Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Site issues

Here's a snap of how I set up the two hives on site initially. The large green area in the bottom left of the picture is a rather lovely pond which is packed full of frogs, and I've seen toads and newts on the reserve too.

The hive at the back of the picture is "hive1," the first hive. It's pretty much in one corner of the reserve. The hive on the right is where I initially put "hive2" (it's got a couple of redundant supers on it - in fact only the brood box is accessible to the bees). When I moved this hive yesterday I sited it further away from the path and nearer to hive1. Subsequent moves (if I make them within the reserve at all) will shift it further to the left of this photo and right next to the wall at the back, with the entrance facing this wall. Then it'll be far from the main path and the entrance positioning should make access right around the pond no problem, in my opinion.

Oh, and here's a picture of those toads I saw.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Queens !

Double hive inspection today. Again the weather was not too kind, and the inspection was accompanied by intermittent sun and cloud.

In hive1 the honey super comb was again slight more drawn out that I'd seen it previously, and in fact the centre couple of frames had uncapped honey, though only in the middle of each. The comb on the outer frames is still only somewhat drawn out. Things down below in the brood super and brood box looked healthy. Again I saw brood of all sorts, and many eggs too. Most exciting of all I saw the queen in the brood super. She's a big one - much longer and larger than the ones I'd seen previously in other hives. As I turned away to get the queen cage to try to mark her I lost sight of her on the frame. I looked and looked, only to look down and see her disappearing into the main brood box below. I resigned myself to returning to the inspection, but when going through the brood box I caught up with her again, this time caging her and giving her a blog of green paint on the back of the head. It's not the neatest, since I found that other bees kept mobbing her and getting in the way, but mark her I did.

Hive2 (the new hive) still has just a single brood box with 11 frames. Three of the frames were still really just foundation, with no worked out comb. Most of the frames were well worked out though. Again I saw he full range of eggs, uncapped and capped larvae, pollen and honey. And my luck was certainly in today: I saw the queen too. She's about the same size as the one in hive1, with a bright white spot on the head. I think I remember Fabiola saying she is an '09 queen so strictly she should have a green dot, but to be honest I'm pretty glad it's white since I find the white much easier to see. So, hive2 looks in good shape, though the colony is small. I'd be very surprised to get any honey out of it this year. My main hope is it just stays healthy through autumn, winter and spring.

Quite what the fate of this second hive will be I am not sure. I took the opportunity to move it a meter or so, further away from the path and so to make it less intrusive for people visiting the site. I have a final location in mind (next to a wall) which is another 1 or perhaps 2 short moves away. After I moved it I noticed the returning foragers buzzing around the old location, but they seemed to be finding their way back to the landing board eventually. I had initially tried a slightly larger move but noticed that no bees were going back into the hive so settled for a less ambitious attempt. Fingers crossed that I might be able to persuade the site manager to keep the 2 hives on site. I'd had absolutely no luck trying to find alternative sites, and am concerned that even if I do I'll be unable to move the hives a short distance since the bees will keep returning to the old site and die.

Anyhow - a VERY exciting day to have seem both queens for the first time and also to have marked the one in hive1. Not so good on the honey front, but that's no issue for me since they look pretty healthy.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


This evening was the annual Ealing beekeeper barbecue. The venue was the fabulous Perivale Wood. I took Nat along, and we went for an explore in the woods, only to be totally soaked as the heavens opened and even the thick tree foliage was not sufficient to shield us. A lovely evening all round, and I was again reminded what a nice bunch the Ealing beekeepers are.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

get orfff my land

Terrible news. This evening I rang the man who manages the nature reserve where I keep the bees to tell him about the second hive being there. The reaction was not good, but suffice to say there are reservations regarding the degree to which the bees restrict the use of the site. I've been asked to move the second hive off this site, despite having been given permission both on the phone and also in a meeting of the Camden nature reserves forum. I don't know how I am going to do this. Even is I do find another site near to where I live, if it's within a 3 mile radius of the old site then foraging bees will go back to the old site, not find the hive, and die. I am bitterly disappointed, but will see what I can do.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Bombing in the dark - new girls on site

This evening I drove up with Fabiola and Donald, her husband, to an allotment in Ealing where she keeps most of her hives. The allotment's beautiful: some of the people there keep vines and make wine; there are many beautiful vegetables and greenhouses; and we initially stopped off to see her friend Ian (another of the Ealing BeeKeeping mob I had not met before) who was sharing drinks with friends in a beautiful open-sided shed complete with chandelier. The colony itself had been kindly beefed up with several extra frames from Ian. We taped up the hive entrance, bound the floor, brood box and roof together with a few lines of cord and then carried the whole contraption rather gingerly into the car. I drove carefully back to Maida Vale with my suit still on and veil to the ready, with all the windows down.....just in case.

