Saturday 28 April 2012

Flowers for the garden.

As we all know our bees are in decline, as bee keepers we are trying to help. We can also help by planting our gardens full of plants that are good for bees. The RHS produce a list of plants that they have dubbed 'Perfect for Pollinators'. If you see this logo you can be sure it's going to help the bees with either nectar or pollen.

For those budding gardeners among you the full list is on the RHS site just follow the link. Perfect for Pollinators.


Tuesday 24 April 2012

Hive production

 Hive site at bottom of garden, last years bait hive still empty.

Having sorted the area in the garden for the hives, thought it was about time to get building. Fortunately work throw away lots of timber, so manage to get my hands on some good stuff. Lots of nights in the garage and we're nearly there. 

The lads decided they want to help out with the bees so they've adopted a hive and are in the processes of painting it. So this meant having to spend the folding stuff and they now also have there own bee suits ready for the bees. 

This weekend should see the legs fitted and them all in place, and then we play the waiting game for the bees. 

Bait hives (plant pots) will also be going out and about just need to sort out some lids.


Monday 23 April 2012

One week in....

All seems ok despite the heavy rain nearly everyday since they moved home. The first couple of days the bees stayed very close to the hive, mostly just crawling around on the sides and have progressed to flying further and further since then. They don't emerge until 1030-1100 ish and are back in by 1500ish weather permitting, but at least they are going off to do their stuff and returning. They don't seem to be foraging in the garden but instead take off, get lots of height and are off over the houses. Another week of rain forcast, but hopefully they will  stick it out and cary on doing what they're doing!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Three's a crowd.........

During the evenings of the past week I have been working hard on building a new top bar hive. For £35 I bought a load of 6 in. 'gravel boards' which will be enough to make two 38ins. long hives. I've decided to make the whole structure double walled, so 2ins. thick, in order to provide more insulation. The downside of this is that the hive is now very heavy, but once in position it should be very stable. On this new hive I have dispensed with the mesh bottom and will utilise a solid, removable, bottom board instead. I know that beep'er Tim in Castle Donington has a completely open hive bottom and has a thriving colony; again proving there is no official 'right' or 'wrong' way to do things in TBH world. Once completed I intend to locate this hive opposite the existing one to act as an insurance policy for possible problems in the future. I will initially prime it as a bait hive to try and catch a swarm.

Talking of swarms, and referring to the title of this post, I have distributed the first three of the experimental cardboard bait hives I made recently. Two have gone to an idyllic location, a small island in the River Soar owned by beep'er Shane. He already has two, as yet empty, TBH located there but two more potential homes can only increase our chances of catching a swarm. Shane intends for the island to be a wildlife haven and gave me a brilliant mini tour and entertaining boat crossing. Excellent Boys Own fun!  

Shane on the island with his two top bar hives.
You can just see the main channel of the
River Soar in the background.
(Apologies for the misplaced fig leaf!)

The other bait hive was collected this afternoon by beep'er Alison who has, what sounds like, an excellent location in a small strip of woodland backing onto the Elvaston Castle estate. During the coming week I also hope to drop of three more of the boxes to my neighbours and beep'er Pete in Belper.

On another note. During breaks in the showery weather there was a lot of bee activity with plenty of drones on the wing. The drones really make themselves know with their haphazard flying, gangly legs and loud buzzing - not unlike most teenage lads really.

Sunday 15 April 2012

First bees

Finally got some bees for my hive today thanks to Boyd. As you can see from the pics, I mainly stood around taking the pictures while he did all the work, although the bees seemed just as angry with me anyway.

 It was quite an experience being so close to so many irritated insects and I was suprised by how loud they were and shocked to feel them all dive bombing. I had my fingers crossed that my bee suit was done up properly and that the cluster over my face stayed on the outside of the mesh screen.

By 1630 they were in their new location. From my vantage point in the summer house I watched them come out in groups of three and four, flying around in a  disorientated fashion. By 1830 when activity seemed to have stopped,  I reckon about a hundred bees had left, but only around ten had returned. Hopefully the exodus will slow down tommorow!

