Rural Living

Beekeeping

My first encounter with beekeeping, was when a good friend of mine invited me to assist him, with an inspection of his hives on a warm summer day. Having no bee suit available he gave me a pair of overalls, wellington boots, gardening gloves, and a head veil, tucked into the overalls. I went into the apirary with some trepidation, my mind focused on how I was going to get through this without what I thought would be the inevitable stings.

He lifted off the roof of the first hive and started his inspection. As he went through the hive he explained how the colony exists, and survives through their inter-relationships, and that one individual can only survive for a short time without the support of the other members of the colony. The colony only survives through sharing and self sacrifice, and looking into the hive makes you realize what a complex and interesting world exists within. I was not stung on that first visit, the bees were kind, and more interested in foraging for pollen and nectar. On this occasion a busy, content, and industrious community.

The Honey Bee (apis mellifera), existed, working in well ordered colonies long before man was walking the earth. From these early days evolution established a close relationship between the honey bees and plants. The flowers providing the bee with nectar and pollen, and in return the bee and other insects providing a system of pollination, helping to ensure the plant species survival. The honey bee uses the pollen as food for feeding the bee larvae, and the nectar to turn into honey, which will act as stores (food) for the colony. We also need the honey bee and other insects, for without them, we would not be able to produce the variety of fruit and vegetables that we do.

Beekeepers Diary

Keeping Bees

Starting Beekeeping

Plants for Bees

Useful Links

 

 

THE HIVE IS A WELL ORDERED SOCIETY.

 

The Queen.

The Queens sole duty within the hive is to lay eggs, for this reason she is the most important inhabitant. Unable to forage, or feed her young larvae, she is entirely dependent on the worker bees for food, and all her needs. Dependent on the amount of food the workers give her, governs the amount of eggs she lays, and in turn regulates the population of the colony. During the Spring and early Summer, she is fed on a lavish style, and produces thousands of eggs. Normally there is only one queen in the hive, although it is possible for a daughter to be in residence if the old queen is going to be superseded.

The Worker Bee.

The Worker Bees are the smallest bees in the colony, carrying out all the work in the colony. Dependent on age, these duties include housekeeping, nursing the young brood, pollen, nectar, and water foragers, comb builders, wax makers, ventilators of the hive to maintain hive temperature, and guards of the hive against invaders and robbers. A prosperous colony will contain up to 80,000 workers in the summer, along with eggs, brood, and a few hundred drones. In the depth of winter this number will reduce to 20,000 workers and no drones.

The Drone Bee.

The Drone Bees are fertile males. They are only produced in Spring and Summer. Their purpose is to ensure that any Virgin Queens that may be raised are fertilized. They do no work, and at the end of the Summer are driven from the hive by the worker bees to die.

 

Some Plants for your garden that will attract the Bees.

SHRUBS Berberis, Buckthorn, Buddleia, Cotoneaster, Erica, Genista, Ribes, Snowy Mespilus, Snowberry, Veronica. PERENNIALS AND BIENNIALS Anchusa, Arabis, Aubrieta, Campanulas, Canterbury Bells, Cranes-Bill, Centaurea, Forget Me Nots, French Honeysuckles, Globe Thistle, Hollyhock, Linaria, Mallow, Michaelmas Daisy, Nepeta, Rose-Bay, Salvias, Sidalcea, Sedums, Veronica, Verbascum, Violet, Wallflower. SUMMER BEDDING PLANTS Dahlias, Fuchasia, Heliotrope. BULBS Crocus, Hyacinth, Narcissus, Snowdrops, ANNUALS Borage, Cornflower, Clarkia, Limnanthes, Mignonette, Phacelia, Scabious.

 

Bee Hives at New Site

Hives over wintered at home apirary

 

Keeping Bees.

The best place to start to learn the art of beekeeping is to join the local Beekeepers Association. They will be able to give help and assistance in setting up, and many run courses for novice beekeepers. They can also be a good source for secondhand equipment. Information is available from the links below. If you live in the Conwy area, information can be obtained at www.conwybeekeepers.org.uk

 

Other Useful Links

Wales

England

Scotland

 

