The beekeeping season is winding down now. The colony size is reducing for the winter – all the drones have been evicted from the hives and the queens have dramatically reduced the rate that they are laying eggs.
At this time of the year it is important that we make sure that all our colonies have enough supplies of honey to make it through the colder months when there aren’t many flowers open and the temperatures are too low for the bees to fly.
We took the last of the honey off the hives over a month ago – we like to give the colonies plenty of time to build up their winter stores.
Around our apiaries we are lucky to have loads of ivy in full bloom at the moment, which is a fantastic source of nectar and pollen. We usually find that our bees forage enough now to maintain themselves through the winter, meaning that we rarely have to feed them with sugar.
I’ve just got round to bottling up the last couple of batches of honey – beautiful golden honey that matches the colour of the autumn leaves.
I love watching the honey running out of the settling tank into clean jars.
Now it’s time to give everything an extra good scrub before packing it away until next year.
Yesterday I went up to visit our Hendon hives. I took some sugar syrup in case their stores needed topping up. I also took some insulated dummy boards to put into the brood boxes if there were any empty frames. This makes keeping the hive warm a little easier for the bees as they don’t need to heat space that isn’t being used.
I needn’t have bothered though – both hives are still very full and very busy. There is plenty of honey packed into the combs and even some brood. The hives both smelt strongly of ivy nectar, so I can guess that most of the honey has been made from that. I’m really pleased that they didn’t need any molly-coddling, with luck they will come through the winter.
Another season of beekeeping is starting to wind down. Last night we were busy preparing cut comb and spinning out the last frames from our favourite hive – Hive 2. For some reason the bees in that hive make more honey than any of our others and they forage on different flowers, giving a more flavoursome honey. They are also sweet natured.
The bees have been busy in our garden – there aren’t so many nectar giving flowers at this time of the year, but they have managed to seek out these ones…
This week the bees have been working really hard. The long days mean they are out flying early and I’ve seen them still at work at 9:30 at night! The supers are starting to feel very heavy, but they are still working on capping the honey so it isn’t ready to take any yet.
When I took the roof off one of our home hives today I could see hundreds of bees packing nectar into the comb.
When I pulled out a frame it looked like this…
When honey is “ripe” the bees cap it with white wax, which seals it in and prevents any moisture or contaminates getting into the honey. I was impressed to see how quickly they have been working, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I’d put in this frame – back then it looked like this…
You can see that I have been using just a small strip of wax foundation as a guide for bees. They have built a complete comb, filled it and capped most of it!
All our home hives have several supers on at the moment. When I took the top layer off in one hive a small bit of comb that had been built between the layers of supers was pulled off. The picture below shows the bees springing into action and cleaning up the spilled honey within a few seconds – they don’t waste a drop.
At the beginning of May I split some of our colonies in an attempt to stop them from swarming. I had limited success – some of the splits decided to swarm anyway. We collected the swarms… this meant that we ended up with rather a lot of boxes of bees on our roof. Small colonies are generally weak colonies. Strong colonies are able to defend their hive from robbing bees and wasps, are less likely to be wiped out by disease and also collect more nectar to make honey.
This week I decided it was time to recombine some of these colonies. This always causes a bit of chaos as it takes a little while for all the bees to find their new homes, but it is worth the fiddling around in the end.
So, now we have 3 strong colonies. I’ve noticed that the wild blackberries are just starting to flower and that there are buds on the Lime trees, so with luck the bees should be able to take advantage of the flow of nectar.
Sadly the lime tree avenue close to our hives was pollarded over the winter, so there won’t be any honey from them this year.
When we combine two colonies we separate them with a sheet of newspaper. It takes them a day or two to nibble through it and the theory is that by then they are used to each others smells and won’t try and evict each other.
The cold wet weather has meant that I haven’t been able to inspect our hives in Hendon until today. As soon as I opened the hive that I artificially swarmed a couple of weeks ago I could hear a virgin queen “piping”. Some people call it quacking, but whatever you call it, it sounds like high pitched morse code!
She was there, on the first brood frame I lifted out. The workers had removed a flap of wax at the end of the queen cell and she was just peeping out.
Within in a few seconds she marched out – isn’t she beautiful?!
I’m now hoping for a calm, warm day over the next week so she can safely take her mating flight. We will know if she has made it successfully if we see eggs being laid in the comb in a few weeks.
For all you lovely, patent people who have been in touch wanting to know when we’ll have some honey available – here is the news:
The bees are working very hard bringing in nectar – you can see it glistening in the comb. Once the honey has the right water content so that it won’t ferment,the bees cap it with wax – you can see that they have started to cap this frame already. It is difficult to judge exactly how long it will be before there is enough to extract, because it is so weather dependent, but the day is coming closer!
Swarm season is upon us. Typically people say that colonies swarm between May and July, but our colonies have other ideas. Bees swarm to create a new colony. It is an entirely natural process and actually rather fascinating. Most beekeepers attempt to prevent swarming because once a colony has swarmed you have lost a good deal of your workforce.
We have one very strong hive at home and one at Hendon, a couple of weeks ago I noticed that they each had started making queen cups, which are special cells in the comb to grow a new queen bee in. Last week I saw that the queen had laid eggs in these which means that the colony is preparing to swarm. I decided to artificially swarm both of these hives, which involves splitting the colony into two hives. Thank goodness I had spare hives ready! In one I put all the brood (along with the queen cells, that will turn into new queens) and in the other I put the queen and all the flying bees. This is supposed to convince the bees that they have already swarmed. So far so good…
Two days later we were having lunch, A looked out of the window and remarked that there were rather a lot of bees out – my heart sunk – we had a swarm. We raced up to the roof to see bees pouring out of the hive that I’d put the queen and the flying bees into. Luckily they clustered in a tree on the edge of our garden and I was able to retrieve them easily.
Here they are clustered in the tree
And here they are going into my nuc box (a mini hive)
We’ve had some old frames lying about in the garage for a while. I have wanted to extract the wax out of them, but hadn’t done anything about it as I wasn’t sure of the best way to do it. Anyway, this morning we discovered that they fitted perfectly into and old recycling box – so we decided to experiment…
We made a little wooden frame to tilt the box and we cut a hole in the back to take the hose from a wallpaper stripper.
The steam melted the wax, and it gushed out of a hole at the front of the box.
The wax will need filtering before we can make use of it, but I’m really happy with this simple set up. All made from things that we already had.
These are the frames after about half an hour…
This time of the year makes me nervous. It is still too chilly to get a proper look inside our roof top hives, yet I know that soon it is possible that the colonies will have built up quickly and could be making preparations to swarm. It is also difficult to know if the colonies still have enough of their winter stores left if we have a sudden cold snap. I normally heft the hives to get an idea of the weight and to guess how much honey is left, but by now there should be brood in the hive which is heavy, so it is difficult to assess…
To keep my worries at bay I’ve been busy preparing our spare hives. Building up the cedar hive, painting the poly hive and building lots and lots of frames.
This year I need to change the brood frames in a couple of our hives – it is recommended every few years to help reduce the chance of any disease build up. Each of the hives needs 11 new frames, and each frame needs 11 nails tapped into it. Plus I always like to have some spare frames made up in case they are suddenly needed to house a swarm or something.
Yesterday morning we woke up to find snow covering our world! The hives on our roof looked so chilly, although the snow acts as an extra layer of insulation.
M and I were stuck inside as he is suffering from a nasty cold, so we decided to make some marmalade. This year I substituted some of the sugar with our honey – it has made the marmalade have a deeper more flavoursome taste – delicious on my toast this morning!