The seemingly endless cold, wet weather this spring has prevented us from opening up the hives to see how our colonies are getting on so far this year. I don’t like inspecting our bees if it is too cold as it risks chilling the brood. Our roof top hives are pretty exposed, so we prefer a calm day too
We were finally blessed with sunshine this week and we went to work, carefully checking each hive for health, brood and stores. It always astonishes me how differently two adjacent hives can fare so differently. One, packed with sealed brood, nectar and honey, the other with barely any stores and the brood just starting to build up. A few swapped frames between hives quickly resolved the stores situation.
I was also really pleased to finally get hold of an enormous plastic box that is large enough to submerge a whole 14×12 brood box in. Our roof top hives are all poly hives and have to be washed to clean and disinfect them rather than the scorching that we do to our wooden hives. In the past I’ve faffed around with too small containers, only being able to soak a small area at a time. This new beast-of-a-box makes life so much easier and even has a snap on lid which holds the box under the water (they are extremely buoyant!).
I’m often asked if I’d like our empty jars back – and my answer is always “YES PLEASE!”
We deliberately use labels that can be easily removed, so that once the jars have been thoroughly washed they can be reused for honey again.
We have to use new lids, so if they have been lost then we’d still like the jars.
While I was sorting out our jars of honey to take to the Fortismere Christmas Fair on Sunday I noticed that some our honey has started to set. Some people seem to have very strong preferences about whether they like set or runny honey and many people ask me about why honey goes through this process.
Nearly all honey will naturally set eventually. The time that it takes to set depends on which flowers the bees have been foraging on. Lime tree honey sets extremely slowly, whereas ivy and oil-seed-rape honey can set in the comb before the beekeeper has a chance to extract it.
Simply put, honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Nectar from different flowers contains different proportions of the two sugars. Setting of honey is caused by the crystallization of the glucose, so honey with a low proportion of glucose will set more slowly than one with a higher proportion.
There are a couple of other factors that will influence the crystallization speed. Low temperatures will speed up the setting process. Honey with plenty of pollen grains tends to set more quickly too. The reason is that the microscopic grains act as starters for the crystals to grow around. Commercial honey is often fine filtered at high temperatures in order to remove the pollen in order to slow down the setting rate and increase the shelf life of their honey – set honey apparently doesn’t sell so well! I’d suggest that the opposite is true as we often have people asking if we have any set honey…
The good news is that set honey is perfectly edible, and is another delicious way to enjoy honey! If you really must have runny honey, then you can stand the jar in a bowl of warm water, or warm it extremely gently in the oven. I’d never recommend using the microwave as you’ll end up with hot spots.
If you’d like to try some of our set honey, Lot #34 is available in our website shop
I’ll make a note in the descriptions of the other lots if they set too.
As well as making the most delicious honey our bees make beautiful wax.
Beeswax is a fascinating substance – it has been prized for centuries for numerous uses. In medieval times bees were kept by monasteries primarily for their wax – candles made from beeswax give a steady, consistent, bright light, far superior to the tallow alternative. Good illumination would have been essential for writing and studying manuscripts.
Nowadays beeswax candles are the most natural available. They burn very cleanly without any mucky petroleum soot. As beeswax is relatively expensive it is often mixed with other waxes to save money.
All of our candles are handmade from 100% pure beeswax which has been collected from our own hives. We never mix our beeswax with any other type of wax or with beeswax from other sources.
We have now stocked our website shop with the new candles below, we still have our usual candles too!
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!