Thursday, 24 November 2011

Natural Beekeeping - A Beginner's Guide

Well, after much prevarication and preparation, I took the plunge and invited a group of beekeepers and prospective beekeepers to join me for a discussion about Natural Beekeeping and using a Kenyan Top-Bar Hive.

The evening comprised a 30 minute presentation on Natural Beekeeping, that took much longer with the varied and challenging questions that needed to be answered, followed by a discussion of the making and management of a horizontal top-bar hive. I titled the presentation "Natural Beekeeping - A Beginner's Guide" as I am certainly still a beginner!

Including a short break for tea & snacks, the whole thing lasted almost 3 hours! Longer than I had planned, but no-one was getting impatient (visibly!) and the questions kept coming.

All appeared to have enjoyed the evening (including myself) and many asked to be included in future evenings. I can see this format being repeated for other beekeeping topics as interest and experience grows.

Next talk will be in the New Year to the Sedburgh & District Beekeepers Association. I'm expecting some more challenging questions there!

Monday, 29 August 2011

“Bees For Bentham”

Everyone is becoming more aware of the plight of bees and other pollinators.

An acquaintance applied for a grant to promote the welfare of pollinators, and bees in particular, by giving away bee-friendly plants to anyone willing to grow them in their garden. The grant application was successful, and in April, a group of like-minded people gathered in the local pub (always a good place to talk!) to discuss how to go about this and the working name of “Bees for Bentham” was agreed.

Some of the grant money went towards buying a supply of compost from the local green waste recycling company and some seeds chosen from lists of bee-friendly plants (many available on the internet). Some of us then propagated the first batch of plants.

We have acquired posters, leaflets and information booklets relating to bees and some of the problems they face and what we can do about them from Neal's Yard, The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and A beautifully made banner has been put together by one of the team to attach to the stall we use.

Another local group called BEST (Bentham Environmentally Sustainable Town) were holding a “Garden Food Day” and we had a stall there giving away the first plants. Despite the weather (heavy rain all day) and having a stall outside (under a large canopy) we gave away and estimated 250 plants.
Some local people have offered us plants and cuttings which we have given away from a stall at the Low Bentham Street Fair, along with more information.

An unexpected side effect of this has been questions raised about bee-keeping from people who are interested, but unsure of where to start, find the cost of equipment prohibitive, or haven't gotten around to following up on their interest. I've given them all my contact details in the hope that they will contact me, so that I can invite them all to an “Introduction to Natural Beekeeping” evening. I am currently putting together a presentation on this subject which I will use. I was asked to put it together for the Sedburgh & District Beekeepers Association, where a number of beekeepers have expressed an interest.
If anyone else in the area is interested, PM me through the Biobees forum or use the Kontactr Me button to the left of the first post on the page.

Our stall in Low Bentham

Saturday, 20 August 2011

UK's First Natural Beekeeping Conference

I had the good fortune to attend the first UK Natural Beekeeping Conference held near Worcester from 5th to 7th August 2011. The event was held at the seasonal conference centre created by “Green and Away”, a tented location on an old plant nursery site. The site is designed to have a minimal impact on the environment, having solar water heaters, solar and wind electrical energy, composting loos and wood fired, open-air showers!

The conference was organised by the natural Beekeeping Alliance, which comprises Friends of the Bees and the Natural Beekeeping Trust, represented respectively by Phil Chandler and Heidi Hermann. Speakers included - Phil Chandler, Heidi Herrmann, David Heaf, Adebisi Adekunle, Brigit Strawbridge, James Fearnley, John Harding, Andy Pearce, Nicola Bradbear.

As with all conferences one of the aims was to meet other, like-minded people. There was plenty of time for chatting during tea and meal breaks (and the food was delicious!).

The talks were all fascinating, and it was a joy to not be PowerPointed to
death! There were demonstrations of all of the major natural beekeeping hive types, given by regular users (except the Perone hive, which was ably explained by Andy Pearce, who has obviously done an immense amount of research).

It is hoped that another conference will be held in two years (2013). I, for one, am looking forward to it!

Green and Away Camping Field

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

It's Been a While...........

.... and there has been a lot happening!

Both of the hives have behaved in exactly the same way! After the split on May 6th I left the hives alone (apart from an occasional peep through the observation window) for 32 days. I expected to see evidence of a laying queen by then, but there was nothing other than agitated bees, one of whom decided that they no longer liked our postman and stung him on the ear!

That colony had to be moved before we would have mail delivered..... no bills? Tempting! My neighbours offered me a space in a corner of their field If I was willing to clear it of weeds and nettles. An afternoon of strimming and a morning of covering with landscaping fabric and bark chips and the hive was moved! Actually I think this is a better spot for the bees as it offers more shelter from the wind.

Advice was sought from the good folk on the Biobees forum. All agreed, queenless hives! I started to search for replacement queens. None could be found locally, so the net was cast further afield via Google. The most promising was from a bee keeper on the Wirral, which would include a round trip of 160 miles. At the eleventh hour, the deal fell through, the viability of the queens could not be guaranteed.

I was getting concerned that by the time queens were located it may be too late for the colonies to support the next generation of brood. Plan B? Find two nucleus colonies.

The day before the 240 mile round trip to Shropshire armed with my credit card, I thought it wise to check the hives again. 41 days after the split, still no sign of a laying queen in either hive, but no laying worker either. Suspicious!

