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The Bees

two honey bees on comb

Honey Bees courtesy VitaEurope

Pictures & updates to follow on:

9 August 2011:  The Best News –  my bees are fairly healthy!

The Nuneaton branch apiary at Dobbies, Atherstone was found to have EFB – European Foul Brood.  Although its always in the UK somewhere, its not nice – killing the bees, & infectious too.  Its a notifiable disease, just like Foot & Mouth, so there is a “Standstill Order” at the apiary – no bees or equipment can be moved off-site.  The bees & their frames from two of the hives were destroyed & the Seasonal Bee Inspector will be back to check the others again in 6 weeks, so no movement until then.  Next stage is for the Seasonal Bee Inspector to check all other apiaries wihin a 5K radius – that includes my Atherstone bees.

So I’ve been in limbo, waiting since Thursday.  And now, Julian’s been & found no EFB at either of my apiaries.  The all-clear’s a big relief  – this keeping livestock is never boring, especially when there’s 200,000 of them.

23 January 2012 – mixed news

The bees at Atherstone are looking good.  Two hives & both had a few bees flying when I visited a few days ago.  Crisp but bright day, too cold for a full inspection, but good signs so far.  I left them  some fondant – more or less the same moulding icing you would use for a cake, where you don’t want it to totally set.  Some bees are  scouting for forage because it’s so mild.  Problem is, this uses a lot of energy – not replaced by what they do find.  So the winter stores are getting used up fast.

The allotment bees haven’t survived.  Not a good sight on opening up, to see just a few dead bees on the frames.  I imagine I’ll never be certain why, but best guess is down to the mild weather.  if the queen slowed down or stopped laying, new bees weren’t coming along, that’s  OK for winter when they have to survive on stores.    The colony should reduce in size over winter.  But if mild weather kept the bees flying, they would have been wearing themselves out & dying, instead of conserving energy & lasting the winter.  As the cluster got smaller, there wouldn’t have been enough to keep each other warm.    I combined two colonies at the allotment fairly late in the season, because I had picked up a late swarm that was too small to go through the winter.

So I’ll be hoping that either the Atherstone bees pick up quickly so that I can split them & bring some over here, or that I get an early swarm or two.

I wonderd what forage the Athestone bees  could be finding – the only wild plants I could see in flower were  a few gorse bushes around the quarry.  Couldn’t smell it with the car windows shut, but I hope it’s the same as on  the mountain path near Portmadog.  With the midday sun on the gorse, it gave off a sweet scent of coconut – far too exotic for north Wales.  Other than the gorse, the bees will be visiting gardens.  Mahonia’s a favourite, apparently.  I noticed a few crocuses at Baddesley Clinton yesterday.  Note to self:  remember to plant more spring-flowering bulbs.

Tues 27 March 2012:  catching up with some maintenance work – getting frames ready for the bees to store honey in.  Over the season, the bees put wax & propolis in places that make it hard for me to work them, so they need cleaning up & some need new wax in.  With a bit of nectar in there too, it can be messy, sticky work.  At least I have the weather for it – in the middle of a few unseasonably warm days, it’s comfortable to work outside. This is not a job to do inside your average semi.  As it is, I’m leaving shoes on the doormat so I don’t traipse the mess in.   I’m not a clean worker at the best of times, so clothes will go in a hot wash with some washing soda to help the cleanup.

28 March 2012: the girls have been pulling out all the stops:  went over to put supers (boxes for the bees to store honey in) on the hives, as my Bee Buddy Brian had mentioned that there is already oilseed rape flowering along our bit of the A5.  I had hoped to change some frames in the brood box – where the queen lays & the larvae grow up & pupate – but the bees seemed to be using all the frames.  So I settled for leaving them with supers to start storing honey in.

I could see from the pollen baskets on their legs as they queued up to pop back into the hive, that they were foraging on loads of different plants.   At the apiary by the canal, the damson & plum trees were coming into flower, along with the blackthorn.   The pussy willow – one of the earliest pollen sources for them was on it’s way out.

On the way home, I drove slowly enough to see what else was in flower: the dandelions were brightening up the roundabout & there were a few crab-apples making a start along the dual carriageway, with  the odd spot of celandine in the grass verge.    Gardens were still sporting all colours of daffodills & narcissi – and these were being supplemented by some exotic camellias & blowsy  magnolias – not sure how useful they are to bees.  Droops of deep pink  ornamental redcurrant provide bright splashes for a while – shame the bushes smell like cats.  I prefer the sunny forscythia hedges.  THere’s one just around the corner from home:  the rest of the year, it irks  me considerably, as it’s not kept trimmed & snatches at me often enough  when I walk past, that I break off the offending branch from time to time.  At this time of year though,I wouldn’t dream of it.    Still a few rare happy purple crocus splashes & at home, a few of the dark-leaved violets are out.  I love the way nature pairs yellows & purples.

Sunday 1 April 2012: out early to pack the car.    a better day than expected: still frost on the ground, with a cloudless sky promising the opportunity to work with the sun on our backs.  Starting the day at the branch apiary at Dobbies.  Housekeeping, spring-cleaning & starting on a veranda for our sheds.  The plan is to have roll-down insect-proof netting so that we can enjoy a cuppa with our beesuits off & still watch the bees’ comings & goings.  It also means that we could have visitors there without beesuits in the future.  Members & invited visitors access the apiary via Plantasia.

A most convivial working party.  Everyone found a job they like doing & someone to work with & josh with – group dynamics came good without much effort – something many workplaces would envy.

Then on to my bees.    The day was warm enough to do a full inspection & I was pleasantly surprised:  there are 11 frames in the brood boxes & the queens had filled 7-8 frames with brood.  The more bees, the more honey, so they are definitely coming up to speed for the coming season.  Both hives had started to draw out the frames in the supers that have only been on for 4 days.  I’m hoping that the forecast cold weather won’t be too bad in our part of the world:  if the bees have to stay indoors too long, they’ll run out of stores for the new brood.  Fruit producers must be worried too – late frosts could ruin the blossom & decimate the fruit crops.

5 September 2012: well, what a season.  The worst any branch members can remember & that’s going back around 50 years of beekeeping.  So much cold, wet, & wind has kept the bees in the hives that they’ve been close to startving & needed feeding during the foraging season – more than once.

taking honey & feeding bees

Taking Honey & Feeding Bees

I fetched off the supers last week to harvest the honey crop, & like most members, won’t have much at all.  Started feeding them right away, to stimulate the queen into laying the eggs that will become the winter bees.  They have to be healthy enough to last all through the winter months, & enough of them to keep each other warm.   I bought 100kg of sugar to make syrup for them & will be feeding each hive with 2.5 gallons of syrup – at least.  Newer colonies that are still drawing honeycomb in their brood boxes will probably need more.

But what a horrendous year.  Bees nationally have been swarming madly.  In this area we had more than twice as many call-outs to swarms as last year.  Every time the sun came out, bees swarmed.  My best guess is that instead of waiting until colonies were a decent size, they got ready & swarmed as a survival measure – not enough forage here – lets split up & have a bigger chance of survival.  So, I started the season with 2 colonies, went up to seven, & after combining smaller colonies, am down to five.



1. philbensonPhillip Benson - August 20, 2011

… and it means we still get a free jar …. :-))

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