Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.30

Well, I’ve done it again…I bought another hive! I have a hazy memory of assuring my husband after Bee Tradex in March that I absolutely wouldn’t buy anymore hives…hmmm…I hope I’m not developing a problem and if I am, I may need an intervention! Seriously though, I don’t have the physical space for anymore, although I did check whether I had space before ordering.

Honey was extracted one month ago from 5 supers and gave a very good yield. I promptly filtered it and stored it in buckets. I didn’t care to repeat last year’s mistake of what happens when you leave spring honey to sit too long before you get around to filtering it. This honey was mainly oil seed rape but also had a fair amount of spring blossom. I’m hoping there will be more fruit blossom nectar in the future as the allotment’s fruit orchard matures.

Each hive has two supers allocated to it. Last year that was sufficient for spring and summer nectar flows but this year is different. Presuming things continue smoothly, I think each of the 5 colonies will easily fill 3 supers. Whatever the bees collected additionally after extraction was left for their June gap stores and so far, it’s been enough. I’ve only had to feed the splits and the swarm which are in nucs. I will still monitor their stores, as I’m sure things can change quickly, in which case, I also have syrup on hand if needed.

So, in anticipation of summer nectar flow, I purchased a new super for each hive, and since I was already placing a bulky order, I thought I’d sneak in a new hive to my shopping cart!

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.29

These past four weeks have been very eventful with mistakes made and lessons learnt.

The evil colony now has a new queen. As she’s on mating flights, I’m hoping it’s successful and must wait to see what her temperament will be. However, as the egg she originated from comes from my best tempered colony, I’m hoping she’ll be fairly calm but productive. I used a Snelgrove Board to manage this, the aim being to obtain a new queen without reducing the workforce too much as the spring flow is on. I thought it was quite a clever way to bring bees into the bottom box and encourage them to raise a new queen.

I almost had a crisis with my best tempered colony two weeks ago (this colony has a lovely temperament, maintained strength over winter, is very productive and also seems to have a naturally low rate of varroa). I thought I was doing OK with the management, but then found loads of queen cells in various stages. It took me absolutely ages to find the marked and clipped queen! I was feeling like a complete failure as a beekeeper who can’t even find a marked queen! I finally found her after the fourth attempt and moved her into a Nuc. Some say leave only one capped queen cell in a hive, others say 2, 3, or 4 or more and the queens will fight it out and the strongest queen lives. Following that logic, I left four, which ended up being a mistake.

Four days later, dinner was on the table and I was literally reaching for my cutlery, when I got a text saying that my bees were swarming! I had a quick think about the items needed, packed them and dashed off to the allotment. It was a big prime swarm. I should mention that I’ve placed three bait hives on this allotment and one in the back garden of a nearby home…but did the swarm move to one of those? Of course, not…it preferred the underside of a large bird feeder in the middle of someone else’s allotment plot…while they were working on it! Thankfully, the swarm was fairly easy to collect. I had a quick peak at the swarm today and gave it more space. It’s calmed down and is looking like another good colony.

The bees have been filling supers very quickly this year. I’m noticing what a difference it makes having a few supers of drawn comb ready for them. Two of my colonies are already starting to fill their third super. Two days ago, I put clearer boards under five supers from three colonies. Honey extraction is arranged for tomorrow!

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.28

First and second spring inspections have occurred and it’s suddenly gotten busy! To review: I went into winter with four strong colonies and small weaker colony in a polynuc. Unfortunately, one colony was lost due to isolation starvation. The polynuc also became very weak towards late spring but has pulled through and is building up nicely. I gave this colony a pollen patty in March, which may have helped. The remaining three hives are strong. While it was disappointing to lose the one colony, it was actually my second meanest colony and, had it survived, I would have planned on re-queening it.

On my last inspection, what I thought would be an impossible task has actually been achieved. I was able to find and mark the queen in the evil colony! There was an element of luck involved as she was on the second frame towards the back. A firm plan is now in place to re-queen. Hopefully in early May a new queen will emerge (eggs from my good-tempered colony).