When one becomes two

After much discussion regarding the weather, Shane Goodhand, and myself decided to go-for-it and perform a 'split' on my TBH hive. A split is a method of artificially swarming a colony in order to control what happens to both halves; rather than possibly loosing the half that leaves. In principle I am not averse to swarms going feral as I think this is what underpins the whole ethos of natural beekeeping. On the other hand Shane was very keen to acquire bees for his numerous hives and I was more than willing to help him out. So this afternoon, having positioned both hives conveniently next to each other, we began the process of transferring two bars of brood and three bars of stores across to his recently made nuc box.  

Shane posing prior to the transfer
(note the old duvet cover beneath the nuc box that will
contain any stray bees during transit) 

As I was not intending to try and identify the queen we couldn't be sure which hive she would end up in, so it was important that both halves had provision to produce a new queen. The preparation for this was begun two week ago, during the spell of fine weather, when I introduced two new bars alternately between brood bars. On these new bars the workers produce new comb (see below) into which the queen lays eggs thus ensuring that there will be eggs or very young larvae available to be converted into a new queen in both hives. In the hive that still contains the original queen things will continue as before give or take a few thousand bees.

Recently drawn comb with eggs and young larvae
It was the first time Shane had been up close to a lots of flying bees and he, and the bees, were very well controlled. There were quite a few bees airborne during the latter stages of the procedure but their only outward sign of distress was minor bumping.

The transfer in progress

Closing-up the main hive
During the thirty minute process the weather, which had been changeable up until then, took a turn for the better and was pleasantly warm. The bees, as you would expect, were slightly aggrieved by the procedure but just a few minutes after it was all closed up everything was again serene in the garden. I hope I did all the right things and I'm fairly sure I saw all that I needed/expected to see. With any luck I will still retain my vibrant main colony and  Shane can enjoy its off spring, the small nucleus, in the suburbs of Nottingham. I advised Shane to position and unwrap the hive as soon as he gets back, and then leave alone for several weeks. No doubt he will post his on-going observations.  

Thanks again Shane for your support, the packing case nuc box and your photography skills.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Links with Yatton Area Bee Project

Robin Morris ('Follow Me Chaps' on BioBees forum) has very generously allowed me to provide links (see left) to the information section on the brilliantly put together Yatton Area Bee Project website. They formed as a group several years ago and have amassed the sort of information that anyone new to 'natural beekeeping' will be eager to aquire. I will add more links as time allows or you can read them directly on the site:

Yatton Area Bee Project 

This very kind jesture has saved me many hours of research and compilation so "Thank you Robin!".

Staying safe.

I don't want to be the one to pull the Health and Safety card but it is important to remember that you will be working with upwards of 50,000 stinging insects so I thought I would pass on my tips on trying to stay safe.

Firstly, I do need to say that you will get stung at some point. In my early days I was advised to get a sting as soon as possible, preferably before taking on a hive. You do need to know how your body will react to the bee venom. For many, a sting is the start of a 3-4 day period of itchiness. For a few there is just some redness. But at the opposite extreme is the dreaded anaphylactic shock.

I fall into the first group, but as I rack up my sting total so the effects are gradually reducing. But here's what I do to keep safe:

- I always use full protection; full bee suit, jeans, hoodie, wellies, gloves. I'm not proud.
- I always tell my significant other when I'm going to a hive.
- I always carry a mobile phone in a pocket where I can quickly get to it.
- I always have ready access to anti-histamine in some form, cream or pill.
- I carry a mist sprayer filled with water, sugar solution, or cider vinegar.
- I have a plan, do it and then close up. 
- most importantly, I focus on the job in hand; the rest of the world fades away.

Remember, bees don't like rough handling, banging, or sharp movements. So take your time and enjoy the moment. If you stay calm then they will generally let you work with them.

