Thursday, 25 June 2009

Another super

I put the new (empty) hive on site today, though all blocked up to prevent any insect invaders of any sort. It's just easier having kit on site to prevent my house being completely taken over with beekeeping kit and paraphernalia. As it is I still have the bits to make up 20 more super-frames sitting on the drawers in my bedroom, and I have no idea where the big vat for honey extraction (and associated smaller tubs) will find a home. That's two hives I have on site now, one of which is currently empty but I hope to populate soon.

Anyhow, whilst on site I lost my bottle and, despite it being a mere 4 days since I last inspected the hive, my concern regarding whether the bees had enough room got the better of me. Without taking any frames out for inspection, I whacked the roof and crownboard off, put on a queen extractor and another new super full of frames, and closed up the hive again. So I'm now running with "brood-and-a-half" for the queen, with a further single super above the queen excluder. From the very quick glance I got I certainly saw that there were very many bees in the brood super, but I could not see much built out comb on the frames in that box. I'm hoping this super-addition is not premature, but I'm not sure what harm it can do. It gives me the comfort that the bees have lots of space for now as they build up their colony. I plan not to open the hive up again till a weekend after next.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hive building and good-bye bees

I managed to knock together most of my new hive today. Brood box (tick), super (tick), second super (tick), floor (tick), roof (tick), 11 frames for the brood box (tick). Let me tell you: that's a LOT of nails. In fact I'll tell you how many.......errrrr....(*thinks) 48 per box and 11 per frame and say, dunno, 19 for the floor, and, errrrr....., 60 for the roof (yes really) so that's (*opens Excel).....that's 344 nails in total with another 20 frames (for the supers) still to do which is another 220 nails. That all gives a total of 564 in a hive. My arm hurts.

The swarm on the big tree in the communal garden left today. I'd checked it shortly before lunch and it was still there and looked pretty calm. I went in to make myself a sandwich and came back and they had gone! Little tykes. I have no idea where they went. I got straight on my bike and went round the local streets with my eyes looking up, but saw nothing. Good-bye bees. And good luck.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Another bee day

My new hive and "stuff" arrived this morning. It's a whole kit, the same as the one I got already got, plus it includes some honey extraction kit (vats and sieves and more stuff). So I've not got two sets of suit/veils/gloves too. Cool.

It was the late afternoon when I had the chance to crack open the many boxes and start assembling the flat-packs into a hive. I was hammering on the work-bench in the back garden and just completing the brood box when a head popped over the hedge to the communal garden and said "The bees have swarmed. They're in the big tree." And indeed they were. I may already have mentioned that in the communal garden there are two colonies of feral bees: one in next door's chimney and one in a London plane tree several doors down. It was the latter which had swarmed. Great! I though - this is my chance - what a wonderful coincidence just as I am constructing the hive. But no, the swarm was way too high up: it sat deliciously but frustratingly about 20 feet above my head as I stared up at the outer branches of the tree. It wasn't even low enough to tempt me into some overly elaborate and dangerous ladder-pogo manouever. I checked on it several times into the evening, and I believe it's still there as I write this late into the night. Boo-hoo.

I had also popped over in the afternoon to see Graham, another local beekeeper who keeps bees in one of the other communal gardens in the area. I was supposed to be popping round to join him in his hive inspection, but due to some spectacular mismanagement of time on my part I only managed to drag him back to my place for a quick peek at the swarm. I hope to join him in an inspection in a week or so.

I am anxious to get my hive constructed since the more I think about it the more concerned I have become about my own colony and the space they have. To have filled that brood box in 12 days with comb filled with nectar, eggs, larvae and pollen was quite impressive. Of course there will also be more bees emerging in the next week. Was that extra super I left them really enough?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Midsummer: The first inspection!

I was unable to hold it off longer. I was pretty sure the bees were in good health and saw no point in waiting strictly till the 14th day of the new colony before cracking them open for a peek. And what a peek it was.