Beekeepers Diary

March 2nd. Went down to check the hives today following heavy snow and found a number of bees flying, some had obviously succumbed to the cold and were laying on the snow unable to fly. They had probably been encouraged out by the sunshine between the heavy snow showers. March 4th. There is a small island called Bardsey about 2 miles off the tip of the LLyn Peninsula in North Wales. The island is only 1.5miles across, and .5 mile across, and it is a National Nature Reserve. The island lies on the spring and autumn migration route for many birds. It is also the home to choughs, oystercatchers, and has a large breeding colony of Manxshearwaters. Steve Porter a member of the Conwy Beekeepers Association has set up an apiary on the island, his interesting experiences are included on the Conwy Beekeepers website above. March 17th. With the continued cold weather and snow, we have not had a winter where we have experienced such consistent low temperature so late in the winter, since we started beekeeping. In previous years the bees have been out foraging by now. We are concerned about the amount of stores the colonies at our out apiary have. When we checked the hives late last autumn, they had good stores of honey, as none had been removed from any of the hives for three years. Each hive had two supers on them, so they should have been ok. We are going to check them tomorrow and take some feed with us in case they need feeding. March 18th. Checked the bees today, fed three of the hives, the fourth had plenty of stores in it. Although the weather does not allow an inspection of the hives, a quick look confirmed that each colony had come through the winter. One of the hives had an empty super on it and the bees had built brace comb in it last year. I took a slice of the honey laden comb off, and we tasted the honey, it was superb, we look forward to this years honey crop from our new bees.

 

Tools, frames, and foundation to make up new frames for hives

April 15th. With the improvements in the weather, we decided today, we would start the process of getting the four colonies, we acquired last autumn, into a manageable state. Each colony consists of four or five boxes, a mixture of national supers and brood boxes, some hives have only super boxes on, others a mixture. The hives do not have queen excluders on, so we expect the queen to be laying up anywhere. From our quick autumn inspection we knew that both the frames and boxes were in a very poor condition, and everything would need replacing. Deciding on how to proceed in getting the hives into a manageable state has led to much research. The simplest method would appear to be the shook swarm method, basically, shaking all the bees into a new box and feeding them. When adopting this method, my own experience has been that it can take the bees a long time to recover. Not being able to remove many of the frames without breaking them, can make the process difficult, and could lead to damaging the queen or worse. Speaking to Peter McFadden, secretary of the Conwy Beekeepers Association he suggested the system listed below, which we have decided to adopt.

Prepare a new brood box for each colony with new frames and foundation, and a gallon of feed for each hive.

Remove supers, place to one side.

Place a new brood box on the bottom box (normally the old brood box)

Making up new frames

Shake bees from supers into new brood box.

Check super frames for brood. Place any super frames with brood into one super. Place this super on top of the new brood box.

Feed the bees.

Remove old supers and frames for burning.

7 to 10 days later

Wild comb drawn out by the bees because no frames had been put in brood box

Check if bees have drawn out foundation in new brood box. Check for eggs. Check for queen. If no brood, continue to feed and leave for another week.

If brood, remove hive to one side.

Fit new floor. Place new brood box on the new floor.

Fit queen excluder.

Place old brood box, and old super onto queen excluder.

Further evidence of wild comb in super due to no frames being placed in box

Drill a 12mm dia hole in side of old brood box if any drones are found in the colony, so they can leave the upper boxes.

Continue to feed bees.

2 weeks later

Check that the old brood box and super is clear of brood.

Check new brood box for queen cells.

Feeder being placed on hive

Remove old brood box, and super, fit new super.

Shake bees from old brood box and super, into new boxes

Remove feeder

Remove old brood box and super for burning

Job Done

We made up the frames, and foundation in replacement commercial brood boxes. When we started our inspections, we smoked as many bees as possible from the top boxes down. As the frames were rotten and breaking up, we wanted to minimize the risk of damage to the queen, and hoped she would have gone into the bottom box, that we were not going to disturb. We found some boxes without frames in them, and the bees had drawn out wild comb which contained a mixture of stores, brood and eggs. We smoked as many bees as possible out, and checked as carefully as possible the comb for a queen. One colony had a small hive stand but no floor. The bees had vacated the bottom two boxes, and were living in the top box only. This was a small colony, and although a small amount of brood was evident, no queen was found, nor eggs, so we wonder if she has recently died. This should become clear on our next inspection. The bottom box was left on each hive, with a new commercial brood box on top, and a super with the brood and eggs salvaged from the other boxes on top of this. Each hive was fed, and boxed up. The bees were the best tempered we had ever met. They showed no aggression, and didn't even follow us back to the pick up parked a short distance away. We now wait to see if the bees have done what we want!!!!!!

16th April My friend had brought his bees up here last autumn because the electricity people were changing the electricity poles across his fields, and they had some concerns about putting poles up by the hives. He told them his bees were well mannered, but it didn't impress them!!!!. They have over wintered here, and last night we taped up the entrances, strapped up the hives, loaded them into his pick up, and took them back home. All went well and when they got home they seemed still quiet well mannered.

Bees entering hive with their pollen sacs full. A good indication the queen is laying

18th April Went to check and feed the hives in the orchard this evening. Found they were up in the new brood box, and all had taken the 1/2gallon of feed given on the 15th. Each colony given another 1/2gallon of feed. (Feed = 1lb sugar to 1pt boiling water).

