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!
I have always been a fan of Burt’s Bees lip balm, and now that we have our own supply of beeswax and honey I thought that I’d have a go at making something similar. Browsing the internet and studying various ingredient lists gave me lots of ideas of what to put into mine. This morning M and I had some time to play around with a few variations and we came up with our favourite recipe which we’d like to share with you. It is very quick and easy to make.
To make a batch of 9 10ml tins we used:
1 tbsp Unrefined shea butter
1 tbsp Cold pressed coconut oil
2 tbsp Sweet almond oil
1 block of beeswax (approx 1oz)
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp peppermint essential oil
4 drops of rosemary essential oil
We melted everything expect for the peppermint and rosemary oils very gently in a double boiler. Once everything had melted we stirred in the oils and poured it into our tins. That’s it! They take about 20 minutes to harden enough to put the lids on. M will testify that it is actually good enough to eat!
I bought all our ingredients (except of course the wax and honey) from Naturally Balmy
All we need to do is put some stickers on the lids and we’ll have some very nice Christmas presents to give away.
Now that all our hives have plenty of honey in them to keep them stocked through the winter I have closed them up. I’ve put mouse guards over the entrances to prevent vermin from creeping in and helping themselves to the honey and brood. I have put straps round the hives, if they get blown over then at least they will still be held together and should be relatively easy to right again. I have also stuffed the roofs with insulation to prevent excessive heat loss.
We have also put up a temporary willow fence along the railings in front of our home hives. They are 4 floors off the ground on the side of a hill – the wind is pretty strong up there, so I hope that the fence will help to stop it from howling straight into the hives and chilling the bees.
Last night was the London Honey Show, which is held at the Lancaster Hotel. We are so excited that our home honey won the “Best Rooftop Honey” award! I’m so thrilled that our bees have done so well this year.
The show was a really good experience – lots of interesting stalls to look at, enthusiastic people, and a particularly interesting talk about bumble bees by Dave Goulson. He was very inspiring and has made me think more about how we can introduce even more insect friendly plants into our garden.
Here it is! Lots 1 to 7 from left to right. I’m staggered at the contrast in colours and flavours, all delicious! The most extreme difference is between the second jar from the left and the second jar from the right, they were both taken from the same hive, just one month apart.
We have finally got round to jarring our final lot of honey for this year. It is such a beautiful deep amber colour – perfectly matching these golden days we are enjoying at the moment.
When I was arrived at the honey show last night I was astonished to see that our honey had won the medium colour class. Someone told me that I really should look at the other categories too.
I glanced across the jars of honey to see that I’d got 2nd in the novice class and a highly commended in the cut comb category.
Then my jaw hit the floor when I saw that I’d also won the dark honey class and that honey had also been awarded the Best Honey in the Show prize!
I’m absolutely thrilled that our bees have done so well and am still wandering around with a huge grin on my face.
The show was really interesting – I am in awe of those who produced beautiful blocks of wax and candles. The judge gave a very interesting talk about the things that he looks for when judging, such as shining a powerful torch into the honey to check for any debris or bubbles.
The children were really excited this morning when I told them how it had gone, and as soon as M had finished his breakfast he raced upstairs to thank the bees and tell them that they make the best honey ever!
We will soon be adding all these honeys to our little shop, so you will be able to taste them for yourself.