Bees are wild. We give them access to a home, help them to reproduce, charge some rent in the spring and summer and leave them in peace to do their own thing. Working with them is so rewarding at many levels and with a few simple, common sense precautions staying safe won't be an issue to worry about.

Too much of a good thing?

When I started TBH beekeeping nearly 3 years ago the person who provided my first bees said that I would want more than 1 colony. You know, she was right. Not because of any desire to run a large apiary but because bee colonies can be very fragile things.

My philosophy on beekeeping is 'minimal interference'. I want strong colonies to provide strong genes to support rebuilding their gene line in an effort to overcome the damage that has and is being done to the species by humans.

This last year I lost 2 of my 3 hives. I had split my strongest colony early in May and it had spent the summer building back rapidly and was looking really healthy. In late August it swarmed whilst I was on holiday. The remaining cluster was too small to defend its winter stores from wasps and was robbed out. 

My weakest colony died of starvation at the end of February. Another 3 weeks and it would have survived with the early pollen in March. As it was at a pollination site it is observed by others who were away at the time. But would I have intervened? Based on my philosophy, no. But ethically? What would have been better for the bees as a species? Intervening in what might have been a weaker colony or letting it die off so that it's genes did not contribute to this year's swarming. It's a question we all have to ask ourselves at some point in our hobby.

So by the end of this year's swarming season I hope to be running 3 colonies again as a minimum, possibly 4 if I can find time to build another hive. Yes you can have too much of a good thing but, as I found out over this last season, you can also have too little.  Without options, one hive is never enough.

Bee Guardians

We all know natural bee-keeping is a world-wide interest, here's a link to an article in a local Californian newspaper. We're bee-guardians apparently!

Like the sentiments though.

Perhaps we can "twin" ourselves with the local Alameda County Beekeepers Association  ;-)


Friday 13 April 2012

So let's catch some swarms.......

Catching swarms is by far and away the best method of acquiring healthy bees; but it is also, given the well document decline in feral bees, a bit of a lottery. In order to try and maximise my chances of catching at least one swarm I have decided to make a few bait hives. A bait hive is simply a box, about 40lts. in volume, that has been 'baited' with wax, propolis and lemon grass oil in order to replicate a suitable place for a new colony to take up residence. They can however, if made from wood, be expensive and time consuming to make, plus be difficult to store and move around. So as an experiment I am recycling eight large cardboard boxes into bait hives. But as cardboard is not the most robust outdoor material, six have been waterproofed using bin liners, and two painted with a wash of linseed oil and wax. I have no idea if they will work but they haven't cost me anything and only took a few minutes each to make. I intend to weigh them down with a board, to act as an extended roof, and a rock or brick. Ideally they should be located two or three metres above ground so any flat roofs might be a possibility, but garden tables, compost bins etc. are more likely. This is very much trial and error, and they certainly aren't the most aesthetic garden ornaments, but as they say of any lottery - "If you haven't got a ticket you won't win a prize!". It would certainly be brilliant to catch a swarm with such  'Heath Robinson' affairs.  

Just in case they aren't enticed by my junkyard bait hives I have produced a small card*, for posting to my neighbours, asking them to call me if they see anything swarm like. Let's hope they can tell the difference between wasps and bees! If I should acquire a swarm, via either method, I am more than willing to distribute within DaDBeeP.

* I can send copied of these cards is anyone is interested!           

Tuesday 10 April 2012

First drone flights

Just got back from work and I thought I'd sit and watch the bees for ten minutes. Whilst watching their contented tooing-and-frowing I suddenly heard what I thought was a bumble bee but to my surprise it was a drone (male bee). It alighted on the landing board and entered the hive unchallenged so I assume it was 'one of mine'. I saw a lot of drones from this hive last year but that was much later in the season around late August. I never noticed them this early last year but maybe I wasn't entirely sure what I was seeing/hearing then.