The three remaining colonies have all had their Queens marked green. I’ve not clipped them as that’s something I feel I lack the skill and confidence to do without risk of damaging the queen. I was told to practice on drones. The colony which uses propolis on nearly everything has been moved from its wooden hive into a new Poly hive in hope that this will result in less muckiness (from a beekeeper’s perspective). One colony had a cup with an egg in it, so I think I’d better make sure I’ve got my equipment ready for swarm management now.

Two supers have been added on two hives, three on the evil colony (they are very productive) and no supers on the weak hive. I noticed the oil seed rape coming into flower in a field close to the apiary, so those supers will hopefully start to fill up now. I’m hoping everyone is keeping healthy and happy.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.27

This past week has included personal lesson on priorities, the illusion of control and the importance of flexibility. Like many, my Spring plans have been either significantly delayed or cancelled completely. I paid the fee for the Basic Beekeeping Certificate which is now postponed and I’m informed may not even happen this season. I understand and accept this, even if it is disappointing.

At Bee Tradex, I was able to purchase supplies for the upcoming season. I ended up getting two more poly hives. (That’s it. No More hives….I really mean it!) One is for the overwintering Nuc and the other is for spare parts, which I learned last year (when I needed something but didn’t have it) is actually very important!

The colonies are now consuming quite a lot of fondant & are feeling lighter upon hefting. According to my records, the large colony has consumed at least 500g in 2 weeks. I’m beginning to run low on fondant. The poly Nuc, which has been overwintering with an additional brood box as an eke, had 3 brood frames added in early March to ensure adequate space. When I replaced the fondant last week, I could see this small colony is expanding. While it’s been reassuring to see my bees on the nearby willow catkins, I’m just a little edgy as there isn’t a lot of forage in my area and they may swarm early. I was thinking of setting up a couple of bait Nuc’s and try out those Lures I made at the end of last season. If they are going to swarm…maybe I can catch one?

Sincerely hoping you all keep well throughout this time.

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.26

Storm Ciara had me worried about my bees, especially as several fences were ruined in our neighbourhood. As soon as the storm broke, I went to check on the apiary. It was such a relief to find all the hives undamaged! For the first time, I realised the apiary has windbreak protection from three sides; for this I was very thankful. I hope everyone else also found their hives undamaged by this storm!

I’ve been taking stock of what I need to pick up from Bee Tradex and I almost forgot about ordering more labels! In terms of colony management, this year I’ll aim to bring the hive numbers down to a maximum of four.  I think that having five colonies I think will be a bit much factoring in swarm management, my time, supplies required and our very limited storage space. I guess first of all, I’ll have to see how the colonies get on. Last year I lost one of two overwintering colonies in the late spring.

I’ve also set a goal: Within the next three months, I aim to complete my Basic Beekeeping Certificate.

Wish me luck!

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.25

Late December I treated my four full colonies and the 5-frame Nuc with Oxalic Acid solution using the drizzle technique. Now that was an experience! The Nuc and the one “nice” tempered colony behaved as they “should” but the remaining three responded aggressively to the treatment and chased me around.

Some might say that I’ve likely got three queen-less hives, however, I’m not 100% sure and there are two reasons for that: (1) These three colonies never had the best temperaments anyway and (2) I completely opened their hive exposing them to the winter elements and, from the bees perspective, I’m a potential robber. As unpleasant as it was, the response is understandable. Perhaps this is over-humanising things, but I saw it as if a giant suddenly ripped off our roof and attic, removing all our heat and started pouring liquid purposely on the family while we’re having dinner! Can’t say I’d be too impressed, even if it was supposed to be for my own good. Maybe I do have one or more queen-less hives, but I will have to wait until Spring’s first inspection to discover the facts.

