Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Presentation to LWT

I gave a presentation on honey bees to the Camden Nature Reserves Forum last night, which is part of London Wildlife Trust. I had drafted in John, the Chairman of North London Beekeepers, to give me a hand. He was awesome - they loved him: very articulate and credible. As part of the presentation I mentioned the Nature Reserve site my bees are on and talked a little about my beekeeping experiences there. The whole presentation seemed to go down very well and we got some good feedback.

Whether this will be enough to allow me to stay on the site remains to be seen. Officially I have to get off "as soon as possible" (see my plaintive posts below) even though it seems that most people want the bees to stay. For the time being I'm fudging / ignoring the issue, in the hope that ostrich-like behaviour will make it go away. It's not my normal style since I usually prefer to deal with things honestly and head on, but frankly I think I've been mistreated and if someone calls me to definitively say "get off" then I can and will move the bees off the my mother-in-law's house, although the 1 hour round trip is not ideal. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Immersion observation hive

Check out this for an observation hive.

.... a man standing unprotected in a cage full of bees whilst inspecting frames and talking about bees to visitors. Cool!

Perhaps I'll leave replicating this feat till I'm a little more experienced, though!

Background pikkie

Oh - a quick post on the background picture in the blog since I had to work out how to get it on the blog and I though it might be of general interest.

I took the picture in the back garden a month ago when some of the local feral colonies were foraging on some sunflowers my kids had planted.

To edit the blog background I loaded the picture onto some webspace I have elsewhere, and then followed the instructions I found in http://blogforumpost.blogspot.com/2007/10/insert-background-image-for-blogger.html

Like most of these things, it is pretty easy . . . when you know how!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Inspection with Lois

I took my sister along for the inspection today. It was her first time with bees and she was thrilled. It was another successful inspection: the main objective being to check honey stores. I'm very happy with how the bees are doing, like this . . .

General comment: sunny, 22 degrees, bees out flying well. There's a real warm-snap / "indian summer" at the moment - beautiful, and it's definitely been good for the bees. But...hhmm...this site really is too shady even on a sunny day! The ivy is well in bloom and there is lots on site (picture is a week or so old - flowers are actually more out now). Having said that I only saw a few bees on ivy.

Removed varroa floors to give better ventilation. Hive1 floor had fair accumulation of dead mites again. Eeeek. But the Apiguard treatment is over now, so that's that.

Stores 5.5 super frames, 5 brood frames ~= 41.5 lb. A bit more than last time - great!
Saw few capped brood, more uncapped brood, quite a bit more pollen than I had seen before. Saw a tiny number of eggs, did not look too hard. Did not see queen. Bees calm.

Stores 0.5 super frames, 5.5 brood frames ~= 29 lb. A lot more than last time - phew - looking much better now.
Saw fair bit of capped brood, some uncapped (some very young). Did not see any eggs, but did not look too closely. Capped brood still in middle of frames, but seemed less than before. Did not see queen.
Did I notice the smell of wee from the hive? - supposedly the ivy honey has this smell and I like to think that was it.

I'm very happy with stores in both hives. I saw lots more pollen stored in the frames than I have on previous inspections - they are stocking up for winter. I also saw lots of returning foragers with bright orange pollen on their legs. I don't want to feed them yet since I want them to work hard on foraging ivy. I aim to feed them in the next week, and at the same time swap the positions of brood and super in each hive to put the latter on the bottom. This way, as they reduce their population and their usage of the hive in winter they will retreat into the upper brood box and leave the super nice and clear. In theory. A quick quote re Autumn feeding from "Bees at the Bottom of the Garden" by Alan Campion: "In Britain the suggested time [to feed] is the last half of September, with the proviso that feeding should be finished by the first week in October. There is good reason for this: if bees are fed sugar syrup later in the year they will have insufficient time to evaporate the excess water, and the syrup will be stored uncapped and could ferment, causing digestive troubles to the bees in the depth of winter." There you have it!

Monday, 21 September 2009


I went to the club apiary on Saturday. I took my two eldest children and they had the opportunity to look through a hive. Pat, the club chairman, very kindly stepped up to open his hive for them. They really enjoyed getting up close and personal with frames of bees, and it was a pleasure for me to see it. I took them to the club apiary to do this, rather than showing them mine, since they have extra bee suits there, and also because of the large number of experienced keepers.

