Not a lot, but a start. From the four supers that I brought from the meadow yesterday, we managed to extract seventy four pounds of honey.
FOUR SUPERS. PLUS A FEW BROAD BEENS HASTILY BUNDLED INTO THE CAR
The new extractor which I’d purchased didn’t arrive until after lunch and I needed some honey for today to fulfil a promise. As you can probably imagine, yesterday afternoon and evening were a bit hectic, to say the least.
NEW EXTRACTOR LOADED AND READY FOR ACTION
It meant pressing the kitchen into action and the whole set-up looked a bit Heath- Robinson, but we got it done and thankfully, I was able to deliver the finished article this morning.
A PRETTY SIGHT AND WELL WORTH THE EFFORT
So there we are, the 2014 season is at last under way. I can now return the empty supers to the bees for them hopefully to re-fill. If they do decide to co-operate and if they continue to fill the fifteen or so that they are at this moment working on then we look set for a pretty good crop this year. I shall say no more as I don’t want to tempt fate, lets just say, I’ve got my fingers firmly crossed.
Put the empty supers back on the hives yesterday, the bees must have been pleased to have them back as they didn’t bother to sting me even once. Bottled up some more honey when I got home, always a pleasing sight, rows of jars, all filled with lovely honey.
ALWAYS A SATISFYING SIGHT
I don’t know what the bees have been foraging on so far this season but the honey is far lighter in colour than I can remember it from previous years, but the taste and aroma, they just have to be sampled to be believed. Now, I’m not a great honey lover, but this season’s crop, even to me, seems quite exceptional. Maybe having waited so long for it has contributed to that but it really does taste good.
A week has passed since I removed the honey crop. I’ve not troubled them too much since then as they seem to be managing well without my interferance. A couple of days ago I did have a look at the nuc’s. and happy to report, they are building up really well. Nuc. two was lagging a bit behind the others so I gave them a frame of brood from one who along with four and five had brood wall to wall. A quick look at three showed an empty queen cell and their mood told me they now had a queen in residence. Also, the copious amounts of pollen being taken in sugested that all was now heading in the right direction. I don’t like to poke about too much with a new colony preferring to wait a couple of weeks or at least, until I’m fairly sure that the new queen has settled in and is laying. Having boxed three back up I moved back to four and five who as I said earlier, were solid with brood and stores. I decided on a frame from each, one to eight and one to seven who had recently superceded. The empty frames of drawn comb from the hive were given back to the nuc’s. for them to busy themselves with.
This is the first season that I’ve had all my nuc’s. populated and so far, they’ve certainly lived up to my expectations. They’ve provided me with all the spare brood that I’ve needed and I’m sure will continue to do so. It takes only a few minutes to check on their progress as most of what you need to know can be seen by just removing the crown boards and by the activity at the entrance’s. I’m sure that now three has a new queen she will quickly catch up with the others. It should be a simple matter to monitor the progress of all of them just by comparing one with the other. Bearing in mind, the over-riding purpose of this excercise is the production of top quality queens, any nuc. which is seen to be lagging behind can quickly and simply be re-queened from one of the others. That is the plan and only time will tell whether it will work, let us say that at the moment, I’m quietly optomistic.
With the weather forecast for the weekend not too promising, I decided on Thursday to open them up and see how things had progressed since my last visit. Pleased to say, they were all looking pretty good. Plenty of evidence that the queens were doing their job and supers filling up nicely. No more signs in two that the queen had found her way back into the supers and most of the brood that she had deposited on her last visit had now hatched and found it’s way down into the brood chamber. The patches where the brood had been were quickly being filled with honey which was good to see in fact, all the supers were looking as good as I can ever remember seeing them. The supers which had been returned to the hives following last week’s extractions were now in the process of being capped again which is amazing when you consider they have only had them back for little over a week. It is impossible to imagine just how much effort these tiny creatures must put in to fill a super, especially when you consider just how small each droplet of nectar is that they bring back to the hive. Even more so when we consider that the honey we see is only in the region of 20% by volume of the nectar which has been collected, the other 80% being water and having been fanned off by the bees. It’s no wonder that they sometimes get a little agitated when they see us helping ourselves to their hard won larder is it. On the evidence of this visit, I’m sure, barring any unforseen catastrophies, that we shall be extracting again this coming weekend, which if it happens, will be great as, for the first time, I’m taking a stall in this year’s village flower show. I was a bit dubious when I was first approached, but now that I’ve agreed, I’m really quite looking forward to it. Whatever the outcome it’ll be something new won’t it. Before leaving the apiary, I treated each hive to another dose of icing sugar which as you can imagine, pleased them all no end, although on this occasion, they did manage to refrain from stinging me. Maybe they’re beginning to realise that I don’t do this just to annoy them, anyway, pleased to say, little or no evidence of Varroa at this visit.