Two weeks later I went to check the Varroa drop. As I pulled the boards out of my three hives, everything flopped onto the ground, landing in wet mud. (my second-hand hive doesn’t have a varroa board and I forgot to get one!) As a result, I have no clue as to the drop count.

Immediately after I’d failed at checking the Verroa mite levels, one of the allotment holders told me he was concerned my bees were making a nest in his empty hops’ bags. I reassured him that they weren’t making a nest at this time of year but went to investigate all the same. The sacks previously contained brewery waste hops which he was using to enrich the soil on his plot.

Even on a morning when it was only 4ºC, the bees were flying in and out of these bags. When I put my hand in, there was a fair bit of water from previous rains and it was quite warm in the folded layers. It didn’t take long to see the bee line that was formed and how many bees were actually present. I’m not sure why bees are bypassing a pond, swamp and unlimited puddles, to go for this warm, hoppy water. Maybe it’s got some residual sugars, trace minerals, or do they just like beer? It really is a mystery to me…

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.24

Tomorrow I’m picking up the Oxalic Acid solution for winter varroa treatment. I’ll also check the fondant levels and replenish supplies as needed. Hopefully, there will be no surprises.

Just before Christmas I joined family visiting the UK at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London before they flew home. Interestingly, this hotel has rooftop hives. One of their chefs is a beekeeper and I was told the hotel honey is used in their kitchens; it is not for sale. From our room window, we could see the 8 WBC hives on the flat lower roof.

At the breakfast buffet, there was a stand with a full super frame from which to take a little honey a comb for toast or yogurt. I’d never seen this before, and it appeared to be very popular with the other guests. A part of me felt a little guilty all that quality comb was just being eaten vs being returned to the bees, but that’s my issue I guess, and it didn’t stop me from helping myself to some for my toast!

In spite of being in a very urban location, it was clear these hotel bees would benefit from the close proximity to Hyde Park and the Italian Gardens. I’m sure I ended up boring some family members while walking through Hyde Park in search for bee forage by season, in particular I was looking for flowering Ivy as most of the Ivy I saw in central London appeared well trimmed! While honeybees can have challenges specific to many different types of areas, I was wondering what the effect of air pollution might have on their health, disease resistance and productivity (something for me to look up). It’s funny how beekeeping seems to appear in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. I personally think that’s a good thing.

Best Wishes to everyone for 2020!

Denali Enns

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.23

I had hoped to report that nearly all of my honey was sold, however yesterday I found 12 x 1 lb jars hiding under the bed in a box which I’d obviously forgotten about (I thought it contained shoes!). It is obvious now that I need a better system of organising my stock. A few days ago I’d actually told two people that they were buying my last few jars of honey – ”no more until summer!” – not quite true now…

I have already placed some fondant on the hives to supplement them through winter. The polyhives do well with insulating against cold, so I’m not overly concerned about them, but it’s the second-hand wooden hive that I’m not so sure about, as I’ve never over wintered a colony in it. The colony currently in there is the propolis excessive colony, so I’m sure they’ve already sealed off any drafts (I’m anticipating a challenge getting into this hive in the spring). An order from a butcher delivered to our home came packed in Puffin Packaging (sheep wool wrapped in 100% recyclable MDPE plastic), which I thought was fantastic! This could be perfect for making an insulation cover for the wooden hive, should things get cold this winter.

Now that Christmas is around the corner, I’ve been using some of my beeswax to make things like candles, lip balms and moisturising bars. I purchased some Sodium Hydroxide to make Lye. Last weekend I made a honey and goats milk soap, which smells so good, but won’t be able to use because it still needs 4-6 weeks to cure, or it won’t lather up. Luckily I didn’t make it any later as that brings us right up to Christmas!

Denali Enns

What they don’t tell you about beekeeping

My venture into beekeeping started some years ago and has, to be frank, been a bit of a bumpy road – mostly (it has to be said) as a result of my own incompetence.

…a dangerously addictive activity!

