Saturday, November 05, 2011

To Bee, or, maybe not, ... sorry

To Bee, or, maybe not, ... sorry


Once again, the bee season (our second) draws to a close, the hardworking little ladies of the Oakwood Apiary prepare for the winter so I thought I'd share a brief review of the season, our successes and as trendy educationalists would have it, not our failures but our learning points (which coincidentally, I've discovered through failing).

Things we've achieved, me and the girls

We've split the original hive into two and grown new queens, one of whom promptly and a little unkindly in my view, took half the second hive off on an adventure. Uncle David thinks he's discovered their new home, there's a colony in a hole in an oak in the wood, now that's not necessarily a bad thing, certainly for the planet, but did make it a bit touch and go for hive two (the plastic Beehaus) as it meant that we had to grow yet another queen to take over the management of the remaining 1/4 of the population, this meant that the Beehaus colony has been pretty much in recovery mode for most of the summer but they're now looking healthy and numerous enough to make it through the winter with a little bit of help from me, (sugar syrup to supplement their honey stores) and a bit of luck. The weakness of this hive results from two contributory factors, both my fault, I split them too early and then they swarmed, which I didn't see coming, this means that there was no surplus of honey from the Beehaus team but hopefully next year will be better, healthier, stronger and fruitful.



The original wooden-hived colony had a very strong year and produced a good crop of honey, but, (and we always knew there'd be a 'but' didn't we?), there are two types of beeswax foundation the beekeeper can supply to his or her bees. The bees build cells on the foundation and fill them with new bees, honey, nectar, pollen, depending on the need. Now, of the two types of foundation used for honey one has thin wire running through it which makes it robust enough to spin the heavy frames full of honeycomb and thus expel the honey, the other, unwired, is too fragile and is intended for the creation of cut-comb. As a novice beekeeper, I was unaware of the bees apparent preference for unwired foundation and gave them a choice, so although very productive I've only gleaned 4 jars of liquid honey, (enough, to be honest, to easily see the Barn through to next autumn) and around 15 pieces of cut comb, honey still in the comb, great on toast or with yoghurt. So another lesson learned and they'll not get the choice next year.

In the meantime, despite their evident reluctance,  friends and family will be receiving little gift boxes of goldenly oozing honeycomb, if you can cope with the tiny amounts of wax, the honey is, to my taste, delightful.

So, as November commences the bees are  making the most of late warmish weather and topping up their stores for the winter. I've treated both hives for varroa, a nasty parasitic mite that destroys colonies and I've put guards in place to prevent naughty mice from taking up residence in a nice warm winter retreat with a constant supply of sweet comestibles. I suffered a lot of mice damage to the frames in the wooden hive last winter and that's partly why one of my winter projects is the building of another wooden beehive, to which I'll transfer the strong colony next spring. That will free up the old wooden hive for cleaning and enable me to do some much needed housekeeping. I'll then transfer the Beehaus bees to the refreshed old hive and fit the upgrades supplied by the manufacturers to the Beehaus. Honestly it's worse than software (Windows, not Mac obv) Anyway, beekeeping wisdom is that one always needs a spare hive to address the swarming problem and I'm not keen to have more than two active colonies.

Right, that's enough for now, I'm in desperate need of a cup of tea, toast and honey. Definitely time to enjoy the fruits of my (and the bees) labours.

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