The meadow has now been cut so I don’t suppose we shall see the Roe deer and her offspring for a while.
I STILL PREFER THE MEADOW IN IT’S WILD STATE
I must say, seeing it like this, I still prefer it in it’s wild state. To those of you who reported seeing the deer being stalked through the long grass by a large cat, I can now put your minds at rest, it wasn’t a black and white leopard or cougar as had been sugested, it was in fact, Ted, our resident rat catcher.
JUST TED GOING ABOUT HIS BUSINESS
I’m really pleased with the way the bees in hive one have set about occupying their new brood chamber. They have so far, managed to draw out about half of the new foundation which, when you consider the size of it compared with standard brood, is pretty good going for the short time they’ve had it. The queen has been busy laying it up and it won’t be long before all the remaining brood in the old box has hatched and joined her upstairs. So, one’s looking pretty good, so much so that I decided to get on with converting another box to extended brood.
FIRST A FRAME OF 3 1/2″ TIMBER
TWO OPPOSITE SIDES EXTENDED TO FIT FLUSHLY ON BOX
JUST A COAT OF CUPRINOL REQUIRED
FINISHED EXCEPT FOR A THIN BEAD OF MASTIC BETWEEN THE BOXES.
If things carry on this way, I see no reason why we shouldn’t finish the year with half the colonies on 12 x 14″ brood. As the pic’s. show, making the eke is simplicity itself and the cost, especially if compared with buying an extended brood chamber, is next to nothing. Persuading the bees to occupy the new box would seem not to be a problem and I am certain that the advantages of having all the colonies on extended brood will far outweigh the additional costs or inconveniences encountered.
Spent a little time with the bees yesterday morning. The meadow was going to be finished off sometime round about lunch time, and the tractor buzzing back and forth tossing the grass about does seem to upset them a bit so I wanted to finish before the farmer appeared. The main purpose of yesterday’s visit was to assess the honey situation with a view to maybe extracting again this weekend. Unless something unforseen showed up I didn’t intend to disturb the brood boxes so I had little doubt that I’d be well finished in time for the farmer and his tractor. And that proved to be the case, the activity in the supers suggested that I’d be busy with the extractor sometime after the weekend so I’m thinking I’ll probably leave extraction until the following one. You’ll recall I’d left hive one with the new extended brood box sitting above the old one and I was eager to see if the brood upon hatching had joined the queen in the new box as apart from anything else, I want the brood box to convert to extended brood, and also, I new the bees would, if the box was left in situe for any length of time, start filling the empty comb with stores, and I want them to concentrate on filling their supers. Glad to say, the brood had all hatched and about 90% was now in the top box. A simple matter then to quietly remove the old brood box and queen excluder and drop the new one onto the floor in it’s place. The mood of the bees suggested that they weren’t aware that I’d been anywhere near them which was good. I brushed the remaining bees from the old box and removed it to the shed. In the course of the next couple of days I’ll examine the contents keeping the good clean combs with stores in and discarding any that are dark or damaged. The brood box will then be scraped clean of any wax or propolis before getting a thorough scouring with the blow lamp and a fresh coat of Cuprinol. It’ll then be ready for the new eke when I get around to making it. I did have a quick look at nine before leaving and the small patch of new brood told me the new queen was taking things in the right direction. She’s a good looking girl and I’ve high hopes that when she gets into her stride, nine will become a very nice colony. So, there we are, everything in the garden is, at least for the moment, looking quite rosey. As I prepared to leave, the farmer and his tractor entered the meadow so for once, I had got my timing right. Well, it had to happen eventually, didn’t it ?
FARMER TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE LOVELY WEATHER
It’s been the best part of a week since last we spoke and I have to say, here at Mendip it’s been pretty hectic. Saturday last we had an Apiary meeting at Liz’s where the guest expert, David Charles, took the chair. The heavens opened throughout the morning but it was decided to go ahead and to have the meeting inside Liz’s spacious conservatory. David is a very easy man to listen to and soon had everyone in “the palm of his hand” as he told us of earlier times and showed us his collection of queen marking tools from times past. Then suddenly, as if by magic, the rain stopped and the sun appeared. I think we were so interested in what David was talking about that nobody noticed at first but that was the signal to don our suits and go visit the bees. If I tell you the theme was to be “finding and marking queens” and that after going through two hives and two nuc’s. we hadn’t seen a single queen, you will have some idea if you didn’t already have one, just what “Sods law” is all about. It didn’t matter, it was a most enjoyable afternoon, accompanied by the usual friendly banter and finished off with a very nice tea so, thanks Liz.