Day 12 inspection: the first of the new colony, in the new hive, on the new site. Sunny intervals. About 20 Celsius. I cranked up the smoker and approached the hive. Bees were coming and going as they had been for the past week. What would it be like inside?

I need not have worried. The inspection passed with little incident, save for my delight at how healthy and vigorous the bees seemed: they had been very hard at work. The three quarters of a gallon of feed I left them had been completely consumed. The 12 frame brood box was packed with bees and drawn comb. Only the frame face next to the entrance was not completely worked out into comb. It's worth mentioning at this point that I set the hive up as "warm way," i.e. with the frames parallel to the entrance. The couple of frames at either end the comb were full of nectar. In fact in the occasional place there was capped honey. From about the 5th to the 10th frames (counting from the back of the hive where I had started inspecting) there were wonderful signs of a well functioning colony. I saw tiny eggs, small uncapped larvae, large uncapped larvae and capped larvae. Each of these brood frames had been set up by the bees with a typical rainbow shaped configuration, with an arc of nectar around the top, then an arc of pollen (of various colours, mostly darkish), then towards the bottom an ellipse of brood. Beautiful. Bees were on every frame: not covering each frame even in the centre of the hive, but certainly this is a vigorous colony.

So, since the bees were filing the brood chamber I had to take some action. With only 2 spare supers and their frames to play with, I decided to put a super on. Now, I decided NOT to put the queen excluder in between brood body and super, so I'm now already running with a brood-and-a-half colony. I decided this on the basis that all evidence from this hive, from the previous hive the queen was in, and from the swarm itself, pointed to this queen being prolific and her progeny being numerous and healthy. I wonder whether running with a double brood hive might be the thing to do, but I did not have the kit to hand. I've have some on order for a couple of weeks and additionally bought a brood box and super on eBay last night - but too late. So, quite what I do if I find that a brood-and-a-half is a little pinchy for them, I do not know. Certainly I'm guessing that running with brood-plus-two-halves will just make inspections a pain and likely to result in a lot of brace comb being built in all the wrong places. Hhhmmmm - I've just started and already I have more questions than answers. I'll pop the questions to that lovely lot at Ealing very soon, and pick Margaret's brain when she pops on site. So, back on track with this blog: I shut the hive up and sat back, very happy indeed. Shame I'll not be able to open it up for another 7 days! It's worth mentioning that I did not put any more food in, and have no plans to do so in the near future.

Ann tells me the queen is unmarked, and she knows this since we have a good idea from which hive the swarm issued. I did not see the queen during the inspection, but it was not particularly my aim to search for her. Also, given the excellent signs of laying, I satisfied myself that a quick inspection was what was required, and certainly more important that having me spend ages with the hive open whilst I hunted for her. The hive was open for less than 10 minutes in total.

A point of interest re behaviour: during the inspection some bees had left the hive to form a group on the outside front and side of the hive. They were still there for 15minutes after the inspection ended, but they slowly made their way inside after that.

And to close, a few of general points regarding how I found the inspection. The height of the hive was definitely too low to be comfortable. Despite the hive being on a stand, on top of a slab, on top of bricks, I still found myself either bending over too far to inspect the frames, or lifting the frames a little further clear of the hive than I was happy with. This is food for thought, and I'll investigate somehow getting another "lift" in the stack. Also, it was not obvious where the second hive on the site would go. The site does not make it trivial to balance the needs for privacy from overlooking buildings, dryness from overhanging trees, warmth from the sun, and not putting a hive too close to adjacent private gardens. More food for thought. Finally, I noticed that the smoker went out before I finished the inspection. I'll try to pay closer attention to this during the next inspection, perhaps keeping a spare little stack of twigs handy and remembering to pump the bellows occasionally.

So there's a lot to think about, but I'm delighted that the colony looks so very well. I am (and I hereby promise everyone that this will be the only use of the pun in this blog) buzzing!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Bee concert at Wigmore Hall

The Bee themed classical concert at Wigmore Hall was fun today. I took along one of my daughters, 6 year old Alice, and I think she enjoyed it too. Ealing beekeepers swelled the audience, having been invited following the concert's partner events at Perivale Wood where we had run some bee-education sessions for kids.