Still, I bit the bullet and collected the nucs, arriving home mid evening I placed the nuc boxes on top of the hives they were to supplement. The weather that week-end wasn't good enough for a chop'n'crop, so they were quickly moved into borrowed national brood boxes, with top-bars placed in the space left. Next week-end the weather was good, so a quick check through the first hive for laying workers before the chop'n'crop and there are capped cells....... capped worker cells...... 49 days after the split that was three days after a swarm (when the queen cells would have been capped. OK, leave them for now and on to the other hive. Yes, more capped queen cells! These girls were slow to start laying!!!

So now I have four functioning colonies! How do I explain that to SWMBO? Happily I knew of someone nearby who wants to get a colony for a top-bar hive, so a quick phone call and a deal was struck! They are still in a National box on top of a top-bar hive at the moment. We had hoped to get them installed this week-end, but the weather is dire again.

My neighbours are happy to have a second colony in their garden, so I now have three. Result!!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Swarms and Splits

The colony has been building up very well and I've struggled to keep up with them! After about 10 days of not being able to check through the hive because of work, weather and family, they swarmed. I wasn't too shocked, but a little disappointed. Hopefully the swarm has found a good home (hive or feral) and will survive. If they go feral, I hope they will provide plenty of swarms in the future, a good local supply of "survivor" bees.

On Friday afternoon, I took advantage of a break in the weather to go through the hive. There were still plenty of bees, brood and stores. As the hive was still so full I was concerned about cast swarms, especially as there were around a dozen capped queen cells visible! I took the opportunity to remove them from the conversion hive, doing a chop'n'crop (demonstrated here) to remove the frames, and split them between two new Kenyan Top-Bar Hives, one 3 foot (which will stay in the garden) and the other, 4 foot (which is being moved to a friends house where they will hopefully help pollinating his fruit trees.

The Three Foot Hive

I'm using a selection of top-bar designs in the new hives to see which works the best at preventing cross-combing. Cross-combing was beginning to become a problem. The last few combs were becoming more curved rather than full-on crossing the bars. Spacers between the bars was not helping. Most of these bars had just a wax filled kerf. You should be able to see in the picture that I have routed a chamfer on the edge of the bars to make a more complete barrier to cross-combing (I hope).

Waxed Kerf, V and Popsicle Stick

Now patience is needed again as I wait for the new queens to hatch, fly and mate, then start laying before I can be confident that all is well.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Early Season Inspection (the first!)

A pleasant day, at last, that was good enough to open the hive. I'm pleased to say that it was all good news!

Plenty of stores left, brood at all stages, capped drone brood even spotted the queen (briefly). They seem to be expanding rapidly. All remained very calm throughout (although I was quite excited). One piece of crossed comb fell into the bottom of the hive (about 4 square inches). Upon removal, it contained honey that was almost ready for capping. Just enough for one slice of toast! Delicious! I'm looking forward to a little more soon!

Workers continued to fly from the entrance and most went below the bars as they were closed up. For the reluctant ones, I closed the bars up to a bee space, then used a piece of card to gently push them down, close the bars onto the card, remove the card then finally close the bars completely. All very easy and they didn't seem to mind.

A look in the debris on the bottom board showed a drop of 3 varroa mites over 5 days! No action needed!

Next objective will be to get them out of the conversion hive!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy!

We have had a few very nice days recently with temperatures reaching highs of about 15C.The bees have been flying frequently and returning loaded with nectar and pollen. The pollen was light yellow and orange and can be seen on the rear legs of some of the bees in the following video.

A brief check in the hive on Friday showed that they have plenty of pollen and honey stored with fresh nectar being brought in. Great news as this means they are raising young. The new season begins and all seems well with their world!

I could happily sit and watch them coming and going all day, but I had to drag myself away to make a start on the garden or we'll be short of vegetables this year! I could still hear them working though.....

Saturday, 26 February 2011

First Pollen!

Yesterday was the first day this year that I have been at home when the temperature has reached 10 C. There was a pause in the rain too!

The bees were out and about. I assumed they were on cleansing flights, but some were bringing back some pollen!

A check of the locality and of my pollen chart showed that it was from Yellow Crocus (light orange colour). There are a few around in gardens, neighbours and ours.

I was surprised that they seem to have been flying around and over Snow-drops (pink pollen, loads of flowers) to get to the crocuses! I'm sure they know what they like, though.

Looks like a nice day coming today. Must get my camera out later!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

New Roof

I lifted the lid on the hive recently to check how it was standing up to the weather. There was a small amount of damp on the pillow case full of wood shavings I put on the top-bars for insulation. I'm pleased to say that it hasn't got through to the top-bars so the bees are fine and still humming away contentedly. I had been wondering about "upgrading" the roof from a paint finish, so now would be a good time!.

A search through Google turned up aluminium sheet
s that have been recycled form the printing industry at Fragile Planet. I have bought from them before and like their ethical stance with using recycled packaging when they send out purchases. These aluminium sheets are approximately 660 x 570 mm and have some print, possibly on both sides, according to the site, but I ordered 10 and they are all clean on one side.

The printing on one side of the sheets

The converter hive that the bees are currently in has a very wide roof and these sheets are not quite wide enough to completely cover the roof, but the gap is only about 1cm on each side and that is over the overhang of the roof! Two and a half sheets saw the bees protected by a new shiny roof!

The new shiny roof!

With the other sheets I've also covered the roofs of the two hives and two bait hives that I have built and are current stored in the garage. For each of these the sheets were large enough to fold over the edges of the roof to give really good protection to the wood.

A very productive Saturday afternoon!