Anyway, back to Mendip where the nuc’s. especially, have been moving on at an alarming rate. In the week since my last visit when I had removed frames of brood from three of them, they all now once again had wall to wall brood and stores, even two and three, so more frames of brood to hives eight and nine who now thankfully, are really showing signs of benefitting from the help from the help they’ve received. Whilst pleasing to see the progress of the nuc’s. the main purpose of my visit on this occasion, was to assess the honey situation. The next three Saturdays will see us with a stall at a dog show, a Farmer’s Market and the local village Flower Show and I was becoming a concerned that we might not have anything to exhibit. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, when I left the apiary yesterday, there were five supers sitting on a clearer board. I have every hope that later today will see my kitchen once again transformed into a honey production line, I’ll let you know.
Just returning to the previous paragraph for a moment, apart from the guest “experts” who are always interesting, the meetings are, equally important in my view, most helpful in other ways. Because we beekeepers in the main, work with our bees alone, it is easy to assume, that when things aren’t going to plan or when some minor catastrophy occurs the cause is always something we have or haven’t done, or something obvious that we must have missed. I know from my own experience, that this can at times, take the shine off what we are seeking to achieve. Talking with people who share the same interests, if nothing else, gives us an oportunity to discuss our problems and the comment most often heard will be,” I had that happen in my apiary too” often followed by, “yes, so did I” and suddenly you realize that you’re not the only one “in the boat” as it were, and that we all at times experience problems for which there seems no logical cause. Often then you will hear, “when I had that happen at mine I tried X, or Y, and that solved it for me” and you go away thinking, maybe the next time, if there is one, I’ll give that a try. What I’m trying to say here is, join your local society, get involved and make friends, it’ll make the world of difference to your beekeeping adventure, I know it has to mine.
I finished extracting our second batch of this year’s honey on Wednesday and by close of play on Thursday, most of it had been jarred up and labled. Another good crop, at least by my standards, and I’m well pleased. There is a great deal of activity in the apiary at this time and all looks very promising for this season’s final extraction later next month. The empty supers are back on the hives and I shall be disturbing them all as little as possible over the next few weeks apart from eight and nine who will continue to get help from the nuc’s. as required.
Moving to a smaller house a couple of years ago means that I now have to comandeer the kitchen for my honey extraction etc. which, although somewhat cramped for space, is not too bad once you get into some sort of routine. On the plus side, at least the kettle is always handy. So, my extracting now invariably follows the same pattern. The extractor takes centre stage on the middle of the kitchen floor and I begin winding. At intervals the contents are emptied through a series of filters into 15lb buckets to await their turn before being emptied into what I call my setlement tank which stands on the draining board. This holds about 50lb of honey and it is from here I jar my honey when I’m happy it’s running nice and clear. Quite a simple operation you’ll agree and almost impossible to get wrong wouldn’t you say. Well, that’s what I thought until yesterday when I made such a stupid mistake, I’m still wondering where I was whan the brain cells were handed out. I’ll explain, at the end of each extracting session all the kit is stripped down, washed and stored in my spare bedroom until it is needed again. Following the last session it goes back to the meadow. Not exactly rocket science it it, so how did I manage to re-assemble the honey valve on the settlement tank with the flat side facing outwards and why didn’t I notice it before I started filling it with honey. Even the fact that I couldn’t stop it dripping didn’t provide me the vital clue. I convinced myself that the O ring must be wearing out and making a mental note to pick up a couple next time I was at Beebitz, I retired for the night. Yesterday morning saw me sat in front of the tank, first jar in hand. I’d had my first cup of coffee and was ready to go. A couple of hours should see this lot out of the way I thought as I opened the valve. Wrong ! Within seconds I had honey coming at me from all directions, by the time I had closed the valve, there was honey dripping off of the kitchen unit onto the floor and there was more on me than there was anywhere near the jar. So, that was the story of yesterday, by the time I’d emptied the tank so that I could sort out the valve and finished cleaning up the mess in the kitchen, the morning was over. By mid afternoon I decided I’d seen enough honey for one day and made my way to the meadow. I still can’t believe how stupid I was and as if I needed any reminding, the kitchen floor’s still sticky despite having had two good going overs. Anyway, all of that was yesterday and today the sun is once again shining, over to the meadow now for an hour or so to finish working on my stall
DON’T LAUGH, BEST I COULD MANAGE IN THE TIME I HAD
in time for Saturday’s dog show then back to finish off the jarring and make a few more candles. Just a small plea before I go, if any of you’ve got a few spare brain cells going begging, I could promise them a good home and one thing you can be sure of, they’ll never be over worked.
