Archive for the ‘Beekeeping’ Category

“Apiculture or beekeeping is the art of managing bees with the intention of getting the maximum return from this work with the minimum of expenditure.
Bees produce swarms, queens, wax and honey.
The production of swarms and queens should be left to specialists.
The production of wax has some value, but this value is diminished by the cost of rendering.
The production of honey is the main purpose of beekeeping, one that the beekeeper pursues before everything else, because this product is valuable and because it can be weighed and priced.
Honey is an excellent food, a good remedy, the best of all sweeteners.”

From the opening chapter of “Beekeeping for All” by Abbé Warré.  Translated from the original French version of L’Apiculture Pour Tous (12th edition) by Patricia and David Heaf.

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It is a while since I last wrote a post.  Life has been a bit hectic.  I was expecting it to have been even more hectic as we are half-way through the swarming season, but I have only collected one swarm so far this year.  The rest of this post is about that swarm.

A few days ago I received that pleasant call at about 16.00 from someone in the local town to say that he had just seen a swarm of bees land in his back garden.  I had received about eight calls so far this year, but for one reason and another, I was not able to pick the bees up.  So I was determined to get this one.  In any case, I have two people in our area that wanted to start beekeeping – and who had no bees – so there was even more pressure on me to collect.  The swarm was right at the top of a pear tree – about 10-12 ft up, but the owner only had a 6ft ladder.  So here, I though was a chance to try out my new pole catching contraption which I had designed after the only swarm that I did not catch successfully last year (it was about 16ft in the air – though on the call, the woman had told me it was only about 8ft.  Height off the ground and accessibility are two really important issues when catching swarms!

Anyway, I went to the house.  It was a beautiful summer’s evening.  I made up a very “Heath Robinson” contraption from string, duck tape all on the nucleus box I use which was then hooked onto the end of a long yellow heavy-duty extension pole that painters use for painting high ceilings.  It worked a treat!   Here is a picture of it:

In one movement I swung the box up on top of the tree, pretty much right on top of the swarm.  I then secured the handle of the pole to the top of the step ladder with some more duck tape so that the pole stayed in position until it was time to swing the box back down to the ground.

I then went shopping for about an hour and waited for the bees to climb up into the box.  When I returned, most of them were in.  With a little smoke, the rest went in over about 15 minutes.  I then took the pole and lifted the box off the top of the tree.  It was much heavier!  I swung the box back to the ground and placed it on the step ladder to encourage the rest of the flying bees into the box.  Overall it was a great success.  The swarm was housed in my garage overnight before deciding who to give them to.

The next morning I rang the prison.  They were delighted.  It was only the day before had they been saying they wished to have some bees.  So I went over there with Andrew to put them in their new home.  Since our first site visit, (where we had found the old place where the vodka bees were kept), the prison staff had decided to move the site for the new apiary into the prison gardens – behind the wire.  So that is where we put the bees.  It took about an hour and I gave a short lesson at the same time.  Mick, the prison groundsman was thrilled.  The bees had finally returned to the prison.

As I left through the main gate, I joked at the guard that he now had about 30,000 new inmates, that none of them had names or passports and that quite a few were already breaking-out through the fence!  He laughed.  Little did I know how true my analysis was.

It was only yesterday did I ring Mick to find out how they were getting on.  I wanted to offer him some help on his first inspection.  He was quite low in spirit.  He had gone into the hive on Monday and only found about 100 bees in it – though they had drawn-out quite a lot of comb.  Last Saturday was a VERY warm day and I can only think that they had become uncomfortable in their new hive and found a better location.  So the swarm really had escaped.

So it is back to the drawing-board.  We must find a location where the bees want to be.  I am in favour of the old site (bees naturally seem to come back to where they have been before.  We shall have to see.  One thing for sure, though is that bees don’t like being kept prisoner.  They will definitely buzz-off if you don’t give them a good spot to make their home!  In this case, I think the site was a little exposed and possibly quite uncomfortable in the direct sunlight at about 11.00 am in the morning.  We live and learn!

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So you want a little bee like me to write a story about the current plight in the bee kingdom (or more strictly correct, queendom)?

Humans have become increasingly aware of the stresses and strains that have been placed on the bee population.  Not just the honeybee, but bumblebees and other types of bees.  There has been much written in newspapers and alarmist commentary on documentaries.

So what really is going on, you ask?

Well to put it into context, bees have been around for about 50 million years.  Humans for a lot less than that!  So, as you often say bees have “been around the block a few times!”

We have survived global warming, global cooling, global volcanic disruption and the impact of many out-of-space objects the likes you could never contemplate.  And we are still here!  Indeed some of your scientists have predicted that if there were a nuclear war, we would be one of the few creatures to survive.  I am glad though, you have decided not to press the button and test that particular theory!

The thing is, we are all connected.

We, as the worldwide population of bees, help to provide about 50% of your food.  And we continue to do this without complaint, getting on with our daily lives.  Yet you are poisoning our food (and yours) with chemicals that were never meant to be used in such concentrated force.  You are also changing the seeds that grow the food so that they become pre-laden with additional concentrated poisons.  And you are now doing this on a massive scale.  We are all connected.  Your poison is our poison is your poison.