30th April Visited the bees today. Found the bees had drawn out four to five frames in each of the new brood boxes, and the queen had started to lay up. I put new floors in place, with the new brood box on top, then a queen excluder, and the old boxes on top. In the coming week I will continue to feed the bees, until the next inspection, when I hope to find the queen laying up in the bottom brood box, and the top boxes clear of brood. As I had suspected the small colony has not got a queen and very few bees are in evidence.

23th Mayl Over the last few weeks the weather has been so poor a hive inspection has not been possible. I have been concerned that the hives continue to consist of a new brood box, with old brood/super boxes on top. The changeover should have been completed two weeks ago, and now the blossom is out in the old orchard, and the Mayflower is out on the Hawthorn. With no improvement in the weather insight.

A good brood pattern on a frame, mainly capped brood27th May With a break in the weather we have managed to check the hives. The old brood boxes and supers were clear of brood. The weather was not good enough to do a full inspection, but at one point the sun came out, and the weather became warmer, allowing us to pull out one brood frame. The frame was full of capped brood, looking down the frames in the other brood boxes, it was evident that the bees had been capping brood in each hive, some with up to five frames. (see picture). We were really pleased that the system had worked. The old boxes were removed from the hives, and a new super with foundation placed on top of the new brood box. The bees from the old boxes were shook into the new boxes, and the crown board and roof replaced.

1st June With so much blossom in the orchard we took another super up to the apirary to put on each hive. The weather has improved, but is still not as warm as should be expected for June. We could not get up to the apirary until evening, and the evening sun was on the hives, with the bees still flying. On taking the crown boards off,we found the bees had already drawn out a significant amount of foundation in the supers, and had started to fill the supers with honey.

 

A good frame of capped honey

14th June We checked the hives today, and found the bees had drawn out the foundation in the supers, and the brood boxes. Each hive had one super with honey stored, and in some hives they had started to cap the honey. We found and marked the queen in three of the hives, but the other queen proved elusive. In the hive we could not find the queen the bees seemed frantic rushing around the frames, although the bees in the other hives seemed much more sedate. We checked for eggs and there was evidence of recently laid eggs, so we believe the queen is in residence. We will try to find the elusive queen on our next inspection.

5th July During the last couple of weeks we have not been able to get up to the bees. Today we have been to check on them and found one hive had swarmed. We are told in many books that by giving the bees plenty of foundation to draw out they are less likely to swarm All the hives had new brood foundation, and super foundations, so obviously the bees in that hive had not read the book. The other hives were well populated and honey is being stored in the supers. All the hives had plenty of brood in them, and the queen had layed up in a uniformed pattern. Everything looks well, and we hope that on our next visit we can put clearer boards on so we can take some honey off.

20th July Checked the hives, and found that we have four supers on three hives with frames of capped honey. Clearer boards have been fitted and we will be visiting the hives again in a couple of days to remove the supers once they are clear of bees.

24th July The supers where removed three days ago, and last night the honey was extracted from the frames. The honey was transferred to a settling tank to be filtered and for the honey to settle. Once the honey is filtered we will be bottling it, and will be able to confirm how much we have got. We have also taken some unfiltered honey off, and we are pleased with the quality and taste. Breakfast now consists of toast, tea and honey, I am sure it is easy to become addicted to the natural goodness of the first honey of the season.

28th July The honey has been filtered and bottled. We have 75lbs of honey, a harvest we are very pleased with. We have heard reports, that with the hot dry July weather, and many plants not reaching their full flowering potential the main honey flow has been poor. The honey we have extracted has a particularly sweet taste, different from the honey of previous years. We beleive this is probably due to the hives being situated near to the old orchard, with all the apple blossom being available to the bees.

25th August Due to circumstances we have been unable to visit the bees this month. We now have had the opportunity to check the hives. Of the three hives situated down by the orchard two of them are well populated with eggs and brood. The bees have also been seen bringing pollen into the hive, a good sign a queen is in residence and laying. The pollen is mixed with nectar or honey to produce "bee bread" which is fed to the developing larvae, and eaten by young bees. The third hive is less well populated, and there is no brood present, it would appear that the queen has died, or the hive has swarmed, and the new young queen has failed.

5th September We have started to visit the bees every evening, to feed them for the winter ahead. The syrup for the feed is made from 10lbs of white sugar, mixed with 5pts of water. We boil the water in a large pan, add the sugar, and stir till dissolved. We also add a little solution of thymol, to keep the syrup fresh and to prevent fermentation (20g of thymol in 100ml of surgical spirit, with a teaspoon of the solution to three gallon of syrup). We use two pint capacity feeders, and should have completed feeding over the next few days. Smaller entrances have been fitted to reduce the chance of robbing, or attacks from wasps. Shortly mouse guards will be fitted and the hives settled down for the coming winter