Saturday, 20 January 2018

Looking Back, and Forward

I know my regular readers are a clever lot, so I'm sure you all know that January is believed to be named after the Roman god Janus.  (And, if you're really clever, you know that this might not actually be true... but I digress.)

Anyway, Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking back to the past and the other looking forward to the future.  So, it being January at the moment, let's take a look back over the past year of beekeeping, and then see what might be happening in the year ahead.

2017 - What Went Well?


It was a bumper crop this year - my best yet, yielding a total of 80 jars of honey.  But why?  I think it was down to two things.  Firstly, the bees had over-wintered better, which I think is at least in part due to my conversion of the hives from the British National design, to WBC.  This creates a second, outer hive wall, with a cavity between the inner and outer walls.  The effect of this seems to be better temperature control inside the hive - and possibly also a reduction in dampness.  Anyway, I certainly had more bees at the beginning of the season than I've had in previous years.

Secondly, the weather (until mid July) was just perfect for flowering plants and blossoming trees - warm, sunny but with enough rain showers to keep the plants sufficiently watered.  Sadly, I can't control the weather, so I can't claim credit for this - it was just a lucky year.

Bottoms up!

Propolis Gin

This was a fun surprise from Sue, our local apothecary.  I'd basically taken the propolis in and said "can you do anything with this?"  Well, after six months steeping in gin, Sue had done something quite wonderful with it, and created a rare and fine beverage!

More Bees

As well as growing the number of bees in the hives, I ended up doing three colony splits this year (two for swarm control, and one a "retirement plan" for queen Miriam).  This meant that I was able to sell two nuclei - one to Bath's Mayor Ian, who started beekeeping this year, and the other to local beekeeper Jack.  The third nucleus was kept in my apiary as a spare, so that if I lose either of the hive colonies over winter, I can replace it with the colony in the nucleus.

However, having a lot a bees has its drawbacks...

2017 - What Went Badly?

Too many bees?

I like to try one new beekeeping technique every year, and this year it was the "brood-and-a-half" hive configuration.  This allows the queen to lay in one of the super, as well as the brood box, enabling her to make far more bees.  Did this work?  Yes, very well - too well, in fact.  By the middle of June, the colony in hive #2 had become so large they were almost unmanageable, and I had to go back to the single-brood configuration just to calm things down a bit.  Which brings me onto...


This is the first year when I have undertaken a couple of beekeeping sessions that I didn't really enjoy.  That's because this year, for the first time, my bees became bad-tempered - which meant chasing me round the apiary and stinging me a lot more than usual.  On one occasion this can probably be explained by an approaching storm, which discombobulated them.  And then there was the incident with the spider.  But I also suspect that genetics have had a role to play.  All my bees are descended from my original queen, Rosalind.  My queens have mated with a variety of drones over the years, and no doubt some of their suitors have been more suitable than others.  But at some point, a genetic disposition for bad temper has found its way into the bloodlines.  The normal way to deal with this is to remove the queens, and replace them with new queens from a breeder that raises very gentle bees.  However, I like the fact that all my bees originate from my first queen, and so (somewhat sentimentally) I don't fancy replacing any of my girls.  Of course, the fact that I name all of the queens probably doesn't help...

Burn it with fire...

I have taken a bit of a laissez-faire approach to managing combs this year - for example, I didn't undertake a full shook-swarm on either of my hives.  I should have known better - and my sloppiness caught up with me.  Firstly, the colony in the Blue Nucleus got a case of what I suspect was Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV).  That forced me to do a shook-swarm on the colony, and burn the old brood frames.  A week later, and they were looking a picture of good health.  Lesson learned...

... or was it?  I still didn't change the combs in the hives (why?!) - and three months later hive #2 got sick.  This was a different illness - Sacbrood - and potentially more serious.  However, I discovered it in the second half of September, and this is way too late in the year to undertake a comb change.  So, I just had to leave them and hope that they survive the winter.  Fingers crossed that they make it to spring, when they will definitely be getting completely fresh comb!

2018 - What's Coming Up?

I have three targets that I want to achieve this coming season:
  • Change the comb for all the colonies - i.e. both hives and the nucleus.  Hopefully this will keep the bees nice and healthy this year.
  • Mark the queens!  I never got round to it last year, between all the other shenanigans and the wet weather in the latter half of the season.  Ideally, I will do this the week after the comb change.
  • Deal with my bad-tempered queens.  Since I'm basically relying on them randomly choosing to mate with drones from good-tempered families, I haven't given myself much in the way of options here, other than crossing my fingers and hoping for a good result.  Unless I manage to come up with a cunning plan...?

Also, I'll be working with Ian again as he settles into his second season of beekeeping - and discovers the joys of trying to stop his bees swarming.  And I had a meeting this morning with some neighbours in Sydney Buildings who are interested in setting up a community beekeeping scheme.  One of the interesting options we looked at was a different hive configuration - the Top Bar Hive - which is a horizontal design that doesn't have any supers.  For those of you who watch Gardeners' World, this is the design that Monty Don has in his garden at Longmeadow.  It will be interesting to try out a hive design that I haven't experienced before, and see what happens.

So, another three months to wait until the warmer weather and the longer days, and then the 2018 beekeeping year will get under way.