We are used to suffering local catastrophes, but, in certain parts of the world large proportions of your domestic honey bee hives are loaded into lorries and transported across continents and then poisoned, and fed on junk-food – simply so that we can pollenate your almond groves.  The industrialisation of your food industry is one of the biggest man-made disasters of the last century.  We are all connected.  Your corporate-mega-industry-process is creating our junk food which is creating your junk-food.

We have certain problems like the mite that attacks us, makes us weak so that we are susceptible to virus attacks.  We have faced these problems before.  Your beekeeping methods help us to manage this problem.  You are also understanding other aspects of bee health and good husbandry.  We are all connected.  Our health is now dependent on your help which is dependent on you becoming more conscious and more connected with your food and your environment.

We are all connected.  Buy more honey.  Take more of an interest in we small bees.  Become a beekeeper!  You may well become addicted to a hobby of a lifetime!

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The author of the “beekeepers bible” has died aged 92.  Not a bad innings, as they say in cricket!

More at: http://www.britishbee.org.uk/news/obituaries/ted-hooper-1918-2010.shtml

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A great programme from the BBC on Heater Bees broadcast this evening.

Unfortunately, you can’t watch the whole programme any more, but there are some clips here:


And this amazing photograph:


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As is the custom at our Apiary, any swarms that we catch are called by the names of the places that we caught them in – but only for the first year.  If they get through the winter, then they are given new names – which are all virtues.  We started with Faith, Hope and Charity.  The only one of the original hives that we started with five years ago is Faith.  And she has re-queened at least twice.

So on Sunday, we set off to the Apiary to ensure there was enough food in the hives after all the recent cold weather – and to take away any hives that had not made it through the winter.  There were two such hives: Joy and Trust.  Joy went queenless in July and I did not re-queen here because we had so many hives by then!  Trust was very weak at the end of the year – and I was not surprised to find an empty hive.  However, what did surprise me was that Trust had quite bad woodpecker damage around the entrance….which will require a bit of woodwork to mend.

So we now have seven hives!  New names are in bold.  The old hives are in italics.

Unity – Probably the strongest hive of all.  Caught on the day before the wedding of the owners of the land where we caught the swarm!

Kindness – Good swarm caught in a hedge next to the local cricket pitch from a local village starting with the letter “K”.

Melody – Very black bees – possibly from the church belltower in a local town starting with the letter “M”.

Harmony – Imported from Essex two years ago.  Joy was her sister, but Joy did not get through the winter.  Oh Joy!

Faith – (Good old Faith!)  The longest surviving hive of all, having re-queened her with a thoroughbred from the West 4 years ago!)

Grace – also quite buzzy – but not as strong as Liberty.

Liberty – strong but still quite buzzy!  Could be an old queen as this was the swarm from the local golf course (starting with the letter “L”) which later threw a cast onto the same bush about a week later!  We gave the cast to a beekeeping friend – and it has also over-wintered well.

Starting the year with seven hives is a record and a nice position to be in having gone down to one hive this time two years ago.  We have a number of friends who are asking for bees, so I expect that we will be moving a few of them on as the weather gets warmer.

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This week I was asked by a local prison to help give some advice because they want to start keeping bees.  I turned up at the gate and was met by the head grounsdman who showed me around the prison’s very impressive garden.  It had large poly-tunnels of cabbages and other winter vegetables, an orchard an many and several sheds and buildings.  In spite of there being lots of land, none of it was very suitable for keeping bees because most of it was facing South West on an exposed hillside and was being constantly buffeted by  the prevailing winds.

During the conversation, it emerged that bees had been kept in the prison up until six years previously in an adjacent wood which was also owned by the prison.  I was interested, not least because bees have a way of choosing their own home – and if there had been an apiary there previously for several years, then the bees would probably have found it a suitable place to live.  So we set off to inspect the wood.

As we walked up to it, it became clear that this would be an excellent place to site the hives.  Less wind, protection from the mid-day sun, exposure to the rising sun in the East – and a large pond to keep the thirsty bees happy during the summer months.  Ideal.

As we approached the actual spot where the bees had once been kept, the groundsman pointed to a reasonably large flat piece of ground.  He lifted a small concrete slab and drew attention to a small hole underneath – about the size of a couple of shoe boxes.  He then told me the story of why the bees were no longer there:

About 6 years before, some of the prisoners had been encouraged to take up beekeeping.  The site they chose (which we were then standing on) was well away from the main prison – as you would expect.  Once the bees were installed, the wiley beekeeping  prisoners had moved aside one of the hives, lifted the concrete slab and dug a hole – into which they had hidden a few bottles of vodka.

In the warm summer evenings, they used to check out of the main prison gate in order to “inspect the bees” with the other beekeeping prisoners.   What the prison warders did not realise, initially, is that he was really off to “inspect” the cache of vodka as well!

The prisoners were eventually caught doing their “beekeeping-with-a-difference” and the hives were removed!

Oh well.  At least we might be able to get the bees back to where they once were – though this time the cache will be filled in!

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