Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Introducing Queen Sarah

Hopefully you've already read my post about why I name my queen bees.  Today's post is about Queen Sarah, who emerged from her cell sometime before 27th June, and is the queen of the nucleus (the half-sized hive).

Sarah is named after Sarah Guppy, who was was an inventor and engineer.  She was born in Birmingham (as Sarah Beach) in 1770, but moved to Bristol when she married Samuel Guppy in 1795.  She patented a number of domestic inventions, including the fire hood (predecessor to the extractor fan), and a device for a tea urn that would cook eggs in the steam while also keeping toast warm.  I assume that Sarah was a big fan of breakfast...

Possibly her most significant patent was for ‘erecting and constructing bridges and rail-roads without arches or sterlings, whereby the danger of being washed away by floods is avoided’.  It was an improved method of piling for bridges, allowing chains to be passed across the towers to support a road.  Her method was used by both Thomas Telford, for the Menai Suspension Bridge, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, for the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Sarah was a friend of Brunel and became involved in the construction of the Great Western Railway, recommending the planting of willows and poplars on railway embankments to stabilise them.  She had 6 children, and her son Thomas Richard Guppy worked with Brunel on the SS Great Western as well as the Great Western Railway.

Sarah was a notable figure in the Bristol social scene and, as well as her achievements as an inventor, was very involved in social reform and philanthropy.  She founded a charity school for girls, and was also concerned with the welfare of female servants, widows and retired seamen.

Yo can find out more about Sarah Guppy here and here.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Harvest - Update

The new jars arrived, and I have now potted up all the honey.  The final tally was 52½ jars, which at 12oz a jar makes for just over 39lbs.  My best year by quite a margin!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

On Queen Bees, and Their Names

Not every beekeeper names their queen bees.  Some beekeepers have over 300 hives, and at that scale it just wouldn't be feasible (and farmers don't tend to name each of their stock, anyway).

But when you do very small-scale beekeeping, as I do, I think it's nice to be able to identify which queen is doing what, in which hive.  In any case, different colonies exhibit different behaviour, a lot of which is genetically determined, and much of which is determined by the queen - either directly, via the genes that she bequeaths to her worker bees, or indirectly via her pheromones.  So it really is the case that different colonies - and by implication different queens - have different personalities.

I'm not the only beekeeper to name their queens, either.  Two beekeepers I met at Ealing & District Beekeepers - Emily ( and Emma ( name theirs after essential oils (Emma is an aromatherapist).  You should check out their blogs by following the links - they really are good.

So, I decided I needed a consistent naming scheme for my bees.  Being something of a nerd (or am I really a geek?) I decided to name my queens after scientists and engineers.  Of course, because queen bees are female, it would be absurd to give them names like Charles (Darwin) or Albert (Einstein).  So, they are of course named after female scientists and engineers.  This has a curious effect - firstly, you start to realise just how many female scientists and engineers there are - and secondly, just how poorly known their names are, given the contributions they have made to human knowledge.

Take for example my first queen - Rosalind.  She was named after Rosalind Franklin, who was a leader in the field of X-ray crystallography, which is a technique for determining the structure of molecules by photographing them using X-rays.  Rosalind's work was crucial in determining the double-helix structure of DNA, for which Watson and Crick, and Rosalind's colleague Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.  Rosalind died in 1958, and sadly was not awarded the Nobel, as it is never awarded posthumously.  This is the most famous picture, photograph 51, which Raymond Gosling (her PhD student) took in May 1952 - it's a photo of an actual strand of DNA:

Regular readers will already know about Miriam, who has produced an excellent honey crop this year.  My two new queens are called Caroline (named after Caroline Herschel), and Sarah (after Sarah Guppy).  In the next two posts, I'll be saying a bit more about them - stay tuned...!

Thursday, 18 August 2016


Today was harvest - the day I extracted the honey and filled jars full of the amber goodness!  I covered the detail of the process last year, so click the link if you want to know more...

