Sunday, 25 September 2016

And So To Bed...

It's the last weekend in September, and that means the last beekeeping day of the year.  There were only three things to do, in this order:
  1. Check that both hives have enough honey stored for winter.  Yes, they do - so I can stop feeding Caroline's bees now.
  2. Change the hive configuration.  Normally, the super (the box with the honey frames, but no brood) goes above the queen excluder, which is above the brood box (where the queen lays all the eggs).  In winter, I put the super underneath the brood box, and remove the queen excluder - allowing the queen, and the rest of the colony to roam freely.  The idea behind this is that the bees will generally form the cluster at the bottom of the hive (in the super) and then work their way upwards - to the brood box - as winter progresses.  This means they will be in the brood box when spring comes around, which keeps things nice and tidy for me.  Actually, not all beekeepers do this, but it's how I was taught, and it's served me and the bees well so far.

    There are a lot of bees in each hive at the moment, and there's a lot of honey on the frames - making the boxes pretty heavy.  So, this was going to be a two person job.  Luckily, my friend Fi was visiting this weekend and was on hand to help.  Unluckily, she got stung (twice) while helping me move the boxes around.  Well, that's bees for you...  (Sorry, Fi!)
  3. Finally, sprinkle some icing sugar onto the brood frames.  Here's Fi doing just that:

    The reason for doing this is it gets on the bees, which then groom each other to remove the icing sugar.  As they do so, they are more likely to find varroa mites, and remove them too.  So it acts as a natural stimulant to the bees' normal grooming behaviour.  I haven't used any chemical controls in either hive this year (though doing the comb change in Miriam's hive will have helped to lower the number of varroa in the hive).  So hopefully this will help a bit in reducing the mite level - which is important, as I don't want the hives carrying too many mites over winter.  Too many mites increases the risk that the colony won't survive, and I want to keep the risk down if I can.

    Normally I will actually pull the frames out and sprinkle the icing sugar onto the surface of the comb, but we were a little short of time and it was starting to get cold, so I decided to just sprinkle the top of the frames.  Hopefully it will still do some good.

And that's it - beekeeping done for another year.  I still have odd bits of maintenance to do over winter though:
  • I need to make some more lifts for the outer walls of the hive, as I haven't enough if both hives make a lot of honey next summer
  • I'd like to replace a couple of the supers with new boxes
  • I need to make up some new brood frames, so that I am ready to do Caroline's comb change in the spring

Other than that, I just have to wait until the first warm weekend in April.  I'll probably be posting a bit less frequently over the winter, though I do have a couple of articles planned, including one on drones, and also some info about propolis.

I think I've prepared the hives as well as I can, and they seem to be in pretty good shape for surviving the winter.  But I will still be keeping my fingers crossed until that first sunny spring day...

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Asian Hornet - Bad News for Bees

Worrying news from Gloucestershire - DEFRA have confirmed the first verified sighting of the Asian Hornet in Tetbury.  That's only 25 miles from here - a little close for comfort.

This is what they look like:

Asian hornets are predators that hunt honey bees, and can pose a risk to colonies - they are capable of killing a weaker colony.

DEFRA have more info here:

Monday, 19 September 2016

Feeding for Winter

Regular readers will know that Miriam's bees made plenty of honey this year - and I have left her colony with enough of their own honey for them to have plenty of stores to make it through winter.

But Caroline's bees?  Not so much.  With all the shenanigans of the execution of Florence, and then failing to replace her, they just haven't had the time or the numbers to store much honey.  Unless they get some, they'll run out and starve before spring.  What to do?  Well, feed them, of course!

You'd think that, with all the excess honey Miriam generated, I could just feed that to Caroline's bees.  But you'd be wrong.  Feeding bees honey from another colony can be bad - there is a real risk of disease transfer (not diseases that humans can get - we're perfectly safe.  But there is a risk of transferring American Foul Brood spores, and other nasties).  Actually, the easiest thing is sugar syrup.  Basically, I mix up 1kg of sugar (ordinary white granulated sugar - never brown sugar) with ¾ of a litre of hot water, and then let it cool.

So, once I've got my syrup, how to give it to the bees?  The answer is to use a feeder bowl, which looks like this:

This is basically a covered bowl with a funnel in the middle, and the bees climb up the inside of the funnel and then over to the other side, where they can get to the syrup.  It's easier to see with the lid off:

There's a clear plastic cup over the funnel, which stops the bees floating off into the syrup and drowning.  And at the bottom, I can see some bees trying to get at the last drops of syrup.  In case you've ever wondered, this is what a bee's tongue looks like:

OK, they're hungry - time to fill up the bowl:

As you can see, when I fill the bowl they cluster at the surface of the liquid where they will fill their stomachs with syrup.  They then head back down the funnel into the hive, where they will regurgitate the syrup into cells in the comb so it can be stored for winter.

They have an astonishing appetite too - Caroline's bees are currently taking down 1½ litres of sugar syrup every day!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Farewell to Queen Sarah

Don't panic - nothing bad has happened to Queen Sarah, and her colony in the nucleus.  I was recently speaking to Steve, another local beekeeper, who had sadly had his bees wiped out by wasps (have I mentioned that wasps are evil?)

I mentioned that I had the colony in the nucleus, and would he be interested in putting them into his (now vacant) hive?  Indeed he would!

