Friday, 30 October 2009

National Honey Show

I went to the annual National Honey Show today for the first time. It was a good event and I'd recommend it to others. There were lots of stalls selling the whole range of beekeeping kit, books, odd looking hives (are they serious!?) and bee products. An entire room was devoted to showing honey, cakes, candles, wax, frames, and so on, which had been entered into a wide range of competitions. There were also lectures going on, but sadly I was unable to squeeze into the "moving into bee farming" workshop as I had hoped. I do entertain a lingering curiosity as to whether I might be able to turn my hobby into a somewhat more commercial endeavour. Anyway, I left the show with a fine array of books, leaflets and ideas.

Speaking of which, can anyone recommend some good intermediate level beekeeping books? As a beginner I've read several, though I still find "Bees at the bottom of the garden" by far the best for giving a balance between practical detail, concise brevity and easy reading. I've now purchased Ted Hooper's "Guide to Bees and Honey", and I'll also be picking up some course reading when I'll be studying for the BBKA's "Basic Assessment" early next year .

I also picked up some other booklets: a field guide to bumblebees (since I'm fed up with people asking me questions on them and feeling dumb), a guide to garden plants valuable to bees (published by IBRA), and a handy fold-out, wipe-clean "Guide to bees of Britain" with lots of pretty pictures of the bees most commonly found on these shores.

Oh! And I nearly forgot my most exciting purchase. Twelve quid bought me a small, polystyrene "apidea" mini-hive which I hope to use for fun with a queen cell next year to generate a new colony. The one I bought is not one of the really tiny ones you might have seen in the shops, and indeed it's a little larger than the brown polystyrene one which seems popular. I'm greatly looking forward to using it, though I've no idea how at present. Roll on April and May!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Mouse guards on

(posted a couple of weeks after)

I popped back to the apiary to put a mouse guard on to each hive. The ones I am using are flat strips of metal with many holes in which are big enough for bees to pass through but too small for mice. It was a sunny day with an autumn nip in the air, beautiful with colours on the trees.

Hive1 looked perky as ever with some bees coming and going. I removed the entrance reducer and pinned on the mouse guard. The idea is to give enough airflow during the wet winter months, though with the open mesh floor and no varroa floor in place I'm not convinced I actually needed to remove the entrance reducer. The worry, of course, is that without the reducer in place the wasps will have an easier time getting past the small number of autumn guard bees.

Hive2 did not look great, however. Very few bees were coming and going, and after I pinned the mouse guard on I saw a solitary wasp entering the hive! I did not want to disturb the bees by opening up the hive and doing more harm than good, but I was so concerend I nevertheless removed the roof and peered through the holes in the crown board (over which I have pinned some mesh to aid good ventilation). From what little I could see through these holes the bees did look numerous, so I closed up again and I'm crossing my fingers for the winter. I know the stores in there are good. I'll perhaps be able to get another data point on how they are doing when I treat both hives with oxalic acid in early December.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Down for the winter

I popped back today to remove the feeders and take off the associated empty supers. Sure enough the feeders were empty. Since the sun was out, I took the liberty of going through a quick inspection of hive1 to see how the stores and brood were going. I went too fast to get any kind of count on the stores, but the state of the colony looked excellent. Striking, though, was the large quantity of brood, mainly capped. Was this as the result of the feeding? Well, no it can't have been. Worker brood is capped on the 8th or 9th day after laying, and I gave the food 7 days ago, so the majority of the brood was laid before I gave the feed. I also saw some uncapped brood of various sizes, though I went too fast to see either queen or eggs. Overall - the girls look great!

I did not bother with an inspection on hive 2, but instead just peered inside. I got the impression of lots of healthy bees, and though them better not disturbed.

So that's it! The hives are down to brood-and-a-half size and feeding is over. I need to pop back and put the mouse guards on at some point. But consulting my "Bees at the Bottom of the Garden" book I see that I should schedule in an average of 1 hour beekeeping per month until the middle of March! I'll miss seeing inside and watching what's going on, but these bees know far better than I do what's best for them over the winter, and I trust their stores are good enough till spring comes. I'll swing by every now and then to give the hives the odd heft.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Autumn feeding

Since hive1 has 40lb stored honey, and hive2 30lb, a feed may not be strictly necessary, but I wanted to make sure the bees had good stores for the winter.

Using the gallon contact feeders, I mixed 4kg of sugar with water in each. I planned not only to give the bees the feed but also to reverse the brood and super boxes to put the latter below for the winter. The procedure went without incident. I'm very happy to have given them this feed, and although it's a little late in the season to do it I think the bees will have time to convert the syrup into capped honey in time for winter since we're having pretty warm weather at the moment. I'll go back in a week to see how they've got on. Oh, it's worth mentioning that I did not bother going through any frames. I'll do this next time to re-estimate the honey stores.