I also popped the question about my large number of dead varroa on my boards under the hive. The most experienced beeks were actually a little shocked about the number of mites I had, but confirmed that I should not extend the length of Apiguard treatment, but just proceed in the knowledge that I've knocked down the mite infestations substantially, and I should crack on with an oxalic acid treatment in December. It's a relief to hear them say this, but worrying nonetheless that they think the infestation is unusually high. I'm sure I've not made any heinous errors in my beekeeping - have I?

Friday, 18 September 2009

The site

I thought it was time for a few pictures of the Nature Reserve on which I keep the bees (for now). It's small, but lovely, and is a real urban site, nestling in between two large residential houses on the border of Maida Vale and St John's Wood in London.

Central to the site is a tremendous Copper Beech. Beech is a tree which is known for greatly shading out plants below it, so the nature reserve is rather dominated by the tree and its effects. I think the muscly, smooth bark is wonderful.
Another lovely feature of the nature reserve is an ancient mulberry tree. These trees have a tendency to fall prostrate and in fact often self root as this one has done. Examining this tree it's not at all clear which bits of the tree reach into the ground for nutrients. It looks very much like a dead log at one end, but the rich canopy and beautiful and bountiful fruit (a little past it in these September pictures) show the vigour of the old plant. Mulberry trees can often look ancient even when they are not: a popular method of propagating is to chop a branch off and plant it and the resulting trees can look ancient even after a few years. However, the old irons seen in the picture (notice that the tree has now grown around the irons) indicate that this tree was tended a long time ago. It's unclear to me what the history of the site is, but the presence of this mulberry tree seems to say that once the grounds were part of a house.


I took advantage of the slightly improved weather to inspect the hives. Temperature ~23degrees and sunny. Lots of bees out flying and crowding the reduced entrance spaces. The main aim was to check the stores, since I'm aiming to feed the bees after the Apiguard treatment is over (next week). Also, I wanted to check the varroa floors to see how the Apiguard is working.

Hive 1 is the big one on the right in the picture. Stores: 12 super faces, ie18lb, 7.5 brood faces, ie18lb, total 36lb (bit less than last time). So still lots of stores, particularly in the super. However, VERY few larvae or eggs! I did see a smattering of capped and uncapped larvae on that centre most same frame, but no eggs until I pulled out that frame again on a second pass in desperation, and not many of those either. I did not see the queen but those few eggs put my mind to rest slightly. Also, hive1 was (and in fact always is) very calm during the inspection. It's a worry that laying has virtually stopped. Having said that it may well just be a feature of the season. Or . . . (see below).

Hive2 is the shorter one on the left in the picture. Stores: 1.5 super faces, ie 2lb 7 brood faces, ie 17lb, total 19lb (bit more than last time). Lots of capped brood, but no eggs or uncapped larvae, though I could have missed any eggs since they are hard to see since the positioning of the hive2 gives dingy conditions from behind. This is not ideal, and I may have to address it with a small move. Also, I am ever so slightly suspicious of all that capped brood. Am I imagining it or has that capped brood be there all the time since the colony was first given to me!? Worth bearing in mind in future inspections.

There's a crack in hive 2 between brood and super in one corner which I need to seal up. I stuffed it with twigs for now and see what the join looks like when I switch over the brood and super (to put the latter below) in a few weeks time.

The Apiguard in both hives is now down to one quarter left in sachets. There was a strong smell of thyme in both hives when I opened up.

And now, the varroa count....
Well, when I pulled out the varroa floor of hive2 things did not seem too bad. There was a fair smattering of varroa, and I estimated about 350 on the board. Given 9 days since the last inspection, that's a daily drop rate of nearly 40. This is not typical drop, of course: it's drop in the presence of Apiguard which is supposed to result in lots of varroa falling through the hive. However, when I took a look at hive1 there was a somewhat starker result. Huge numbers of varroa. I marked out a small square and counted hundreds. Scaling this count to the size of the whole board indicated that I was probably looking at a couple of thousand little dead, red mites! Was it really only 9 days since the last inspection? Had I turned the varroa board over at that stage to get a clean count as I had thought I had? Does this indicate something good, in that there are lots of DEAD varroa? It's definitely one for reference to a more experienced keeper. I suspect I'll need to initiate some other treatment now or soon. I was planning to whack on some oxalic acid in December anyway, but perhaps this result dictates that I'll need to do something before then. Having said that, the colony seemed really healthy (apart from the very low brood count): there were loads of bees and the stores looked good. Curious. I feel somehow confident that hive1 will come through fine, but am well aware that this could just be mindless beginner's optimism. Off to the Apiray to ask the experts tomorrow . . .