By the time I returned on site, struggling under the weight of a heavy hive, it was getting late. There's not much light at 9.30pm even at this time of year, and as I got beneath the trees I realised it was going to be a challenge to get things set up gently and precisely. Indeed I was right. As I juggled my knife to slice off tape and cord and moved the stack onto the waiting stand, angry bees issued forth and started bombing my smock and veil. I shoved in an extra new frame with foundation to make it 11 and shuffled the boxes around as best I could in the dark. I also set aside all the spare kit (brood box, a coupe of supers, roof, etc) on the far side of the site. Even here, though, some bees had followed me and they were clearly unhappy. These poor girls were never to make it home. On a new site and with me unable to either calm them nor explain where their new home was, attacking me was all they had left. I dallied until they at last lost interest and took their chances of finding home in the gloom.

So, after a slightly unpleasant experience the new colony is safely installed. I've decided not to leave it the full 14 days till the first inspection. After all the colony is operating on (mostly) built out comb, and I'm not too sure what's going on in there after all. Perhaps a quick peek in 7 days will do.


Another inspection. The weather was not great: temperature in the low 20s and occasional direct sunshine as the clouds jostled and chased each other across the sky. The big difference with this inspection is that I took Nat, my wife. This was mainly for her experience: she'd been impressed how keen I've become on beekeeping and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Also, she was there as photographer, smoker operator and note taker. It's very useful having spare smock, veil and gloves. Although Nat was a total novice at handling bees and had not done any courses nor read any books, I knew that she'd be useful and calm throughout. Neither of us were to be disappointed with the inspection. As a reminder, the colony is operating on a brood-and-a-half and has one honey super on.

First the honey super. The comb was little more drawn out that when I saw it during the last inspection 8 days ago: the centre frames perhaps had half-drawn out comb; the outer frames little. Not much to see there so I just pulled out one frame for Nat to see the comb and the bees working it, and we moved on to.....

...the brood super. This was full of honey (mainly capped), pollen and brood (mainly capped). All except the very outer frames had brood on. As a general note, the bees seemed a little calmer than last time, though neither inspection took place in great weather.

In the main brood box the bees were also going about their business in normal fashion. Honey, pollen and brood was present throughout. The brood was of all sorts: capped, large uncapped, smaller uncapped and lots of eggs. Great! Although I again failed to see the queen but the presence of all those eggs is good enough for me at this stage. Except that, of course, if I were able to see her I could then mark her and then make her easier to see her in future. The eggs were mainly towards the rear of the brood box with older larvae towards the front.

Nat had been snapping away on the camera throughout, but at this stage stopped to help me swap in a new stand as I lifted the brood box and floor. I'd had an old stand there before (someone else's which had been on site for years and belonged to an old WBC hive so not really quite right). My new stand looks much better since it matches the hive cosmetically and also has a landing board from which the bees can walk straight up into the hive.

The picture below is a great one to show a variety of cells in the comb. On the left is uncapped brood. Notice the white "C" shapes - they are bee larvae, and relatively well developed ones too. In the centre of the picture is capped brood. The cells look yellowish when they are capped and are every so slightly raised. Inside is capped larvae of worker bees. (Capped drone brood cells stand much higher above the comb (and are also generally located on the lower parts of the frame and in fact often on free standing comb on the bottom of the frames).) On the right hand side of the photo is capped honey, recognisable since it is very pale in colour and very flat against the comb. This picture is somewhat typical, though the frame should actually be rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise to show the brood at the bottom and honey at the top. The other slightly atypical thing to note is that there is usually some cells of pollen stored in the area between honey and brood. There seem to be empty cells in this location in this photo, so perhaps the bees have left them vacant and are in fact finding it hard to find pollen.

Overall, it seems that the bees have not expanded to rapidly outgrow the hive space as I feared they might. At this stage the brood-and-a-half seems perfectly good for them, at the moment at least. They are still using the brood super to lay, but the ratio of brood to honey there is lower than in the main brood box itself even on the centre frames and certainly on the outer frames. It's just a shame that they are not putting honey into the honey super. To be honest this doesn't really concern me, though if they did it would be a nice sign they were thriving.