This is good news - I have over-wintered bees in the nucleus before, but I prefer the extra storage space (for storing extra honey) that a hive provides, as it reduces the risk of the bees running out of honey stores in the winter.  So moving Sarah's colony to Steve's full-size hive gives them the best chance of making it through winter - and Steve gets to be a beekeeper again.  Everybody wins!

On Tuesday evening, Steve and I met at the apiary at dusk, secured the nucleus (gaffer tape was involved) and loaded it into Steve's car, ready for him to move the bees into his hive the following day.  If you're wondering why we met at dusk, it's because we needed to wait until all the foraging bees had returned to the hive - otherwise some very confused bees would be wondering where their home had suddenly disappeared to!

So here's a final look at Queen Sarah's colony, and I hope they have a prosperous future:

Wednesday, 7 September 2016


Exciting news!  Beechen Bees honey is now available to buy from The Deli in Widcombe!

BIG thanks to Nicky at The Deli for her lovely tweet about the new honey.

Head down there now to grab some...

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Re-brand and Honey Labels!

Exciting news - Beechen Bees has had a re-design!  Big thanks to Liz from DesignInMedia for coming up with the new logo, as well as the design for this year's honey jar labels.  Here's the new season's label:

I think it looks fantastic - and I've already labelled up the first batch of a dozen jars, which look deliciously tempting:

I've also updated the blog logo to show the new design.  Hope you enjoy the new look!

For more information about Liz and DesignInMedia, please click on the logo:

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Miriam's Comb Change

Avid blog readers will remember that earlier this season, I attempted to change the brood comb in hive number 2 (ruled at the time by Florence, now Caroline's hive) - this is something I try to do every year, as it prevents impurities, viruses and spores building up in the wax.  My progress was described here and here.  Then the bees started to make queen cells, and eventually deposed Florence.  Oops.

Part of the problem, I think, was that both colonies were quite small - so my swapping combs around seems to have disrupted the harmony of Florence's hive (though I suspect the bees may have got rid of her anyway).  But it did have the benefit of building Miriam's hive up quickly, which led to my bumper harvest, so it wasn't all bad.

However, I didn't get the chance to change Miriam's comb in the spring, which is when I normally do it.  So, I've decided to do it now.  There are two reasons for this:  firstly, because I need to, as it's now overdue.  But secondly, I've realised that now is actually a better time than spring to change the comb.  In spring the bees are still building up the colony size after winter, and they need to put their energy into raising brood; making new comb is an unwelcome distraction.  Whereas at this time of year, just after the harvest, there are plenty of bees - and now that the supers have been taken off, there's less space in the hive for them.  So it makes sense to add a second brood box, with 11 empty frames, which will give the bees some more space and also give them some productive work to do: building new comb!

So, a couple of weeks ago I put the box of empty brood frames onto Miriam's hive.  Last week, when I inspected, the bees had already drawn most of the comb.  I found Miriam on one of the old brood frames, picked her up (by her wings - very carefully!) and moved her onto the new frames.  There is a gadget called a "queen excluder" that sits between the old and new brood boxes - it's basically a wire mesh, and the spaces in the wires are just large enough to allow worker bees through, but too small for Miriam to squeeze between them.  This means she can't lay any more eggs in the old brood frames, so hopefully she should now be happily laying in the new comb.

I'm going to check on Monday to see how she is getting on...

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Introducing Queen Caroline

Today's post is about Queen Caroline, who took over the throne of hive #2 just before 15th July.

She is named after Caroline Herschel, who lived right here in Bath!  For a while anyway - she was actually born in Germany, and also lived in Datchet and Hanover as well as Bath.  Caroline was an astronomer, and the sister of William Herschel (the astronomer who discovered Uranus).

Despite being partially blind in her left eye, as a result of contracting Typhus as a child, Caroline made some important astronomical discoveries.  She was the second woman to discover a comet, and discovered several over her lifetime including comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet.  She also discovered a number of nebulae that had not previously been observed or recorded.

Caroline's interest in Astronomy began by helping her brother William with tasks such as polishing mirrors and assisting in the assembly of the telescopes that William designed.  However, one of her most significant contributions was in record-keeping, and logging William's observations.  Caroline learned to copy astronomical catalogues that William had borrowed, and add observations that she and William had made.

In 1783 Caroline was recording observations, using John Flamsteed's catalogue to identify stars that were being used as reference points for the nebulae that the Herschels were observing.  Flamsteed's catalogue was organised by constellation, which Caroline found was not an efficient way of indexing the stars.  She therefore decided on a more scientific method, and created her own catalogue organised by north polar distance.

This catalogue, Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, was published by the Royal Society in its Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (though under William's name).  Later, Caroline updated the catalogue;  it was eventually enlarged by John Louis Emil Dreyer and renamed the New General Catalogue.  Objects in this catalogue are identified by the identifier NGC, and many astronomical objects are still identified by their NGC number, including NGC 6543 (the Cat's Eye Nebula) and NGC 4755 (the Jewel Box Cluster).

In 1787 King George III granted her an annual salary of £50 for her work as William's assistant, making Caroline the first woman in England to hold an official government position, and the first woman to be paid for her work in astronomy.  And in 1828, Caroline became the first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal.  She was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835 along with Mary Somerville - they were the first women to be admitted.

You can find out more about Caroline Herschel on Wikipedia.

... And here is Caroline's hive, now fully converted to the traditional double-walled WBC design: