Beekeeping and Honey!

***Guest Beek*** Introducing Simon Cousins May 10 2017, 0 Comments

I met Simon via an online Beek facebook forum and I remember very early on in our beekeeping 'career' driving up the freeway in peak hour traffic to collect our first swarm, madly messaging Simon, since it was the morning there, about what to do and his best tips!
Over the years, we have exchanged laments about weather, information on our respective hive management, and eventually even honey! 
I asked Simon to do a guest blog for Honey Month, and it may even be a semi regular thing as Simon does some very interesting queen rearing and breeding!
Why did I start keeping bees ?
I call my little honey operation Stour Valley Honey, ( not Stour Valley Apiaries who are about eight miles away), which is a clue to where we are, at Wormingford, on the border of Essex and Suffolk, in the East Anglia region of England. This area is probably most famous for John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough the artists. East Anglia is quite flat and is quoted as being the driest part of the country.
As I had planted a lot of soft fruit it seemed like a good idea at the time. Going back about fifteen years when I started it was a dying art; not so now with the great resurgence we have seen in the UK.
Starting with one hive, it quickly grew to the 25 I have now,  the soft fruit taking less priority as the Bees took over my life, as most beekeeper soon find out.
As the sun comes back from being on loan to our friends in Western Australia,  the season has got off to a good start.
With some great weather in early spring, the Bees flourished, unfortunately however, we have all but lost our main spring crop of Oil Seed Rape, which seems to have fallen out of favour with farmers. So the work in hand is to make sure the bees don't swarm and are in prime condition ready for the Borage crop which is grown here.
Our strain of Honeybee is the dark Western European Bee, which is very frugal with stores, goes out on colder, damper days thus storing more honey, the only down side being their fiery attitude!
It has been said by people that have tried the more yellow Australian-type Honeybees is that they drink a lot of nectar and are very reluctant to go out on cold, damp days, they do however, have a great attitude and are good to work with.
This summer we hope to rear some new queens from our best colonies, and increase our stock. This will need to be done early on, to enable the new colonies to build up strong before the wasp attacks and the coming of winter. (I mean real winter, minus figures!!)
 
I also work very closely with Assington Mill where rural courses are taught and I am responsible for all things Bees etc.

My real Job is Joinery and I have my own business: SP Cousins Joinery Ltd; this does work out handy when I need some beekeeping equipment, I can make it myself!

Monkey Bees... March 21 2017, 1 Comment

I meet Beeks from all around the world - both in person when they have travelled, and also online. Some of the best hive management advise I have had was from fellow Beeks on line, and even though we haven't met, it's been great developing relationships and sharing knowledge about bees across the globe.

I met a Beek from England recently at the Shop and he told me this story that I have to share with you all!

So this Beek keeps bees in a designated organic area in the south of England in Dorset. His hives also happen to be within coo-wee of Monkey World. And yes, there is a real place called Monkey World (they rescue primates, rehabilitate if they can, help governments prevent illegal smuggling). So, one afternoon he gets a call from a nice Monkey Lady (or possibly Monkey Man!) asking him if owned the hives that were next door and if they had possibly swarmed? They had a swarm of bees at Monkey World.

Regardless of whether the swarm was from his hives, he asked if they would like them removed. With a polite 'yes please', said Beek gathered his beekeeping gear, a spare box and drove out to Monkey World.

He was escorted through the centre, later in the afternoon just before feeding time. And was promptly pointed to the chimpanzee enclosure. There was a large tire in the middle of the enclosure, with a lovely neat swarm tucked into it. However, there was also a large family group of chimpanzees. Loose. In the enclosure.

The Monkey Lady gestured to the gates and promptly started opening the first safety gate, and the Beek was like:

'uh, 'mam, I can't go in there'... the Lady looked puzzled and asked, 'but why not?'

'um, because there are ravaging monkey hoards in there' (emphasis mine, this guy was pretty English)

'Oh, they wouldn't hurt you, just don't make any sudden moves, I mean, your bees are waaaay more dangerous' (again, emphasis mine, because, again English = stoic)

'I would really, rather prefer if there wasn't chimpanzees in there while I collect the swarm'

'Mmm. Well, I suppose I can sort something out'. And with that, mumbled something in a two-way and a loud whistle sounded. The chimpanzees looked up, and scuttled out of the enclosure, and into another area - the secure night area out the back. After reassuring the Beek, with a mild look of bemusement, that the chimpanzees would not escape just at the moment he swept the bees into the hive, he carefully stepped into the enclosure.

The rest of the afternoon went by smoothly, with a lovely swarm caught in a box, and taken away, sans ravaging chimpanzee hoards! 


Springtime is Nearly Here! August 28 2013, 0 Comments

Pretty flowersThe ladies are unimpressed with the rain this week. They were just starting to stretch their wings on the glorious weather we just had, basking in the warmth of the late winter sun and being a little feisty too. Now they are house bound again, they are looking out longingly past the rain, dreaming of the day they can fly again.

 When it is too cold, wet or windy, the bees don't, can't fly. If it's cold, the energy required to keep in the air with full pollen baskets is too much and they fall short of the hive. Too windy or wet, similar problem- they can also get caught in crosswinds or get blown off course and lost. Once the weather is warm for more than a couple of weeks, it will be time for us to don our bee-keeping astronaut suits (thanks kids for that image) and do our post-winter inspections.

We haven't seen inside a hive since late May and are quite looking forward to it! Over the cold months, we won't open up a hive unless we think there is a problem. The ladies keep the hive at a constant temperature of between 32-34C over the winter months, using energy to warm brood and get honey stores ready to eat. Every time you open the hive, the bees have to expend even more energy to get the hive warmth up again.

Once spring hits, so does swarm season and this is when we have our work cut out for us. Swarming is the naturally occurring reproductiveBee swarm cycle of a hive to expand the current hive and procreate. A swarm is generally very docile and easy to handle. This is because before they leave the hive, the bees gorge on honey stores to tide them over until they have set up shop elsewhere. Honey gorging = Honey drunk! And as the ladies don't have any brood or stores to protect, so they are generally pretty chilled once they have 'hung up' (big ball hanging up on a tree branch or under an eave).

For spring, pollinator friendly gardens are really important. Because all of our pollinators are busy breeding, gaining strength after the cold months, they need lots of nectar! So get planting people! Even for those of you who only have a balcony or patio, a wall-hanging garden, pallet garden or planter box will be a great addition to your home, and help out a bee or butterfly :-)

Good for Bees or an idle Pollinator:

Blues - Borage, Rosemary, Lavender, Basil, Thyme, Salvias, Hyssop

Pinks, reds - Sage, Bottlebrush, Poppies, Asters

Yellows - Sunflowers, Daisies, Daffodils, Dahlias, Marigolds, Melons, Tomatoes


First Split February 14 2013, 0 Comments

Over the spring we noticed that our first ever hive, dubbed the very original name of 'Hive 1' was getting very full. As in VERY full. Even on the 'cooler days' there were bees all over the front of the hive, and at 2 full depth supers already on the brood box there was no way we were going to repeat the lunacy our first summer and go to 3 supers! As novice beekeepers we made the mistake of supering up, but failed to harvest at the same time, which lead to the problem of a huge summer hive with no space. Having read in the books about this magical solution, we added another super, then another... You get the picture, and by the end of summer, trying to do anything with Hive 1 was near impossible.

Emerging Worker BeeSoooo. After reading more, and some free advice from the local beeman - 'oh, ya don't need more than 2 supers' (you know what they say about free advice) we got them to a manageable 2 supers over 'winter'; you know when it is supposed to rain but doesn't (I have read about winters in books too) and waited for the activities of spring.

All through the spring we held our breath as we buzzed around the garden with our new nucleus and a caught/then hived swarm - dubbed, you guessed it, Hive 2 and Hive 3! And miracle upon miracle they didn't swarm. Even though alot of the bee books say that queens under the age of about 3 don't tend to swarm, the worry was there with such a strong hive. Finally, we plucked up the courage (probably bolstered by our successful removal of a hive out of a wall - Hive 4 - which is a story for another day) and decided to do a split.

Following the 3-P rule of preparation, preparation, preparation we picked a good weather day (only about 35degrees) and hopped to it. It started with removing the two supers from Hive 1, reducing the faces (exposed area of bees ie if the lid is off, that is an exposed face of bees), and opening up the brood box. BTW, a related side note. When getting a queen excluder - don't cheap out. Get a metal one that won't going to bend when it warms up. In Australia, the summer heat is HOT (we have had so many over 35's that I have lost count!) and the plastic ones bend. Add all the propolis the girls slather about and the excluder gets struck on the middle brood comb frames. As you go to lift the super from above, the frames stuck to the excluder, lift at the same time. This is NOT recommended! Your queen is most likely on these centre combs and if they get dropped, you run the risk of damaging her.

Anyway, back to the split-story. We decided to do a 4/5 frame split, leaving the queen in Hive 1 and taking about 1/2 of the brood combs to the new hive - Hive 5. We took 2 egg brood frames, 1 capped brood frames and 1 mixed brood. The egg brood is so the new hive can raise up its own queen. These must be less than 3 days old. This is because all bees are the same at this stage and can become either a worker or a queen bee, whereas at day 3 where their food changes and the nurse bees treat them differently. Once the hive realizes that there is no queen present (no queen substance can be smelt throughout the hive) they begin to raise a new one from the eggs on the frames, building a peanut shaped casing around a selected (or several) cells. We took all the house bees on those frames too, and shook quite a more bees into the new box too to add to the hive strength. Giving the new hive a variety of brood combs meant that there would not be so much of a gap between the raised queen's new bees and the old bees that would soon be passing. Summer is a hard time for the ladies; they tend to only last ~35 days and with a gap of about 18 days of no laying, there is a gap of about 2 weeks after the new queen starts laying.

It was fascinating to watch how despondent the bees became in the first three days without a queen - milling around on the alighting board, weaving back and forth on the sides of the box. It was like they had no sense of purpose that is so obvious with a 'normal' hive. Once the queen cells were built we saw renewed efforts in cleanliness, gathering behaviours and guarding the alighting board once more. At least, this is what we think because of course, we couldn't check inside the brood box to see if this was the case (with such upheaval if we had done an inspection, the bees would most likely have abandoned the attempt to re-queen themselves and absconded/swarm)Raised Queen CellsAbout 8 days later we carefully cracked open the boxes, and to our delight, there they were - beautifully made queen cells. Unsure whether we should remove all but one, we left them and I hopped online to ask the other beeman about them. He suggested removing all but one, and I intended to... well you know what they say about intentions. Anyway, several days later, all the queens had emerged and upon inspection  we found new eggs in the brood comb...

This weekend we will confirm Her Majesty by actually sighting her... how exciting!


Collecting a Swarm - we know what we are doing... September 29 2012, 0 Comments

TC got a call from a work colleague this afternoon - 'mate, you know something about bees, right? My friend has a hive in a tree, what should he do?' 'Why, call the crazy-bee-lady, of course!'

We raced out to John Guilfoyle Beekeeping Supplies on the chance we may be going to get our first swarm...and told not to fall off the ladder when we do it! Heading off with a new super, bottom board and lid, we braved peak-hour traffic toward the suburb we may be required to be! While TC drove, I googled 'tips to collecting bee swarms'! Ten minutes later, I get a call from Mr L who says that he has a bee swarm in the backyard and he is very relieved when we tell him we are happy to come and get it straight away.

Upon arriving and shaking hands with Mr L, we admire the beautifully shaped swarm, measuring about 30cm long and 20cm across. They had hung up in the outer branches of a small tree in the yard.  Deciding to borrow a ladder, I set about laying out my quilt cover (unfortunately my nice one, but the only light colored one we have! Ahhhh, the sacrifices we make!) and TC set the ladder up and started pruning the branches back. Contrary to all the information I had read, these bees were not docile and dopey... they were guarding the swarm rather fiercely, and were not impressed that we were disturbing them.

After a quick debate about how we would proceed, we were ready to give it a go. I held the plastic box up under the swarm, and TC did the big, sharp shake. Presto! A bucketful of bees in less than a second. Watching our feet, and advising (yelling ;-) at Mr L , T1 and T2 to get inside - there were LOTS of angry bees buzzing around - we flip the box upside-down, propping up the front to let the workers make their way in. Luckily we must have dropped the queen in the box with the initial shake, as the workers start making there way into the box. TIP: use a dark box, to encourage them in (most like a hollow or hive), not a transparent one (yes, we had to use a blanket over the box to darken it!!)

After an hour of waiting for them to hang up in the box, and an unfortunate sting under TC's eye, we bundle up the box with the quilt and into the car. No loose bees in the car during the drive home (yay for us!). We decide to leave the bees in the car for the night, and 'hive' them in the morning.

After researching the two main methods of 'hiving' we decide to give the 'traditional' method a go.

Traditional Hiving: Create a ramp from the alighting board of the the super to the ground. Lay a blanket on the ramp and drop the swarm on the bottom of the ramp. After a few minutes, some bees should go check out the new spot, and after inspection, start fanning on the alighting board. Fanning is when the workers turn their bottoms facing away from the hive entrance, expose their Nasonov gland and beat their wings very fast to distribute the 'we are here' pheromone that is coming from the gland. This tells the hive it is fine to come on up the ramp. They then parade in a very orderly fashion, into the hive.

Modern Hiving: Opening up the super, removing about 4-6 frames, dumping the swarm into the super, replacing frames and putting the lid on and bobs-your-uncle.

So, come morning, we all suit up and set up the ramp. After making sure the car hadn't been over run with bees, to our delight it wasn't, we carry the swarm box to the ramp, do another big shake, and deposit probably about 3kg of bees on the ground. True to the 'guidelines' a few bees wander up the ramp, inspect the box and come out and start fanning. Slowly, a 'beeline' starts up, and after about 20 minutes, there is a brisk line heading into the new brood box. It was quite a magic sight to watch.

Mission accomplished!

Or so we thought....

After coming back from some errands, TC meets me at the top of the drive to tell me that the swarm is now in the neighbours backyard in one of their shrubs! So, suits back on, and after assuring the neighbours we had 'done this before' (yeah, once!) we hacked the tree off at the ground, and did the modern method of hiving - shaking them into the half empty super.

Siting them back in our yard, we sit and watch them for a further hour to make sure they are maybe going to stay. Watching them on and off all afternoon, they start behaving more like a hive and do not hang up again...

Time will tell if they stay for good. Market day tomorrow, so we will have to hope they stay put for the day!