The remaining work on site was to sort out the positioning for the new colony before it arrives this evening. I've chosen a place which arguably is not the best, but it's quite close to the first colony which will reduce the impact on the site as a whole. It's quite shady, though, but on balance I think it OK.

And what did Nat think? Very excited and interested by the experience, and she's offered her help for future inspections when possible. It'll be good to have a helper when more experienced hands are not available. (Speaking of which I must get some in, but more on that later.)

Costs and revenues

I'm intending on doing a hive inspection this afternoon, as well as installing the new colony this evening - very exciting - watch this space. Also, I'm planning on taking loads of photos for the record and also to make this blog more interesting. However, for now here's something completely different......

It's certainly not my intention to keep bees commercially, and as I've stated already my interest is primarily in the husbandry and nature conservation angles. However, since I've shelled out a fair amount of cash so far, I thought I should keep some tabs on how this is stacking up, and whether I might even be able to recoup my outlay.

I'm sitting on a fair amount of kit: 3 broodboxes, 7 supers, full sets of frames in all these (plus an extra set of super frames), 2 hive stands, a couple of dummy boards, 2 bee suits (tops, veils and gloves actually), 2 smokers, hive tools, some feeders, some basic honey extraction kit and some queen marking kit. I've gone for "budget" kit on nearly everything, and the total cost is still just under 800 quid. Not cheap but there's quite a bit of kit and much of it should last well.

Now, I'm OK having just shelled out this cash as a sunk cost to invest in a new and fascinating hobby. However, looking at how I can recoup these costs by selling a few jars, I thought I'd make some assumptions about over how many years to amortise costs of larger items of kit. For example, say the hives last 10 year (should be much longer, I hope), the frames 3, and so on. I'll also I assume I can sell a jar of honey for 5 quid which is perhaps unlikely since I'd probably have to go through a reseller to have any volume whatsoever. Making these assumptions, and looking at how much it costs to jar up the honey (about 50p per jar with the labels and lids included) I will need to sell around 23 jars to cover this year's costs. Of course, since the costs are amortised I'll then have to go on making similar further sales in future years to cover those future amortised costs. Alternatively, if I assume I take all costs up front, I'll need to sell 167 jars to cover my costs. Hhmmmmm......looking at the comparison of the numbers popping out from these methods implies I've put an average life of 7.25 years on my kit - perhaps not conservative but probably not totally unrealistic if I look after it. Although I'm sure I've missed out some future costs (such as disease prevention measures, food, extra kit and so on), all in all breaking even does not seem too ambitious to me, and I'll like to try to sell enough jars over the years to cover my costs just for the fun of it. However, it's clear to see that keeping bees commercially would require a very large scale operation.

Friday, 10 July 2009

New colony arriving soon

I dropped off my new hive with Fabiola today. She's very kindly been bringing on a colony for me which is currently sitting in a nuc on her allotment. This weekend she's going to swap frames with bees from the nuc with the empty ones in the hive and leave the hive to sit for a day or two. Then, on Monday evening I'll be popping over to pick it up and move it on site. It's very exciting for me, though perhaps slightly ambitious to be trying to run two colonies at this stage. I'll have two quite different colonies. The original one seems to be large and strong. The second will be initially quite small (a few frames) and I'll need to be conscious that the priority is to let the colony build up so they're in good shape for the winter. Whilst I was at her house, Fabiola showed me the 72 jars of honey she's just pulled out of 2 supers. Wow! I hadn't realised that each super could yield that much honey. I found it interesting to note that she told me it's her style to leave the bees with one brood box only during the winter and feed them well. This is similar to the advice I've heard from others, though I've also heard advice to leave the 2 brood boxes on plus a super and don't bother to feed them (much). It's all a bit confusing really, but I'm starting to get the impression that beekeeping is an art for which I will need to develop my own style. Having said that, at this stage I'd rather err on the side of being conservative and somewhat generous to the bees, and anyhow I'm not in it primarily for the honey.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Argh! There's a bee in my suit....

..get it out....argh....oh my god I'm a gonner......

Actually there WAS a bee in my suit, or so I discovered after the inspection. So, how did it go? Pretty well, like this.....