Managed to make it to the Dog Show yesterday with about 10 minutes to spare, flat tyre decided yesterday was the best time to make an appearance but as I said, we made it.
ROLL UP. ROLL UP, GET YOUR ‘ONEY ‘ERE LUV.
The stall attracted quite a lot of interest and we sold some honey and a few candles, that was, the few that decided not to melt in the sun. I did attach an umberella to one of the baskets of candles with a bit of Blu-tack to provide a little shade but the whole lot became airborne when the first gentle breeze hit us. It has to be said, the experience did little to enhance their overall appearance or their saleability although one very kind lady did purchase a pair stating, it would provide her dinner guests with something to talk about while they were waiting for the main course. I think she was trying to say in the nicest possible way, was that they would be trying to guess what they were supposed to be. Ah well, got The Farmers Market next week and I’m really looking forward to that. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy yesterday, I did, it was fun and I’d certainly do it again. Maybe next time I’ll try some honey flavoured with “Doggy Bic’s” or some “Chappie” flavoured candles, we’ll see.
I’ve continued to visit the meadow regularly since we took the last batch of honey and pleased to say, the bees seem to have forgiven me for stealing their hard won stores and are back to ignoring me. I try not to interfere with them unduly on these visits and try to keep my movements as slow and methodical as I can. Unless I suspect a problem I don’t normally get any closer than about three or four feet and they seem to tolerate this quite happily. In fact, I’m sure if I could speak fluent bee, I’d hear one of them say,”don’t worry girls, it’s only that silly old *** again, just ignore him and he’ll go away”, and they’re probably right. So, just walking down the line of hives and observing the activity at the entrances gives me a pretty good idea of what is going on inside. The exception to this is hive four which faces the hedge which runs along behind the apiary. None of the hives face the same way as their neighbour but for some reason that I can’t bring to mind, four was set to face away from the meadow. The bees seemed quite happy with this arrangement at the time so there was no reason to change it, however, what has happened since then is that the hedge, despite regular pruning, has gradually moved closer to the hives. This in itself isn’t a problem as it does provide excellent cover from the prevailing westerlies and also shade from about 3pm. onwards. What it does however, is prevent me from looking closely at the entrance of hive four unless I’m suitably protected which I don’t normally bother with when I’m just going about my normal daily routine. So, this was the reason I had failed to notice that the activity at the entrance of four had changed. You will have observed that, when there is a flow on the bees all seem to respond in the same way. They appear to act with only one thing on their minds and that is to get out of the hive as quickly as possible and to return in the same manner. I’ve had them fly straight into me before now, so intent are they on the task in hand. I’m sure that were they able, they would push me out of the way.
So, a colony behaving differently from it’s neighbours needs investigating and I should have noticed this with four earlier. I had committed the cardinal sin of assuming that everything was ok. when in truth, they were anything but. The activity I had seen from behind the hive and mistaken for normal, was in fact, bees just milling around at the hive entrance. When I see bees behaving in this manner, that is to say, acting as if with no real purpose, this says one thing to me, THIS COLONY IS QUEENLESS ! and so it was. Back at the apiary and this time, suited up I wasted no time going through four. All activity in the supers seemed to have ceased since my last visit and no young brood below confirmed my fears. They had been without a queen for at least a week but where had she gone. There were no queen cells, not even a play cup, so they hadn’t swarmed, so where was she. She must have stopped laying some time before she dissapeared as the bees hadn’t even attempted to produce emergency queen cells. So, what to do, in my opinion, new queens produced this late in the season don’t really have that long to build a colony strong enough to over winter, especially if the weather is particularly poor. So, decision time. I decided to buy a little time and gave them a couple of frames of young brood to go on with. These were provided by the nuc’s. which thankfully, were again expanding at a prodigious rate and happy to be given a little more space. I may well decide to unite four if they don’t look to be building up at a sufficient rate but for the moment, I’ll just be keeping a watchful eye on them.