A very big thank-you to Stewart who, for the second year running, was a huge help with extracting and jarring-up the honey.

I filled 32 jars - and then ran out of jars, with more honey still in the filtration tank.  More jars are on order...!  Meanwhile, here's a picture of what I have so far:

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Why, and How, Does One Mark a Queen Bee?

I have finally got round to marking my new queens, Caroline and Sarah.  But you may be wondering why I do this - and how it's done?

So - why?  Well, marking a queen involves putting a little spot of paint on her thorax, and there are two reasons for doing it.  Firstly, it makes the queen easier to spot.  In Miriam's hive, where there are nearly 60,000 bees right now, if I hadn't marked Miriam with a spot of blue paint last year, then I really wouldn't be able to find her among all the other bees - it would be almost impossible!

Secondly, there is a colour scheme in use by beekeepers, and we use different colours for different years:

  • White, for years that end in 1 or 6
  • Yellow, for years that end in 2 or 7
  • Red, for years that end in 3 or 8
  • Green, for years that end in 4 or 9
  • Blue, for years that end in 5 or 0

This year, 2016, end in "6", so this year's colour is white.  So I need to put a spot of white paint on the backs of Caroline and Sarah.  So - how is it done?  Carefully!

Really, it's one of the more fiddly jobs in beekeeping, and if you get it wrong, you can kill your queen by mistake (BBC broadcaster Bill Turnbull sadly did this once).  So here, in pictures, is how it's done:

Firstly, find the queen!  Here's Sarah, before I marked her:

Then, I needed to put her in a contraption called a "queen cage", which looks like this:

The idea is to place the cage onto the comb, with the queen underneath in the middle, and the sharp prongs can be pushed into the wax, which then holds the cage (and the queen) in place.  Get it wrong (as Mr Turnbull did) and you can accidentally stick one of the prongs straight through your queen bee...

Well, fortunately, I didn't get it wrong, so here's me fixing the cage in place:

The next job is to use a paint pen (we have a handy Art Shop in Bath that sells these) and wait until the queen's thorax is underneath one of the holes in the cage.  And then, carefully dab a dot of paint onto her back:

There we go - all done!  Here's Sarah with her new dot (or smudge...!) of white paint on her back:

The procedure was exactly the same for Caroline - here's a before and after shot of her:

Now, I still haven't explained the reason for naming them Sarah and Caroline.  That will be coming in the next couple of posts...

Finally, a big thank-you to Amelia for taking the photos for this blog post (believe me, photographing bees is not easy!) - and to our cat, Patsy, who probably wanted to help, before she got distracted...:

Monday, 15 August 2016

Introducing... Caroline and Sarah!

This weekend I finally did mark my two new queens (the ones in hive #2 and the nucleus).  I'll have further info (with photos) in a forthcoming post.

So, the names are:

  • Caroline (the queen of hive #2),
  • and Sarah (the queen of the nucleus).

Why Caroline and Sarah?  Well, there will be a post coming later this week about that, too...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Royal Baptisms - An Apology

So, I was supposed to mark and name my two new queens (#2 and the nucleus) last Sunday, and had dropped heavy hints here in this blog that there would be an update.  Well, that never happened, as you probably noticed...

Everything is fine at the apiary (lots of honey in Miriam's hive).  But I'm afraid I have to admit that the reason I didn't get round to marking the queens, is because I was very hungover.  Sorry about that.

This weekend I will definitely, definitely be marking and naming the queens - I promise!  Until then, here's a picture of a nicely full comb of honey from Miriam's hive:

Thursday, 4 August 2016

More News From Hive #2

My last inspection was Saturday, so this really is a bit late...!  The headline news is:  the queen in hive #2 is now laying!  In fact, some of the brood is capped, which means she'd been laying for more than a week already.

This is very good news, as it now means that I can name her.  I haven't yet got round to doing the naming & marking ceremony for the queen in the nucleus, so hopefully this weekend I can do both queens at the same time.  I already have two names in mind...