Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bees again!

When we were harvesting our honey, eventually our little extractor broke and so we borrowed our association's big elecctric extractor, and got the rest of our honey. We now have 4 gallons waiting to be bottled! The frames went back to the bees - we weren't very prompt and apparently they were quite grumpy for a day or two! They're full again now though, and have new boxes to fill with brood and stores and are getting on quite happily.

We went to the other apiary today, the one where we haven't harvested any honey but where earlier in the month we did a huge split, had all those queen cells etc. We had 4 busy nucs where all the news queens have mated and are laying! The nucs have all now been moved into full sized hives (OSB's). They were big and strong enough and now have plenty to keep them occupied.

As for the other hives, we have 2, including the big swarm we caught, that are requeening themselves. One is completely lacking in anything looking remotely like a queen, but still has a large population, so we will unite them with another colony. The rest are all doing splendidly, and one of them was so full that we had to give them an extra box today.

There's some lovely forage for them in their new apiary. Lots of clovers and wildflowers, and a huge field of beans and one with what looks like it might be phacelia just coming into flower.

Altogether a successful beekeeping session, lovely to know that our homemade queens are up and running! Definitely the most successful requeening - natural or otherwise - that we have ever managed!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Honey Harvest

There is nothing better than enjoying honey made by your own bees!

We started our honey harvest yesterday! Dad has already harvested 9 frames from another hive, but yesterday we went up to harvest from the Four Winds bees, which are the ones that you can see living in a barn wall on the video blog (changing this soon, for the moment you can see it here).

One hive was queenless, so we gave it a frame of new eggs from the other so that they can make an emergency queen. Apparently there are lots of hives going queenless at the moment, possibly due to the very cold winter we've just had. However, we were still able to harvest a whole box from that hive, and two boxes from the other! (We don't use a super and broodbox system; we use One Size Boxes, hence why I say 'box'). Both hives have huge populations and are quite lively without being aggressive - very very lovely bees, and very hard working. The photos below show Dad and the bees' very devoted landlords/uncle+aunt Dave and Vicky having a look.

So, we have harvested 36 frames full of honey, and each box of 12 frames has so far given us a gallon of honey! We still have one box left to extract, and then when we press the honey out of the cappings using our cider press we may get a little more! But at the moment we have 2 gallons already, from one hive alone!

^ Uncapping

This is quite an early harvest, because the bees have been collecting from Oil Seed Rape, which is a spring crop and the honey of which crystalises very quickly - therefore, we have harvested early to make sure that we can actually get it out of the comb. It's a pale, light honey, not the floweriest flavour but pleasant enough and lovely and sweet.

So at the moment we are just spinning out the honey in our old extractor that is gradually falling to bits. Hopefully though we will sell enough honey this year to be able to buy a brand new electric extractor! That's the plan. And for the moment the old one is doing the job!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Giving Birth to a New Queen

Shaking the Swarm into a Box

Chasing the Swarm

Sorry that it's the wrong way up, I will try and rectify this at some point!

Bees, on the day they went Beserk


Yesterday we went to see how the bees are getting on. We have one mating nuc that seems to be working, and spotted 4 new queens. At the moment they don't seem to be laying, but we're giving them a bit more time to get mated. All but one of the colonies are looking pretty strong!

Just as we were finishing up, however, I spotted a cluster of bees in the hedge. It was a pretty big cluster! Obviously a swarm. So we shook them into a spare box and now have another good sized hive! They'd begun to build comb in the hedge, and quite a bit of it, so had obviously been there a while. It's possible they're even the swarm we lost last time!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bees gone Bonkers...

Yesterday was my first time beekeeping this season! My Dad has been a couple of times before this and is crazily making up frames and boxes at the moment as we are still converting to One Size Boxes, and it turns out we need much more equipment than we thought we did, and here is why!

^ The apiary as it was!

We went to visit a couple of hives we have in our new apiary. Dad had already seen them and one of them he knew was doing really well. They filled a national broodbox, 2 OSB's and a super (and no queen excluder - don't need to use one when you're using OSB's). We were checking on our honey harvest when we spotted a maturing queen cell. We went through the whole hive, and found 27 queen cells in it, with around 14 on one frame alone. 27 in one hive!!

^ A queen cell

They were clearly on the brink of swarming, and with that number of cells could have swarmed in casts, and we don't want to lose most of our bees and honey, so we had to act quickly! Some cells were already emerged... We tried breaking one or two cells to kill the developing queens, but instead it turned out that the queens were pretty much ready to hatch and were fully formed and wriggly! We caught them in cages, luckily, while we decided what to do.

We began splitting the hive off, effectively doing an artificial swarm on a big scale. But we didn't have all the equipment with us, so Dad drove off to go and pick some up.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying the sunshine when the buzzing got louder. I looked behind me and there was a cloud of bees - they were swarming right before my eyes! They drifted slowly down the length of the hedge, 2 - 3 metres in the air. I was running frantically after them - I had no equipment and there wasn't much I could do anyway, but I was trying to make sure I knew where they went so we could catch them when Dad came back. It was an amazing experience, as several times I was right in the heart of the swarm! Unfortunately though they flew over the hedge and away after a while, and despite my graceful attempt at crawling through the hedge, we had to abandon that one.

However, when we got back to the hive the population size was still huge! We carried on with our splits, giving birth to a couple of other queens, and eventually we had everyone split off and with a few queen cells each and some stores. We went from having 2 hives in that apiary to having 9 there in one afternoon (including a little mating hive)! And they're all fairly decent sized!

We thought we'd done alright - pretty much averted disaster. But there was one nuc that was concerning - the one with 14 cells on one frame. We couldn't take out a few queens because we'd run out of cages. So Dad went back today with Pabi Bach to make a queen bank (the cells in little springy cages used for queen rearing and breeding) and to capture a few of the queens to put in further mating nucs. So fortunately, that nuc now has fewer queens, and we have lots of queens developing/getting ready to mate. We have offered them out to other beekeepers, to give them away. They're virgins but they clearly come from a hard-working, vigorous (and fairly docile) bloodline!

^ Frames of stores and some caged queens waiting for new homes to arrive!

It's been very exciting this weekend, and despite the fact that the last time I went beekeeping I ended up throwing up and unable to stand or breathe I'm no longer afraid. I didn't get stung but I was surrounded by clouds of bees with my veil unzipped...yes, I am reckless, but you only live once, and I do love my bees!