Having seen capped drone brood, when I had a quick checked during the very warm weather a few weeks ago, I knew that it wouldn't be long before they were flying; but it still came as a surprise. During that previous check I also slotted in two extra top bars between bars of brood, in order to get new comb with eggs in, ready to make a split  (artificial swarm) in the near future. I thought that the cold weather of the last week might have put the split on hold but it is very sunny today so it might still be possible this coming weekend - only time and the vagaries of the weather will tell.

I was also quite glad, although my heart rate did suffer, that whilst sitting about four feet from the hive I 'faced down' a very inquisitive guard bee. I didn't put any protective gear on as I only intended to stop for a few minutes but my anxiety was high given my last sting (see below). But I 'toughed-it-out' by keeping very calm and still until eventually in decided that I wasn't a bear looking for a meal and flew off. I also tried to make sure I was breathing in when it came right up to my face as I know they don't like exhaled carbon dioxide. How brave!   

Monday 9 April 2012

How a top bar hive works

This excellent little film was posted on YouTube and shows perfectly how a top bar hive functions. There has been some debate about the position of the entrance either, as here, in the end face or, as described in the Barefoot Beekeeper book, in the middle of the long side. Either way the bees will work it out for themselves!

Sunday 8 April 2012

Lots of hive making activity

As a direct result of the meeting on Thursday Monique and Mike, from Weston-on-Trent, called around to see exactly what a TBH looked like prior to buying some wood. This is excellent news as they only live a few miles away and are very keen to get some bees this season. Also, Mary & Pete Tong (not the famous DJ) who responded to my advert for the meeting at work have also bought a hive. It really is great that so much enthusiasm has been generated in such a short space of time; but the main problem will be acquiring the actual bees. There are, as far as I can make out, now four top bar hives locally waiting for bees . So this must now become our challenge for the next few months - to try and catch some swarms! Much easier said than done given the current lack of feral bees and the swarm suppression techniques regularly carried out by most 'traditional beekeepers'. So in order to get the ball rolling I have:

  • started to waterproof some large, stout, 40lt.-ish cardboard boxes (I have several more at work) which I will endeavour to find suitable locations for - my neighbours small orchard, a request from a work colleague who has a large garden etc.
  • converted two ornamental compost bins, that ironically were based on archetypal beehives, into two large swarm boxes - they might be a bit impractical and will need top bars fitting in some way in order to transfer bees (but I'm sure my new table saw will come in handy for that!)
  • picked up a skep 'kit' from Martin Buckle* in order to give it a try - he will post for £5 but I'm too eager. Will use the resulting, free form**, hive-shaped thing either as a swarm carrying basket or as a bait hive (there could be problems if the bees start to build their own comb but lets cross that bridge......)
  • did I mention I've bought a table saw? There are just so many things that I can now make; not only for myself but other members of the group
So there you have it, a bit frantic bee wise, yet still I had time to sit and watch my hive going about its business.

Happy Days!!!!!!  

Martin Buckles web site   

** Me 'free forming' a sort of skep/Easter bonnet type affair.......

Thursday 5 April 2012

Monthly meeting update

If you would like further information/support etc. we have decided to continue meeting informally during the beekeeping 'season' on the first Wednesday of the month at:

The Shakespeare Inn, Shardlow, Derby DE72 2GP
19:00 - 21:00

Therefore the next meeting will be:

Wednesday 2nd May 2012

First Meeting (Thursday 5 April - Elvaston Village Hall)

Just got back from the first proper meeting of the group. It was fantastic and beyond my wildest dreams. Nearly twenty people turned up to listen, in the first instance, to my ill prepared presentation about the aims and aspirations of the group. I had never intended for this meeting to be a lecture/presentation more of a gathering of interested people; as it turned out it 'morphed' into me standing at the front drivelling (and hopefully making some sort of sense). Having been on Gareth John's course just last weekend, and local TBHer Tim assisting/prompting, really helped.

Got plenty of good feedback and twelve e-mail contacts on my 'expression-of-interest' sheet which will keep me occupied for the next few days.

A big "THANK YOU!" to all who attended and hopefully we can meet up againg soon.