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Queen pikkie

Here's the picture I got of the queen in hive2 the other day. She's this year's queen, though the beek who kindly gave her (and colony)to me had marked her in white so show up better - a decision which I can fully appreciate since the '09green I personally find very tricky to spot on the hive1 queen.And some other pictures I took, whilst I'm at it....

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


No time to write properly now, will update later.
hive 1: 11,9 faces, ie 5.5,4.5 frames, ie ~39 pounds
hive 2: 2,4 faces, ie 1,2, ie ~13 pounds

Saw queen in hive2 for first time in a while. Think I got some photos. Will download later.

Also, varroa floors - lots of varroa - particularly hive1.

Still wasp activity around ground near hive1.

Eggs in both hives. No uncapped brood in hive1. Weird, but could have missed them. Brood of all types in hive2.

Conditions - overcast, temp 20degrees.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Pestival was good

Well, we had a good time at Pestival. The kids got to see a few of the small observation hives (single frames, including the one inside the bee cab) and they particularly enjoyed the walk-through termite mound and digging for maggots. Cool. Oh, and Saskia liked stroking the enormous stag beetle larvae as it wriggled in the soil. All good - shame I forgot to take the camera!

Saturday, 5 September 2009


I'm off to "Pestival" this afternoon. It's an arts event on the South Bank (London) all about insects. Sounds a bit eco-warriorish for my taste, perhaps, but it should be fun for me and the kids and there will some interesting people to meet there. If you're in the area - give it a whirl.

Details on http://pestival.org/

Friday, 4 September 2009

Words cannot describe . . .

Words cannot describe quite what I think of this.
It's one of those "laugh or cry" combo emotions, with a fair bit of "cringe" thrown in there too.
Credits to Cliff W, whose blog I stole these links from.

More funny yet tragic videos on http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/

And then rather more to my taste (and in fact not much about beekeeping at all) . . .

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Inspection and Apiguard round 2

It was not a good day for an inspection: overcast and blowy, but it was overdue. Again I took Nat, my wife, along for fun. We're enjoying doing this together, and she's picking up a lot of my sparse knowledge already. The objectives were: a hive inspection (mainly evidence of laying, and honey stores), heft the hives to assess their mobility if/when I do move sites, and to apply the second/final dose of Apiguard.

I still have a brood box and one super (no queen excluder) on both hives, and in fact plan to run them like this through the winter, though with the brood box on top so the queen focuses her laying there (apparently). Hive2, the later-started colony, first. I was pleased to see more honey laid down this time. Maybe there were 2 brood frames and 4 super frames worth. Using the rule-of -thumb of 5pounds each for the former and 3pounds for the latter, that's over 20pounds. Not great, but this colony was a late starter. I did not see the queen nor much evidence of laying: a little uncapped brood (and lots of capped), but I was unable to screw my eyes up enough in the gloom to make out any eggs. Hive1 again made me happy: lots of capped and some uncapped brood (did not identify some eggs, but think this was just the light) and I did see the queen. Nat was very happy to see her too. Also, the honey stores looked good: about 4 brood frames and 6 super frames which is nearly 40pounds. That should be enough to get them through the winter, though a lot can happen before then.

In each hive the first dose of Apiguard was mostly (not completely) gone. I opened and inserted the second/final dose: I quite like the thymey smell. I checked the varroa floors and there was a fair covering of red mites. I'll be honest and say I have not counted, but I'd say a "fair few", meaning "many tens" (and less in hive2). I intend to treat with Oxalic acid in November/December.

My site issues still rumble on, and it's beyond me to post them here. Suffice to say that there may be some more news soon, and I think there is some small chance the eviction order might be lifted. Again I have been told that the bees are having an adverse effect on the level of the pond. I find this ridiculous even though the pond is not large. However, I do agree that the level is dropping, and since the pond is essential to the numerous frogs, newts and toads on the site, to name but a few, I can see why this is a concern. I've pointed out that blaming the wrong culprit is likely to delay a solution to the real cause (probably a slow-punctured lining). I'll see how this argument pans out over the next fortnight.

It's high time for me to take some more pictures. In the meantime if you want to see some cool honey-bee related photos, take a look at the excellent "Diary of a Novice Beekeeper" blog (see my Blog List).