Monday, October 01, 2012

Bee update, honey, health and Her Majesty's inspectorate of beekeepers...

It has, gentle reader, been too long, do I have excuses for my lack of blogging, of course I do, are they credible, do you care? Probably not, so, in the style of an ineffectual liberal democrat party leader I shall simply, and sincerely, apologise, and get on with the job at hand. 

Today we shall be talking about honey, yes indeed the hardworking team in the Oakwood hives have, bless their little yellow and black socks, been industrious (which does kind of go with the job description 'bee') and surprisingly productive. 

Why surprising? 

Well it's been a bad summer for bees generally, lots of rain, occasional cold, minimal sunlight, very little blossom staying in place in storm-wracked orchards. My girls however seem to have thrived. I was planning on leaving them alone, to weather the summer and winter as best they could but beekeeping and cycling chum Ian suggested that it might be worth having a look, he's very wise, sure enough, 10 frames of capped, golden honey ready for the thieving. 

Now, the extraction process is not a complicated one but there are a number of things that can make it easier. The caps that the bees place over each morsel of honey are cut off, the frames are loaded in pairs into a bucket fitted with an ingenious manually operated  spinning mechanism which, in theory, with a lot of effort from the beekeeper, spins the golden harvest toward the walls collecting in a pool of sweet goodness at the bottom. You then take out the frames with the beeswax and cells intact and jar up the honey.

Simples yes? No. That only works if you've used the right sort of foundation, thus giving the bees a strong wired base on which to construct their honey stores. If, like me. you made the mistake of putting unwired foundation in, you end up with a waxy, honey melange as the spinning throws everything out of the frames. It's not the end of the world but it is the start of a three stage, very messy, filtering process which covers the floor, the very helpful brother, the walls, some of the ceiling, much of the conservatory, any passing family or animals and all furniture within 20 metres with sticky, stubborn goodness. 

Despite the tough lessons learned and the rivers of honey wasted through my incompetence, mischance and the sheer bad design of much beekeeping equipment we did manage to extract about 25 lbs of some rather lovely honey, to be given to family and friends as presents, and to flavour my occasional toast and porage. 

I do owe an enormous debt of gratitude (and a couple of jars of honig) to mein deutsch bruder Chris who ably assisted me through the whole honey extraction process, to, as they say, a very sticky end.

I was contacted shortly after this glutinous marathon by a lady from the government who'd spotted my hives whilst checking up on a neighbouring farm and was looking to inspect my girls to ensure an absence of horrible bee diseases. Having just done the extraction I was pretty sure they were in good shape but despite my general antipathy to any form of governmental interference I arranged a visit and a very nice lady turned up. 

She was obviously very experienced and, suited up, the pair of us went through the process of checking the health of the bees, the good news is that my little apiary is home to a very health load of bees, she was very helpful and full of advice but she did get stung once and I naturally enquired "how often does that happen"? apparently "pretty much every day," good grief get another job woman!

So despite the weather, it's been a good year for the Oakwood bees, the more healthy hives there are the better for our fruit and veg health and emboldened by success (truthfully it's all down to the bees, Ian the bee man, Chris the honey king and a little bit of me) I've just ordered a new queen and starter colony for next spring to populate my third hive. 

I'll keep you posted. ...

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