My plan for the inspection was this: open up the hive and check it out making sure the colony is OK; very little likelihood of need for extra kit in there; hopefully mark the queen (had the new pen primed and ready, together with the queen cage). I spent extra time cranking the smoker up (lots of crinkly cardboard packing at the ready, and load of thick twigs) and suited up. It was a late inspection: after a really hot week (30 plus) it had been cooler today (23) but the evening was sunny enough.

Throughout the inspection the bees seemed pretty animated and angry despite quite liberal smoking: perhaps I had them open too long, or perhaps they recognised my amateur sytle. Remember that I have one honey super (10 frames) and brood-and-a-half (12 frame brood box plus 10 frame brood super, let's call them). Top to bottom, first is the honey super. The bees were beginning to draw this out, but barely. Some were working on every frame, but only the centre one was starting to look a little like proper comb, barely. I did not even bother to take the frames out, but moved on in the inspection. Next the brood super. What a great job the bees had done there. Every face of every frame was drawn out and all filled in one way or other save the front face of the front frame. There was lots of uncapped brood, mainly in the rear frames 2-6 (counting from the back), and honey on the other frames, much of which was capped. There was less pollen that I had expected, though. The inspection was already taking a the brood box. It was fairly stuck together, but the hive tool came in very handy. Again, the front face of the front frame was unfilled (though built out) but the rest of the frames were packed. Clearly the queen had been hard at work, laying from the back first. Lots of larvae and eggs were present: capped larvae towards the rear of the hive, then uncapped further forward, then eggs towards the front. In fact frames 7-11 (again counting from the back) all had eggs, and lots of them too. These front frames I clearly saw were in their second generation of brood: the comb was darker/dirtier and I remember it being filled with capped brood last time rather than eggs - wow - this colony is really up and running!

Again I wondered about the apparent low incidence of pollen throughout. I saw some drone brood on the underside of some of the frames. I did not see any queen cells, though to be frank I could have paid more attention to this. And she, the queen, was illusive again, though spotting and marking her had been more of an aspiration than an objective. Overall the brood box was pretty gummed up and I do now see that putting 12 frames in there was perhaps a mistake - I can see that 11 frames and a dummy board may have been better / easier to manage. At least they have the extra space through that extra frame, though. I do wonder about that extra space and whether they would rather be in a double brood box since in the whole brood-and-a-half space there seem to be very few unused cells. I have the kit for this now, so it's just a matter of judging it and managing it.

How did the smoker do (see my comment on it running out in my first inspection)? Wow! It went really well. I'd stoked it up with many larger twigs and cardboard packing and it kept going right through my inspection (I had fed in the occasional twig) and in fact way afterwards so I had to put it out.

And the bee in my suit? Yes: as I unzipped my veil from my smock-top I looked down inside and there was one of the girls calmly crawling towards my neck to say hello. I flicked her off to then feel the crawl of another across the back of my neck. I am proud to say I did not freak out but ran a notepad across the area and flicked her in front of me. Phew, but no panic. I do wonder whether the smock I have is good enough - perhaps I should bite the bullet and go with the suit instead. One more incident like that and I will.

That's it! The bees are doing really well. Very prolific. Very productive. The queen still eludes me, but I am not concerned. Next inspection in a week.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Buying and building

A while since I posted....I am biding my time till my next inspection since the bees don't actually like me cracking open their home and giving them a little prod, so I think. Fair enough.

I've been buying and building, though. My new hive which I bought on eBay arrived. Pre-made and beautiful, though with only brood box, one super, floor, crown board and roof (no frames) I do wonder about the value. I also bought a set of super frames (unmade) and I've knocked those together as well as the 2 extra sets of super frames I had......lot more nails and my arm is sore again (combo of this and too much tennis has done for me, I'm afraid). I also received through the post my queen marking pen (green for '09) and my queen marking cage (sort of circular thing with a jabby underside and mesh top so I can catch her on the comb and mark her through the mesh). I'm now suffering from a bit of a kit management issue (!! how? I've only just started!?) since the eBay bought super has sliding runners rather than castellated ones...this is way too detailed for this blog - suffice to say that it's a little involved and I may well order some new runners and subbing them in on my new super box.....who would have thought it was all this complicated, eh? Anyhow - easy enough I suppose.

So, I'm looking forward to the next inspection greatly - it's been a while. Will I see the queen? Will they have filled both supers I put on? Will they be happily stocking up the nectar and pollen and stuffing that comb with larvae? Fingers crossed.....