I discussed with the experienced beekeepers there about opening the hive up tomorrow - I am very excited. In fact Ann very kindly later eMailed me a little check list of things to take note of when I do the inspection. Fingers crossed!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Rude health, I hope

I've been up to the hive quite a few times in the past week, and apart from that first day when I checked them I must say that the bees seem in rude health. On visits, I've always seen lots of them coming and going, and on occassion when I crouch down and peer into the dark beyond the entrance slit I can see bees packed right down around the bottom of every frame. It really was quite a sizeable swarm. I can't wait to get in there and see what they have been up to. It's a good guess that they have been very busy drawing out comb, and I'm also hopeful that the queen is laying in there since foraging bees have been returning with baskets of pollen on their back legs. Weather permitting, I intend to open up the hive at the weekend. Sure, this is slightly before the "14 days" I originally intended, but I'm guessing they are pretty happy in there and won't abscond if I take a 5minute peek to see how they are. I am very excited to find out.
(FYI: this is the day I created the blog - everything prior I hashed in around now)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Capital Growth

Since the site where I have the hive is owned by the council I've been asked to register it as a food-growing site. I filled in the application today to register the site as such, and thought I might as well blog some of the things I wrote about the site and the bees . . .

The site is designated as a nature reserve, owned by the council and managed by a wildlife trust. It is a smallish site which is overhung by several large trees. The site's history is unclear, but there's a story that there used to be an old coach-house there, and that Pink Floyd used to live there. This, surely, is urban myth. The centre of the site is taken up by a huge copper beech and there is a man-made pond with frogs and newts. Until bees were kept there recently, the site was little used and rarely opened by anyone. The site is ideal as a small nature reserve, and its relatively obsurity from without make it a good discrete place to home honey bees. Ideally the site would be a little sunnier for the bees so the hives could be as dry as possible, but this need is balanced with the need to keep the site discrete.

Keeping bees in Maida Vale will primarily be of enormous benefit to the local flora. Honey bees visit flowers to gather nectar and pollen which are taken back to the hive. The nectar is processed and stored in the hive as honey. The pollen, being protein rich, is also stored as a foodstuff primarily for the young larvae. As the bees move from flower to flower to forage they spread pollen from one plant to another and hence pollinate the plants. Honey bees can forage over three miles from their hive. With honey bee numbers diminishing alarmingly across the country, it's important to help conserve the species which is responsible for 80% of all insect pollination worldwide. Food providing plants which are common in London and are pollinated by honey bees include apple, cherry, hazel, pear, plum, blackberry, cucumber, onion, squash, sunflower, blueberry, cranberry, corriander, carrot, strawberry, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, brussel sprout, turnip, chestnut and quince to name but a few. It is estimated that one third of our diet is directly dependant on the relationship between flowers and their pollination by bees.

Of course the bees also produce honey. This important foodstuff is used as winter stores since although many bees work themselves to death in the summer, many thousand will survive through the winter so the colony can be up and running again early the following year. Beekeepers can carefully remove some of this honey, though this must be balanced with the need of the bees. It is my intention to give the honey to family, friends and colleagues.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Starting to buzz

When I visited the site at 2pm today the weather was a little better and in fact the sun was shining. Better still, the bees were flying! Many were buzzing around the entrance; in and out though I was puzzled to see they were focussing their activity on the left side of the entrance. I suppose they’re still orientating themselves at this stage. I was pleasantly surprised by just how many bees I saw. Signs are good, though it’s going to seem like a long wait till the first inspection when I’ll be able to start assessing whether the queen’s present and up and running with egg laying.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


I popped in to see the bees around 6pm today. It’s been a showery and cold day and the bees did not seem well. A couple came out and in the entrance, but when I approached I saw a number on the ground around the hive moving very slowly. I resisted the temptation to pick them up and onto the landing board – best die if they are not well. But perhaps this is normal for a new colony on a new site as some struggle to orientate and find the entrance. I’m not sure. It’s not been good weather for bees. Fingers crossed for next time.
The other news was that Ann called me this evening to see how things went with transferring the bees from box to hive. It was nice of her to be concerned. However, she did tell me that it was really best to leave the first inspection for a full two weeks to let the new colony do their thing. It’s going to seem like a long time.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Into the hive