I was seduced into acquiring my first colony by fascination in learning about the bees themselves (if bees were running the world we wouldn’t be in this mess), and by assurances from my seducers at the very beginning that there’s really not that much to be done or time spent. Well, we all know that for at least half the year that’s just not true, and, worse, that it’s a dangerously addictive activity!

There’s loads to do and for the unfortunates who are working full time at the same time (I was one of those), the problem is that everything that needs to be done has to be done RIGHT THEN – probably because it’s the right time of year, or the right weather, or the right temperature, or the suns shining. Those of us who have to wait till the weekend will find that:

  • it’s pouring with rain or;
  • the temperature has plummeted or;
  • the bees have all absconded because it was such a lovely day yesterday and the brood box is practically empty apart from a few unfortunate souls who didn’t get the memo!

Fortunately I’ve had some amazing mentors. I won’t embarrass them by naming names but they know who they are. I’m really grateful. One I will mention is the late great Tim Foden. I’ve squashed a lot of innocent workers in my time – a guilty record confessed sorrowfully to Tim. He put a comforting hand on my shoulder saying ‘never mind, there are an awful LOT of them’. So true, I felt a lot better.

I’ve retired from work now – which is a great help – and one of my retirement resolutions was to give more time to my beekeeping and get better at it. I’m 50% there so far. I’ve had honey this year, a whole new venture into borrowing the hand operated extractor (muscles required) and the frame boiler, a magnificent gadget into which ideally I would empty the entire contents of the house. That experience has brought home to me how important and valuable the support of my local association is and how important it is that the group keeps going from strength to strength. Training, taster days and courses and advice are key for encouraging new beekeepers, and bulk buying, taster days, equipment loans and sharing facilities make things so much easier – and cheaper.

…I am beginning to understand the enormous amount of work undertaken to provide the services we enjoy as a group…

And this all doesn’t happen by magic. Having joined the management committee, I am beginning to understand the enormous amount of work undertaken to provide the services we enjoy as a group, and the efforts undertaken to engage the general public in topics such as bee/honey/ecology. I’m a newbie so I’m keeping my head down for now, but I’m gradually understanding who does what, and it’s clear that the work involved is huge. The more people there are to help, the easier it should be and new young people are welcome – some of us aren’t spring chickens any more!

Join and take part! The bees need you..

Gill Donaldson

Chronicles of a Novice Beekeeper – Ep.22

This past Spring only one of my two colonies overwintered successfully. This year I’ll be heading into winter with 5 colonies (4 hives and 1 nuc). Because I’ve had more colonies to work with, I’ve been able to learn about different colony characteristics, which has been fascinating.

One colony is exceedingly generous in their use of propolis throughout their hive. It’s a bit annoying during inspections but I usually leave this colony last when inspecting, as the tool gets so mucky and it is difficult to clean off properly on site.

Two colonies, in spite of being wild bees, have beautiful temperaments and one of these colonies are very rapid comb builders. (Fingers crossed both these colonies overwinter successfully!).

The Kamikaze Colony has settled down in temperament a little bit. This colony was prolific in terms of drawing out foundation, building up the population and in honey production. I relied heavily on them to build up each of the other colonies in my apiary at some point during the season. In fact, this colony has probably drawn out the equivalent of an additional brood box and replenished its population after my repeated plundering of its brood frames. It has also provided me with two daughter colonies (the propolis one and one of the gentle tempered colonies).

The final colony is also a bit on the mean side but quite a good colony all the same. They were not impressed when I tried to put the mouse guard on a couple weeks ago and came pouring out the front entrance at me….scary! It was difficult to maintain presence of mind to complete the task and not panic and run away!

The colonies have been taking in quite a lot of syrup to boost their stores for winter and, upon hefting, they all felt satisfyingly heavy.

At the allotment AGM I was able to give a summary on how the bees did this year and to thank everyone for their support and for having the bees and me.

Denali Enns