The start of a new colony. Or at least I hope so if the queen made it. It was a cold and occasionally drizzly morning. I opened the hive up and removed the old bottle, which by now was empty of bees, from the brood body. I’m not sure all the bees from the bottle had stayed in the hive, but there were still quite a few there. Next it was time to open up the sheet and the cardboard box. Despite what Ann had predicted, there was quite a loud buzz coming from inside the box, and in fact some bees had found a route out of box and sheet and were starting to emerge already. The flaps on the box were heavy with bees and I had to bang hard on each to knock them down. When I opened the box I was again surprised by just how many bees there were: coating every surface, with the bottom the box being many bees deep. I juggled the box into an inverted position and jolted and brushed as I could to get them into hive in the space vacated by the bottle. It seemed difficult to manage the tight folds of the box’s flaps, the brush and the inverted orientation all at the same time. With still a fair number of bees on the inside surfaces of the box, I decided to get the remaining brood frames into the hive. I dropped each in and they sake slowly down as the bees vacated the space. Next there followed more juggling and jolting of the box and some brushing of the outside of the hive to get as many bees as possible to the entrance and out of the cold. I left the box near the front of the hive to let the rest climb in, and took a seat to survey my work. I’d only been stung once, though how the blighter got inside my lower sleeve when I wore both smock and gloves I do not know. I’d left an inverted contact feeder full of sugar syrup on top of the crown board, though I now hope for some decent weather to get them foraging out properly. I intend to look in on the hive again in the next few days, but wait a full seven days before opening it up.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Catching MY swarm

I was just finishing a bee education session for kids at Perivale Wood when Ann, one of Ealing Beekeepers more experienced members, got off her mobile phone to say there was a swarm in a nearby allotment. We quickly made our way there to find that the swarm was a large one in the branches of a plum tree. It was at a good height, and with some minimal snipping we were able to then shake the majority of the bees into a cardboard box which we then wrapped in a sheet and set aside. There were quite a few remaining bees so we improvised on a second container by fashioning a large old plastic bottle with a folding side door and a grass stopper. We brushed what we could of the bees in this and tied around some old and rather holey plastic bags. There were still some bees left on the tree, and in fact the number there grew slowly. I do hope we managed to get the queen into either the box or bottle.
On the way to Maida Vale to put the bees on site, some had slowly made their was out of the bag, but with the windows and sunroof open there were only five or so buzzing around my head when I parked. I left the containers of bees on site and was back again shortly after with my hive. On Ann’s advice, I decided to leave the sheeted box until tomorrow, but I removed several frames and put the old bottle of bees into the brood body next to the other frames after slightly opening the improvised folding door. I put the roof on, put the sheeted box on the roof, put another roof on top of that to keep it dry in the inclement weather, and ended with a rather odd looking temporary tower.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Bee teaching for kids

It's been a great bee experience week. During lunchtimes this week I've been up at Perivale Wood teaching kids about bees. It's a rather long story how it all happened: Wigmore Hall classical music people had decided their funding pitch to get music into schools needed spicing up so partnered with Ealing Beekeepers. Not an obvious match, for sure, but the result was great: five lots of 2 hour sessions with groups of up to 30 kids going round Perivale Woods and learning a little about bees. Parties split into 3 groups and I was stationed at the wild tree colony doing my talk to each of the groups in turn. Sure, I've only just started out as a beekeeper myself, but I think I managed to hold my own against most of the 10 year olds. I really enjoyed it, and not least because I got some good vibes from some excited kids, and also got some very positive direct feedback from the other beekeepers there: thanks guys, it was great to hear the feedback. And lovely too to see the Wood - a wonderful and very extensive nature reserve. I'm looking forward to the classical music concert at Wigmore Hall in a few weeks time.